September 2, 1997
A cartoon shows an obese doctor telling his obese patient, “I want you to quit smoking and lose 40 pounds. Then I want you to come back and tell me how you did it.”
We might not laugh because we struggle ourselves with trying to break some habits that seem impossible. No one wants lung cancer, heart disease or any other medical problem interfering with enjoyment of life, yet even those concerns are sometimes not enough to motivate some people into making a total break from unhealthy addictions. For many, the feel-good sensation of alcohol, cigarettes and rich desserts has a stronger appeal than any alternative.
We also can laugh because this cartoon reminds us of “pots who call the kettle black.” Even the Bible condemns the practice of judging others if we have the same problem. Those who did were quick to hear, “Physician, heal thyself.” Jesus said, “Those without guilt can cast the first stone.”
But if we refuse to listen to losers, will we listen to a winner? When the most perfect Being tells us how to live, will we easily follow His directions? For instance, one of the Ten Commandments says, “Thou shall not envy.” But who of us has not envied? Who has not had a yen for what others have? Who has not been discontent with their own things and wanted more?
God tells us to stop all sinning. That includes envy but also other attitudes and behaviors such as selfish thoughts, unkind words, lies, violence, immoral activities, and so on. Yet God is not like the cartoon doctor. For one thing, He doesn’t struggle with the things He tells us not stop doing. He never offers a “prescription” then asks us how He can follow it too. We have the problem, not Him.
Most of us find it difficult to even admit we cannot obey God. Some say they never murder or commit adultery, as if those were the only sins. But who has not envied? Or told a lie? Or grumbled against God? Or just ignored Him?
Anyone who tries to be godly knows that stopping all sin is an impossible assignment. We are so helpless. That being the case, why does the Great Physician bother to tell us how to live? Doesn’t He realize that His Law is impossible for one hundred percent obedience?
Of course God knows. But we do not. We fail to realize how far we are from what God intended we should be, and without the Law to set His standard for us, we are ignorant of our condition. The Law is God’s eternal standard and has an unexpected purpose — it was not intended to bring us closer to God but to show us how far away we are!
In writing about envy and the Law, the Apostle Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was except through the Law. . . . so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. . . the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual . . . .” Paul admits that he could not stand approved before God through obeying rules. In another place, he explained why—the Law was never intended to make us better people. Instead, “the Law is our school master to lead us to Christ.”
God is not like the cartoon doctor. While He does give us a prescription of what we must do, He takes it one step farther and offers us a Living Savior who will enter into our lives and do it for us. As a Christian author once said, “The Lawgiver on the throne becomes the Law keeper in our hearts.”
Because of that wonderful reality, Paul conquered the sin of envy. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . . I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” He didn’t have to do it by himself.