This is the fourth and final post in an in-depth study of overarching themes and lessons in the gospel accounts. For ease of reading, we’ve split this long study into several shorter individual posts, so I recommend starting with the intro/first post, then reading this and the other posts (linked at the end).
If you’re anything like me, you may have sometimes struggled to emotionally connect with the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), or found some of the teachings to be contradictory. There are many reasons for this (cultural context, writing style, etc.), and I talk about this more in the first post in the series…I won’t belabor the point here.
So this series is focused on how we can “see the forest for the trees” and survey the gospel accounts together in order to find the bigger ideas and consistent themes in Jesus’s direct words and actions.
As a reminder, I’m giving some of the scripture references within each point, though in many cases there were so many that I couldn’t capture them all (it got too repetitive). I encourage you to look up and read each passage referenced as well, and to have these topics in mind to recognize the patterns when they emerge.
So far we’ve examined Jesus’s life and teachings on a few major themes (each with several related sub-topics):
- That God’s calling in this life isn’t easy—and isn’t for everyone—but if we answer His call it DOES come with expectations
- That God is concerned with the state of our “heart” (mind, emotions, motivations)
- That the way we treat and engage with our brethren (and other people) matters
- That we must have our priorities right—we can’t allow our relationship with worldly things to take precedence over our relationship with God
- And that God expects both faith AND action—“you will know them by their fruits”
So now let’s move on to our final few themes…
Theme #6: It’s important to take care of ourselves as well as looking out for others
In today’s world we have this idea of “self-care”, which has gotten a bit out of hand and is often used as a justification for selfishness and indulgence.
But the underlying principle is sound—namely that it is easier to have your spiritual “house” in order when you are properly caring for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Figuratively it’s like the airplane rule of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else get theirs on—the point being, you’re of no help to others if you become incapacitated.
Let’s look at a couple areas where Jesus showcased this in His own life.
It is critical to regularly get rest, solitude (for meditation), and one-on-one time with God.
Jesus shows us that we need to take care of ourselves, stay close to God, and not get too worn out while ministering to others. He fed the crowds when they were hungry and tired. He knew when the disciples were too amped up and needed to chill out. One of the biggest ways that He modeled this was to frequently set aside time to get away from the crowds and noise, and to be alone with God.
- After a full day of healing the sick and casting out demons, He went the next morning to a “solitary place” and prayed (Mark 1:32-35)
- Similarly, when the disciples came back from their journeys and were telling Jesus all that they did, He took them to an isolated spot where they could eat and rest (Mark 6:31)
- We’re told the He “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16)
- After a crazy day feeding the 5,000, He sent the disciples on ahead and went up on a mountain to pray (Mark. 6:46)
These are just a few examples of many. Jesus knew that we must learn to turn down and tune out the noise of the world—the distractions and busyness that our daily lives provide. We have to purposefully set aside time to spend in prayer, study, and meditation with our Father.
You might also like: A Guide to Biblical Meditation
We must make time to nurture close friendships with our brethren.
Jesus also knew that He needed His friends. He didn’t hold people at arm’s length or try to bear everything on His own.
Instead, He loved and mourned His friends (John 11). He asked His closest friends to be with Him, pray for Him, and help comfort Him when He was struggling (Matt. 26:36-41).
He shared more teachings and open conversations privately with His disciples than He did with the crowds (Luke 10:23). He was vulnerable and relational, telling the disciples that he was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:32-35).
God and Jesus Christ want their brethren to build strong and lasting friendships. These are important for mental and emotional health, certainly (as well as physical, Eccl. 4:9-10), but also important for spiritual well-being.
When we develop these intimate relationships, we can have that “iron sharpening iron” effect (Prov. 27:17), where we encourage and exhort each other, and when needed we tell the hard truths. There has to be a level of love and trust established for any of those things to be effective.
Perspective and balance are important in maintaining our well-being.
We all lose perspective sometimes, or find ourselves off-balance. Spiritually, this can lead us to ending up in a “ditch” (such as self-righteousness or going off on a doctrinal tangent), or to drifting away from God as we’re pulled in by the cares of this world.
These additional quick points help round out this larger theme of the need to take good care of ourselves:
- The story of Martha and Mary shows how we can become so focused on physically serving others that we neglect pursuing our spiritual growth (Luke 10:38-42)
- When it comes to our spiritual development and continued conversion, we shouldn’t be *only* focused on getting the “bad” OUT, but also with putting the good IN (Luke 11:24-26)
- Having an attitude of thankfulness toward God for His many blessings can help us maintain an appropriate perspective (Matt. 11:25, John 6:11, John 11:41 & more)
You might also like: Is Unthankfulness the Root of Most Sins?
Theme #7: God does not intend for us to be shrinking violets or passive doormats
This theme may be a bit unexpected. I certainly was a bit surprised as the threads emerged while reading through the gospel accounts. But there’s no question that it’s there, and is one of those seeming-contradictions that we talked about at the outset of this study.
People tend to focus on Jesus’s teachings to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile when compelled, and forgive your brother as many times as is needed. And those are absolutely commands from our Savior. But they also depend on the situation and context.
Jesus also taught and modeled that His followers should be zealous for His way, should not compromise with the truth, and should speak out when we see something that is wrong. He did not intend for us to allow others to walk all over us, or be taken advantage of as “easy marks”.
And He expects us to study His word and use His holy spirit to develop discernment and character. Both are required to determine in any given situation what is most loving and appropriate towards the people involved—whether it’s a “telling hard truths in love” sort of moment or a “turn the other cheek”.
So let’s look at some places where we’re showing the bolder side of following Christ.