Treating the Symptoms

When there is something wrong with our bodies, whether it be physical or mental, we become aware of it because of the symptoms the problem produces. Here is how the dictionary defines Symptom: (1) A sign or indication;(2) a noticeable change in the normal working of the body that indicates or accompanies disease, sickness, or other malfunction: "Fever is a symptom of illness." "The doctor made his diagnosis after studying the patients' symptoms." Most of the time the condition is minor. We simply treat the symptoms until the problem goes away. I sometimes get a headache. Don't ask me why because most of the time I don't know. But if I take some aspirin the headache will eventually go away. But what if it doesn't? Then I would go to the doctor to try to get to the root of the problem. I need to know why my head is hurting. The doctor will make a diagnosis based upon the symptoms (and perhaps a few tests). We all understand that the problem is not the symptoms but the underlying cause. Until that is found and corrected the symptoms will remain and probably worsen. It would be foolish for me to continue to treat only the symptoms and not get to the root of the problem.

It seems to me that in matters of faith, we often treat the symptoms instead of the underlying problem. Sure, there are times that the "aspirin" approach works. Sometimes our own embarrassment is all we need to determine to make the necessary corrections in our lives. We arrive at services ten minutes late. Everybody turns around and stares or perhaps we were too late to do our part. Or we are called on in Bible class but we forgot our book or didn't answer all of the questions. How embarrassing! So we determine not to be late the next time or we say that we will put more time into our lessons in the future. That's the end of that, or is it?

There are those who no longer feel embarrassed about being late for services. Some are no longer bothered to say they don't have their book or their lesson prepared. An occasional lapse has probably happened to all of us to some degree. What do we do in response? We encourage all to be on time. Class teachers exhort their students to bring their workbooks and complete the assignment. Then what? What if that doesn't work. Well, we encourage all to be on time again and teachers exhort students to do their lessons. On and on it goes. What I know I've been guilty of doing is the very thing we wouldn't tolerate our medical doctor doing, which is treating the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself.

There are many reasons for being occasionally late for services. Just as there are many things that might cause us to forget our class books or fail to complete our assignment. But when the problem is chronic we need to look a little "deeper." Let me pause here to say that the two examples I've been citing are just that, examples. There are many other "symptoms" we could mention. A weak prayer life, bitterness, jealousy, lack of bible knowledge, forsaking the assembly or not even coming to bible class, etc., can all be symptoms of a serious spiritual problem. Remember what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments? “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt 23:37-39). The real problem could be a lack of love for God. This could go all the way back to one's conversion. Peter and John told a group of Jews that they needed to "Repent therefore and be converted...". Perhaps the problem is that we haven't really changed our direction (repented) or maybe we haven't really changed (been converted). The symptoms could be a lack of concern for bible study, an indifference to worshipping the Lord or a bad attitude toward the brethren.

What about you? What about me? What are our symptoms? Once you know the symptoms dig deeper and find out the cause. I can't help but wonder at times when I see brethren who have so much potential yet do not use it or see brethren so disinterested in worshipping our great God and learning His will, "is Jesus really in you?" Listen to the words of Paul in 2Cor 13:5 "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified."

The next time you are "tempted" to miss a bible class or a worship service, ask yourself why. Or perhaps we tell a "white lie" or let a curse word "slip." We are to live the life that Jesus would have us to live (" is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." (Gal 2:20). Would He miss an assembly by choice? Would He habitually be late? Would he let some minor inconvenience prevent Him from worship or Bible study? Would He harbor ill will toward His brethren? No, we could not imagine Jesus having these kind of symptoms. Yet we see these and many others among God's people. What is the answer? The symptoms are coming from our weaknesses of the flesh. That part of us must die! The other part of Gal 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live...". Getting "self" out of the way clears the way for whole hearted service and devotion to God through Christ. "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom 6:2) Let each one of us determine to get to the root cause of our sin and not simply treat the symptoms. We may only be masking the real problem, applying a band-aid, while all the while we are suffering from a deadly disease that could very well lead to our spiritual death.

By Ben May

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