No Dispensable People


The movie “Schindler’s List” told the story of a German industrialist who used his power to hire special workers, ostensibly to make munitions for the German war effort, to save large numbers of Jews. The final scene was a dramatic manifestation of his remorse that he had not done more. While his Jewish workers were thanking him for saving them at the risk of his own life, he was weeping over his sudden awareness that all the jewelry he had on, his rings, his watches, etc. could have been used to save other lives. The lesson today shows that one test of true faith is our commitment to protect and enhance life, both in its temporal reality and in its eternal dimensions.

I. “Rescue those who are being taken away to death;” We must seek actively to save the lives of those who are deemed dispensable, whose lives are easily forfeited, through the failure of justice and compassion in a society.

A. This does not refer to the duty of government to enact just penalties on those who have committed capital crimes. Genesis 9:5, 6 shows that God established the just penalty for murder as the execution of the murderer. One who has not honored the image of God in a human being has relinquished the right to continue his own life. Paul reaffirms this in saying that the magistrate is established to maintain justice, and “does not bear the sword in vain,” and is an “avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1-4; cf Deuteronomy 19:11, 12)

B. In our society abortion is the clearest example of our duty to rescue “those who are being taken away to death.” Abortion is perhaps the most perverse violation of the prerogatives of God over human life that can be imagined. What truths may be gathered to substantiate this claim?

  1. Life was created by God in the beginning. All of its constituent elements were established by the power and wisdom of God with a special care and purposeful attention that he gave to nothing else in his creation. (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7, 21-23). Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made, the most sublime exhibits of the wisdom, intelligence, and power of God in the entire created order. Since we so display his eternal power and godhead (Romans 1:20), nothing less than special revelation from God can give us warrant to intrude on God’s sole rights over the lives of his image-bearers.
  2. God continues to give particular care to all of his image-bearers in their procreation (Psalm 139:13-16). He has never relinquished his sovereign rights over the lives of those who are the result of his creation purpose of multiplication of the race by making it man and woman (Genesis 2:28). The command of perpetuation was re-issued in Genesis 9:7 including the exuberant expectation, “teem on the earth and multiply in it.” Man’s relation to procreation is the support of it, the pursuit of it, not the termination of it.
  3. The concept of the “right of a woman over her own body” as it concerns giving birth to children, a grotesque euphemism for the destruction of the life of another over whom she has no right at all, summarizes the absolute secularity of the culture. It is similar to the abominable actions of the Israelites when “they even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood” (Psalm 106:37, 38). The process of the propagation of the race through the woman is established by God and is one of the spheres of his righteous sovereignty over his world. Pregnancy is not ours to terminate. We can claim no option to call any pregnancy an “unwanted” pregnancy with the assumption that such a judgment on our part gives the right of rebellion against the design of God.

C. All sorts of “end of life” issues concerning the elderly, the terminally ill, and others that are considered as burdens to families or societies will continue to challenge our commitment to the biblical truth that God alone is the giver and taker of life.

  1. All of us live with the wages of sin ever before our face, that is, the certainty that every person will experience physical death. Through Adam’s vine flows the sap of physical corruption that surely will bring an end to this present life in the body. It is God’s own proclamation and none, except those that remain alive until Christ’s coming, will escape it. Our task is not to hasten that time in our lives or in the lives of other individuals, but to seek every opportunity to set forth the reality of eternal life that comes through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We seek to redeem every aspect of this life from the ravages of the fall, including the decline and eventual dissolution of the physical body. God himself will take us from this life in his time and his way. We are not to intrude on that sovereign prerogative either for ourselves or others.
  2. The book of Job is an extended discussion of this truth. We see that God controls the issues of life and death. He does not permit the taking of human life in order to overcome the troubles of loss, disease, pain, radical social ostracism, or suicidal depression. Job had all of these and more; yet he was to endure (James 5:10, 11). It is irrational to advocate death as a solution to the problems of life. James, in the beginning of his sermon, proclaims that the purpose of trial of all kinds is to move us toward perfect maturity: “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials, knowing this, that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

II. “Hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” We must warn those who have adopted life-styles, or philosophies, that will lead to death.

A. Scripture teaches the Christian that we are to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice for this is an element of our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). Paul reminded the Corinthians not to abuse their bodies through immorality for they had been bought with a price and were, therefore, to glorify God in their bodies. The most gripping and solemn reminder on this issue is the fact that our bodies [!] are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). Destructive habits and actions run counter to the mandate of worship with our bodies and pollute the temple in which the Holy Spirit has come to reside. The value of the body is seen preeminently in that Christ himself will change these dying, corruptible, mortal tents into incorruptible dwellings fit for living in the presence of God for eternity (Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 52-54). The “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44) yet is a body, but now fit for perfect operation in the realm of the divine presence, that is experiencing the glory of God, who is spirit, without perishing from the holy power manifest in His glory.

B. World views that grant to the powers of this present age the right to determine the time of death, to take life from a body before God himself has removed the breath of life, must be exposed and shown to be the sinister, evil, hateful, and insidiously destructive philosophies that they truly are.

C. Intervention in the culture of death through protest, aggressive dialogue, and efforts to influence legislation should not be opposed but pursued by Christians. Counseling ministries, action that attempts to counter the influence of abortion centers near the site, efforts to influence legislative action on issues of death should all find Christians involved according to their gifts and opportunities.

D. Ministers of the gospel should train their churches to think biblically about these issues. The early church challenged the culture of death that dominated the Roman empire by preaching the gospel, inculcating holiness in their church membership, and demonstrating from the teachings of Christ why the Roman lifestyle was counter to biblical teaching and the sure road to darkness and death. In a first century document entitled the Didache, we read: “The way of death is this: first of all it is evil and completely cursed; murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy . . . pursuing reward, having no mercy for the poor, not working on behalf of the oppressed, not knowing him who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of God’s creation, turning away from someone in need., oppressing the afflicted, etc.”

E. Seeking to set before people that our final purpose is found in glorifying and finding the “hope of eternal life” will have the natural fruit of seeking to follow the divine will and protect life in this world.

III. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” We are not ignorant that these things are happening. To ignore them as if they did not exist is to facilitate their advance. We are under biblical mandate to protect the life of the unborn, extend and enrich the lives of the born, and point to eternal life for all sinners. The true death is that second death in which divine wrath eternally fulfills the just threat, “In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

IV. Jesus’ response to blind Bartimaeus, shows how differently from us the Lord looks at the supposedly dispensable people of the earth.

A. The son of Timaeus had nothing to offer the society but was perhaps considered a leech. He was blind, he was a beggar, and he was sitting beside the road.

B. His knowledge of Jesus had convinced him, by the secret and internal operation of the Spirit of God, that Jesus was the Christ. The cry, “Son of David,” indicated that he had concluded that Jesus was the one who was to be the heir of David’s throne. As such, he knew that he could restore not only his sight, but as a result, his life.

C. The crowd discouraged him, thinking that he was too low a figure to be coming to this rousingly popular figure. The crowd soon would cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:9, 10). They also would cry “Crucify him.” Bartimaeus, however, having true faith in the Son of David, could not be repressed by the discouragement and rejection of the crowd and pled with Jesus for the restoration of sight.

D. Jesus, seeing him as one of his own, given him by the Father in the eternal covenant of redemption, confounded the opinion of the world and received this little one to himself.

E. Even so we should reach out to the helpless, the unprotected, the weak, and the rejected to seek their prospering in this life but with the ultimate intention of setting before them that life which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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