Life is a little like walking a tight-rope. Our success will depend a lot upon whether or not we maintain a proper balance. The two things we must keep in balance are the natural and the spiritual. Both are vitally important to us.
Our Israeli tourguide son making mother nervous
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE NATURAL
The flesh, of course, is our natural state. It is easy for us to be in this state, but in the end, a fleshly life is a disaster. Paul says in Romans 8:6-8: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace…So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (NKJV).”
Still, we must not ignore the natural. A dear departed pastor friend, Rev. Jim Nochta, used to say: “We can become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” There is great wisdom in this old saying. The natural is important and cannot be ignored. Consider the statement made in James 2:15-16: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” To ignore the natural is to lose the spiritual and to stand condemned before God. The husband cannot truly be spiritual if he ignores the wife, or the children. He cannot really be spiritual if he stops providing for them (1 Tim. 5:8). The spiritual man can always humble himself to take out the garbage and perhaps even help with the dishes.
We Christians have been greatly influenced in our thinking by monasticism, which developed early in church history. Monasticism was an attempt to focus on the spiritual without any earthly distractions. Contrary to biblical teaching, it usually forbade marriage and required its adherents to live their lives secluded from the world. Quite clearly, monasticism was influenced by Greek ideas. The Greeks looked upon the earth and the human body as being essentially evil, while they idolized the spiritual realm as being good and holy.
We do not see such a dichotomy in the Bible. The Hebrew idea has always been that the earth is the Lord’s, and that it is a good earth. The Hebrew looked upon the body as being good, and upon sex in the marriage relationship as holy and good. Marriage was not to be spurned under normal conditions, but was something to be greatly desired. This was so much the case that, according to the scholar, Dr. Marvin Wilson, biblical Hebrew did not even have a word for “bachelor.” Daily work or professions were likewise looked upon as something good. In the Hebrew language, the single word avodah is used denote both “work” and “worship.”
It is very interesting that until recent times Jewish rabbis worked at secular jobs. In the Mishna, Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi had this to say: “Excellent is the study of Torah [law] together with a worldly occupation, for the pursuit of both of these causes sinful thoughts to be forgotten. And any study of Torah not combined with some kind of work must fail in the end and be conducive to sin…” (Perkei Avot B).
It seems that any attempt to separate ourselves from the natural affairs of the earth and to become some sort of spiritual hermits is destined to fail. When we only concern ourselves with the spiritual, we run a good risk of actually opening ourselves up to spiritual deception. God made us so our feet could be firmly planted on the earth and our heads could look up to the heavens. We must essentially maintain this posture if our walk is to be perfect before God.
THOUGHTS ON THE SPIRITUAL
The Apostle Paul instructs us: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:16). We are also instructed to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and to be spiritually minded (Rom. 8:6).
Obviously, the natural outlook that we discussed earlier, if taken by itself, can lead us into great difficulty. It can also lead us into idolatry. Our jobs can become idols. So can our homes, our wives, and our families. Natural Israel can even become an idol, and so can natural Jerusalem. After all, our father Abraham passed the ancient city of Jerusalem on many occasions, but we have no record of his ever going to the city or kissing its stones. The Bible says of him in Hebrews 11:10, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Abraham was truly a Zionist, like many of the saints of old. However, he was seeking the real and eternal Zion. In Hebrews 12:22-24, the writer makes it very plain that the true Zion, in its essence, is a spiritual reality. It is inhabited by the holy ones of God, by innumerable angels, and by Jesus himself. The truth is that these earthly realities like Jerusalem, the Temple, and Israel, reflect deep spiritual realities, and we always need to watch ourselves lest we become sidetracked from the spiritual. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:18, that: “…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, it would have been a marvelous opportunity for him to have defended the natural Jerusalem as the place of true worship. Instead , “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks,’” (Jn. 4:21&23).
The place of God’s ruined Temple in Jerusalem is an awesome place. It has significance far beyond our ability to comprehend. However, the Bible plainly teaches us that the members of Christ’s body also make up a living and glorious temple present in the earth this very hour.
HOW DO WE COMBINE THE TWO?
The natural and spiritual are somewhat like body and soul. The two must go together. Scripture tells us that the natural must come first, and afterward the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46). Jerusalem, Israel and the Jewish people are vitally important. They help keep us anchored in reality. Indeed, they are themselves living pictures of spiritual realities, which otherwise would be difficult if not impossible for us to grasp. In fact, the church has already suffered greatly because of its self-inflicted and deliberate loss of the rich Hebrew heritage. When people despise these natural things and make light of them, they are almost certain to ultimately forfeit the spiritual things.
It seems that somehow, in ways we cannot explain, the spiritual hovers over the natural. Over natural Jerusalem there is most likely a spiritual city. The two are somewhat similar, yet greatly different. We can know they are connected by the fact that Jesus, who is spiritual, will return to the natural city of Jerusalem. He will establish his earthly throne there. As Jacob saw in his dream long ago, the area around Jerusalem is the “gate of heaven.” Jerusalem, Israel and the Jewish people will teach us many things, even things in the spirit. We just need to keep the natural and spiritual together. A totally “spiritual” outlook may end up being quite unspiritual.
In First Corinthians chapter fifteen, the Apostle Paul deals at some length with the deep spiritual subject of the resurrection of the dead and of the resulting spiritual body. After that lengthy spiritual chapter, Paul goes immediately into the mundane matter of the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. This represents a healthy biblical combination of spiritual and natural. We see the same pattern in most of the epistles. For instance in Ephesians, Paul makes what is perhaps his most lofty spiritual dissertation in the first three chapters. However, immediately in chapters 4-6, he deals with very practical and earthly matters, such as how husbands should love their wives and how children should obey their parents. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, Paul deals with the spiritual subject of the coming of the Lord, but he ends by admonishing those who were walking disorderly and refusing to do any manual labor.
The two great commands that the Lord gives us illustrate the spiritual and natural very well. We are instructed to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. But quickly, on the heels of this command, we are instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). The one is spiritual; the other is natural. Together they produce a wonderful balance.
The life of Christ exemplifies the perfect balance between natural and spiritual. Jesus, the very Son of God, who being in the form of God, was born as a little baby to his mother Mary. He lived as a normal little boy and grew up to manhood. He worked in his father’s carpenter’s shop to earn a living. When he started his ministry, he began to display incredible supernatural powers and astonishing spiritual insight. Yet, he walked in the hot sun, got hungry, and probably got headaches like the rest of us. He spent most of his ministry just helping people, teaching them, healing their diseases, and on some occasions providing miraculous food for them. Jesus was the perfect blend of natural and spiritual. In First Peter 2:21, we are commanded to imitate his earthly pattern.
It is interesting that as Jesus was dying on the cross, and as he was accomplishing an eternal redemption for all mankind, he took time out to give specific instructions on the care of his mother. We learn from this that there is no spiritual matter on earth that cannot be interrupted by the natural needs of humankind. Indeed, these “interruptions” may be, in the final analysis, just as important as that great spiritual work which we thought we were accomplishing.
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem.