Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:31b “. . .ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
David Hume, a bitter atheist, once blustered, “The life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” Hume was so terrorized at dying that his violent shaking of his own deathbed shook his whole house. His nurse said, for all the wealth of Europe she would never watch another infidel die.
We reject Hume’s foolish, bankrupt views about life, death, and the value of people. Instead we believe what Jesus taught. People matter most. Human beings are the most valuable species, earth’s dearest treasure. Not all things are created equal, some hold more value than others. People adorn the top of all comparisons.
Radical environmentalists believe their cause is undermined by any hint that God values people above other creatures. They thus set themselves at odds against Jesus and the Bible. It is wrong to say other animals are equal in value to humans.
I do not and will not debunk environmentalism. I have often said I regret that few born again followers of Jesus are in the environmental movement. Bible Christians should be the first to acknowledge humans are under a divine mandate to safeguard our ecosystems. God made people the caretakers of this planet.
By His own example, God teaches us to be environmentalists. He cares for plants, adorning lilies of the field (LK 12:27-28). He cares for animals, attending the funeral of each sparrow that falls, commanding us to help fallen donkeys and oxen (DT 22:4), telling us how to treat birds in a nest (DT 22:6), and saying a righteous man has regard for the life of his beast (PR 12:10). He cares for things, numbering hairs on our head, and forbidding the abuse of trees in war (DT 20:19).
God’s environmental concern is a springboard for Jesus saying people are more valuable than all else He cares for. The lesson is clear. Since He takes care of less valuable parts of creation, He will take care of the most valuable, people.
These verses (10:29-31) on God’s providence are a remarkable, comforting statement on His love for people. We serve a kind Father. He cares for sparrows, numbers our hairs, commands us not to fear, and tells us we are of supreme worth.
As we enjoy soaking in these verses, and contemplate the God they present, we need to confront a question. What should be our response to a God like this?
First, trust Him. We are wrong to doubt One who loves as He does. Trust, not fear, is the logical response to the God pictured in these verses. He who feeds sparrows will not starve His children. He who numbers hairs will not forget us.
We often don’t see our way clearly, but must trust the One who does see all. A Dr. Culress once took a blind girl off her daddy’s knee. The father asked his daughter, “Aren’t you afraid? You don’t know who has you.” “No,” she replied, “I don’t know who has me, and I’m not afraid, for I know that you know.” For a child of God, knowing that He knows should be reason enough to trust in Him.
A Pastor Nosworthy was reduced to abject poverty due to persecution and imprisonment for Jesus. When after breakfast not one bite of food was left in the house, his wife asked, “What shall I do with my poor children?” Hearing a bird, Pastor told her to notice its glad chirp, though the bird knew not where to go for its next meal. “Be of good cheer,” he said, “Do not distrust the providence of God; for are we not better than many sparrows?” By suppertime, they had food aplenty.
Trust does not come automatically. It has to be practiced. God chose to give promises. We have to choose to receive them. The Father places them, as it were, in an escrow account and we have to consciously, constantly withdraw them.
The most helpful discipline in my spiritual walk is reading the whole Bible annually. Another approach is also helpful. When we read a passage our heart does not fully believe, we need to stop right there, do soul work with the King of Kings, and admit we are in that moment sharing the dilemma of the father whose son suffered convulsions (MK 9:14ff). When Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes,” the father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” We can often relate to his trauma. We do believe, but unbelief mixes in with it. When we read a passage we do not grasp, take responsibility for not believing it. Do whatever has to be done to make it right. May we learn the peace that trust brings.
Second, learn submission. God rules in human affairs. Rebellion chafes us. Accepting providence is our only route to joy. May our lives bow before Him in worship. The only way to overcome afflictions is to eventually acquiesce in them.
Saintly Mr. Dodd, told an excruciating, incurable sickness would be his lot the rest of his life, shed a few tears of sorrow, but then called his family around, and said, “This is evidently from God, and God never sent me anything but it was for my good, therefore let us kneel down together, and thank God for this.”
Spurgeon said, when we reach the point we can thank God for a particular affliction, we are close to getting through it. I’m often not there. I chafe. It is sin, and must be confessed as such. We can’t skirt the issue or dodge cold, hard truth.
We pray, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” Do we deny with our attitudes what we say in our own prayers? Do we contradict ourselves? When life goes our way, and all seems well, “Thy will be done” is easy to pray because it is actually a way of saying “I’m glad my will is being done.” But in the difficult days, when “not my will” is being done, shall we grow impatient with God, and question Him?
Our goal must be to learn submission. As you know, for three years I have been in an ongoing controversy with God. When my grandson was diagnosed with autism, something in me went awry. I began a war I was unprepared to wage.
My preacher dad taught me to build into life hedges of protection against the three temptations that usually trip preachers: money, power, sex. From my earliest preaching days, I built in safety valves, walls of caution, as safeguards in these three areas. A controversy with God blind sided me. I wasn’t expecting it.
For three years I have struggled. Sharing the common lot of humanity, I have responded in ways similar to what others do in the same situation. At times I dodged the issue, tried to ignore it. Other times I expressed anger, wondering why it happened to our family. Some days I tried to bargain with God, to cut a deal.
As I approached these messages, I knew something had to give. Arguing against God is no minor matter, especially for a pastor who must someday stand before the living God and give an account for his leadership and his every sermon.
The Lord used these verses to bring me to the crossroad of decision. I had to settle the issue, one way or the other. I have good news. I crossed the line, in the right direction. I have finally accepted the Lord’s decision. I am at peace.
I know I will have moments of relapse, when I will wonder and question again, but the tone of my heart is set, the controversy settled. Jesus has been good to me. Shall I receive good from His hand, but refuse to accept this? I have confessed to God, my family, and our staff. Now I confess to you, my dear people.
Three years is a long time to wander in the wilderness of bewilderment. I’m grateful Jesus knows our frame, mindful we are but dust (PS 103:14). I am living proof He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (MT 12:20).
Third, all to Jesus we surrender. God cares enough about us to take time to know us all the way down to the most minute details of our existence. In return, shouldn’t we give to God our own selves even down to our most minute details?
Search our heart. Is anything yet held back? Do we still cling to something hidden in the recesses of our heart? When asking God to cleanse him of his sins, A. J. Gordon would pray, “Be thorough with me, Jesus, be thorough with me.”
May we be thorough, willing to give all, to show the last full measure of devotion, like the fabled drummer boy who yearned to play his drum for baby Jesus, like the widow who gave her last two mites, like Stephen who gave his dying breath, like the weeping woman who, for the One who numbered her hairs, unbound her hair to use it as a towel to dry the feet she had washed with her tears?
Is anything not yet given? Is a dirty magazine hidden somewhere at home, a liquor bottle or joint of marijuana stashed, a tithe withheld, a promise unkept?
Jesus knows about it, and is vitally interested in it, no matter how minute a matter we deem it. He sees a sparrow fall into death. Do we think He looks the other way when we fall into sin? He cares about our hairs. Do we think He would not care about our sins? May the Lord help us root out anything not yet given, lay it on the altar, and feel the joy of sacrificing something new and afresh to Him.