Operating On The Margin



When you see the word margin in the title you immediately think of a border or the blank space around the printed area on a page. However, it also means an amount of money or supplies reserved or allowed beyond what is needed, an extra amount needed for contingencies, for emergencies, or for the unexpected.

A biblical example of the value of a margin is found in the story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, which Jesus used to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like. When the ten virgins started out to meet the
bridegroom, they all took their lamps, as was the custom, and all the lamps were burning. They were probably all dressed alike for this special occasion; no difference between the virgins could be discerned
as they waited for their part in the marriage celebration. Jesus, however, revealed a vital distinction between them: five were wise and five were foolish.

If all were dressed alike and all had their burning lamps, what was the difference that made some of these virgins wise and the others foolish? The wise took oil in an extra vessel; the foolish failed to do this. The
foolish took only enough oil to last if everything went according to schedule. They did not plan for unexpected changes.

The time of the wedding was set. Therefore had there been no delays the foolish virgins would have had enough oil, and their foolishness would not have been discovered. Who would have thought that the bridegroom would be late for his wedding? Today it is sometimes expected and accepted that the bride could be a few minutes late, but rarely is the bridegroom late. In Bible days, it is likely that the bridegroom set and controlled the schedule of his wedding, and therefore had the prerogative to tarry his coming should he so desire. We must keep in mind that Jesus used this story to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like, and in this light the bridegroom, Jesus Himself, certainly can delay His coming if He desires.

Unexpected delays or situations happen often in our everyday living. We often make sure that we are better prepared for them than for our spiritual emergencies. We have a spare tire in the trunk of our car that
we may never use, but it is there if we need it. Every commercial airline flight begins with careful instructions for the unlikely event of something happening while we are in the air. Over the period of many
years that we have traveled by plane there has never been a time when the oxygen masks have dropped down for our use. But they are there just in case they are needed.

An age-old story is told about a young farm girl determined to marry a man against her father’s wishes. The young man did not have a job and therefore had no way to support her should they marry. An aunt promised to give the girl a hen for a wedding present. The girl figured that a hen could raise twenty chicks a season, and by the second season the twenty would increase to four hundred. The third season she would have 8,000, the fourth 160,000, and by the fifth year 3,200,000. If she could sell the chicks at twenty-five cents each, she would have $800,000. To a girl in love, every egg will hatch, none of the hatched will die, and she can live on love and the profit from the gift of one hen. Perhaps this is where the statement comes from: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

The unexpected and the unplanned can be very upsetting. The outcome depends on how well we have prepared. In the natural, some people live from paycheck to paycheck with nothing to fall back on in case of an unexpected need. They create no reserve and allow no margin for any disruption.

It is also true in the realm of righteousness: some people have no reserve of goodness and no margin of righteousness. Many manage to get along with a minimum of religion. It is only when goodness ceases to be pinched and narrowed, breaks beyond the bounds of convention, exceeds the bare requirements of the law, accepts the challenge of the second mile, and experiences the thrill of giving up a cloak as well as a coat that it becomes triumphantly attractive.

Jesus always insisted on the extra. He said, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees representable people of His day. It is quite obvious that He did not think much of their goodness. They operated on the margin. He insisted on more.

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?” (Matthew 5:46-47). Here is average goodness, and Jesus deprecates it. He hated mediocrity in religion. The law was the minimum requirement. If people today respect civil law at all, they suppose it to be the maximum expectation.

Jesus gave examples of the law and then told of the manner in which it ought to be surpassed: “What do ye more than others?”

In his book, Notable Woman 0f Scripture, Ken Gurley says: “To serve God in a superb manner, we must possess an unerring instinct to go beyond the typical, unremarkable routine. The most effective Christians of our day exhibit a zeal and determination to excel in God. The extra ‘something’ that transforms the average person into an extraordinarily effective instrument for Jesus is usually his willingness to go a little
farther that necessary.”

A time of crisis is the supreme test of character. The goodness that counts must not only be sufficient for the wear and tear of everyday living but also be adequate for the crisis.

Bridge engineers ascertain the amount of strain that a bridge can stand, and the minimum burden of traffic is then set considerably below that point. Elevators have posted the number of people who are allowed to be on the elevator, but the number is set below the actual number who could ride the elevator. The difference creates a margin of safety. The lack of such a margin invites disaster.

Young people who lose the fight for their virtue literally have no margin of safety. The difference between the little more and the little less may be ever so small, but it is often the difference between life and death.

David was reprimanded severely by God for numbering Israel. What could be wrong with numbering Israel? Shouldn’t they know their strength? If not, how could they go into battle? He overlooked one primary principle: God did not want Israel to rely on numbers. The Bible is filled with warnings to those who overlook great principles and count on surface powers.

Solomon decided that he would make his kingdom so strong that no one could destroy it. His masterly plan was to become the son-in-law of every king who might be tempted to fight with Israel. In this way
Solomon would never have to be concerned about war. And so he married 700 wives. How wonderful! Every ruler was now related to him, so peace would prevail and Solomon could devote his energy and natural resources to building the strength of the nation.

He had not been married long, however, until one by one his loving wives begged him to build altars in Israel to their gods so that they could worship them. He listened to their petitions and had altars constructed. Then the unexpected happened. He awoke one morning to the sound of Hebrew voices worshiping idols on every hilltop in Judea. Israel was turning from the one true God to serve the idols of heathen nations.

Abraham’s nephew Lot overlooked a few things when he pitched his dwellings in the plains of the Jordan River near the city of Sodom. What an advantage would be his! He would have both the fertile valley
for his herd and the city for commerce. The disadvantages, however, far outweighed the advantages. His family soon became corrupt from the moral degradation in Sodom, and his soul became vexed with the ungodly lifestyle. By the mercy of God, he and his two daughters escaped the judgmental destruction of the cities in the plains of Jordan.

When famine struck Bethlehem, Elimelech took his family to Moab. His two sons grew up and married women of Moab. Everything was lovely except for the fact that death struck the family. Out of the four who went from Bethlehem, only one, Naomi, returned. One of the daughters-in-law came with her, but Naomi’s husband and two sons were buried in the land of Moab. In looking for bread, Elimelech operated on the margin, and it did not work.

If it is unexpected, how can we do anything about it? The fact is that most of the unexpected should be expected, simply because the unexpected happens to all of us, although perhaps not in the same way. Because of this, we must expect and plan for any eventuality.

First, we must consider history. The person who sets no value on the past can never be prepared. There is nothing we face but what we can go back in history to see what others did in similar circumstances. If
something has happened to others under a certain condition, it is almost certain that it will happen to another under the same conditions.

Second, the law of averages must be considered. Statistics are grim reminders that some things just do not work. One in five who promise they will stop drinking alcohol in order to get a girl to marry them will drink after the marriage. Few keep promises without God or a reserve.

Third, the Bible is replete with lessons for those who operate on the margin. What the Bible teaches lives on when philosophies fail. Ignore the Word of the Lord and we build a house on sand, and when storms arise the house is quickly destroyed. Obey the Word of the Lord and we build on the rock. When the storms come, this house will stand.

Job lived with a full supply of oil; his wife operated on the margin. When everything they owned and all ten of their children were taken in one day’s time, Job’s reserve was sufficient for he could say, “the LORD
gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the lame of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

After Job was smitten with boils to the point of great agony and despair, his wife, operating on the margin and unprepared spiritually for this unexpected tragic turn of events, reached her limits. She said to her husband, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die” (Job 2:9).

Someone said , “I am so glad that I prayed when I was young; I sure don’t have time to pray now.” With that kind of thinking, they need to hear the words of the flight attendant as the plane is about to take
off: “In the unlikely event of unexpected turbulence, please keep our seat belt fastened at all times.” The unlikely may suddenly turn into the likely, and with the seat belt not fastened it could be disastrous.

Do you operate on the margin of spirituality or have you prepared spiritually for contingencies?

By C.M. Becton. Brother Becton is the general secretary of the United Pentecostal Church International.

Christian Information Network.

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