Burden or Benefit?

Many in our day seem to have the idea that, if there is a God, we would do well to avoid Him. In light of the example being set by many Christians, this attitude is understandable. Indeed, if the lives of some Christians were the standard, it would seem that God’s only reason for noticing man was to restrict man’s pleasures and replace them with burdensome, pointless duties.

Like reading the Bible.

Let’s face it. For many, reading anything is a chore. Why would a loving God tell me to read the Bible? Everyone knows that reading the Bible is just some Christian duty, at best a means of retreating from this scary modern world. Everyone knows that the Bible has no real application to everyday life. Right?

The Scriptures tell us that God’s Word is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), that it gives light (Psalm 119:130) and life (Matthew 4:4) and joy (Jeremiah 15:16). Contrary to common belief, the Scriptures tell us that God gave His Word not to burden us, but to help us; He gave it because we desperately need it.

Isaiah 55:8–11
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

God compares His Word to rain coming from the heavens to earth. Some may choose to ignore the rain. Some may even resent it. But without rain, we would soon be in big trouble, would we not? No matter how well-run my farming operation might be, no matter how well-prepared the soil, it is because of the rain that I can be sure of having not only food for today, but additional seed for tomorrow.

Like the rain, God’s Word was given for our benefit.

But this benefit is not automatic. Much depends on how that Word is received. Yes, it must be heard (or read), but unless it is properly received, my listening (or reading) may still turn out to be fruitless.

This essential truth is shown in another “agricultural illustration” used by Jesus Christ in what is commonly called “the parable of the sower” (Mark 4:1–20).

In this parable, Jesus compares God’s Word not to rain, but to seed, sown on four very different types of ground. First, it is sown by a roadway and has no time to grow at all, because it is quickly devoured by birds. Next, it lands on stony ground: in the thin soil, it springs up quickly, but because of the sun’s heat it also withers quickly. The third piece of ground encountered was apparently good ground. The seed thrived—but so did the weeds! And eventually that seed too comes to nothing.

It’s only on the final piece of ground that we see full growth, all the way from germination to fruit. Obviously, this garden not only had good soil, but it was properly maintained as well. How does this relate to our reception of God’s Word? Jesus tells us.

Mark 4:20
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

How can I as a Christian so prepare my “soil,” my heart, so that it can produce the fruit which God intended? The book of James gives us added insight.

James 1:21
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Two great points are mentioned here. First, we must keep the garden weeded! We are to “lay apart” (put away or set aside) “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” That sounds like bad stuff! And indeed, it is. If we want to make room for all of the good that God’s Word has to impart, the “bad stuff” has to go.

But please note that the Christian is not to be obsessed with the evils of the world. We are certainly not to be afraid of the evils of the world. We’re concerned with becoming mature, fruit-bearing sons and daughters of God. And we realize that if we are to do this, we can no longer afford some of the things that hinder us. Plant, but also weed! Put on but also put off! Renew our minds with the Word of God, but simultaneously cease being conformed to the world. God tells us in many places and in many ways: both are essential if I am going to fully benefit from His Word.

So – who decides what things I must set aside? I do. Who decides when they must be set aside? I do. God simply (and lovingly) informs me of the facts so that I can bring forth much fruit, unhindered, if I really want to.

Having told us of the need for “laying apart,” James then instructs us to not simply hear, but receive the Word of God, and to do it with meekness: with the recognition that it is indeed His Word, from His mouth. The New English Translation puts it like this:

James 1:21 (NET)
So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

The record in James continues with more insight on this topic.

James 1:22
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

In other words, the proper reception of God’s Word is supposed to result in a change in my life!

It’s supposed to result in fruit! It’s by the Godly fruit in evidence in my life that I “prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

James 1:23–25
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Can you imagine getting up, looking in the mirror, perhaps combing your hair or brushing your teeth, then turning away and immediately forgetting what you looked like? That is what God says His people do when they look in His Word and fail to hold on to it. It’s quickly replaced by the “weeds,” by the thoughts and ways of the world. We quickly forget who we are and begin seeing ourselves again in terms which the world has defined. This is so sad, because what we see when we view ourselves in God’s Word is glory!

II Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [a mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

God gave us His Word not to be a burden but to be a benefit. We need His Word to teach us, and, after that, to remind us, of whom we now are as His people. We need that Word to live powerfully in us to the end that fruit is brought forth, both for my blessing and for His glory.

If we want to be among those who bear much fruit, we must learn to “humbly welcome” the words that are being implanted in us. And, to facilitate growth, we may find that there are certain ways that we can no longer afford to walk in, to stand in, to sit in. But those choices become simple as the “rain” of God’s Word” and the “seed” of God’s Word begin their work. Whatever is going on around us, we stand tall. And this is what God intended.

Psalm 1:1–3
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.