Romans 13:14 NKJV
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
The English language is a hodge-podge of all sorts of words from a variety of places and tongues. English was originally a Germanic tongue, but after the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD, Old English started mixing in with the Latin-based languages (mainly French) from the Continent, eventually creating the Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. Today we rarely have a sentence spoken or written in English that does not contain a mix of words from all over Europe–and quite often from all over the world. The wonderful thing about this massive acquired vocabulary is that, now and then, a Bible translator need not try too hard to find an English equivalent for a New Testament Greek word, because the word quite often already exists in modern English.
I mention all of this because I was pleasantly surprised by a word in this morning’s verse: the word translated in English as “provision.” While we know in our hearts and minds what it means to “provide” something for someone, we don’t usually consider where the word comes from. “Provide” comes from a Middle English word, and that word comes from the Latin “providēre,” which means literally “to see ahead”–from “pro-” forward, and “vidēre” to see. In other words, when we provide for something, it means we are looking ahead to make sure that we are prepared, that supplies are in place, that someone or something will not be left wanting. In the Greek of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the word we translate as “provision” is the Greek word πρόνοια (“pronoia”), which means–you guessed it–”to think ahead.” Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Of course, we like to think we know that “make no provision for the flesh” means to not supply anything to our base, fleshly nature. In short, we think of it as “Don’t feed the flesh.” But Paul is not so much talking about supplying our sinful nature, he is literally telling us to not look ahead to what the flesh desires, to not think about the lusts of our carnality, to avoid giving any thought at all to sin.
In everyday parlance, we often speak of “looking forward” to something–our next day off, our next meal, our next time with a loved one, or something similar that we desire for our happiness. Of course, many addicts also often speak about “looking forward” to their next fix, their next opportunity to act on their addiction. Let’s face it, we really do often look forward to things that fulfill our own desires, things that gratify our flesh, and we make provision for those things by planning our time and our finances and our vacations and even our family life around the things we want in our lives.
But what about the things we NEED in our lives? Do we make provision for that? Do we “look forward” and lay aside the time and resources so that we can have what we truly need?
This coming weekend, millions of people in the US will tune their televisions and radios to the National Football League’s Super Bowl, and much of the nation will be brought to a stand-still by the entertainment of watching two teams compete in a professional sport. Grocery stores and department stores have been pushing NFL tie-in sales for several weeks now, trying to sell us all the supplies we might need for the big game–from chips and beer to a new big-screen TV or home theater system. And many Americans are going to buy those things, looking forward to game day at their own homes or parties at others’ homes. After the game, millions of fans of the winning team will go out and buy championship-themed items like football jerseys and t-shirts and hats and beer steins and pennants.
And yet, as the Super Bowl approaches, I have to wonder: What will be happening with those people too poor to have a home wherein to sit down and watch the game? While millions of Americans are looking forward to the big game, the homeless of our nation have been and still are simply thinking ahead about where they might get their next meal, where they might sleep on a sub-zero day like today, and how they will provide for their families’ needs tomorrow or next week. And after the game, a guy I spoke to who was begging in front of McDonald’s will likely be begging on another street corner.
Mark 14:7 NKJV
“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.”
Shall we always make our lives about providing for ourselves, about gratifying our own desires? We may justify ourselves any way we like, saying that we’re just having a little fun in our otherwise dreary lives, or perhaps claiming we only do this now and then. But the fact is, we provide for the flesh and its lusts all the time, whether it’s a new phone or a new car or a larger TV or simply supplies for a party we could just as easily do without. We walk in revelry and drunkenness, in lewdness and lust, in strife and envy. (Romans 13:13) We don’t walk properly, and we don’t wake up and grasp the salvation that is right in front of us. The poor are always with us and will be until judgment day, but the opportunity to embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will not always be with us–and the opportunity to share the love of Jesus will also someday be gone. The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and so what manner of people ought we to be RIGHT NOW in holy conduct and godliness? (2 Peter 3:10-12)
Jesus told His disciples that they could do good for the poor whenever they wished, and yet most of them had likely given little thought to the poor until Jesus transformed their lives. But look at what happened AFTER they knew Jesus and had been baptised in the Holy Spirit:
Acts 2:44-45 NKJV
44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
True believers provide–”think ahead”–for OTHERS rather than themselves.
For what shall we make provision? What should we be looking forward to, what should we be thinking ahead about? God has provided us with an opportunity to be saved from our sin. He has thought ahead about our salvation, and He gave us Jesus Christ, His only Son, to redeem us and give us the chance to repent. The Greek word for “repent” is μετανοέω (“metanoeo”), which means to “think differently.” If we are to think differently, then we should no longer think ahead for our flesh but instead we should and think ahead about the needs of others.
Acts 11:25-30 NKJV
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.
26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.
28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
The first Christians provided for the needs of others. What shall we provide?
Lord God our Father, You have provided so much for us, it is no wonder that our forefathers used “Providence” as one of Your names. Thank You, dear Lord, for thinking ahead about our lives, for giving us so much and yet asking only that we build our lives around our love for You. Let my life be filled with forethought for Your children, let my life be guided by thinking ahead about the needs of my spirit rather than the desires of my flesh. Help me, Father, to be holy and godly for Your name’s sake. Amen.