There’s a good chance you have heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” There’s a good chance you’ve heard that phrase quoted by a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a well-respected Christian.
One poll indicated that 80% of Americans believe the Bible teaches this message. The Barna Research Group reports that 52% of practicing Christians strongly agree the Bible teaches “God helps those who help themselves.”
Here’s the problem…The Bible doesn’t teach that. If anything, the Bible teaches that God helps those who CAN’T help themselves.
At First Wayne Street UMC, we are in the middle of a worship series called, “The Bible Doesn’t Say That.” Each week, we are looking at a popular Christian cliché that, while they sound Biblical, actually are not found in our Scripture.
Last week, we explored the misused saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” This week, we will focus on the idea of God helping those who help themselves.
When you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, he was often found helping, healing and extending love and grace to those who were on the margin and had been cast out by the in crowd. The woman at the well, the lepers, the most notorious of sinners. And, it often rubbed the religious elite the wrong way.
There’s a great story in the Gospel of Luke 5:27-32 that reminds us that Jesus didn’t come for those who had it all together, but for those who were falling apart.
27 Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
In his ministry with the least and the last, Jesus demonstrated this idea that God helps those who cannot help themselves – Jesus was bringing life, love, hope, joy, peace and healing to those who did not have access to power, influence or the resources of food, money, shelter, healthcare.
In fact, if you need a clear example of Jesus helping those who cannot help themselves, consider the story of Lazarus – he was dead, sealed away in the tomb. When Jesus ordered them to roll away the stone, Martha said, “Um, Jesus, he’s been in there for days – there will be an unpleasant odor.” In fact, in the King James Version it puts it this way, “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” True story, look it up in John 11:39. “He stinketh.”
Talk about someone who couldn’t help himself. Lazarus was dead – he’d been in the tomb for four days…he stinketh. Jesus orders the stone be rolled away – he prays and calls out, “Lazarus, come out!” And, Lazarus comes out!
Now, this does not give us the license to just give up, stop trying and fail to work hard. However, we have to realize that our works do not save us. We cannot save ourselves. Our hard work and determination are not the reason for our blessings. God’s love is the reason for our blessing.
We all work hard and that’s great – but that does not mean that we are somehow worthier or more deserving of God’s blessing.
It can be dangerous when we take on the mentality of, “I work hard, so I deserve to be blessed”. The reality is, it’s often less of the idea that we work hard and deserve to be blessed – it’s more likely that we see other people who we believe are less-deserving experiencing seasons of blessings and we think it’s unfair. When that happens, it’s as if we’re becoming like the religious elite who questioned why Jesus spent time with the most notorious sinners of his day.
Be happy for those around you who have been blessed. Don’t wallow in self-pity, but maybe spend some time doing a blessing inventory so you can recognize that you indeed are blessed.
Did you wake up today? You’re blessed. Do you have access to a phone, tablet or computer to receive this message? You’re blessed. Were you able to eat a meal today? You’re blessed. Do you have clothing and shelter? You’re blessed. Are you relatively healthy? You’re blessed.
The idea that “God helps those who help themselves” is also dangerous because it can produce generations of Christ-followers who are selfishly only looking out for themselves. When we believe that we deserve God’s blessing, we are becoming selfish, rather than selfless in our faith.
I could go on and on about this…but I better save some material for Sunday’s message. I hope you’ll plan to join us at First Wayne Street UMC this Sunday at 10am in-person or online as we continue our worship series, “The Bible Doesn’t Say That.” Stay safe. Stay well. Stay blessed. Have an awesome day!