All of us have heard the phrase, “stubborn as a mule.” This term was probably coined by frustrated farmers after they observed how difficult it was to get their donkeys to pull their assigned loads in the field. (A case could also be made that the phrase was thought up as an observation made by frustrated spouses about their significant others. I say that because I know what my wife’s answer to the question posed in the title of this editorial would be!)
Regardless, I think there’s a lesson we can learn about our relationship with Christ when we examine exactly why a mule is stubborn. The reason it balks at pulling a load is not because it doesn’t hear the command to “giddy up.” Rather, it would simply not hear it. It has more than enough strength and ability to pull that load, but it would rather graze in the green grass of the pasture or bask in the noonday sun than work for his owner. Our human minds are several levels above that of a mule, but we sometimes manifest the same characteristics. How many times have we heard a clear command from God as revealed in His Word, but we, like the mule, try to evade obedience because the biblical command does not coincide with our mind’s individual prejudices and desires?
When I was a child, I was reluctant to hear my mother’s call because I knew that if I listened and obeyed her it would result in some unpleasant chore that would encroach upon my playtime. That’s why I chose not to see my dirty hands and ignore her command to wash them, because I would rather have been eating. This kind of evasive thinking is found in the minds of mules and children, but it should never be found in the thinking of mature, responsible adults (1 Cor. 13:11).
Yet, while the eternal destiny of souls are at stake, there are professed Christians who exhibit indifference and intolerance toward the true teachings of God as revealed in the totality of the Bible. They do so because such teachings are contrary to their personal desires or disrupt their convenient, worldly way of life. Jesus talked about such people when He quoted Isaiah by saying, “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matt. 13:14-15).
What a pity it is for people who could (and should) know God’s truth which is His Word (John 17:17), but reject it because it does not suit their evil lifestyles or tastes! For example, God commanded that men have faith (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10), repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19), and be baptized — literally in the Greek, immersed — in water in order to obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38), and thereby be put into Christ and His body, the church of Christ, by the Holy Spirit through their baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Eph. 1:22-23). How sad it is for such commands to be rejected simply because they violate the wishes of family (Matt. 10:34-37) or the traditions and doctrine of religious groups (Matt. 15:1-9) who seek the god of convenience rather than the God Who demands obedience (1 Sam. 15:22; Acts 5:29; Heb. 5:8-9).
Other examples could be given. We continually see reports from a media who gladly supports what they report about those in our country and elsewhere who selfishly and stubbornly promote homosexual “marriage” and the murder of innocent children through abortion, despite what God wishes (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Prov. 6:16-19). Spring Break and summer are coming, and we will see many who choose to stubbornly flaunt their bodies through immodest apparel and actions, fornicate, and partake of alcohol and other hallucinogens regardless of the will of their Creator in such matters (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Thess. 5:6-8).
Closer to home, let’s examine ourselves and our own attitudes (2 Cor. 13:5). Does our own stubbornness keep us from treating others as we would be treated (Matt. 7:12)? Husbands and wives, are we so determined to have our own way that we end up treating our spouses in ways contrary to the will of the One who united us in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; cf. Matt. 19:1-9)? Children, you know as well as I that the primary reason you disobey your parents and thus disobey God is due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:1-3). Parents, is our adamant refusal to put the spiritual raising of our children before unneeded work, TV times, our golf game and favorite book due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6-9)? Brother and sister in Christ, does our constant criticism and backbiting against the shepherds of our local congregation come from being stubbornly adamant about having our own way above all (Heb. 13:17)?
Through the inspired apostle, our Father in heaven said this:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:1-8).
Do we have the mind of a mule, or the mind of Christ? Jesus left being in the form of God, equality with God, and the glory of heaven for a wretched, hard life among men which ended in an agonizing, humiliating criminal’s death on a cross…and He did so because He considered us more important than Himself. Are we anything like Him?
A stubborn mule looks only to its own interests. It does not put the interests of its owner before itself. Stubborn Christians look only to their own interests. They do not put their Father’s interests before their own, nor do they care about the interests of their brethren.
Christians who are like their Savior are not like that. Like Him, they sacrifice their own interests to serve God and the church. May we be listed among their ranks!