Scripture is replete with thoughts and ideas that seem at first glance to be paradoxical, but, in fact are not. For example – take the attributes of God’s mercy and justice. God is merciful (Luke 6:36), but at the same time totally and completely just (Psalm 7:11). At first glance, it seems near impossible for someone to possess both the attributes of mercy and justice simultaneously; they seem as though they would constantly be at odds with one another. Yet, because of God’s holiness, He is always just and always merciful. As A.W. Tozer stated, “There is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy.”
This issue of seemingly paradoxical values gets played out in countless examples throughout our life. One great example which immediately comes to mind is a scene from the movie “Les Miserables”, and it has everything to do with these attributes of justice and mercy.
In the most recent remake of the movie, there is a scene where a convict is invited into the home of a bishop and his wife. They feed him dinner and give him a place to sleep for the night. In the middle of the night, the convict gets up and begins stealing all of the silverware in the kitchen. The bishop hears the clatter, and gets out of bed to go check up on things. He enters the kitchen, spots the convict, and they stare into each other’s eyes for a moment. Then, suddenly, the convict punches the bishop, knocking him unconscious, and makes off with the silverware. The next scene opens with the convict being brought back to the house, in chains, escorted by armed soldiers. They tell the bishop that they caught the convict making off with the loot. Then, when questioned about it, the convict told them that the bishop gave him all his silverware, to which they all laugh. Then, the bishop says, “I did! Why did you forget the two silver candlesticks? They’re worth at least 2,000 franks!” He then has his wife fetch the candlesticks and get the soldiers some wine to drink. Then, he approaches the convict, chains now released, and removes his hood and says, “Don’t ever forget, you promised to become a new man.” The convict replies, bewildered, “Why are you doing this?” The bishop then replies, “My brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. And now I give you back to God.” The scene then ends with the convict gazing with astonishment into the bishop’s eyes.
Depending on your viewpoint, you could cite the bishop as either failing to administer justice or excelling in administering mercy. You could accuse him of lying to the authorities on giving the convict his silverware, or you could applaud his act of ransoming the convict from fear and hatred in that same act.
There are countless other examples of these seeming paradoxes throughout Scripture. One which the Lord has recently placed on my own heart are those of faith and planning. At what point does diligent planning become an infringement on living by faith, and at what point does a lack of planning lead to irresponsibility and a disregard for biblical stewardship? These questions are at the heart of many discussions by Christians and churches today seeking God’s will. Our Father speaks about both ideas throughout Scripture.
From the book filled with practical wisdom we find, in Proverbs 21:5 the admonition that “the plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Clearly, we understand here that diligent planning is valued over hasty decision-making, and the lack of planning can easily lead to poverty.
However, in Luke 7, we see Jesus commending someone for their faith in Him (which was the only time such a commendation from Jesus was recorded) without requesting or requiring a plan of him of how his request was to be met. A Roman centurion – not a disciple, religious leader, or Rabbi, but a Soldier (of all people!) – requested Jesus to heal his dying servant. However, an unexpected commentary came with his request.
“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
How remarkable! There is no lengthy, technical explanation of what was going on, there was no discussion of his medical history, and there was no sense of panic despite the urgency of the situation. The centurion required nothing of Jesus but to simply “say the word”, and had complete faith that when he arrived home, everything would be as it should. Thus, Jesus marveled and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9).
Fast-forward a few chapters to Luke 14:28-30, and Jesus talks about the issue of diligent planning. He says to a large crowd:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn't able to finish.’”
Now, again, Scripture is speaking to us of the importance of diligent planning. Jesus is cautioning the crowds, essentially, to count the cost before taking the first step. He even re-emphasizes the point by following that parable up with a similar one about a king counting the cost before going to war (vs. 31-32).
So, what’s the answer here? How are we to reconcile these seemingly competing values? When does planning stop and faith begin? How much diligent planning is wise, and how little planning is required for commendation from Jesus?
I think the best answer comes at the end of Jesus’ parable in Luke 14. After advising the crowds to count the cost of their plans before making such decisions, he says this:
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
These parables regarding the importance of planning were themselves intended to communicate the necessity and centrality of faith! In other words, if you want to follow me, Jesus was saying, make a calculated plan to live by faith from this day forward! Consider the cost of discipleship before you plan on following me, He says, because it will cost you everything.
This is precisely why, in Hebrews 11, these men and women were in the “Hall of Faith”: their only plan was to follow Christ at all costs! No further discussion, calculation, or deliberation was required. Obedience was the extent of their plan. This is communicated in the very first verse of the chapter when we read that,
“faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
For the believer, faith in Christ itself is our assurance and certainty. Of course, planning is involved in temporal projects such as construction, buying a car, paying for college, and preparing for retirement. This is where King Solomon’s words of wisdom enter into the practical realm of human existence. But, the faith embedded in the mantra of the Roman centurion of “say the word” is the extent of the plan of the Christian.
Plan to give up everything, Jesus says. Are we prepared to take those words seriously? If Christ called you to something that you didn’t fully understand, would you trust Him? Or, would you have a litany of questions wanting more information and a detailed timeline? I’ve always found it humbling that when Jesus was telling His disciples about the end times in Mark 13, even His most devoted disciples asked Him privately:
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Most incredibly, Jesus doesn’t give them a timeline. Rather, in verse 11, He says:
“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever you are given at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
After hearing that reply, my thoughts might be something like this: “Are you kidding me, right now, Lord?!? The world is ending, and you’re telling me I am going to be arrested, flogged, and asked to speak before governors and kings, and I shouldn’t even plan on what to say?!?”
Don’t plan what you will say, Jesus says. Don’t plan your present. Don’t plan your future. James calls such planning arrogant and evil (James 4:16). Just plan to give up everything. Just plan to obey. Just plan to be faithful.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.