Balancing the counsel of God

Whenever we consider a subject, we must be careful to take the whole counsel of God, and not just the pieces that suit our tastes.   The Apostle Paul was a faithful watchman to the first century ecclesias because he presented the whole truth (Acts 20:26-27). We must make sure that we take all the evidence into advisement, otherwise we might become unbalanced in our approach, or might bias our view toward what suits us best, veering toward one side of an argument or the other. Therefore, Paul exhorts Timothy: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

The fact that Timothy is exhorted to study so that he rightly divides the word of truth informs us that we can wrongly divide it if we are not diligent.  The phrase “rightly divide”, means to ‘cut straight, to hold a straight course, to handle aright’. This is the idea conveyed in the Proverbs:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; And lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, And he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: Fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” (Prov 3:5-7)

The word “direct” gives the same idea of ‘to be right, straight, level, just, upright’ and by extension carries the idea of ‘going in a straightforward’ and ‘in the right’ direction. The ESV translates that passage as follows:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

This should be our goal in planning our lives—to have God direct, or make our paths straight. If we have God’s word hidden in our hearts, then our paths will be straight and we will not ‘wander’ from God’s commandments—our ways will be clean (Psa 119:9-11). This was the admonition of the law as well (cp Deut 17:11). Joshua was likewise exhorted to be courageous in using the whole counsel of God in his decision making to prosper in his duty: “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” (Josh 1:7)

Faithful men in the Bible are known for heeding this advice, hence we read of Josiah who did that which was right in the sight of God “turning not aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:1-2). This is the challenge for all of us to balance the counsel of God in our lives, combining mercy with truth in perfect harmony (cp Psa 85:10). The same is true for other principles that must be brought into balance in our everyday lives, making our characters whole and our ways straight—wholly directed by the Father’s wisdom.

Gain and Godliness

The Christian world can get its wires crossed when considering this subject. There are many ‘Christian businessmen’ who use Scripture to justify their business pursuits, which often take over their lives. This is an age-old problem that Paul warns Timothy about:

“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” (1 Tim 6:3-5)

There were those who were under the false understanding that from godliness comes “gain”—a word that signifies ‘the acquisition of gain or the source of gain’. The ESV and the NIV translate this passage, “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” Rotherham has a similar rendition. Tyndale translates it, “which think that lucre is godliness.”

Based on the definitions and the translations, this passage could point to two lines of false reasoning:

1) That godliness can be used as a tool to attain wealth.

2) That a godly lifestyle can be a source of wealth.

Either false notion would be a disaster to a disciple of Christ.

A wrong motivation can easily be adopted by any of us because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9). The Lord observed this in the people of his day who were not interested in the message he was teaching but the benefit of the miracle—the loaves and the fishes: “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26).

They did “seek” him in a sense. The same Greek word is used in Matthew 6:33 and it means ‘to seek in order to find, to enquire or to meditate upon’, but their motivation was wrong. They were only interested in being filled by the loaves and fishes. We need to be careful that we do not fall into this trap of seeking our God, just for the temporary benefit of His care. The exhortation of Christ is clear: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6: 27).

This should be our raison d’être—or the thing that is most important to us, “the meat which endures unto everlasting life.”Our goal must be focused on the things that endure or survive into the life of the age, not just the passing necessities of this life. We must constantly assess our motives to ensure that we are being compelled by the right reasons and realign our thinking if we find we are not.

This was the challenge Christ laid out before the woman at the well in Shechem. The woman had come to draw physical water to satisfy the everyday needs of the flesh. Christ challenged her with a proposition to look beyond the natural to the eternal. This is a challenge we need to take up: “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4:10).

She is initially confused by his challenge and observes that he does not have the practical means to draw from the well. Christ has to refocus her thinking and raise it to a higher level—something that we often need to do as well. “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

That is the beauty of the truth, it rises above all our natural needs and concerns. It can satisfy us on levels that the physical necessities of life can never do. All the natural desires of the flesh, once satisfied, will return, and we will ‘thirst again’. However, the truth can satisfy us in a way that natural desires can never be satisfied. Not only this, but we become a source of life for others if the word flows through us and to others—it becomes “a well of water springing up into everlasting life”. The truth has much greater rewards than simply the benefits of this life. If our motivation in serving God is simply to have a comfortable life now, we have missed the point.