September 13, 2013

On Relaxing the Bow

by Mike Riccardi

Bow and ArrowIn reading a bit on the Apostle John, I came across a story in what is known as “The Acts of John,” a second-century Gnostic text that is considered to be part of the “New Testament apocrypha.” The text as a whole was condemned as heretical because of its docetism, and so we would be right to view whatever is written in it with a healthy dose of suspicion. It is not Scripture, and should not be regarded as inspired or having any authority over the church. Nevertheless, I thought the story I read was quite interesting, and I think serves as a helpful illustration of a good principle of Christian living. It would be nice to think that the Apostle John himself said these things, but even if that’s not the case, the benefit of the illustration may still be enjoyed.

The following excerpt is from The Apocryphal New Testament, edited and translated by M. R. James (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924). The line breaks are mine.

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It is told that the most blessed Evangelist John, when he was gently stroking a partridge with his hands, suddenly saw one in the habit [i.e., the dress] of a hunter coming to him. He [the hunter] wondered that a man of such repute and fame [i.e., the Apostle John] should demean himself to such small and humble amusements, and said:

Art thou that John whose eminent and widespread fame hath enticed me also with great desire to know thee? Why then art thou taken up with such mean [i.e., ignoble] amusements?

The blessed John said to him:

What is that which thou carriest in thy hands?

A bow, said he.

And why, said he, dost thou not bear it about always stretched?

He answered him:

I must not, lest by constant bending the strength of its vigour be wrung and grow soft and perish, and when there is need that the arrows be shot with much strength at some beast, the strength being lost by excess of continual tension, a forcible blow cannot be dealt.

Said the blessed John,

Just so, let not this little and brief relaxation of my mind offend thee, young man, for unless it doth sometimes ease and relax by some remission the force of its tension, it will grow slack through unbroken rigour and will not be able to obey the power of the Spirit.

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Now again, we can’t know if the Apostle John actually did and said these things, or if it was just an author trying to stamp his personal preferences with the authority of the supposed example of the final living Apostle. But either way, I do think we can benefit from the principle that the story illustrates.

We shouldn’t look down upon the various sorts of lawful recreation that can relax the mind and calm the spirit. We shouldn’t succumb to laziness and indolence, but neither should we look down upon recreation as inherently sinful or unspiritual. Rest is just as much a vital component to a faithful life and ministry as work, because rest prepares us for our most effective and efficient work.

So, enjoy the weekend!

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Thanks, Mike. Much needed. It is very easy to become one who never bends the bow, IMO (and experience).

    I think love for Christ compels some people to work very hard for Him. But when we start to rely on our own strength, the results can be terrifyingly pathetic…or sometimes God doesn’t ‘bring the increase…yet’…so we work HARDER. Rinse, Repeat.

    I’ve sinned in this way, and I would prefer to never do so again.

    The other driving force I’ve seen is that with so much public information, it is easy to compare ourselves to others, especially people who are very active, for example, in ministry. So we feel like we don’t do enough because, well, every time person X posts on facebook or twitter they are sharing the gospel with someone or fighting evil – so “what is wrong with me?” I’ve asked myself.

    More sin! Comparing myself to others and letting my own judgement condemn me when Christ has already paid the price. I repent and thank you for the encouragement and permission that sometimes it is ok to need a rest.