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A Biblical Reflection on Need and Needs

Need, Needs (definition): any thing without which a person cannot live or function to his maximal ability in the tasks to which God has called him or her.  Any person's greatest need is regeneration and obedience to the Word of God.  While in this physical life, such things as air, water, food, and shelter are necessary to sustain physical life.  Spiritual needs include Bible study, worship, an active church life, personal ministry, etc.  Christians must take great caution that needs are not confused with desires, nor that true needs become lust (inordinate desires).  For example, Bible study is a great need in every Christian's life, but when it begins to prevent obligations to one's family, job, or other daily responsibilities, then it has become a lust.

Perhaps, Abraham Maslow first and most completely focused on “needs” (1943). He developed a hierarchy which had this progression: (1) basic physical needs, such as air, food, water, clothing, and shelter; (2) safety needs, such as, personal security from crime, in health and well-being, and against accidents/illness; (3) social needs, such as, friendship, intimacy, and a supportive and communicative family; (4) esteem needs, such as, self-esteem, self-respect, and respect of others, and (5) growth needs, such as, cognitive and aesthetic pursuits. All of these when met lead to “self-actualization in such areas of morality, creativity, spontaneity, and problem-solving. (I am aware that this review is rough and incomplete. It only serves as a starting point for this reflection.)

Of course, Maslow was neither a Christian nor a Bible-student. Long ago, however, Augustine recognizes man’s most basic need: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it rest in Thee." More definitively, what man needs most is regeneration and obedience to God’s Word. Thus, man’s most basic need is spiritual, not physical.

At this point, one might argue “Without Maslow’s physical needs, a person would die and could not obey.” I would respond, “Your argument is blind to the reality of the spiritual realm that the Bible teaches.” After regeneration, when a person dies, he goes to Heaven where he is obedient to God and joyful in his spirit forever. So, I would argue that man’s most basic need for life, both on earth and forever, is regeneration.

Because of Maslow and others (psychologists, social workers, pastors, etc.), as well as our materialistic society, “needs” have greatly multiplied. “Wants” and “desires” have become “needs.” Virtually, every commercial on television, advertisement in the mail, and a new possession by our neighbor brings us another “need.” Spouses divorce each other because the other “has not met my needs.” People join churches “to meet their needs.”

Worse, we begin to worship these needs. Cars and houses far exceed their “necessary” functions to become objects of the admiration of others and major drains of time, money, and attention. Instead of food sustaining our lives, we “crave” breads, desserts, wines, and other additions to the extent that most Americans are excessively overweight.

So, Christians “need” to give serious attention to Paul’s and Timothy’s admonitions for “temperance” and “self-control” in all things. ( Corinthians 9:26, Philippians 4:5, I Timothy 2:9) Even so, there are some particulars of “need” that should be addressed.

(1) Physical needs: Man is both body and soul. While man’s basic need might be spiritual, he also must live his time on this earth. In order to be able fully to obey God, he must be strengthened in his physical body with sufficient food, shelter, and clothing.

But, what about Matthew 6:33, “See you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (food, drink, and clothing) will be added unto you?” In the context of verses 25-34, the focus is on “worrying” (that is, giving attention to) the problems of today, not tomorrow. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (verse 34).

The passage, then, is giving priority to the things of the Kingdom. And, certainly in modern America, as a “consumer society,” that focus is needed. Surely, Americans, even Christians, often justify long hours with both parents employed, to have bigger houses, better cars, and more things.

But, equally, the passage is directing members of the Kingdom to address the immediate problems at hand. We are not to worry about the future which is in God’s hands. We are to deal with the problems of today by addressing them in terms of God’s righteousness (right and wrong). As we are prone to worry far into the future, we are also prone to carry the baggage of past sins with us. Jesus is addressing us to live in the moment, now. How many of us apply the directive, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger?” (Ephesians 4:26)? Many, if not most, of our problems exist because we carry them over from the past or imagine them in the future. Christ calls us to manage them in the now.

There has to be concern for adequate food, shelter, and clothing, but only in a supply sufficient to enable one to pursue “his righteousness” fully and completely. For one not to supply for his family makes him “worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8). And, the focus is on provision for today, primarily. While there should be some attention to planning for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8), neither should there be excessive concern there either (Matthew 6:19).

(2) The need of family: touch, security, companionship. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” Genesis 2:18). God designed man to need a companion in marriage and someone to make him complete (the meaning of “helper” or “help meet”— KJV). The only exception is those to whom the gift of singleness and celibacy are given ( Corinthians 7:7)— more on sex later.

So, marriage is a God-given need. Both the man and the woman need each other to be more than they can be as single persons. Example of complementarity include a husband as bread winner and the wife as homemaker (not absolute, but standard); the man as spiritual leader and the wife as his closest advisor and confident; and the man as a “handy-man” and the wife as the beautifier of the home (usual, not absolute).

Through sex in marriage, children come. Children must have their physical needs (above) provided which they are unable to provide for themselves and proper education (“nurture and admonition of the Lord”).

Also, they need to be touched. An experiment was done in the 1940s in which an attempt was made to raise monkeys without the physical presence of their mothers. They were provided manikins where they could suckle milk and otherwise had a secure environment. They all died. Now, there may not be a direct correlation from monkeys to humans, but it would be difficult to deny the need for touch and companionship— the physical presence of living beings.

(3) Is sexual intimacy a need? Yes and no. Yes, unless gifted for singleness, “it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:9). “Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” would include God’s provision of marriage, including sexual intimacy. Again, man is both body and soul.

Sexual intimacy, however, is not absolute. God’s primary provision of marriage was that “man should not be alone” and that he should be made more than he could be otherwise by a wife. If an injury or illness prevents sexual intimacy in marriage, these two purposes continue. If sexual intimacy were an absolute need, then a spouse could divorce the other, if it were not possible. Scripture does not allow divorce except for sexual infidelity or desertion of an unbeliever. (See #7 of Marriage, Family...) Further, there are times that spiritual concerns take priority over sexual intimacy, if both agree (I Corinthians 7:5).

So, we can conclude that sexual intimacy is a God-designed need, but subject to certain limitations.

(4) Enhancement needs. There are needs to enhance the various tasks to which God calls us. Perhaps, examples will best illustrate this concept. All my children are grown and have their own homes. Yet, we have a home in which we have essentially two rooms for each of us. My wife has a sewing room where she sews for family and others. We have a playroom/bedroom where our grandchildren may stay/play. I have two rooms that are a combination office and study. Now. we could live in a smaller house, but it would be difficult, if not impossible to be involved in our various ministries without the additional space. One could say that I do not “need” all the books that I have, but it enhances what I believe is my calling. We do not “need” a large room, but it enhances our large family to get together and to have meetings, Bible studies, etc.

I have a friend who gives great advice on how to shop and save money at flea markets, etc. But, that would require a great deal of my time. I often spent more than I “need” to, to save time. I use that time to write, study, counsel, etc. Again, needs are somewhat individually determined.

And, I am sure that readers could add their own enhancement “needs.” Again, however, we have to evaluate carefully whether we are self-justifying and whether we are worshipping “things,” as Mammon or the love of money.

(5) Periodic and shifting needs. Some mundane actions become needs on a periodic basis. To enhance the longevity of my car, as good stewardship, I must have the oil changed and other maintenance done. I may have to skip my “quiet time” that AM; I may have to skip time with my wife; I may have to not study or write for that period of time; etc. I know of a prominent theologian who gave up his university position and scholarship activities to minister to his wife who had a severe illness for several years.

Jay Adams has a wheel on page 410 of The Christian Counselor’s Manual where he lists a large number of life activities: family, children, discipline, church, Bible study, prayer, witness, exercise, diet, sleep, marriage, sex, meetings, etc. Some of these activities are periodic, while others are random. We usually speak of these as priorities, but they are essentially needs. And, within these come the unexpected which may be trivial (a child’s skinned knee) or life-disrupting (the major illness of a family member).

And, these shift as well from individual to individual and family to family. All the needs of our extended family shifted when one grandchild was born with a severe disability. We still attempt to meet all the needs of each other and ourselves, but Christopher has shifted all our needs, especially those of his nuclear family.

(6) Spiritual needs. We are back to “seek you first the Kingdom of God … and all these things will be added unto you.” There are definitive spiritual needs. A Christian cannot grow spiritually, as he ought apart from a church body (Ephesians 4:1-14). Vice-versa, the church needs everyone for the body to be fully enhanced (I Corinthians 12:14-26). A Christian must study the Bible (Matthew 4:4). Etc. The reader can develop a complete list of spiritual needs on his own using Scripture.

(7) Is there a conflict between spiritual and physical needs? First, I would have to say that “seek you first the Kingdom of God…” includes physical needs. One could say that until a person is saved (regenerated), that that should take priority over any other need. “Don’t eat, don’t sleep, and don’t even breathe until you are saved!” But, salvation usually takes place over a period of time, so even that most basic need requires that some other needs be met in the process.

Again, man is both body and soul. Each dimension has its specific needs. Our focus should be whether any needs have become excessive, beyond moderation. Have they become inordinate desires? Have they become objects that we worship? Do we give a great deal of time to them that interferes with other needs? For example, many pastors minister to their flock to the detriment of the needs of their own family. Are you impatient with family members or friends because their presence or concerns interfere with YOUR activities?

Ron Sider wrote a book, published in 1978, entitled Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. He had many things wrong. It is the “love of money” that is the “root of all evil,” not money itself. But, in rich America, it is always good to evaluate how our time and money are spent. That is, how do we meet our needs, both physical and spiritual? What has become Mammon in our own life?

Christians are fond of saying that Christ should be our all in all, meaning that we don’t really need anything else. But, “being our all in all” includes the spouses that he gives to us, the jobs and vocations by which we pay for “needs,” the children that we nourish, etc. All those are part of “Christ.” As Protestants, we don’t agree with the monastic lifestyle, but sometimes we at least imply it with our pious, ‘Christ is all that we need.”

It seems that the “Kingdom of God and His righteousness” is continually a tug-of-war (perhaps more literal than might appear at first glance) between “righteousness” and sinful desire. Yet, every Christian has “righteous” physical and spiritual needs. Neglect or undue attention to any one causes harm to ourselves and others. But, neither let us deny that physical needs are as legitimate as spiritual needs. We are unitary beings.

Some Caveats

Special situation: The calling of the missionary. If I recall correctly, ninety percent of the first missionaries to Africa died within the first year of their arrival during the 19th century. Even today, being a missionary to Africa and other third world countries is not without significant perils to oneself and his family. So, the question is, “Is it permissible to deny basic physical needs to present the gospel to those who have not heard?” I give a qualified, “Yes.”

Man’s greatest need is regeneration (stated above). “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14) Certainly, making an opportunity for regeneration takes priority over one’s own physical needs and those of his family. However, that priority does not mean that a missionary can be reckless. Within the bounds of his missionary effort, he must provide for the basic physical and spiritual needs of his family. This requirement may mean that he gets to the mission field a few months or even a few years later, but he must attempt to balance his calling as a missionary with his calling as a husband and father to provide for all the needs of his family.

Relationship of rights and needs. Rights are granted by a higher authority. Needs are met by a person himself or by one person for another. The right to life, liberty, and property (“happiness” was a substitute for the traditional “property“) provide opportunity to meet needs. Rights must be implemented as responsibilities to provide needs. Neither God nor the State has the obligation to meet needs where responsibilities are neglected. “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.”

Medical care as a need. Basic medical care for injury and illness is a legitimate need. A diabetic needs insulin, a cripple needs a wheelchair and crutches and other special equipment. However, the modern attempt to provide everything that modern medicine is able to perform is not a need. This issue is complicated, but suffice it here that more than 90 percent of what modern medicine does is not effective, even harmful, and therefore not necessary. For more on this subject, search “efficacy” on this site for those articles on medicine that are relevant.

A progression from need to desire to worship. Then, there is the progression from need to desire to worship. Many people have started running because they needed exercise. Then, they started running more and participating in road races. Then, they started spending several hours a day exercising, running, and even competing in iron man (running, swimming, and biking). Many women have started dieting to lose weight (which they need to do), but then being thing becomes an obsessive desire, even to the point of anorexia and bulimia that is more destructive than the extra weight itself, both physically and spiritually. In both instances, what started as need became a strong desire and then a lust (a worship of something other than God).

 


 

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