FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS,
volume 13, number 45, November 6, 2014
. . . the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, Psalm 51:17.
As one who spends a great deal of time working to plant churches in Alabama and beyond, I am aware of the necessity of reaching out to broken people. They are the ones who need the glorious, liberating gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said that a person who is well does not need a physician, that He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The question however, is who are the broken people to whom we are to go with the gospel? Much is bantered about today on reaching out to broken people; but it seems, as I listen to church leadership pundits, that the broken people to whom we are to go are always the poor, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, porn or sex addicts, workaholics who have devastated their families by neglecting them in order to make money, or those who have suffered from child molestation or sex-trafficking.
It is certainly possible that all of the above, and then some, could be characterized as broken people, but sin and its consequences or one’s lack of financial resources, does not automatically qualify one to be characterized as broken in the Biblical sense of the word. One can be the victim of child abuse, child molestation, an alcoholic father, or some life debilitating addiction and not be broken. In the midst of victimization or sinful consequences a person can still be far from broken. He can be filled with rebellion, pride, and unbelief. I know of a woman with whom my wife, Wini, has had numerous gospel conversations who calls herself a Jewish atheist. Recently this woman told my wife that her life was falling apart, but when Wini sought to give her a Bible and gospel tract she steadfastly refused. Though this woman is facing severe difficulty in her life she is far from broken.
So, what is the Biblical definition of brokenness? King David, in lamenting his horrific sin of adultery and murder says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise,” (Psalm 51:17). David also tells us that God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). The High and Exalted One tells us that He dwells in two places-a high and holy place and in the hearts of the lowly and contrite (Isaiah 57:15). And Yahweh, the transcendent One who has made heaven His throne and the earth His footstool, nonetheless proclaims His condescending and covenantal love for His people, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word,” (Isaiah 66:2). And Yahweh also promises to heal the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1).
The Hebrew word used for brokenness in Psalm 51:17 is transliterated nishbarah and it means to break in pieces. The same root word is used in Psalm 34:18. The Hebrew word lishvurei for brokenhearted is used in Psalm 147:3 and Isaiah 61:1 with basically the same meaning-to break in pieces. When we view these two Hebrew words within their contexts (a broken spirit and contrite heart, the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit) it becomes clear that the Biblical concept of brokenness has to do with one’s admission of his sinfulness, a humble agreement with God that he, in fact, is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Even the classic passage in Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him to preach the gospel to the poor; in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 61:1-3 translates the passage, “to bring good news to the afflicted or humble.” Poverty is not limited to those without financial resources. The Biblical notion of poverty also is spiritual bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3), coming to understand that one is out of moral options. He jettisons his moral arrogance in humility. A poor person is childlike (Mark 10:14-15).
Jacob, the consummate con-artist, while wrestling all night with the pre-incarnate Jesus, finally came to realize the Lord would no longer put up with his recalcitrance, said, “I will not let you leave until you bless me,” (Genesis 32:24-32). When Eliakim came to King Hezekiah and told him of the threatening words uttered by Rabshakeh of Assyria, the king tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and said, “This day is a day of distress, rebuke, and rejection,” (Isaiah 37:1-3). When Nathan showed David his sin of adultery and murder, the King said, “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight,” (Psalm 51:4). David also said, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long . . . I acknowledged my sin to Thee . . . I will confess my transgressions to the Lord; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin,” (Psalm 32:3-5). When hearing that the wall around Jerusalem was still broken down, righteous Nehemiah wept, fasted, and prayed for days saying, “. . . we have sinned against Thee; I and my father’s house have sinned,” (Nehemiah 1:6). After reading the prophet Jeremiah, Daniel found that Judah was to return from the exile. Consequently he manifested the Biblical concept of brokenness, “. . . we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled . . . we have not obeyed His voice . . . we have sinned, we have been wicked,” (Daniel 9:5, 14, 15). There is a plethora of examples in the Scriptures to illustrate the Biblical notion of brokenness.
So bottom line-a broken person is one who, regardless of his moral or immoral background, regardless of how difficult his familial environment may be, or regardless of his addiction to drugs, alcohol, or pornography is able freely to admit, “Yes I am a sinner, fully deserving of hell. I am the only one to blame for my hard-heartedness, wickedness, or self-righteousness. I cannot blame my parents, my environment, my friends, or the difficult and traumatic things which have happened to me. I am totally responsible for my reaction to all of these things. I repent in dust and ashes.”
So, as we seek to preach Jesus to the broken people of our world, let us remember who they are from a Biblical perspective-they are those whom the Holy Spirit has convicted or convinced that they are sinners who justly deserve God’s righteous and full condemnation. Thus they are the ones who are ready and willing to hear the gospel, to be told that they are indeed sinners on the road to destruction unless God intervenes in rich mercy. This practically means that the only way to know if someone is broken is to preach Jesus to him. If he responds in humility, acknowledging his sin, in essence saying, “What must I do to be saved?”, then he, by Biblical definition, is a broken person. All other people, regardless of how difficult or dysfunctional they may be, are not necessarily broken. They may still be full of pride, unbelief, and rebellion. So we must preach Jesus to everyone who will listen. Yes, by all means, we are to love them, to be patient with them; but we must also speak the truth in love, urging them to flee from the wrath of God which is surely coming and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t assume brokenness from dysfunction. Discover it by preaching law and grace.