Why Use Bible Principles?
Our theme is “Bible Principles – Can They Help Us To Cope With Today’s Problems?” But that can’t be right, surely?
You ever had one of those managers: young, wears loud braces, university graduate, knows all the management lingo but seemingly knows nothing about your job or the real world. You go in to him, tug of the forelock: “Excuse me, sir. I’m having a problem with this project.”
What does he say? “Don’t come to me with problems; come to me with solutions.”
So, why isn’t this talk called “Bible Principles – The Solution to Today’s Problems?”
Well, Jehovah has provided the solution to today’s problems: through his Kingdom under the rulership of Jesus Christ, he will restore mankind to perfection and the earth to a paradise. It will be so complete a solution that it is called a “new earth.” After that, Jehovah will be restored as sole ruler of mankind. But that’s a little way off. However, because he loves us he doesn’t say, ‘Well, I’m setting up this kingdom for you. That should be enough. See you there.’ No, He also helps us to cope with problems that arise in the meantime.
To do this, he gives us principles. Why just principles? This way, He treats us with respect and autonomy. Rather than him miraculously whooshing our problems away one at a time or endlessly nit-picking every element of life into a law, he gives us principles that we can apply ourselves. And He says that regardless of the problem, the ability to cope is within each one of us; He guarantees it (1 Cor 10:13).
He doesn’t butt in to our conflicts, he doesn’t force white toothy smiles onto our faces, he doesn’t magic us up money and he doesn’t remove situations that cause anxiety. We’re not babies needing him to do everything for us nor does he treat us like such. He tells us what is good and helps us cope with the not-so-good. By giving us principles he maintains our dignity and true independence and freedom.
Today, there is a superabundance of advice on virtually every imaginable subject. So why are Bible principles better?
Have you ever watched the weather forecast on BBC and thought, ‘I don’t much like that; I’ll see what the weather is on ITV.’ Human advice is plentiful and frequently contradictory; sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s harmless, sometimes it’s harmful. The motivation of the adviser is usually unknown or is for financial gain or self-publicity; rarely is it to benefit the hearer.
But Bible principles? They’re based on God’s wisdom, they’re available for free, they haven’t needing changing in thousands of years and Isaiah 48:17,18 reveals His motives for sharing them:
“I, Jehovah, am your God, The One teaching you to benefit yourself, The One guiding you in the way you should walk. 18 If only you would pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”
Yes, Jehovah wants us to experience peace and benefit from his timeless wisdom. Clearly Bible principles are better than human advice. Eventually, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, let us consider how Bible principles can help us cope with four common problems: resolving conflicts, finding happiness, dealing with economic problems and allaying anxiety.
How To Resolve Conflicts
First problem: resolving conflicts.
Many today suffer at the hands of thoughtless and self-centred people. Even when not dealing directly with a personal conflict, because of people like this, we still find ourselves in fear of getting into conflict. We may hesitate to speak up or act in the way we would like because we are in fear of antagonising people like this.
And, amazingly, the world’s favourite system of government, democracy, is built upon a constant, never-ending political conflict and getting the populace to choose sides. This world is built on conflict and suffers from the never-ending threat of it.
So what principle can resolve this?
Five hundred years before Christ, Chinese philosopher Confucius described the virtue Ren or humaneness with a phrase along the lines of “What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.” While this is certainly great advice, Jesus Christ would reveal another dimension. For what surprisingly appears to be the first time in recorded history, he stood the Confucian statement on its head and provided his followers with the principle recorded at Matthew 7:12.
All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them.
Jesus so redefined the Confucian principle that the prior way came to be called the Silver Rule, while the Bible principle revealed by Jesus came to be called the Golden Rule.
Applying this principle means treating others respectfully, fairly, and honestly, showing genuine concern for their welfare. That is a great way of avoiding conflict in the first place. So why do we still have conflicts? Why isn’t this the solution to conflicts?
Let’s consider the example of Jesus and his apostles at Matthew 26. Please open your Bibles there and we’ll scan through a few verses starting at verse 47.
We’re in the Garden of Gethsemane on the last night of Jesus human life. Obviously, Jesus could perfectly apply his own principle and must have done so toward Judas. Yet what do we see in verse 47?
While he was still speaking, look! Judas, one of the Twelve, came and with him a large crowd with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Jesus came into conflict with Judas, the religious leaders and a bunch of armed soldiers.
You see, in order for this Bible principle to be a perfect solution, everybody needs to apply it and we cannot control what other people do.
Jesus remaining faithful apostles knew the Golden Rule but look a few verses down to verse 51.
But look! one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, taking off his ear. This is the Apostle Peter escalating the conflict, not resolving it.
In order for the Bible principle to be a perfect solution, we have to apply it perfectly. And, even though we try, even though we may apply it 99% of the time brilliantly, we simply have to realise that we will sometimes make a right pudding of it. And somebody may lose their ear.
It’s interesting to note Jesus response to Peter’s escalation of the conflict. He states in verse 52:
“Return your sword to its place, for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”
This is the Silver Rule principle. ‘Now, Peter. Would you like your ear sliced off? No? I didn’t think so. So don’t go around slicing other people’s ears off.’
But what does Jesus himself do? Luke tells us (in Luke 22:51) “he touched the ear and healed him.” Jesus perfectly applied the Golden Rule principle. He did good to others, first. He still got arrested and executed, though, didn’t he?
So, if we do find ourselves in conflict, does the Golden Rule become irrelevant? Should we, perhaps, run away from conflict so that we don’t make things worse? No. In fact, the Bible tells us the reverse: if we have a problem with someone, we go and see them – but always with the principle of the Golden Rule in mind.
See what the purpose of Jesus’ advice at Matthew 5:23-25 is.
“If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away. First make your peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift. 25 “Be quick to settle matters with your legal opponent, while you are with him on the way there, so that somehow the opponent may not turn you over to the judge, and the judge to the court attendant, and you get thrown into prison.
The purpose of his advice is to pursue peace; to settle matters before they get out of hand; to do good to the one we are in conflict with because, of course, we would like him to do good to us.
Now, even though they won’t always resolve things, how do these Bible principles help us cope with conflict?
If we strive to apply the Bible principle of the Golden Rule, we will be actively pursuing peace and that gives us inner calm and helps us to enjoy happy relationships. Consider what Philippians 4:9 has to say about those who pursue peace by applying Bible principles.
The things that you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, practice these, and the God of peace will be with you. If we pursue peace by applying Bible principles, the God of peace will be with us. And what does that mean? Verse 7 the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.
Bible principles help us to cope with today’s problem of conflict because we will receive peace from God that surpasses our understanding. The conflict may or may not get resolved, but Jehovah promises us that, even if we can’t see how, we can cope with it.
In God’s coming new world, our imperfect tendency towards conflict will belong to the past. But in the meantime, we can use the Bible principle of the Golden Rule to help us avoid, resolve and cope with conflicts.
How To Find Happiness
Our next problem is how to find happiness.
Now this is one of those subjects where it is easy to agree with the scripture at Luke 12:15. In theory.
“Then he said to them: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of greed, because even when a person has an abundance, his life does not result from the things he possesses.” ”
Many people would agree you can’t buy happiness. But then they continue to look for it through money, possessions, prominence, power, pleasure or other selfish means. So how does the Bible principle at Acts 20:35 help us to cope when we can’t find happiness through these things?
“I have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way, you must assist those who are weak and must keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said: ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’” “
Jesus taught his followers that true happiness comes from being generous. It’s not what we have that brings happiness; it’s what we do with it. This principle helps us cope because it puts things such as money, prominence and power in their proper place. Having them is fine. The Bible features the super-rich such as Solomon, the extremely prominent such as Abraham, the extraordinarily powerful such as Jesus Christ.
Yet they are all notable for giving of themselves and their things. Solomon gave himself and his wealth to the building of the temple; Abraham all but gave the life of his son; Jesus gave his power to heal the sick and, ultimately, gave his life.
Now, what if we’re not a multi-billionaire or a father of nations or capable of raising people from the dead? How do we apply this principle?
Looking back at Acts 20:35, what action did Paul couple with the principle “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving”? It was ‘assisting those who are weak’. Now that’s more wide-ranging than simply giving to the poor, isn’t it? It means that we can give of whatever we have; it could be money or material things but it could also be time, care and energy.
Giving generously builds strong marriages and happy families because we think of their well-being first and put our material and career pursuits in their proper place. Giving of ourselves can bring comfort to the bereaved, the sick, the elderly, and the depressed because they need our time, care and energy to help them cope.
And how does giving bring us happiness?
Often we can directly see the positive results from the giving of our things, time, and energy and this brings us happiness. Our giving is usually much appreciated and gratefully received and this gratitude brings us happiness.
Hebrews 13:16 highlights another way that giving brings us happiness.
“Moreover, do not forget to do good and to share what you have with others, for God is well-pleased with such sacrifices.” Yes, on top of the immediate benefits of giving, our actions can please God. Jehovah is not just pleased, mind you, he is “well-pleased.” And that brings us happiness. It also means that when we give and don’t see a positive result or a grateful response, we can still be happy because we know that God sees our actions and that he is well-pleased with them.
In God’s coming new world, our imperfect tendency towards selfishness will belong to the past. But in the meantime, we can use the Bible principle of there being ‘more happiness in giving than in receiving’ to cope when we don’t find happiness in material pursuits.
How To Deal With Economic Problems
Our third problem is economic. In today’s world, not only do many people struggle with making ends meet, entire countries do.
Now, where do you keep your cash? A wallet? Yeah, you’re doing it wrong. Once, when Jesus needed to pay his tax he said “Of course; get me a fish. Yes, from the sea.” Then he magicked some money out of it and paid his tax with that. Oh, and he paid the Apostle Peter’s tax while he was at it. (Mt 17:24-27) Unfortunately, Jesus isn’t producing infinite money from unsuspecting wildlife today.
So, the bible principle we are going to look at doesn’t directly concern money. The principle is in 1 Timothy 6 and keep your bibles open, please. Look at verse 8 with me and note that money is not mentioned. Can you see why?
“So, having food and clothing, we will be content with these things.”
The Apostle Paul is telling us to be content with the necessities. Why? He continues in verse 9 and 10:
“But those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge men into destruction and ruin. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”
While success in this world is often measured in terms of material possessions, it’s the determination to get them that can be ruinous. It’s all too easy to lose perspective on the important things in our life such as our worship and time with our families. So the principle in verse 8 reminds us to be content with the necessities. Does this mean that once we have the necessities we should give the rest away or stop working or something? Does this mean that we are not allowed to be rich? That we’re not allowed to have nice stuff? Look to verses 17-19:
“Instruct those who are rich in the present system of things not to be arrogant, and to place their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who richly provides us with all the things we enjoy. 18 Tell them to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be generous, ready to share, 19 safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, so that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”
Paul was addressing Christians who were rich and reminding them, not to give everything away and live on the breadline, but to be careful and remember where their trust needs to lie.
So if we don’t need to teeter on the precipice of poverty to apply this principle, just what does being “content with these things” mean?
Contentment involves living within our means. Contentment involves not being distracted by the quest for more or better material possessions. Contentment involves not being resentful or disappointed by our current standard of living.
And how does being content help us to cope with economic problems?
Being content will help us readjust to new financial circumstances as quickly as possible.
Being content will help us focus on the more important things such as cultivating a good relationship with God and enjoying a happy and secure family life.
Being content will help us avoid being enticed by get-rich-quick schemes and risky financial investments which cause distracting anxiety.
Consider this indisputable statement from Proverbs 22:7
“The rich one rules the poor, And the borrower is a slave to the lender.”
Being content will help us to minimize the times we become slave to a lender because we will try not to incur unnecessary heavy debt which causes anxiety and pressure, distracting us from the more important things.
In God’s coming new world, economic problems will belong to the past. But in the meantime, we can use the Bible principle of being content to live within our means to help us avoid and cope with economic problems.
How To Allay Anxiety
Our fourth topic is how to allay anxiety. There are plenty of things to be anxious about these days; it seems almost everyone has something weighing down on them. So what Bible principle might we apply to help us cope with anxiety?
Philippians 4:6, 7 opens with a dogmatic and startling phrase:
“Do not be anxious over anything”
Easy for him to say. How is that possible?
“but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”
Prayer brings us “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding”. Now perhaps we can’t see how prayer can bring us peace from anxiety. We can’t imagine how it works. Indeed, it “surpasses all understanding.” But history and personal experience will tell us that it does work and we will receive the peace of God. Does that mean that prayer is a magic cure-all? No, because it’s not the solution; it’s there to help us cope until the solution is complete.
Now, what if you pray and it doesn’t work and you’re still anxious and you don’t feel like you’re coping at all? Does that mean you’ve done it wrong or that the principle has failed or God’s just had enough of you and your whining?
Consider, please, the example of Jesus recorded at Luke 22 and we’ll look at a few verses here.
Luke 22:41-43 He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw away, and he bent his knees and began to pray, 42 saying: “Father, if you want to, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
Did Jesus have reason to be anxious? Yes, this was the night he was to allow himself and his Father to be humiliated and his life to be sacrificed. He was clearly worried about it, there was tremendous pressure on him and he was feeling it. He prayed and got a wonderful direct answer: an angel came and strengthened him.
However, look at verse 44.
But he was in such agony that he kept praying more earnestly; and his sweat became as drops of blood falling to the ground.
Yeah, the first prayer didn’t do it. Not only that, after his first prayer he became more stressed; so much so that it describes his sweat becoming like blood. Have you ever been so anxious or stressed over something that it affects you physically? Some of you have, I’m sure. And it happened to Jesus after he prayed about his anxiety.
Did that mean that Jesus would abandon the idea of prayer or presume God was ignoring him? Of course it didn’t. Just a short while later when he returned to his disciples in verse 46, he extols the value of prayer – “keep praying, so that you do not enter into temptation” – and, even though his anxiety nor the circumstance causing it were miraculously wiped away, he was able to cope and continue with the task at hand.
He clearly wasn’t embarrassed to pray repeatedly, even immediately, was he? With Jesus’ experience in mind, let’s consider a couple of points from James 1:5
“So if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching, and it will be given him.”
You see, Jehovah doesn’t mind us praying again and again, in fact, he urges us to do so: “keep asking”. I like James’ use of the phrase “without reproaching”. God will not think less of us because we ask repeatedly for his help. ‘I can’t believe you need my help again so soon already.’ No, there is no reproaching or criticism or smug sarcastic comments from God just because you need to pray to him over and over. Jesus had to pray immediately after he had been strengthened. Jehovah wants us to feel comfortable enough with him to do the same.
Now, prayer by itself will help but we need to work along with it. Philippians talked about guarding hearts and mental powers, James talked about praying for wisdom. Sometimes we can avoid, guard against or cope with situations that cause anxiety by following wisdom gleaned from God’s Word. Prayer… can give us enough peace so that we can find that wisdom.
In God’s coming new world, all problems that cause anxiety will belong to the past. But in the meantime, we can use the Bible principle of persistently praying for peace and wisdom to help us cope with and allay anxiety.
What is the Key to Coping with Today’s Problems Successfully?
Chatting about these principles is all well and good and easy now. But how do we make sure we still refer to them when we need to? You see, everything’s working against us. When things are going well, we tend to consider it our own achievement and so our opinions take on an exaggerated importance. When things become difficult, we tend to become more susceptible to unrealistic solutions and find it harder to make discerning decisions.
See what Hebrews 5:14 tells us will help us train our powers of discernment.
“Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”
‘Discernment trained through use.’ That means we need to consider and apply Bible principles constantly; not just when we have problems. We have to continually prove to ourselves that God’s wisdom is better than our own. That only happens through personal study and meditation. By doing that, we will be training our conscience to default to God’s wisdom and that will help us make sure we still refer to Bible principles when problems arise.
So, Bible principles – can they help us cope with today’s problems? Well, as we’ve seen, they can help us to avoid some of today’s problems in the first place. But when enduring problems, Bible principles can help us to cope, often by keeping things in proper perspective and by reminding us to keep asking for the “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Eventually, thanks to God’s coming Kingdom, today’s problems will belong to the past. But in the meantime, thanks to God’s love, Bible principles can help us to cope so that we can march gratefully into that eagerly awaited new world.