When the Godly Live Godlessly.
2 Chronicles 17-18, 1 Timothy 5
The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 5:24-25 ESV
It doesn’t take a seminary degree to understand that every human being struggles with sin. It is apparent all around us. We even see it in our own lives on a regular basis. The godly can do ungodly things. When the godless act in ungodly ways, we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised. Paul reminds us that we were once just like them. “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil–the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NLT). Those who do not know Christ as their Savior, do not have the capacity for living godly lives. And yet, those of us who have been redeemed through the work of Christ on the cross are still capable of turning our backs on the blessings of God and satisfying our sin nature by making God-less decisions. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, is a textbook example of how the godly can do ungodly things. Unlike so many of the kings of Israel and Judah, Jehoshaphat is described as a man whose “heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 17:6 ESV). We are told that “the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel. Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand” (2 Chronicles 17:3-5 ESV). Jehoshaphat was determined to serve God, even sending his officials all across the land of Judah to teach the Law of God to the people. As a result, he enjoyed God’s blessing and a time of peace. He grew in strength and power. But then Jehoshaphat made an ungodly decision. He determined to make an alliance with King Ahab of Israel. Ahab was a godless, wicked king who was the poster boy for apostasy. He and his queen, Jezebel, were a tag team of spiritual rebellion and idolatry. But Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with Ahab.
What does this passage reveal about God?
One of the things that God had made perfectly clear to His people was that He expected them to live holy lives, set apart from the ways of the nations that surrounded them. God had given them His law and articulated His commands concerning all aspects of life. Jehoshaphat, of all people, should have known and understood what God’s expectations were. He had gone out of his way to ensure that his kingdom reflected his love for God and his desire to live in obedience to God’s law. There is little doubt that Jehoshaphat knew about the sins of Ahab and the rampant idolatry of the northern kingdom of Israel. Making an alliance with Ahab would have been no different than making an alliance with the Philistines, something God would have never condoned. The kingdom of Israel was living in open rebellion against God. Ahab is described in highly unflattering terms. “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him…Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30, 33 ESV). God’s hand was against Ahab, but He had made Jehoshaphat prosper. God was pleased with Jehoshaphat’s obedience and faithfulness. But what would God do when Jehoshaphat proved to be faithful and made an ungodly decision?
What does this passage reveal about man?
Jehoshaphat’s decision to make an alliance with Ahab would put him in an awkward position. Any time we determine to cozy up with the world, we will find ourselves facing the temptation to compromise on our convictions. James puts it rather bluntly. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4 ESV). If we want to associate with the ungodly, we will find ourselves tempted to do ungodly things. And Jehoshaphat found that his innocent alliance would soon force him to make a difficult decision. Ahab would ask him to join forces with him against the Syrians. And even when God had given ample warning through His prophet, Micaiah, not to go up against the Syrians, both Ahab and Jehoshaphat would refuse to listen. They would reject the word of the Lord and listen to the lies of the false prophets. And Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, would find himself fighting in a battle God had not sanctioned and surrounded by Syrian soldiers who mistook him for King Ahab. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. His ungodly decision making had gotten him in trouble and he was faced with possible death because he had refused to listen to God. But God did not abandon him. When Jehoshaphat cried out, God heard and He answered. “And Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him. God drew them away from him” (2 Chronicles 18:31 ESV). Jehoshaphat’s God delivered him in spite of his godless behavior. But the godless King Ahab would be struck by an errant arrow, and slowly die, propped up in his chariot.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
We all know that we are going to sin. It is the inevitable consequences of having a sin nature. But John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). When we cry out to God, and confess our need for Him, He answers. He forgives. He cleanses. In his letter to Timothy, Paul warns his young disciple, “Do not…take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22 ESV). He also tells him, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment” (1 Timothy 5:24 ESV). Such was the case of Ahab. His sins were many and painfully obvious to anyone with eyes to see. But Paul also says, “the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24 ESV). Jehoshaphat’s sin was not quite as apparent as Ahab’s. His alliance with Ahab didn’t appear to be so wrong at first glance. But it would prove to be an ungodly decision that would have dangerous consequences. In chapter five of 1 Timothy, Paul gives his young protegé some invaluable advice concerning the conduct of those within the church. He talks about how to interact with older men and women. He tells him how to care for widows in the church. But he also warns him that there will be those whose “passions draw them away from Christ” (1 Timothy 5:11 ESV). He reports that “some have already strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15 ESV). And then he tells Timothy, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20 ESV). Paul was serious about godlessness among the people of God. He knew it would happen. But he also knew that it must be dealt with seriously and soberly. Sin is a constant reality, even for the believer. So we must be alert and always ready to confront it in the lives of others and confess it when it appears in our own lives. Like Jehoshaphat, when we find ourselves in trouble for having made ungodly decisions, we must cry out to God for help. We must turn to Him in repentance and allow Him to rescue and restore us.
Father, I know all too well my capacity for making ungodly decisions. I do it far too often. But I thank You for Your faithfulness to me, allowing me to cry out to You when I get myself in trouble. You have never failed to rescue me and restore me to a right relationship with You. Give me a growing desire to do things Your way and an increasing hatred for sin – both in my life and in the life of the body of Christ. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men