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A few weeks ago, I got in a IM conversation with a friend about how frustrated I get when bible verses become pithy cliches, bearing little resemblance to the writers’ meaning in context.  After I had taken my frustration out on my MacBook Pro Keyboard, my friend suggested that there had to be a blog or sermon series in there somewhere.  So, this week, I will be sharing about five Bible verses that I often hear people list as their favorites.  We will explore how these five verses (well four verses and one mythical verse) can be accurately applied to our lives.  I hope you will check back everyday, subscribe to the blog to get the posts via email or your blogreader, and most of all, share them with friends.

The first verse that we will tackle is a “verse” of mythical origins. I have heard people state that their favorite verse is “God helps those who help themselves.” However, if you go searching your concordance or Biblegateway.com, you will strike out on your pursuit.  This phrase does not have its origins in the Scripture, but in the pen of Benjamin Franklin.  In this video, Stephen Colbert takes Bill O’Reilly for wrongly attributing this verse (amongst other things).

Not only is the verse found nowhere in the Bible, it is an idea that runs counter to the Bible as a whole.  The essence of this verse is that if you work hard and take care of your own business, God will intervene where necessary.  In other words, do your job and God will do his.  While we have responsibilities as those who bear the image of God, God is NOT OBLIGATED to intervene in our lives or act in prescribed ways, simply because we did our part.  God does not owe us….anything. He is not in our debt; we are in His.

Yet, God does call us to take responsibility for our lives.  To make choices.  To build habits.  To take action and not rest on our laurels, expecting Him to pave a proverbial bed of roses to our dreams or the achievement of our perfect plans.  We will be held accountable for what we do with the time, talent, money, and influence we have.  To put a new spin on words I heard a pastor named Andy Stanley say several years ago at the Catalyst Conference, “Your life is a stewardship.  It is temporary and you will be held accountable.”

As you put your plan into action, as you take a new stab at the pursuits you have been putting off for far too long, as you do the next right thing that you know to do, I want to challenge you to love, think and serve like Jesus this year.  Not because God will then be obligated to do as you say and wish.  I believe loving, thinking, and serving like Jesus will lead you into the life God called you to live.  A life that you will be proud to look back on with no regrets.

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9 thoughts on “Your favorite Bible verse: God helps those who help themselves

  1. Ode to the Resolutions,
    I asked my father once what his New Year resolution(s) are and he left me laughing when he replied, “I have nothing left to perfect or change.” I’ve also stopped resolutions not because I’m perfect or nothing left to change but for the most part I think resolutions are made to be broken. Think of it this way, someone may tell you they have turned over a new leaf but isn’t it still the same leaf?

    Yes Scott, God doesn’t owe us anything, and I’m still trying to understand how coincidence is written off as a Great Devine interception. I had one of these coincidences this weekend as I went rushing down a hill on skis managing to miss the trees and not falling down. For the purpose of equality in the spot light I gave thanks to God for not hitting the family of trees and coincidence that I didn’t fall down. However, and on that note; I did say a prayer more than once prior to descending down a hill.

    I do remember you telling me Scott prior to baptizing me until the bubbles didn’t rise that people my age don’t normally change and for the most part I agree with you. I’ve become the kind of Christians that most are afraid to become…just myself.

    Michael
    7

  2. I just want to shed some light as a Muslim that I do think this verse has merit since even the Qur’an says (and I paraphrase) “God does not change anyone until they change what is within their own selves” and we also have a phrase in which God says “Work my servant so I can work with you.” Even though I have not done the Bible research, I don’t mean to be intruding but I just thought I would share some insight from my own faith.

    [Also, just to clarify and refute some misconceptions, Muslims do believe in the universal God that everyone else bows down to and worships (praise and glory be to Him) and the name Allah is the Arabic name for God but it is the most divine name that one can address God (the Almighty) in. But Allah is not "the god of the Arabs" or the "singular god of the Muslims" this would be idol worship as it would refute God's universality, which is among the highest sins in Islam.]

  3. Ali, Thanks so much for commenting on this post. I appreciate your perspective and your faith.
    In responding to your comments, I do think there is a pretty significant divergence between the teachings of Jesus and his followers and the Qur’an re: how we change. Your paraphrase of the Qur’an (God does not change anyone until they change what is within their own selves) is at the heart of the problem Jesus came to solve. As followers of Jesus, we believe that no one is able to change what has broken within themselves because of the sin and depravity that entered the world through Adam. This is why Jesus came – to do what Adam and Eve and all of their descendants (you and me included) could not do ourselves. The brokenness in me and the brokenness that has moved through me is not something I can change myself. Confessing my own inability and putting my faith in the ability and sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection to accomplish that change is at the heart of what we call the “good news” or “gospel”. The fifth chapter of the book of Romans in the Bible expounds on this beautifully. Any compromise of this moves toward a humanism that was at the heart of Benjamin Franklin’s perspective when he wrote it in the 18th century.
    While we are not passive in the process, it is God who is working in us to make it possible. In the book of Philippians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul writes “Continue to work out your salvation (i.e. the consequences of it) with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.” God is at work in us, but we still must make choices and take action in keeping with the work God has done in us.
    I appreciate the spirit and humility of your comments and I hope I have echoed that same spirit and humility. You are welcome here at the Joshua Collective any time.
    -Scott

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  5. It is a line from the Quraan,
    “…Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves….” [13:11]
    (http://quran.com/13/11)

    “O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.” [2:153]

    & also,
    2 Thessalonians
    “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” [3.10]

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