Dealing with the Disease not the Symptoms
“The symptoms may vary tremendously from case to case, but the business of the preacher is not to medicate symptoms, it is to treat the disease. ” Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones
Over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with an annoying head cold. It wasn’t anything serious, just caused some ringing in my ears, and headaches. I tried taking care of it with basic measures like using ginger and tumeric, or taking pain meds.
My reason for doing this is going on cold medication (or Histal) would knock me out for a day, and leave my head in a fog for a day or two thereafter. I HATE feeling like that so kept putting if off.
Finally last Saturday I broke down and started taking the cold meds. Though most of Monday was spent in bed, the cold was gone by Tuesday.
This experience reminds of the spiritual disease we all struggle with. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones in his excellent book “Preaching and Preachers” refers to the call of preachers to confront sin with the Gospel of Christ. It is easy for sermons to focus on secondary issues, or symptoms as he refers to him (happiness, peace, joy, comfort) while the true problem is not dealt with.
For a few days I could overcome my head cold with exercise and supplements. But the truth is my disease WAS STILL THERE! The symptoms may have been cured (like headaches) but the cold itself would remain till I took proper cold medication, and gave my body time to rest.
In the same way Dr Lloyd-Jones explains the symptoms of the disease may be gone. The individual may be calm, happiness may be restored, they may be involved in Scripture reading and prayer. But the disease of sin IS STILL THERE!
This fact becomes clear to me when counseling unsaved friends. Many of them struggle with relationship issues, family drama, or poverty and during our sessions will say something like this. “If only I could have enough money for this bill everything will be okay!” It’s my job as a missionary to explain they are focusing all their attention on symptoms while ignoring the major disease.
A few nights ago a friend came by to visit, and we started talking about some struggles in his life. He told me the goal right now was to finish one last project, and then go overseas with family for a while. With love in my voice I said “but your problem will still be there.” He could get on a plane and leave SVG, but the spiritual need in his heart will leave SVG with him.
Often dealing with the disease means coming back to the real problem of their heart like I did a few nights ago. The Devil wants individuals to focus on symptoms or something that they “can handle” promising fulfillment once that goal is reached. So with an open Bible and words of wisdom, we must shine the light upon their real disease.
Of course it goes the other way as well! As Christians we can deal with the symptoms of a heart that has turned away from the Lord. Like with my cold these attempts can bring temporary relief, but there is no healing till we repent of our diseased sin-nature, and seek the restoration of Christ.
The Gospel brings hope to those who are lost in sin. But first they must admit what the real problem is, and stop trying to fix the symptoms of their disease.