Jumping off the Temple
The tradition of trusting
God to take care of us is well established in the Judeo-Christian
heritage. But in the midst of pursuing spiritually-oriented priorities
direction of forceful spiritual leaders or from other compelling
reasons, sometimes Christians can lose
touch with the balance and perspective that Jesus himself brought to
this matter. This article will discuss God's providential
protection, the Christian response to that protection, and a few common
areas where it seems that Christians may need to re-examine their
teachings and priorities on this topic.
God's Providential Protection
There are many passages that discuss God's providential protection.
First, the Scriptures teach that God provides for all men:
He causes his sun to rise
on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)
He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their
seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with
joy. (Acts 14:17)
... he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (Acts
Even with this, Christians are said to have special blessings as a
result of their relationship with God:
And so we know and rely
on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:16)
He who did not spare his
own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will
he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans
Christian Responses to Providence
Some have taught that the Christian response to God's protection and
provision is to not tend to any of the things of the world. One passage
often cited to support this is from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Therefore I tell you, do
not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your
body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the
body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do
not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father
feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by
worrying can add a single hour to his life?
"And why do you worry
about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor
or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was
dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the
field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will
he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry,
saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall
we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly
Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his
righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about
itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-33)
In the hands of some spiritual leaders, this text is a
tool to demand that Christians attend every single event and service
and make every single church matter a number one priority, without
regard to any other matters. Followers are told to make all church
things the top priority and that God will take care of them. In some
cases Christians are chided, rebuked or marginalized for tending to
Even if not taught in an extreme way, the idea that Christians should
"just focus on church things and everything else will work out" is an
incorrect understanding of this passage and
others like it.
Going into an extensive exegesis of this text is beyond the scope of
this article. But it is evident that God has established several other
principles that argue against this interpretation of this text. There
are many of these in Scripture, only a few will be cited here:
For example, Christians are commanded to work in order to eat and
For even when we were with
you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
(2 Thessalonians 3:10)
Christians are also reminded that they will reap what they sow:
Do not be deceived: God
cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)
Christians are also warned to care for themselves:
Stop drinking only water,
and use a little wine because
of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23)
The point here is that
Christians are to balance reliance upon God's providence with their own
prudent and wise actions.
Jesus himself was faced with this issue on at least one notable
occasion, as part of the temptation from Satan in the wilderness:
Then the devil took him to
the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If
you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is
" `He will command
his angels concerning you,
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will
not strike your foot against a stone.' "
Jesus answered him, "It is
also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " (Matthew
The promise Satan cites, from Psalm 91, is quite amazing. The reader is
encouraged to read it in its entirety. Satan's argument was
that, if Jesus trusted the Lord, then he would be their heir to the
blessing of protection discussed in Psalm 91. So why not just jump off
the temple and prove both the Lord's protection and his own
Jesus responds with a point of balance and responsibility-- do not test
God. This is a reference to Deuteronomy
6:16, which discusses how the Israelites tested God. They did this by
demanding that he provide some
specific care immediately, not trusting his promise to bring them into
flowing with milk and honey.
As is true in many theological questions, there is a tension between
God's provision and man's faithfulness and responsibility.
Christian Misuses and Abuses of
There are several areas of
life where I have seen teachings that have not handled this principle
responsibly. In some cases, it is simply a well-intentioned but
imbalanced perspective that has brought harm. In other cases it may be
instances of testing God by effectively
"jumping off the temple" in various areas of life.
In regards to our daily work and provision, too often Christians are
not taught to value school, work and careers. For example, many young
minister candidates are encouraged to work dead-end jobs below their
abilities without regard for future developments while they pursue
ministry training (to many, this is the ultimate "seek first the
kingdom" decision). Yet the Scriptures encourage us to keep options
Sow your seed in the
evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know
which will succeed,
this or that,
whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes 11:6)
For many who remain in ministry, the stories are told of how they
worked in this or that ridiculous job before they went into the
"promised land" of full-time ministry.
But nobody seems to talk much about those who did not remain in
full-time ministry and how their attempt to be faithful ended up
hurting them for a long time. The irresponsible approach that led them
disregard their career development ultimately harms their faith, their
ability to provide for themselves and their families, and (ironically)
even the work of the church through their ability to give.
In regards to finances, Christians are often taught to "give first
to God" and after that to tend to other things. Giving is a good thing,
but when taught in this manner it is a particularly
First, it ignores the differences between giving under the Law of Moses
and giving in the church age. (For more on this, see the Barnabas
Ministry article Tithing.)
Second, giving to a local church or parachurch organization is not the
same as giving to God.
Third, giving to the poor or other worthy causes that help the poor is
also blessed by God (ref. Proverbs 14:31).
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, other Scriptures plainly place
responsibility upon the
individual Christian to take care of things that he and no other is
responsible for. For example, Christians with aging relatives are
commanded to care for those parents:
But if a widow has
children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their
religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying
their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (1 Timothy
If anyone does not provide
for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has
denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
This certainly takes precedence over giving to a church. In fact, the
practice of neglecting family to "give to God" was condemned by Jesus:
he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of
God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, `Honor
your father and your mother,' and, `Anyone who curses his father or
mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his
father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from
me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let
him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of
God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things
like that." (Mark 7:9-13)
Christians are also taught to focus their attention on the things
to provide for themselves, both now and in the future:
Make it your ambition to
lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your
hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect
of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1
In addition, Christians are taught to save for the future-- not as a
replacement for trusting God (ref. Luke 12:16-21) but as an expression
of that trust, respecting God's order of creation:
Go to the ant, you
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
Churches have at times taught that members should go into debt or
liquidate retirement funds to meet contribution goals. This practice
seems to goes against the teachings of Scripture. And encouraging
Christians to remain in situations that do not have the potential to
provide for themselves and their families long-term prevents Christians
from being faithful in this area.
To be sure, Christians are stewards of their finances. But it is
testing God to think that the law of sowing and reaping will not apply
to Christians who neglect things they are responsible for when it comes
to personal finances.
With respect to health, it is astonishing how little is taught to
Christians about caring for their health. Of course, most churches talk
about avoiding sexual promiscuity, smoking, drugs and excessive
drinking. These certainly bring health benefits. So there is a good
here, but unfortunately many church cultures stop there.
For instance, many churches praise those who come to the services while
they are sick-- never mind that these sick saints are harming their own
recovery to health and likely making others sick in the process.
How about praising people for taking care of themselves when sick and
not subjecting others to their germs? (Germ-spreading handshakes are a
whole other matter, but it reminds me that the late Paul Harvey
suggested a nice salute instead of the handshakes that are a part of
many services. As it is, many people are cleaning up with hand
sanitizer after "greeting their neighbor" in services.)
Additionally, many church cultures have a high-speed, packed-schedule
may include unhealthy eating choices as the norm- imbalanced diets,
fast food, a lot of eating out (or the traditional pot-luck meals
excessive portions are consumed). It may also include early morning
and/or late night events as well. Time for regular and
appropriate exercise, rest, and necessary sleep are not a priority.
Some church cultures have a high-pressure, high-anxiety
approach to ministry as well. These stresses and pressures serve to
reinforce this high-speed lifestyle as well.
these types of settings, much is made of "extreme"
things in the life of Jesus-- once rising early to pray (Mark 1:35),
another time staying up all night to pray (Luke 6:12). But even Jesus
took naps (Matthew 8:24) and got away for rest and relaxation. And the
whole concept of the Sabbath, a day of rest, is instructive in this
area as well. How many Christians would say Sunday is a "day of rest"
for them when it comes to church things?
Churches should teach
Christians to care for themselves (1 Timothy
5:23). This brings benefits both in the short and long term. Yet, too many churches
seem are too interested in the "now" to be
concerned with the "later." Some may be taking the future for granted,
others may impulsively want immediate gratification for the things at
hand. Worse, some
teach that this life does
not matter, that it's better to "die and be with the Lord" anyway, and
the like. But if this life is degraded in importance, does that not
degrade eternal life as well? This life matters.
A sign in
the office of one of my doctors says, "If you don't take care of your
body, where are you going to live?" Yet the connection between high
stress and unbalanced living and numerous health issues is well
established in the medical community. If a Christian has good things to
do with his or her life, then it is in the best interest of the kingdom
for that person to be able to do those those things for as well and as
long as possible. This means making good choices now that will pay off
It is a mixed message to
provide food and medical care for the poor for
their temporal benefit, and
yet to disregard our own temporal benefits with bad food and health
Now some churches go to
excessive lengths on this-- mandating
certain diets or prohibitions of certain foods. This may be
well-intentioned but usually ends up becoming a law. These laws are not
in line with Scripture; all foods are "clean" (Mark 7:19).
The point is that we will
reap what we sow with respect to our health.
To not care for our health and to expect God to sustain us anyway
appears to be another way of "jumping off the temple" and testing God.
Don't you know that you
yourselves are God's temple and that
God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will
destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1
One last area of concern is the issue of personal safety. Many of us
have heard of Christians who were in bad car wrecks but were "saved by
the Lord" from serious injury or death. But then we come to find that
the Christian driver was being careless, driving too fast, fell asleep
while driving back from some late event or the like.
Subsequent discussions of these matters often seem to focus on God's
blessing of protecting people from serious harm in these cases.
Thanking God is always a good thing, and I'm thankful when someone has
a wreck and escapes serious injury. But, these discussions need to
also include warnings about how we should be careful and not test God
with irresponsible or unsafe behavior.
Further, how many of these accidents could be avoided if schedules
weren't packed too tightly, if people were not humiliated for
occasional lateness to some events, or if people got proper rest and
weren't driving tired all of the time?
A Personal Word
The idea for this article has been percolating for more than a
year. There have been several personal events that have prompted it.
Last year I went to funerals of two men who died of heart attacks. Both
were younger than me, and their children, approximately the same ages
as my own, are now fatherless. Unless you have experienced something
like this, you have no idea how close to home this hits.
Like many Americans, I take cholesterol-lowering medication. But in
light of these two deaths, I went in for a heart scan earlier this
year. Though my cholesterol and triglyceride levels were
better than average, I found that I had already sustained some heart
blood tests I was taking every year were showing I was above average
with respect to cardiac event risk,
but those tests were not capable of showing this damage. Subsequently,
I went through an additional
battery of tests. As a result, my medications have changed slightly,
and I have made significant lifestyle changes as well. I hope to do now
what should have been done many years ago-- take care of my
cardiovascular health. The exam was a wake-up call.
I encourage everybody who has been a part of a high-demand church (or
high-demand job or other circumstance, for that matter) to get checked
out physically. Stress, bad diet and lack of sleep can all contribute
to hurting your health and
the ability of your body to manage itself. You can't change the past,
but you can make efforts to be healthy starting today.
As I thought about my condition, I wondered how and when all this
happened. Was it that couple of years in college where I lived on
loads of pizza and beer and other unhealthy foods and gained a lot of
weight? Was it the go-go-go
lifestyle I experienced in a high-demand church? Was it in years after
that, those years when you still eat like a young adult but burn
calories like an older adult? Or has it been cumulative, building up
all this time? There are no certain answers; it could
have happened at any of those times. But-- one thing did come to mind.
Having spent my entire adult life in fairly devoted involvement in
churches, I can see that churches need to do a better job with these
issues. Let me illustrate
with my own experiences.
In the ICC, I was periodically criticized for my weight, but this was
almost always because of my appearance and how some perceived this as
damaging to my (and their) credibility. Another aspect of this was
usually present-- the technique of
pointing out a flaw
or fault merely to put me on the defensive and control me, a common
practice in control-based churches. What more obvious flaw does someone
have than being overweight?
While those of us in the ICC tended to think of "discipling" as great
and necessary, there was
little or no concern for my actual health. It was simply not a church
priority. Despite all
the talk about how we should work out and get in shape, the church culture
encouraged me to continue to live a high-anxiety,
go-go-go lifestyle that ensured I would remain overweight and unhealthy.
In other churches I've been a part of since then, I'm having a hard
time remembering when this has ever been discussed from the pulpit. It
just isn't on the radar.
This is not to blame the church for my choices; I am the one who
lives with the fruit of my choices, long after the conferences,
"pushes" and other short-term church goals are forgotten, long after
the praise for living the go-go-go lifestyle is over.
I would hope that churches and Christians today can learn from these
I can see where some might argue that all that really matters is
eternal life, and that any sacrifice in temporal well-being to get
others to heaven is worth it.
This sounds really good on the surface, but there are some problems
with this view.
First, recklessness is not a sacrifice. Those
who sacrificed in biblical times for the good of others generally
suffered at the hands of persecutors or as a result of genuine
hardships (such as the elements), they did not suffer for their own
recklessness or at the
hands of careless leaders. It is one thing to sacrifice health or die
an early death due to
persecution or necessary hardship; it is another to die or suffer those
things due to recklessness.
Second, rarely are these sacrifices directly responsible for getting
people to heaven. More often, they are about creating a church culture
or movement that might be
helping people get to heaven. But a
high-demand church also loses a significant percentage of the people it
reaches, so the net effect is not so great as one might think. Further,
if the church did a better job with these long-term sowing and reaping
things, it might also retain a higher percentage of its converts. In
other words, this short-term approach might be part of its problem,
eroding that which it tries to build. Maybe churches need to find
better ways to do things instead of trading the future for the now.
Third, the principles of sowing and reaping still stand; they are as
much a part of creation as gravity. How is it that we can mock God's
ways in one area of life (sowing and reaping) to honor him in another
area (winning souls)? This sounds like the old "let us do evil that
good may result" argument that is condemned in Scripture (Romans 3:8).
While there are times where true sacrifices may be necessary to advance
the kingdom, equating recklessness to sacrifice (and expecting God to
cover it) is a form of testing God.
A Word Concerning Young People
Young people are especially vulnerable to not taking any of these
concerns seriously. Young people have always generally considered
themselves indestructible and not subject to the law of reaping and
sowing. They always think they will work it out "later."
As a former young person, I can only say "later" comes sooner than you
think, and there is no time like now to do the right things. You will
begin reaping the benefits of taking responsibility for your actions
Because young people typically don't take these things seriously, they
are ripe for being mistreated or ill-served by spiritual leaders in
these matters. They
don't know any better. In a local church, there needs to be some more
mature people involved looking out for them.
Often, young people
look to spiritual leaders as parent figures, often giving them more
their lives than they give their own parents. Thus, leaders of young
cannot just focus on "spiritual issues." They must reinforce teachings
about life lest they undercut or minimize what parents have already
provided. In cases where young people
may not have received this teaching from parents for a variety of other
reasons, this point even more important.
Young people who are sowing to please God are already showing they can
appreciate the big picture of life and eternity; it really isn't that
much of a stretch to teach them to also have the same perspectives on
life on earth.
A Word Concerning Leaders and Teachers
Leaders need to watch what they teach and how their followers live:
Watch your life and
doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save
both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Thus, it is vitally important that teachers explicitly teach followers
the law of sowing and reaping is always in effect. Trusting God for
deliverance in times of trouble will always be a part of the Christian
experience, and well it should be. But God has also established the law
of sowing and reaping and it must be respected. It is an implicit part
of God's law since it is a law of creation.
Church leaders should teach Christians to honor God by sowing good
choices in terms of careers, finances, health and safety (and there are
probably more areas). These things glorify God because they glorify how
he has created us and the world we live in. These involve trust and
submission to Him. Do not trade the long term for the short term; to
God both are important. (And frankly, a good case can be made that the
long-term things are the more important of the two).
Church leaders should never teach that God can be mocked or tested by
disregarding the law of sowing and reaping. Not many may do this
explicitly from the pulpit, but many do it by encouraging church
culture and lifestyle choices that are bound to reap undesirable or
bad things. We might not ever teach people to "jump off the temple" but
we often encourage it by rejoicing when it happens.
It is fashionable to teach
about "God's promises." But saying God has promised something that he
hasn't is more like Satan in Matthew 4 than a caring shepherd. Church
people to trust God and rely upon him and his promises, but also teach
that sowing and reaping is one of his promises!
Many church leaders live for the short-term-- this month's goals, this
year's initiatives, etc. This is what secular management techniques
have done to the church. But leaders are entrusted with caring for
people. They are his, not yours. You must lead and teach them in a way
that prepares them for the future. To use them to make you and your
program look good for the present without regard for preparing them for
their future is spiritual abuse.
Remember, you are building for the long haul:
But each one should be
careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the
one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this
foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his
work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to
light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the
quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will
receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself
will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1
Some practical ways to look at this-- how much sleep are people
getting? Are some people "too involved?" Are they sowing for the long
term and not just the short term? Are church events with food abused?
Is moderation encouraged? Is rest and relaxation encouraged? Are
children and spouses getting the time, attention and support they need?
attention to those who are the most involved, the most reliable. Lay
leaders are especially at risk. Are
they maxed out? (And don't expect them to tell you that they are-- they
want to please you.) Also pay attention to those who are not involved--
they living balanced lives?
A Final Word
A generation ago, a singer spoke of this topic in a poetic sort of way.
said, "So lean upon him gently" (Ian Anderson).
We know and rely on the love God has for us. In him we live and move
and have our being. But let us also realize he has created a world with
rules, and living according to those rules is also living according to
We will all need God's provision when our own choices have been bad; we
are sinners. But let us not deliberately or recklessly make bad choices
and in so doing test God.
Let's "lean upon him gently" as we respect the law of sowing and
And, take those health symptoms seriously. See a doctor if you need to.