In his Friday, March 4, 2005 devotional John Fischer wrote “There is a story I came across recently, reportedly from the writings of Rabbi Kushner, about a group of tourists who went on a safari in Africa and hired several native porters to carry their supplies for them. After three days, the porters announced they would have to stop and rest for a day. When the tourists inquired as to why (they did not appear to be tired) the porters confirmed that fatigue was not the reason: ‘…but we have walked too far too fast and now we must wait for our souls to catch up to us.” Men, this is an idea worth exploring. Not in its literal sense, but in the picture it draws for us about how we live our lives. Haven’t you had occasions (some of us far too often) where it seems you have been moving so fast that you wonder where your life has gone? Have you ever thought about the question “am I a ‘soul’ man or am I a ‘sole’ man?” Let’s spend a few moments together looking at this very important question.
First, we need to understand something about the word “soul.” Holman Bible Dictionary tells us the soul is “The vital existence of a human being.” It goes on to say “In the Bible, a person is a unity. Body and soul, or spirit, are not opposite terms, but rather terms which supplement one another to describe aspects of the inseparable whole person.” Although some have accepted the Greek teaching that the soul is an immortal, ever-living part of a human being, Scripture states that God is the giver and keeper of life and when we die, body and soul die. While we are a complete “natural man,” we will also be a complete “spiritual man.” As I understand Scripture, at no time will we be this “bodiless spirit” floating around waiting for God to decide what to do with us. 1 Corinthians tells us in the 15th chapter “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (verses 42-44)
We will come back to this idea of “soul” man but let’s first look at “sole” man. Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the word sole as “1 a : the undersurface of a foot b : the part of an item of footwear on which the sole rests and upon which the wearer treads.” Try to get a mental picture of the “sole” man being the man caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. He is probably working hard to support his family and provide them not only with their needs but trying extra hard to supply some of the niceties of life. He is moving through life’s challenges as quickly and carefully as he can but he seems to be walking faster and faster on his soles but getting less and less accomplished as he sees it. He has, or had, dreams but they seem to be drifting further and further from the realm of possibility. His spouse and family have become a source of frustration for him. Why don’t they see how he is wearing out his “soles” to try and meet their expectations? Although “sole” man may have moments of joy and happiness in his life, much of his time is spent conquering the next hurdle that he defines as “being successful.” You see, “sole” man’s entire existence is based upon his efforts and his accomplishments. He uses man’s solutions to man’s problems. At times he turns to his friends and colleagues for guidance but he finds that their solutions, and in fact their very lives, are as confused and misdirected as his own. At one point in his life, he thought he understood some things that would help him get through this maze called life but now all he has is questions and no human being alive seems to have the answers. His “soles” yearn for something or someone to comfort and reassure him but all he finds is deeper confusion and more unanswered questions. Sound familiar?
Let’s now take a look at “soul” man. While we can draw many similarities between “sole” man and “soul” man, there are some key and distinct differences we must recognize. In Eugene Peterson’s The Message , he gives us a great description of what I call “soul” man in the seventh chapter of Matthew (verses 13-27). Jesus is speaking and He says “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life–to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention. “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. “Knowing the correct password–saying “Master, Master,’ for instance–isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience–doing what my Father wills. I can see it now–at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ ‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit–but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. ‘But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” “Soul” man distinguishes himself from “sole” man in the following ways:
- He recognizes that there are no shortcuts to the life God expects him to live. “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14, NIV)
- He knows the way to God requires energy and his total attention.
- He judges by character and not by charisma. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20, NIV)
- He knows that doing God’s work is not for his own glory but for the glory of his Heavenly Father. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21, NIV)
- He understands that life will present him with many challenges but if he builds his relationship with God on these foundation principles, he will weather life’s storms like a house built upon rock. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7: 24-25, NIV)
I hope as you reflect on these ideas, you can say you are a “soul” man. If not, my hope and prayer is that you will begin the journey that is necessary to move you from “sole” man to “soul” man. Remember the words of Jesus when He said “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9: 24-25, NIV) God longs to have more “soul” men serving Him in our world today.