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Author: anton

When Fools Become Kings

When Fools Become Kings

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, while the rich sit in a lowly place. I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.” (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).

For three things the earth is perturbed…For a servant when he reigns…” (Proverbs 30:22).

Luxury is not fitting for a fool, Much less for a servant to rule over princes.”  (Proverbs 19:10).

The Lord’s vision was for Israel to be a theocracy with God at the head and the nation a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). The Lord had raised up a series of men to lead them – men like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. But even under Moses they rebelled against their leaders and the Lord. The Lord’s plan for Israel was a careful balance between personal responsibility and a personal relationship with God (a kingdom of priests) and the administration of divinely chosen leaders, both spiritual and civic.

On the threshold of the Promised Land, they rejected God’s order and experimented with democracy. The overwhelming majority voted not to enter the Promised Land and only two out of 600,000 voted to obey the Lord. This resulted in 40 years of hardship in the wilderness and death to all who participated in the referendum (Numbers 14).

During the time of the judges they again swung the pendulum of personal freedom to another extreme as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This statement was not a commendation of their actions, as I have heard some say, but rather a criticism of their lawlessness and self-centeredness and the rejection of those leaders that the Lord had instituted. Doing what was right in their own eyes included families appointing their own priests and devising their own form of religion, in opposition to the Tabernacle and Aaronic priesthood which had been instituted by the Lord. Not long after they went to the other extreme when they insisted that Samuel appoint a king and in the process they surrendered all personal rights and responsibilities (1Samuel 8:11-18).

For a while the church of the first century was able to maintain the balance between personal responsibility and submission to God-given men in various positions of leadership. But by the end of the first century a hierarchy had begun to evolve that would soon strip the individual of personal responsibility and place unlimited spiritual authority in the hands of church leaders. Eventually the common man was not even allowed to read the Scriptures for himself and his whole spiritual responsibility had become to simply follow the dictates of the “church”. In the Reformation, the Reformers spoke of rediscovering the priesthood of every believer but this was in theory only. In practice the power and authority of the clergy continued unabated, except for small groups of believers who continually sought to return to Biblical principles.

In the latter part of the 20th century the pendulum again begun to swing, this time back to “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes”. The concept of the priesthood of every believer was driven to the extreme so that many rejected all forms of spiritual leadership and accountability. With the advent of the internet, everyone has now also become their own theologian and is able to pick and mix from the many ideas available online, and create their own cut-and paste religion and theology. We are back to the book of Judges where preachers are for hire and each one does as he pleases (Judges 17).

Even worse; now any Tom Dick or Harry, can download a manual for starting a church, complete with pre-made sermons, marketing plans and ordination certificates. And if that is too much trouble, he can buy a church franchise from some other equally unscrupulous charlatan. Every city is over-crowded with churches started and run by people who are not called by God and ill-equipped to handle the sacred Text. Indeed, not only are servants ruling as princes but fools are reigning as kings over their self-made empires.

So what qualifies someone to be a teacher of the Word of God and a leader in a local church? Two things; – gifting and training. Neither on their own qualify a man to lead a church or teach doctrine – both are absolutely essential.

In many circles education, preferably of a religious kind, is sufficient to qualify for the ministry. But education, no matter how good, cannot make a preacher, teacher or shepherd. Sadly many pulpits are occupied by the ungifted and even more have set themselves up as theologians and authors just because they have a few degrees. Yet, it is God who gives gifts to some for the benefit of the church. (1Corinthians 12:18, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11.) Note that 1Corinthians 12:28 says that God appoints ministries. This does not only mean that the idea of ministers is God’s idea, but the context is clear that specific men are appointed for specific ministries. In plain English this means that not everyone can become a teacher, shepherd or preacher.

There is absolutely no way that one can learn to be a teacher, shepherd, or preacher. Yes, you can learn the techniques and you may even be a good actor, public speaker, or leader but without the divine gifting and equipping from on high,  any ministry will simply be in the flesh and will not carry God’s blessing and any “results” will be purely human activity without any spiritual power to transform and save. Saul reigned over Israel for 38 years after the anointing had been taken from him and given to another. Yes, he went through the motions of being a king and did all the kingly stuff, but God was not with him and God was not backing him up. Even worse, he had plunged Israel into a civil war that lasted 30 years! This kind of ministry in human power is all too popular today as many are deceived into following charismatic actors parading as men of God.  But the consequences are devastating as the people are abused, fed on drivel or led into error.

As much as the church scene is blighted by these “professional” imposters, almost every church is marred by armchair theologians who think they know more about everything than those whom God has called and gifted. These Monday morning quarterbacks feel it is their “ministry” to second-guess every sermon and every decision of God-ordained leaders. Instead of praying for, and supporting their leaders, they feel it is their God-given ministry to criticize. There may be music and art critics and there may be sports commentators but the Bible knows nothing of a ministry called “pastor critic” or “church faultfinder”. If you are not building, you are breaking down, and if you are breaking down you are opposing God – that’s all there is to it. Yes, I know about the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). But they were not anything like modern “Bereans”. True Bereans receive the Word with readiness while false Bereans don’t. True Bereans check against Scripture while false Bereans check against their own preconceived ideas or the internet. True Bereans recognize God-given ministries and support and submit to them while false Bereans only submit to themselves.

Just as God’s order for the church is leadership by those whom God has called and gifted, it is also the Lord of the church’s design that those who have been gifted be trained for the work. Just as there are too many who have learned to do the job without any gifting, there are also too many who are indeed gifted, but who have had no training for the ministry. Thus they blunder on making a mess of the work, totally unskilled in the Word or in the work of the ministry – workmen who need to be ashamed (2Timothy 2:15). Many times these men rely heavily on the internet for their theology and just like the armchair theologians, cobble their theology together out of scraps they glean from all sorts of questionable sources. They are just as dangerous as the imposters who have not been gifted, yet who have an education.

I am not necessarily referring to an academic, theological training, but training under a proven minster who himself has been called and trained. In fact, academic theological training without the hands-on input of a teacher who teaches application with theology is just as valueless as no training at all. Paul is very specific how this works: He had trained Timothy through many years of apprenticeship or discipleship. He then instructs Timothy to commit the doctrines to other faithful men who will teach others in turn (2Timothy 2:2). Yes, the Lord can teach someone directly with just a Bible and the Holy Spirit, but that would be the very rare exception, the pattern He has ordained is that there is a continuous line of pure doctrine and lifestyle that is handed down from one generation to the next. Let me be clear, God never ordained the internet as the place we are to be taught for one simple reason: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” (2Timothy 3:14). People and leaders too readily run to books and the internet to learn, not knowing who they are learning from and in the process are often learning from the devil’s agents!

Just as to Solomon it was a shameful thing to see servants in the place of kings, it is shameful to see ungifted and uncalled men in pulpits and just as Solomon decried that kings should be in the place of servants it is a shame that those who are gifted are so ill-equipped to fulfill their calling that they are walking instead of riding on horses.

God’s plan for the church is that local churches should be led by men whom He has specifically called and gifted and who have been trained and prepared for the work. Without the calling and the training, no man should ascend the pulpit. The second, but equal plan of God, is that every believer take responsibility for his own walk and family while submitting to, and supporting, those whom the Lord has set in the church. Anything else is as much an aberration as fools who become kings and will never carry the Lord’s blessing.

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a battle of the Vietnam War that was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by a frontal assault. The hill was finally taken at the cost of 72 Americans killed and 372 wounded. Losses on the North Vietnamese side are estimated at more than 630 dead.

What makes this battle so significant is that the hill was of little strategic value, which was proven by the fact that it was abandoned by the US forces two weeks later. But more significant is the fact that the fall-out from this battle back home forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations in Vietnam. So in a sense the hill and the battle were won while at the same time losing the war!

In the same way, we as Christians individually and collectively in our local churches, sometimes engage in spiritual battles that are of little strategic (over-all) importance. In the process we expend enormous amounts of time and energy and incur severe losses of all kinds for hollow victories that make no difference in the light of eternity. We may even win a particular battle and yet, lose the war. One example of this could be winning an argument with someone who differs from us yet, losing the person for the Lord. We become so fixated at winning the argument, that we forget that our objective is not to win the argument, but to win the soul. We easily forget that Jesus did not die for arguments, but for souls.

The Pharisees were very good at the minutia of the Law and would win those battles every time, yet they lost sight of the more important things like “justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).  Indeed they could win every doctrinal and theological battle, but lost their own souls and those of their followers. Allow me some liberty as I apply Matthew 16:26: “What is a man profited if he gain all doctrine and theology and lose his own soul?”

Doctrine and theology are important. There are times when we must stand for truth and defend it vigorously, even at the cost of our very lives. But to try and correct the fool who does not want to know truth is a waste of time (Proverbs 23:9). Paul warns about endless arguments over words (1Timothy 6:4). To tweak the theology or behavior of an unbeliever is pointless, unless he comes to Christ first. And to correct someone who is wise in his own eyes is futile (Proverbs 26:12).

It is vital that we choose our battles, or put in another way, choose which hill we are willing to die on. Dying for something that in the end is not important is a waste of a life. If one is going to give one’s life for something, surely one needs to make sure that it is for the right reasons and the right cause. And if you are going to expend resources, surely you should make sure that they are being spent in the best way possible. Jesus said: “do not… cast your pearls before swine…” (Matthew 7:6).

Daily the enemy of the church wins victories as we are drawn into divisions and strife over non-essentials, while not engaging the serious issues in our own lives and our churches. Jesus called it swallowing camels while straining out gnats (Matthew 23:23-24). We will argue and divide over doctrinal nuances with such venom and hatred. That shows that our focus on doctrinal niceties is simply a cover for the real issue – our carnality (1Corinthians 3:3). It is frankly no good winning every doctrinal argument, even if you are right, but in the process your spirit is more that of the devil than that of Christ. You are fighting the wrong battles – the real battle is within your own soul!

Yet we are amazingly inept at seeing the forest for the trees, and choosing the right battles. As we fight the wrong battles, we not only waste time and resources, and possibly our lives, but we are distracted from the real issues. This is one of the oldest tactics in war. Even in the sword fight the attacker will lunge at a part of the opponent’s body to draw his attention away from where the fatal blow will strike. Leading up to the Normandy landings on D-Day, the Allies staged a number of elaborate diversions to draw Hitler’s forces away from where the actual landing would take place.

Daily we are deceived by the enemy’s diversionary tactics to get us to focus on something other than the main and strategic goals. As in war, we need to ask the question all the time: Does this contribute to the over-all plan of God for my life and ministry, or is it a diversion and distraction? Many times the diversion looks important, but it is not – it is all part of the devil’s strategy. One diversion I frequently fall for is entering a debate with someone who is not really interested in the truth, but simply wants to argue. These debates consume a lot of time and energy and seem to be important as we feel we are “defending the faith”. But we must ask the question whether the other person is really interested in the truth or is simply being used by the enemy to distract us from the real task at hand. (And yes, the devil frequently uses other Christians in this way.) It is not easy to know the difference, but we must get better at not tilting at windmills[1] if we are going to win gloriously in the end. The fact is that every skirmish and every maneuver takes resources from the main front which plays into the hands of the enemy.

I vex my soul daily over Christian leaders who choose the hill of Calvinism, or Arminianism, or some view on the Rapture, or a specific Bible translation, or any of a thousand other issues, as the hill on which they make their stand. For many it becomes their last stand where they, like Custer and his brave men, eventually die in defeat.

It is absolutely vital therefore that we have a clear view of what the objectives are and having those in mind, we gear our lives and our churches towards those objectives and those alone. So what are our objectives? I thought much about this because it is crucial that we get this right otherwise we will be fighting the wrong battles and taking the wrong hills, only to abandon them again for the next unimportant one. Here is my understanding of the objectives of the church:

  1. To seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
  2. Keep those that have been entrusted to us (John 17:11,12).
  3. To bring believers to maturity into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16)[2].

It is essential therefore that each of us determine whether every endeavor, every project, every dollar spent, and every hour consumed works towards those objectives lest we find ourselves attacking or defending hills that make no contribution towards ultimate victory, but rather could cost us the war.

Throughout the life of the Lord Jesus, the devil sought to divert and distract Him from His goal – Calvary. The temptations in the wilderness, the adulation of the crowds, the good intentions of His disciples, the opposition of the religious community, and even the great needs around Him, all worked to divert Him from His objective.

In Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), the mob thrust Him out onto the hill in order to throw Him off and kill Him. But Jesus understood that this was not the hill on which He would shed His blood and that dying here would play into the hands of the enemy whose strategy was to prevent Him from reaching the objective. Jesus recognized that the objective was for Him to die an atoning death on the hill called Calvary and not to die a martyr’s death at the wrong time on the wrong hill. He therefore quietly excused Himself and disappeared. It seems that our perverted sense of chauvinism forces us to never “run away” but always to stand and to fight. Yet Jesus knew when to fight and when to just walk away. Oh, that we might learn such discretion and wisdom!

It is with the ultimate, strategic goal in mind that He set His face as flint towards Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) knowing that for this cause He was born and for this cause He had come into the world (John 18:37). He was not distracted or diverted for one moment. His entire life, every decision, every action, and every reaction was focused on the one objective – the cross.

At the judgment the question will not be how many battle scars you have or how many hills you defended or won. There will be only one question: Did you do His will? His will is absolutely in line with His objectives of saving, keeping and conforming.

May it be said of us, as of Him:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7).

[1] Tilting at windmills comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote in which Don Quixote wanted to attack a group of “giants” until his loyal servant Sancho Panza pointed out that they were not giants but windmills.

[2] These are summed up in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19,20.