We've heard it, but is it true, and is it Biblical? Find out if God only helps those who help themselves.
Let’s begin with a quick look at 2 Timothy 2:16-17:
2 Timothy 2:16-17 (ESV) - 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Bible is important. It’s meant to “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives”, as the NLT puts it.
“Each year, the Barna Group and American Bible Society rank the nation’s top media markets based on their level of Bible engagement”, and they release a list of the top 100 areas based upon how “Bible-minded” they are.
“Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” (Source: https://www.barna.com/research/2017-bible-minded-cities/)
The results are quite interesting:
“For the second year in a row, Chattanooga, TN (50%) is the most Bible-minded city in America. In fact, since 2013, Chattanooga has won every year with the exception of 2015, when it was runner up to Birmingham / Anniston / Tuscaloosa, AL. This year, those very same cities in Alabama take the second spot (49%), very close behind Chattanooga. Roanoke / Lynchburg, VA (48%) take the third spot…”
I suppose those results make sense. Those cities are either in the heart of the Bible Belt, or in the case of Lynchburg VA, it happens to be the home of Liberty University, the largest evangelical Christian university on the planet.
But what about our area? Unfortunately, the Watertown-Fort Drum Metropolitan Area (yes, that’s a real governmental classification) is not one of the top 100 used in this poll. (In fact, if my research is correct, we’re 177th out of 210).
However, I still think we can draw out some insight based on areas which were included in the chart:
All these areas are within a few hours drive of us, and all of them fall below the national average of 25%. Many of the other least Bible-minded cities are also nearby, in various parts of New England and Pennsylvania.
SO, what does this mean for us? Well, for one, it means we have a worldview problem.
Everyone has a worldview, even if you haven’t given much thought to yours. A worldview is the way in which we see the world, organize information, and determine what is good and true, versus what is evil and false. Our worldview guides how we live our lives, and engage others.
Often, our worldview is a direct reflection of the way we’ve been raised. Parents: you have a stake in this. Your children’s worldview will be largely influenced by what YOU teach them!
Oh, and by the way, not every worldview is GOOD and accurate. Some, are, in fact, quite flawed. As followers of Christ, our worldview is MEANT to be based on the Scriptures, the divine revelation given to us by God himself. It’s faithfulness to the Scriptures and the God who authored them that builds a healthy worldview.
And therein lies the problem: We’re not a Bible-Minded area, and the less a culture is saturated with the Word of God, the more it means some other anti-Gospel worldview has taken root in the minds of the people. Which means, particularly in New York, we will certainly encounter ideas and concepts that are at war with the truth.
Just because we have the internet, television, radio, and so on, it’s nothing new that people share all kinds of ideas, concepts, and information. You may remember from our time in 1 Corinthians that Paul addressed a conflict in the church, warning them to use the Wisdom of God, not the Wisdom of the World. That was a worldview concern, and the people of God in Corinth had some flaws in their worldview.
I think the people of God struggle with this issue today, as well. We’ve not yet been perfected in Christ, which means at times, we’ll make mistakes in judgement. We might even pass on “Good-sounding” advice to others that may well be at odds with the truth (Which obviously we should try to avoid!).
Building on the foundation we’ve just set out, today we’re starting a short series called “#Really?”.
We’re going to examine some of the common “churchy-sounding” statements that get thrown around out there, using scripture to practice discernment about whether or not we should accept them as true, or reject them as false.
Each week, we’ll look at a different phrase or thought. And this week, we begin with: “God helps those who help themselves.”
ASK: What do you think? How many of you think this is true? How many think it’s false?
When I started writing this message, the first thing I wanted to know about this phrase is, “Is that statement in the Bible?” And the answer to that, is a resounding no. Nowhere in scripture will you find this phrase.
So, where DID it come from?
Some have suggested that Benjamin Franklin was the person who popularized the phrase, but that doesn’t have any historical merit.
Actually, we find the first recorded uses in early Greek philosophical writings. It’s also in Aesop’s Fables. And, there’s something very close to it in the Quran, the central religious text used by Muslims.
So, multiple other worldviews that are at odds with the Christian faith use this phrase in their teachings… It’s helpful to know that, and should give us some concern, but is that enough to determine its truthfulness? I don’t think so. We need to go a little further, not just evaluating the phrase, but the actual concept(s) that it teaches.
The idea that “God only helps those who help themselves.” points toward an ideal of self-help and self-reliance; God is passive in determining our fate, and we bear the ultimate responsibility for what we do (or don’t do) in life.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound quite right. I can think of a number of places in scripture that are in conflict with that concept.
James 1:17 (ESV) - Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Everything we have comes from God.
We talked about this Biblical principle a bit in our Lord’s Prayer series: God is the source of all good gifts, even our provision for the day.
Now, I know some folks get bent out of shape on that. “Pastor Len, I work hard. I earned everything I have. I didn’t take handouts, I’m responsible for my success.”
Sounds legit, right?
Deuteronomy 8:17-18b (ESV) - 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, …
While we may work hard, laboring to earn what is needed to provide food and clothing, and so on, ULTIMATELY these things come from God. Even our WORK, if we have it, is a blessing that ultimately comes from God. We don’t get to take credit.
Now… IF it’s true that “God only helps those who help themselves”, then it follows logically that God DOESN’T help those who DON’T or CANNOT help themselves…
The greatest need we have is not simply food or clothing, or even work to be done. The greatest need we have is a relationship with God. Paul speaks of this relationship in Ephesians 2:
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) - 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
In the first few verses, Paul outlines our condition apart from Christ: we were dead in trespasses and sins, and by nature, children of wrath. We’re separated from God, and need to be reconciled to Him, saved from the punishment that is due because of our sin.
That means there is nothing in us that could warrant salvation. We can’t simply “Help ourselves” out of that situation. When’s the last time you saw a dead person simply decide to be alive and well again? It doesn’t happen. We needed something external, something bigger than ourselves, to make that happen.
And that’s what we get in verse 4: GOD, because of His love, made us alive together with Christ. God did the work, in accordance with His grace and kindness. We could do anything at all to endear ourselves to Him. But instead, He chose to freely give His favor to us. It’s not of our own doing, but purely a gift of God.
The only thing we can “do” is trust in Jesus, in His sinless life, His death on our behalf, and in His resurrection from the dead.
Likewise, the only thing we can boast in is Christ. That he paid it all, for those of us who trust in Him.
So, where does that leave us in relationship to our starting phrase, “God only helps those who help themselves.”?
Obviously, from a Biblical worldview, it fails in its direct assertion.
I do think there may be a half-truth in there… God helps those who help themselves by choosing to live each day with diligence, aligning their motives with His will.
That, I would grant as true. But it’s not as catchy, is it?
However, the much larger message of the Gospel is that God’s ongoing work is to graciously help even those who cannot help themselves in any way. And, apart from Christ, that describes each and every one of us!
So, my encouragement to you this morning is to rest in the work of Christ, because His work far outweighs the results of our own.
Philippians 1:6 (ESV) - And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
It’s GOD who began the work in you, and it’s HIS work that will continue, even when we are unable to contribute to it. So, seek to be faithful and diligent in Christ. And trust that He will accomplish great things in you, for His glory.