By Pastor Glenn Pease
A great cholera epidemic sweep through London in the 19th century. John Snow observed that those who pumped water from the Broad Street pump tended to get cholera, but those who took their water from other pumps did not get it. He knew nothing about germs, bacteria, and polluted water, but he removed the handle from the Broad Street pump, and because he did many did not die. He used the logic of prevention. If you stop people from doing what leads to cholera, you will stop cholera, and it worked.
Prevention is one of the great powers of life. Somethings cannot be cured, so they have to be prevented. All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put Humphey together again. He couldn't be cured, but with a little forethought they could have prevented him from falling in the first place. Just a little sign saying no eggheads on the wall could have done it.
You cannot cure murder or suicide, but you can prevent them. You cannot make any sin you commit not to be. You can forgive it and even forget it, but the fact is it will leave some scar or blot on life that cannot be eliminated. That is why prevention is even superior to forgiveness. The Proverb that says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is not in the Bible, but it is as biblical as any Proverb you can utter, for it is one of the primary themes of the Sermon on the Mount. If this greatest sermon of all time were titled it could very well be called, The Power Of Preventative Thinking. Some examples we see are-
1. Christians are to be the salt and light of the world to prevent the world from decaying and being dominated by the forces of darkness.
2. Christians are to prevent violence, murder, and breakdowns in human relationships by learning to deal wisely with anger.
3. Christians are to prevent all of the sorrows of immorality by learning how to deal with lust.
4. Jesus goes on and on trying to help the believer prevent divorce, revenge, hypocrisy, greed, worry, judging, and folly in general.
Prevention is where its at in living the effective Christian life. That is why Christians are strong supporters of the prevention movements of even the secular society of our day. Christians are a strong force in the health movement. Good food, good exercise, good rest, and balanced living all prevent unnecessary suffering, and Christians are all for it, and rightly so, for it fits God's ideal for wise living. Christians are all for crime prevention, fire prevention, disease prevention, or the prevention of any form of evil.
To prevent a war is far superior to the winning of one. That is why Jesus is primarily concerned with Christians learning to practice preventative thinking and action. The foolish man who built his house on the sand may have built a solid and lovely a home as the wise man. His folly was due to the fact that he did not think ahead to the consequences of the rainy season, and the result is he did not prevent his home from being destroyed. The wise man did prevent this foolish loss by his choice of foundations. The difference between the fool and the wise man is in preventative thinking. Almost every foolish and sinful thing we do that robs us of God's best could have been prevented by obedience to the principles Jesus lays down for us in this marvelous sermon.
Jesus is teaching us to be realistic about sin and the weakness of our human nature. You do not wait until your anger is ready to explode and then try to deal with it. You don't wait until lust is at a fever pitch to grapple with it. You think ahead, and you know when the first signs of irritability or temptation arise in you. That is the time to act and gain control of your inner nature before sin gets strong enough to take over.
David brought down the giant Goliath, and that was great, but Jesus says there is a better way, and that is to never let the giant grow up. Defeat your sins while they are scrawny weaklings just beginning to develop. Prevent them from ever getting to be giant forces in your life. In other words, get them before they get you. This is done by exercising the power of preventative thinking. It involves being honest about your sinful nature. It is not wise but foolish to hide from yourself, and pretend you are not tempted to do evil. Wise is the Christian who says, if I get into such and such a situation I am likely to fall.
The power of prevention is based on being honest with yourself. The Christian who refuses to admit to himself that he could even murder or commit adultery is the Christian most likely to fall. It is the Christian who knows he is capable of such evil who prevents it, because he avoids those circumstances that would lead to a fall. The wise Christian is the aware Christian. He knows his weakness, and he is in touch with his feelings. If he senses he is in a very negative mood, and some old resentments begin to surface in relationship to someone in his life, he will go out of his way to avoid a confrontation with that person, and so prevent his anger from dominating his life.
If he feels strong sexual energy he will recognize it is no time for dropping off papers at his secretaries apartment, or developing any intimate relationship apart from his mate. These same actions on other occasions may be perfectly harmless. It is all a matter of knowing who you are, and what your potential is for being tempted. That is what preventative thinking is all about. Preventative thinking is a balance to the popular theme of our day which is possibility thinking. The possibility thinker is always positive about his potential, and his ability to move ahead, and achieve higher and higher goals. This is a good and biblical way of thinking. We all need it to press on to what God wants us to achieve. The danger is pride. We become so sure of ourselves that we can keep climbing that we forget the reality of our sinful nature. We climb alright, but cease to care that we step on others as we do. We use people and abuse them, and cease to be Christlike in our attitudes and actions.
Christians locked into their possibility thinking become cold and calculating Christian Pharisees. They justify all of their sin as necessary to keep marching toward their goal. They are in a class by themselves, and they say with the Pharisee of old, "I thank God I am not as other men." Christians in this state of mind are capable of doing any evil, and considering it as legitimate. Preventative thinking keeps the possibility thinker in a state of balance. It keeps him honest about his capability for sinful attitudes and actions. It prevents his pride from blinding him to the reality that he is as other men. He can still press on toward his goals, but not at any price. He sees his tendency to use people, and will chose to move slower rather than damage the life of a brother.
Preventative thinking is simply being honest about yourself; about your feelings, motives, desires, and then choosing to so live that you prevent your evil tendencies from determining the path you travel. Preventative thinking is just the other side of possibility thinking. Yes, I can succeed and climb, but it is also possible I can fail and fall, and this negative possibility can spoil the positive, and, therefore, I can only achieve the positive by being aware of the negative, and preventing it from becoming a reality.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is saying that the key to the victorious Christian life is prevention. This sermon has no cross in it; no resurrection, and there is no call to repentance. It is not a doctrinal sermon, nor an evangelistic sermon. It is not a message to the lost. It is a message to the saved, and to those already in the kingdom of God who are part of the family of God by faith in Christ. Jesus is not preaching the Gospel in this sermon. The Gospel deals with the first step of salvation which is justification. This is an event in which the sinner becomes a child of God by faith. When a lost person prays, "God be merciful to me a sinner. I trust Jesus as my Savior," that person is saved, or justified.
Then comes the second stage of salvation which is not an event, but a process, and it is called sanctification. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. It is the process by which we become more and more Christlike as we become stronger and wiser in overcoming the power of sin. The third stage of salvation is glorification, and it is both an act and a process, for when Jesus comes again we will be transformed to be like him, and then for all eternity be able to advance in holiness as we move closer and closer to the infinite holiness of God. Each of the three Persons of the Trinity are closely associated with one of these stages. It is Jesus and justification; the spirit and sanctification, and God the Father and glorification. We are now in the second stage, and this is the stage of Christian living, and that is what the Sermon on the Mount deals with. Prevention is the name of the game. Sanctification is the outwitting of sin by preventing it from ever happening. To prevent sin is to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven where all sin is prevented.
God is the great Preventer. Most of us never realize how blessed we are, for the providence of God in history is so often preventative. By this I mean, many of our greatest blessings we never even know about. It is because they are things that never happen. That sounds crazy maybe, but think about it. If your life is a gift you treasure, you only have it because you have been prevented from losing it by disease or accident, even though you have lived in the same environment that has taken the lives of many others.
You have your life, your health, and your resources all because of things that never happen. Because they were prevented from happening. There is not a one of us who was not prevented from serious injury. I have prevented my children and grandchildren from taking terrible falls, and so have you. The life of a parent is a life of prevention. You spend a good portion of your life preventing all kinds of things to save the life of your child. God, as our heavenly Father, has the same task in our lives. Unfortunately, God has the same problem we have as parents. We cannot prevent our children from taking foolish chances, and God cannot prevent us from doing this either. If I want to risk going 90 miles per hour on a gravel road, I have no claim to God's protection, for I have chosen to reject the rules of precaution and prevention.
When we cooperate with God, and seek his providential protection, then we experience the blessings of that which never happens. What a paradox! The blessings of the non-existent. It is the preciousness of what isn't. History is full of this kind of preventative action of God. The history of America is not just a history of what happened, but of what never did happen, and those things which never happened are some of the greatest of our blessings. If you read the history of the Revolutionary War, you will be impressed at how often the British could have won that war had they attacked at the right time. For various reasons they did nothing when the victory was within their grasp. It is these numerous nothings and non-battles that prevented them from winning. These things that never happened lead to the preservation of all the freedoms we cherish.
For example: The British General Howe, with 15,000 trained troops, reinforced by 5,000 Hessians from Germany had General Washington with his 8,000 men, half of them untrained, trapped in the Northern tip of Brooklyn. Washington was in despair. They were almost out of powder and were out numbered almost 3 to 1. The British had ships in the river to pound them to pieces with their big guns.
They waited for the inevitable attack, but it never came. General Howe had craved out a brilliant and flawlessly executed maneuver to trap the Americans. He could have given the signal and the war would have soon been over, but he did nothing. Washington praising God for the miracle planned a daring escape. He was able to deceive the British into thinking they were still trapped, while by laboring all night he was able to get nearly 8,000 men out of that death trap, and across the river to safety. The non-attack of the British enabled Washington to prevent them from winning the war.
Remember, it is not just what happens, but what does not happen that makes life victorious. God's providential prevention is a part of every life that is truly blessed. The point is, prevention plays a major role in history and in our lives, and we should all be aware that God wants us to join in the effort to prevent those things that rob us and others of the abundant life.
As we meet around the Lord's table again, let us remember the cross is God's ultimate weapon in His plan of prevention. On the cross Jesus accomplished that which prevents Satan from taking the whole human race into the pit of hell with him. It is the cross which prevents evil from being victorious over the good. It is the cross which prevents our sin from having the final word before the judgment seat of God. Thanks to the cross the eternal loss of all that God planned for men has been prevented.
Praise God for the power of prevention, and let us commit ourselves to cooperate with God in His plan of prevention. We will either be part of the problem or part of the answer. If we are part of the answer it will be because we prevent what otherwise would be. Is there less sin and less evil in the world because you live in it? That is not likely, for all of us sin, and so all of us contribute to the total amount of sin in the world. But is there less sin in your life because you practice the power of prevention? This is possible, and it is the will of God for all His children. It is possible to prevent most of the damaging sins of life if we give heed to this message of the Master from the Mount. Thank Christ for what He has prevented, and pray for guidance as we learn together how to practice the power of prevention.