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'God helps those who help themselves' Really?


‘God helps those who help themselves’ – or does He?


In a Barna Group Poll: 81% of Americans thought that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ was in the Bible.


Usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin - one of the founding fathers - and dated 1757, it goes right back to Aesop’s Fables in 6th Century BC.


But you WON'T find it in the bible...


Now, many of these Biblical misquotes do contain a degree of truth. After all, a broken clock is right twice a day! And there IS a measure of truth in this saying, because if I flip open by bible on 2 Thessalonians 3.10-12 it says this:

While we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.


Paul message was ‘don’t be lazy, don’t expect everything handing to you - earn your keep’


So “God helps those who help themselves” is partially true in that we do need to work hard to earn our way through our lives. However, it is fundamentally unbiblical in a couple of important ways.


1. IT ENCOURAGES SELF-HELP


Do you like going in bookshops? I love a good bookshop! It’s a real treat to be able to wander around a bookshop, browsing and maybe buying the odd book. (If the bookshop has a coffee shop, it’s even more of a treat...)


If you’ve been in a bookshop recently you’ll have seen a large section of what are called ‘self-help’ books. It’s a $10 billion per year industry just in the United States – that’s before we factor in rest of world!


Top selling titles include:

  • How to look and feel fabulous every day”

  • ‘Turn your ideas into reality and become a wildly successful entrepreneur’

  • ‘The stress solution: 4 steps to a calmer happier you

  • ‘Find your truth and embrace your calling’

  • ‘Think and Grow Rich’

  • ‘10 Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives’ .


There's a couple of those I might need to read myself...


People are willing to spend a fortune to find the key to help themselves out of their problems. And to have some expert or guru teach them how to ‘help yourself’. The trouble is that it reinforces self-centeredness instead of seeking the One who has the power to help.


There's that great old hymn that says, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in his strength alone. The arm of flesh will fail you; You dare not trust your own.”


That hymn speaks an age-old truth, because God isn’t looking for people who are self-reliant – but rather people who are God-reliant


2. IT ENCOURAGES SELFISHNESS


“God helps those who help themselves” is sometimes used to avoid the Biblical mandate to help people.

But, the reality is there are some people who cannot help themselves. 


And no matter how much people tell them to, ‘Pick yourselves up’, ‘Get a grip’, ‘Pull your finger out’ sometimes people are in a hole so deep they can’t climb out without someone helping them.


Trapped in poverty or struggling financially, caught in circumstances that leave them frustrated, or dealing with past mistakes or the consequences of bad choices. 


Whatever – they don’t need someone telling them that ‘God helps those who help themselves’. They need help.


Over and over in the Bible, God calls us to help those who cannot help themselves. In the book of Leviticus, farmers were instructed to leave the edges of the field at the Harvest, so that people who needed help could go and find food. It was literally the first ever ‘Foodbank’.

Then we have probably the best known parable – the Good Samaritan. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ was the question that prompted the parable – and the answer is, ‘The one who helped’.


If we have no compassion for those in need, then we have missed an essential part of the gospel.


The truth is that God helps those who know that they need help. Those who think they have enough power to help themselves will try – and they will not seek God’s help. But the Lord responds to those who cry out to him for help. That’s not as easy as it sounds because we don’t want to admit we are weak. We must admit God is our only source of help and without it we are sunk!


Just compare the statement “God helps those who help themselves” to the words of Psalm 121

“I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.


So, the next time you hear someone say, “God helps those who help themselves”, be sure to correct them with “God helps those who know that they need help”

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