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…although a case could 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 above question 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 a mule balks at pulling a load is not because he doesn’t hear the command “giddy up.” Rather, he would simply not hear it. He has more than enough strength and ability to pull that load, but he 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 have rather 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 (Luke 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 (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38), and to be put into Christ and his body, the church of Christ, by the Holy Spirit through 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 it violates the wishes of family (Matt. 10:34-37) or the traditions and doctrine of religious groups (Matt. 15:1-9) who are seeking after the god of convenience rather than the God which demands obedience (1 Sam. 15:22; Acts 5:29; Heb. 5:8-9).
Other examples could be given. The news media continually both reports and in many cases sadly supports those in our country and elsewhere who selfishly and stubbornly promote the sinful cause of 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 is here and summer is not far away, and many people are choosing to stubbornly flaunt their bodies through immodest apparel and actions, fornication, and the partaking 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 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 your adamant refusal to put the spiritual raising of your children before unneeded work, TV time, your golf game and favorite book due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6-9)? Brother and sister in Christ, does your constant criticism and backbiting against the bishops of your local congregation come from being stubbornly adamant to have your own way above all (Heb. 13:17)?
Let’s ask ourselves whether we have the mind of a mule or the mind of Christ. Read God’s will below, and think about it…
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.
— Philippians 2:1-8