One of the most famous stories of all time—thanks to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic 1939 motion picture production—is L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story features a protagonist, Dorothy, who is swept away by a ravaging tornado in her Kansas home, and mysteriously lands in a fantasy world. Her only objective is to get home, and she is instructed by a group of natives to follow this yellow brick road to the emerald city of Oz to meet the infamous wizard who could surely help her find her way back to Kansas.
On her journey, however, Dorothy meets three interesting characters: a dim-witted scarecrow, who longs for a brain; a rusty tin man, who longs for a heart; and a cowardly lion—who longs for courage. These memorable characters join Dorothy on her quest to Oz to meet the wonderful wizard who resides there. All their hopes rest on the belief that this mysterious—mythical?—wizard will be able to fill their respective voids.
What I want us to consider for a moment is that these four infamous and beloved characters represent four types of Christians: every single Christian will fall under one (or more) or these four stereotypes.
THE SCARECROW: THE IGNORANT CHRISTIAN
The dim-witted, yet often lovable, scarecrow represents an unfortunately large number of Christians: Christians who lack scriptural, and thus general spiritual, knowledge. This class of God’s people, however, is neither limited to the 21st-century church, or even the New Testament church.
The prophets Isaiah and Hosea both lamented that the Old Testament nation of Israel would go into captivity “for lack of knowledge” (Isa. 5:13; Hos. 4:6). In the original Hebrew in both of these places, “knowledge” has the article, which indicates that “specific knowledge…of God and his word, is meant.”¹
Furthermore, this problem was not foreign to the New Testament church of the first century, as the writer of Hebrews expressed:
ABOUT THIS WE HAVE MUCH TO SAY, AND IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN, SINCE YOU HAVE BECOME DULL OF HEARING. FOR THOUGH BY THIS TIME YOU OUGHT TO BE TEACHERS, YOU NEED SOMEONE TO TEACH YOU AGAIN THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THE ORACLES OF GOD. YOU NEED MILK, AND NOT SOLID FOOD.
— Hebrews 5:11,12 —
“The word rendered dull (νωθροί) means sluggish, indolent, slow to move; and that which is rendered hearing (ταῖς ἀχοαῖς) means the ears or perceptive faculties of the soul. Instead of quickening the powers of their understanding and the susceptibilities of their heart, by the regular and systematic study of God’s word, many of the Hebrew Christians had become (γεγόνατε) dull in their apprehension of spiritual things. They had…ceased to be diligent students of the word of God, and had therefore relapsed somewhat into the darkness and errors of [false teachers].”²
These Christians were apparently fine with knowing the “basics”—the “rudimentary” things of God’s word, and had no desire to further their knowledge. After all, “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1), right? But, we must remember the important fact that “God takes notice of the time and helps we have for gaining scripture-knowledge… From those to whom much is given much is expected.”³
THE TIN MAN: THE INDIFFERENT CHRISTIAN
If the scarecrow represents a large number of today’s Christians, the tin man is right up there with him—for, the tin man and the Christians he represents have something in common: they have no heart.
In Revelation 3, Jesus had a message for the church at Laodicea, which was His sharpest of the seven:
“I KNOW YOUR WORKS: YOU ARE NEITHER COLD NOR HOT. I WISH YOU WERE EITHER COLD OR HOT! BUT BECAUSE YOU ARE LUKEWARM, AND NEITHER HOT NOR COLD, I WILL SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH!
— Revelation 3:15,16 —
Notice very carefully that the Lord plainly states that, as far as He is concerned, He would rather a Christian be ice cold than lukewarm! This is because an ice-cold “Christian” doesn’t pretend to be a Christian! In other words, one who is ice-cold isn’t fooling anyone. On the contrary, a lukewarm Christian may exhibit some visible signs of faithfulness, and may show up to occupy a pew every single Lord’s day morning, but then give his brothers and sisters nothing but discouragement by neglecting them on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, by a lack of involvement in any church-related activities, rejection of congregation-wide social events, et cetera. In other words, an ice-cold “Christian” doesn’t pretend to be something he is not, and thus it is no surprise to his brothers and sisters when they never see him except Easter and Christmas, when he drags himself to the church building to please Momma; whereas a lukewarm “Christian” pretends to be a disciple of Jesus, and thus continually disappoints, discourages, and distresses his brothers and sisters, even offering them occasions of stumbling to be as neglectful and lukewarm as they are.
Thus, the Lord would rather them be cold than lukewarm—that is, He would rather them openly disdain Him than to be immovably indifferent (cf. Mal. 1:10). But why? Because “[i]nconsistent and hypocritical members of the church exercise a more deadly influence against the truth, and keep more people from obeying the gospel than outright sinners.”4 Likewise, “Active opposition may well be a less deadly evil than careless ease. The man who, by willful action, increases a disease, may repent of his deed, and try to recover from the danger to which he has exposed himself; but he who lives on in careless ignorance of the existence of the malady can never improve himself until he has awoke to a full knowledge of his own state.”5
There was apparently a large number of members of the congregation at Laodicea that had “lost its enthusiasm, zeal, and excitement concerning their holy religion. Therefore He told them something they needed to know about themselves:
“I KNOW YOUR WORKS. YOU HAVE THE REPUTATION OF BEING ALIVE, BUT YOU ARE DEAD.”
— Revelation 3:1 —
As far as the Lord is concerned, an indifferent church is a dead church. Likewise, an indifferent Christian is a dead Christian.
THE COWARDLY LION: THE INDECISIVE CHRISTIAN
Finally, there are those who lack courage—they are conflicted inside; they are undecided. Even before the NT church was established, there were Jews who struggled with this disease:
“NEVERTHELESS, MANY EVEN OF THE AUTHORITIES BELIEVED IN HIM, BUT BECAUSE OF THE PHARISEES THEY DID NOT CONFESS IT, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE PUT OUT OF THE SYNAGOGUE; FOR THEY LOVED THE GLORY THAT IS OF MEN MORE THAN THE GLORY THAT IS OF GOD.
— John 12:42,43 —
Likewise, there were Christians in the first century who had the same problem, such as John Mark, who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary campaign, but who—upon arriving a Pamphylia, suddenly went home (Acts 13:13)!
We aren’t given a single detail regarding this situation until a chapter and a half later, where we find a telling little tidbit that shows this was not a peaceful departure—that Mark did not have Paul’s and Barnabas’ blessing, but that John Mark had abandoned them. Why would he do that? One possibility sure stands out: F-E-A-R. It appears that John Mark made it as far as Pamphylia, but then “chickened out.” Paul likely tried to convince John Mark of the same thing he later wrote to Timothy:
FOR GOD GAVE US NOT A SPIRIT OF FEARFULNESS; BUT OF POWER AND LOVE AND DISCIPLINE.
— 2 Timothy 1:7 —
Have you ever considered this question:
1. If we, like John Mark, find in ourselves a spirit of fearfulness or cowardice;
2. And if that spirit of fear did not come to us from God;
3. From whom did that spirit of fear come?
I think we know…
The tragedy of the story lies in the underlying mentality behind each character, a mentality which plagues many Christians today: the “if only” philosophy.
Many Christians today, just like these, seem to be waiting for some wonderful wizard to *zap* them with Scriptural knowledge, or zealous dedication, or the courage and boldness to stand up for the truth. But they at least had this:
They were able to see that they had a deficiency that needed correcting.
Thus, they began their journey to make the necessary changes. Are you ready to do the same? If not, why not? And, if so, why wait?
¹ Polkinghorne, G.J. Zondervan Bible Commentary. F.F. Bruce, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. p. 910. Print. Emp. added.
² Milligan, Robert. Hebrews. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1963. p. 165. Emp. added.
³ Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 6. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991. p. 734. Print. Emp. and ital. added.
4 Hinds, John T. Revelation. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1963. p. 62. Print. Emp. and ital. added.
5 Plummer, Alfred. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. 22: 1 Peter–Revelation. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011. p. 115. Emp. and ital. added.