Don’t Tug!
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“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.’” Mark 4:26-28, NIV

Jesus had much to say about sowing grain. He spoke about sowing it on different soils and the hazards associated with those soils that might prevent a successful crop from growing. (Matthew 13:1-23) These hazards included hard ground, stones and thorns as opposed to good soil. He also spoke of weeds sown in a good crop. While there is good counsel that can be readily understood in all of these stories about grain, there is one aspect of growing grain that is still a mystery to farmers today, just as it was two thousand years ago. What makes the grain grow?

The farmer puts a dried up seed in the ground and with water and warmth, the seed usually sprouts. Why? We don’t know. Somehow the seed has the spark of life in it. We cannot put it there. If a seed fails to sprout, we cannot endow it with the life it needs to do so. Each time a farmer plants a crop, it is an act of faith. The seed germinates or it doesn’t, and the future of the farm depends on it doing what it needs to do. You may not find many farmers that are atheists. They know that some things that we do not understand simply work if you have faith in them. Perhaps somewhere in the organic chemicals composing the amino acids of the DNA strands there is that spark of life. If we could isolate it, maybe we could reconstruct it from those chemicals and then have the power of creating life. However, it has so far eluded our understanding. As we peer deeper and deeper into the mystery we speculate that maybe it exists at the sub-atomic level, but when we attempt to understand particle physics we discover that things are often not very predictable. Sometimes chaotic behavior becomes the new norm as we descend into the quantum universe. If anything, the mysteries seem to multiply, defying attempts at resolution into some coherency that will provide answers. While we may know volumes about the composition of the seed and its DNA, we are no closer to answering how it does what it does today.

Jesus used these stories about farming to illustrate vital principles associated with the Kingdom of God. Perhaps He meant us to understand that just as we cannot discern how the seed grows in the ground, so we cannot discover how the Kingdom of God grows in our hearts. It is a kingdom of the Spirit. Just as Jesus is able to give life (John 11:38-43) because as God, He possesses life underived (John 10:17-18), so the Spirit also possesses life underived. (Romans 8:10) Jesus spoke to Nicodemus one night about how difficult it is to perceive the workings of the Spirit. He said “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8, NIV But why is this important to understand about growing in Christ?

Perhaps growth in Christ is every bit as hidden from our understanding as the germination and growth of the seed is. True, we can see evidence of growth as the passage in Mark 4 tells us. We see the stalk, the leaves, and the seed head so we know that growth is taking place, but we cannot say exactly how it happens. So it would seem to be with the Christian. We see outward evidence of growth in Christ, but we cannot discover exactly what the Spirit is doing from moment to moment. Perhaps the Spirit is working on a pernicious tobacco smoking problem, or maybe He is working on a swearing habit. We simply don’t know what the Spirit is addressing in the Christian’s life at any given point. Often the Christian does not know either. Maybe like Abram leaving Ur, we are to simply go forward trusting God that He has a plan and is in control and that everything will work out according to that plan as long as we don’t interfere with its unfolding.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to try to push God’s plan forward. It would be like the farmer going out into his field each day and giving each seedling a tug to try to help it grow. Eventually this would pull the roots from the ground, and the plant would die. Yet, too many do just that with their lives and with those of fellow Christians. They perceive that their brother or sister is not progressing in their Christian walk as should be happening, so they go over and give a tug in what they feel is the right direction. Sometimes this is about dress, diet or music. Recently some have felt the need to do this about Halloween, and soon some will begin to do this about Christmas. They may protest that they do this out of love for their brother or sister. However, no matter how loving the farmer is about it, tugging on the seedlings to help them grow is not the right thing to do.

This tugging will surely proceed to uproot the plant if continued, but even that is not the worst thing that can be done. Some, citing Isaiah 58:1, proclaim themselves to be doing the work of the prophets and hurl bombs of scripture and Spirit of Prophecy quotations at their brothers and sisters. Never mind what the Spirit might already be doing in the hearts of these individuals, it is not happening fast enough for these self-avowed discerners of all that is right and wrong. For these the slight tug is not enough, they would happily grab on with both hands and heave to get their fellow believers to where they want them.

Sadly, whether they are tuggers or heavers, all demonstrate the same thing. They do not believe the Spirit is able to do a complete work in the lives of the saints. Perhaps it is precisely because they cannot discern what the Spirit is doing at any given moment that they feel they must do something. It may be like when a good conversation reaches a silent resting place and some feel that they must say something to break the silence. They fail to appreciate the good advice of Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV

We can be sure that the Holy Spirit is working in the life of every saint according to their need and God’s grace and compassion. Peter told us that everyone receives the Holy Spirit if they repent and are baptized. (Acts 2:38) No one has a monopoly on this gift so that they need to present the wishes of the Holy Spirit to the other saints. The Spirit will move each heart as they are ready. Some will need to heal a great deal before they are ready to take a step that others might easily handle. Our attempts to remove the evil from someone else’s life with our limited skills might result in a double amputation (Mark 9:43,45), whereas the Great Surgeon might have been able to save every limb.

Most doctors work hard to make sure their patients experience the best possible outcome. Healing is an art that requires building up the health of the individual with patience, compassion and supportive therapies. Jesus pointed out the need for compassion to Peter when he told him he should forgive his brother “unto seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) Mysteriously, some find it far easier to forgive some great wrong than to forgive the singing of a Christmas carol or the eating of a hamburger. Others may claim to forgive someone while making sure everyone knows exactly what sin they forgave the other person for. They do not realize that these behaviors also are tugging the shoots out of the ground.

While I have used the word “they” and written this from a third person perspective, I feel it is important that we realize that “they” is “us.” We all tend to indulge in these behaviors because we are all sinners, saved by grace, and struggling to surrender to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. We are sometimes just as unsatisfied with the problems in our own lives as we are with those we see in others. We have the unique ability to pull ourselves out of the kingdom in the same way we tug others out. When we do not see the immediate working of the Holy Spirit in our lives in some area, we do not need to hurry the work along. We need only remember to step out of the way, and God will work continuously in all of us, both willing and doing. (Philippians 2:13)


Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.

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Don’t Tug! — 14 Comments

  1. This post has been so uplifting to me. Thanks a lot for this Stephen. There have been times when I thought about whether I was growing or not. This just helps me to confirm that even growth is hidden and at certain points, it is possible to see it.

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  2. Thank you for this wonderful illustration. The Lord, in that mysterious way of His, has been working in my life in this area and your article has been a confirmation. I pray that the lesson learned will come to my remembrance every time I am tempted to "tug". May the Lord continue to use you to illustrate His love principles.

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  3. Thank you for your post. This is something we need to pray to God to keep us from doing. Lack of compassion and being judgmental is Satan' character and totally opposed to our loving Father's.

    At the same time there is another extreme we could go - which is carelessness. Not warning my brother when he/she is persisting in a known sin is not a loving attitude at all. Letting him/her stay separated from God is hate from my part. Of course, I need to pray God to help me show the tact that Jesus showed.

    I like how Ellen White puts it:

    Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact and thoughtful, kind attention in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He spoke the truth, but always in love. He denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity; but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes. (Steps to Christ, pg. 12)

    May God build in us the same character so that we may also "never needlessly speak a severe word".

    How do I strike a right balance? It seems to me it's when I am surrendering myself to God and let Him remove all selfishness from me. Also it really helps if the person warning me is a close friend. This is because I know that he only intends the best for me and even though what he says hurts, I can thank him.

    What is your opinion, pastor Terry?

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    • Christian, I think that what is of importance is that those scathing rebukes to the Pharisees were during His last week on earth and was a last ditch effort to reach those hardened people before they condemned Him to death.

      To me what Stephen was getting at was the correction we all too often tend to give without thinking of any possible repercussions (collateral damage) it may cause. Besides quite often we don't know the full story and make snap judgments that are totally wrong. For instance, I have told the story before about a pastor whose young daughter swallowed some alcohol of the dangerous type which got into her blood stream so the doctor prescribed booze in order to replace the dangerous stuff. Imagine what would happen if a "proper" saint saw him walk out of a liquor store with a bottle of the hard stuff and judged the pastor on that basis. Consider what that would have done (luckily it didn't happen).

      Certainly there are times when sin has to be called by its right name such as it was in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1) but as far as I am concerned it is far better to keep the fiery tongue quiet when there is the least bit of doubt about a situation which includes rumors. As Ellen White counseled teachers, "When it is necessary to give reproof, their language will not be exaggerated, but humble. In gentleness they will set before the wrongdoer his errors and help him to recover himself. Every true teacher will feel that should he err at all, it is better to err on the side of mercy than on the side of severity" (Ed 293.2 https://egwwritings.org/?ref=en_Ed.293.2)
      Or concerning sexual problems, "I wish that we had much more of the Spirit of Christ and a great deal less self, and less of human opinions. If we err, let it be on the side of mercy rather than on the side of condemnation and harsh dealing.--Letter 16, 1887. (Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce 242.4 https://egwwritings.org/?ref=en_TSB.242.4).

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      • "Certainly there are times when sin has to be called by its right name such as it was in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1) but as far as I am concerned it is far better to keep the fiery tongue quiet when there is the least bit of doubt about a situation which includes rumors."

        Thank you for this insight. Indeed, prejudgement is something that God specially hates. We need to pray not to fall into this.

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    • Absolutely agree with what you said Christian, its like when people divorce in Gods church (or other acts that's against Gods will and the standing of the church). It becomes normal in the church of Christ because people want to please people and not God. Joshua 24:15 said "choose you today, whom will you serve, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord."

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    • Hi, Cristian. I feel you are right about the importance of balance. If you have ever played with a top as a child, you know that balance is intrinsic to the moving top. As long as it has power to spin, it will remain in balance. Just as we can infuse the top with power to spin, perhaps God is the power that provides the balance in our lives.

      You have correctly noted in "Steps to Christ" that Ellen White refers to "scathing rebukes." We might also note that this was Christ, and we are not Christ. He has life underived, we do not. He is omniscient, we are not.

      In "Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings," page 125, we read "When he thinks he has detected a flaw in the character or the life he is exceedingly zealous in trying to point it out; but Jesus declares that the very trait of character developed in doing this un-Christlike work, is, in comparison with the fault criticized, as a beam in proportion to a mote." I find it interesting that she calls this an "un-Christlike work." If it is not Christlike to point out others failings then what work is it? Perhaps we get a clue from Revelation 12:10. It appears from this verse and those that follow it that maybe accusation is a tool of the enemy and not Christ. Maybe it is because we are all sinners in need of grace that such tools of accusation seem so natural to us. Yet, when we give our hearts to God, a different Spirit speaks to us. When this happens, we may begin to see how out of balance a spirit of accusation can make us.

      Let's see if a practical example can help our understanding. Which is more loving? I can tell others of the many blessings I have received because of a change in my life, or I can point out to others that they have not made this change so they are spiritually lacking and should immediately make the change. While my flesh tells me to do the latter, my heart tells me that the first is the more powerful witness and is more loving.

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      • I concur however when it comes to leadership of the church rebuking the leaders of their wrong is a necessity consider ...This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; (Titus 1:13 KJV).

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        • Interesting, but what about Paul's counsel to Timothy to not rebuke an elder? 1 Timothy 5:1

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      • Jesus Himself brings balance to the idea of addressing a problem seen is someone elses life: "First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Mat 7:5) Jesus also commands us, "if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. ...." (Mat 18:15). Paul similarly exhorts us, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." (Gal 6:1) With all this, we have little excuse for not first humbling ourselves before God and then doing what we can to help our neighbor/brother.

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    • For a start, I have found that it often helps to ask questions first, to seek to understand what happened from the point of view of the "brother ... in sin". If the brother is open to talk on the subject at all, he may answer and I will understand better how to respond. It's just like when we see a doctor who does an interview, clinical exam and all the necessary tests before making a diagnosis. Only then can he say how to treat. If the brother is not open to hear anything, he may also show that in his response to tactful questions. Also, sometimes the problem was my perception rather than something on the brother's side and really I needed to be corrected instead.

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      • Excellent reminder, John! Asking questions first is probably always important, because we cannot see as God sees, and thus we cannot judge rightly.

        In all things, we should remember that the Golden Rule applies. I, for one, appreciate when a friend lets me know where/how I would do better by changing my ways. It is not love to allow friends to go the wrong way and not do anything to turn them around. But we can only do that for friends, and that means we either need to become friends with the one we wish to help, or we need to keep quiet and let someone else do the ministering.

        I think the key is in the focus on the eternal welfare of the other person. Without such a focus, any “rebuke” can only be negative.

        I saw Stephen’s point as being that we cannot force others to grow and should not try. If we feel we are spiritually “advanced” in comparison to another, we need to demonstrate that by our lives, and it will be effective. If we are not demonstrating it, no amount of words will do any good.

        It's a different matter when we see brother and sisters clearly heading the wrong way. That's when we need to follow the counsel of Matthew 18:15-16. And that means talking directly to the person, not talkin about

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