Shepherds Wanted

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches in Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption among the believers on the island. Paul will describe these individuals as “rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others” (Titus 1:10 NLT).  He will accuse them of “turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). And to make matters worse, they were doing so for financial gain. That’s why Paul reminds Titus that he has been left in Crete to “complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).

Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. His first priority was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of, and Paul spends a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was the appointment of elders. Paul knew that Titus was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was the void of qualified leaders. If any organization finds itself lacking reputable and responsible leadership, someone will rise up to fill the void. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that was exactly what was happening on Crete.

So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But Paul insisted that Titus was not to settle for second best. Those whom Titus appointed to lead the church were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to even be considered.

But it’s important to note that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and has little to say about biblical knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God.

Each of them was to have “a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught,” so that he might “be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to have a knowledge of the truth of the gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man. That was the only way they would be able to refute falsehood and defend the good news from attack. Worldly leadership qualities would not be enough because they would be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Paul appears to be contrasting the character of these future church leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those leading who would lead the body of Christ had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This doesn’t suggest that they were somehow perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used is anegklētos and it conveys the idea that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in a way that would cause people to point their fingers in accusation, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church.

They were to be loving husbands with reputations for faithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves to be capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ, and who modeled lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending that Titus look for older men with children who had been in Christ long enough to have demonstrated their godly character.

Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to “enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:8 NLT).

It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits, and h went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence, and alcohol abuse would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They were outward signs of someone who was under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more detailed list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sinful nature.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these… – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

A man who is controlled by his own flesh is going to make a lousy leader. He will be disruptive and, potentially, destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men whose lives reflected their reliance upon the Spirit’s control.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So, Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline, and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). They were to remain committed to the gospel message by which they had come to faith in Christ.

One of the problems going on in Crete was the influence of those teaching what Paul refers to as a false gospel. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the truth of the gospel message. They were not to accept or even tolerate alternative versions of the truth. As shepherds of God’s flock, they were to refute all false gospels and destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to see themselves as figureheads or some kind of ad hoc advisory board for Titus. No, they were called to be overseers, shepherds, and pastors of the flock of Jesus Christ. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness.

It’s easy to see that Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. This is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Abuse of Authority

1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
    but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.
12 If a ruler listens to falsehood,
    all his officials will be wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever. 
– Proverbs 29:1-14 ESV

This chapter continues the collection of wise sayings compiled by the officials of King Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). We know from 1 Kings 4:32, that Solomon “composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.” Hezekiah’s royal scholars were assigned the task of finding additional proverbs written or edited by Solomon so that they might be added to the original collection. And while there appears to be no clear categorization of these supplemental proverbs, there does appear to be an underlying theme. Since the men who gathered and curated them were working for the king, the proverbs they chose to add have a distinct leadership tone to them.

They reflect an emphasis on the need for godly wisdom at the highest levels of administrative power.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.Proverbs 29:2 NLT

All of these proverbs can be applied on a broad scale and are not solely applicable to kings and other authority figures. But it almost appears as if the men who collected these sayings were purposefully concentrating their efforts to find those proverbs that would make the greatest impact on their employer: The king.

A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it. – Proverbs 29:4 NLT

The sheer number of references to rulers and kings would seem to indicate that there was a concerted effort to choose those proverbs that might influence King Hezekiah to rule wisely and ethically. It was to their benefit that the king behave in a manner that was in keeping with the will of God.

If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

If a king judges the poor fairly,
    his throne will last forever. – Proverbs 29:14 NLT

In a way, these men were acting as unofficial counselors to the king by providing him with advice in the form of these Solomonic sayings. As the king read each proverb, he would have been positively impacted by the wisdom found in them. And while many of these sayings have a positive tone to them, there are some that could easily come across as veiled criticism. Hezekiah’s officials must have realized that, with each negative proverb they included, they were at risk of offending their employer. But verse one would have reminded the king that criticism carried just as much weight as a compliment.

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism
    will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. – Proverbs 29:1 NLT

These proverbs have universal application and appeal because all of us long for power in some form or fashion. Any thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to us. And the truth is, we all wield some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we display our power with pride, arrogance, and in an abusive manner?

Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibility to steward His creation. Abraham was given authority by God to serve as the progenitor of a great nation. And Moses was given authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. The prophets were given authority to act as God’s spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease, and even death.

But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, and overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7 NLT

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about authority and this chapter is no exception. It reminds us that godly leadership is the best form of leadership because it produces positive benefits for its constituents (verse 2). But ungodly leadership produces pain and heartache for those who must bear up under it.

According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but never in an unloving manner. We must guide and direct those under our care with love and not with anger.

Fools vent their anger,
    but the wise quietly hold it back. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There’s no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain.

Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. But ungodly, unethical leaders can use their influence to stir up trouble and cause dissent.

Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger. – Proverbs 29:8 NLT

People who hold positions of authority but who lack godly wisdom can be dangerous. They lack insight and are incapable of seeing the world the way God does. They view their power as a right and a privilege and fail to understand that they are no better than the people they oppress and abuse.

The poor and the oppressor have this in common—
    the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29:13 NLT

Because they have no fear of God, they do not realize that He watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So they should rule well and lead wisely. They should use their god-given authority responsibly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Shameless Shepherds

1 And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
    you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people
    and their flesh from off their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
    and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces
    and chop them up like meat in a pot,
    like flesh in a cauldron.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. Micah 3:1-4 ESV

The last two verses of the preceding chapter provided a glimmer of hope concerning the future for the people of Judah.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But now, the prophet returns to the more immediate and pressing problem facing Judah: Their condemnation and guilt and the judgment God is bringing upon them because of it. In this instance, Micah turns his attention to the leaders of Israel, those whom God was holding particularly accountable for their failure to protect and guide His flock.

This is not the only time when God expressed His unhappiness with the religious and civic leaders of Israel and Judah. The prophet Ezekiel was given a message from God to deliver to “the shepherds, the leaders of Israel.”

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” – Ezekiel 34:2-5 NLT

He went on to accuse these men of abandonment and abuse, fueled by selfishness and self-preservation. And then He condemned their actions by guaranteeing His judgment of them.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

God asks the leaders of Judah a rhetorical question designed to accentuate the egregious nature of their sin: “Is it not for you to know justice?” (Micah 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “justice” is mishpat, and it carries the idea of “judgment” or “the act of judging.” As the leaders of God’s people, these individuals should have known what He expected in terms of proper conduct. God had given His law to Moses, and it contained an extremely detailed list of rules and regulations designed to govern virtually every area of Hebrew life. God had left nothing to chance or up to their imaginations.

And yet, the leaders of Israel seemed to behave as if they were ignorant of God’s commands. In fact, God flatly states, “you who hate the good and love the evil” (Micah 3:2 ESV). They were completely out of touch with God’s expectations concerning “justice.” And, once again, this was not a new problem. God had pointed it out before. The prophet Isaiah also called the people of Judah to repentance, demanding that they begin obeying God’s holy law once again.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

Isaiah even compared Judah to the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God had destroyed for their wickedness.

Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” – Isaiah 1:10 NLT

Notice Isaiah’s mention of the law of God. The people of Judah were ignoring God’s decrees and living according to their own brand of justice and righteousness, with the end result being that they celebrated evil as good and good as evil. Just a few chapters later, Isaiah pronounces a woe upon all those who choose to replace God’s justice with their own perverted version of reality.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

God compares these men to hunters who mercilessly kill their prey, stripping off the skin and tearing the meat from the bone. And the imagery is meant to be graphic and alarming. Notice that God doesn’t refer to the people of Judah as sheep, but as “my people.” The description of the slaughter and subsequent “devouring” of God’s people was meant to conjure up images of cannibalism, something that would have shocked even the most insensitive and sin-saturated among them.

The prophet Zephaniah records another stinging condemnation from God against the leaders of Jerusalem.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;
her priests profane what is holy;
    they do violence to the law. – Zephaniah 3:3-4 ESV

Rather than providing compassionate care, they consume. Their judgment, rather than being guided by justice and righteousness, is driven by their uncontrolled animal desires. They profane God’s holy law by replacing it with their own set of man-made standards designed to feed their sinful appetites.

But Micah warns that these very same individuals will one day find themselves on the receiving end of all the pain and suffering. The predators will become prey. The hunters will become the hunted. And when the tables are turned and these leaders cry out to God for help, He will ignore them.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. – Micah 3:4 ESV

These men had been given the honor of leading God’s people. But that role came with heavy responsibilities. God considered them to be shepherds of His sheep. Their primary role was that of caregivers, tasked with protecting and providing for those over whom God had made them stewards. Their first and foremost responsibility was to ensure that God’s people knew God’s laws and lived according to them. But these men had failed at their task. They had used their positions of power and influence to feed their own egos and line their own pockets. And God was going to hold them accountable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Because of You…

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12 ES

Micah continues his merciless indictment of the religious and civil leaders of Israel. He holds them personally responsible for the judgment of God that is about to fall upon the nation. Their actions, which he outlines in detail, have played a significant role in the spiritual demise of the people under their care.

What they had failed to understand was the high view God held of their positions. He had placed upon them the mantle of leadership and it came with a divine expectation that they provide His flock with loving care and compassion. But they had dropped the ball. They had abused their authority and abandoned those over whom God had made them shepherds.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT

And Micah pulls no punches when leveling his charges against these men.  He accuses them of hating justice and twisting all that is right. And it’s likely that they wholeheartedly denied Micah’s charges. But their actions betrayed them. They were hypocrites who claimed to be serving on behalf of God, but were busy serving their own interests. The prophet Isaiah was equally harsh in his assessment of these self-ascribed leaders of Israel.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them
    with ropes made of lies,
    who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!
They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.”

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:18-21 NLT

Evil is good and good is evil. Not exactly the kind of conclusions one would expect from the leaders of God’s people. But as Micah said, their actions betrayed that they hated God’s brand of justice and twisted the truth of God into a lie. And as a result, they had built “Jerusalem on a foundation of murder and corruption” (Micah 3:10 NLT). They had led the way in modeling deceit, disobedience, and immoral behavior. As the leadership went, so did the people.

There’s an old adage that says, “What parents do in moderation, children do to excess.” That timeless truism applies to civic and spiritual leadership as well. What leaders do in moderation, citizens do to excess. And Micah makes it clear that Israel’s leaders had been far less than moderate in their sinful behavior.

You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
    you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid. – Micah 3:11 NLT

They were all in it for what they could get out of it. Leadership had become nothing more than a means to an end and the end was personal gain. Even the prophets were profiteering from their positions. And, once again, Micah was not alone in his less-than-flattering assessment of these men. Isaiah was equally as harsh and unsparing in his indictment of these men.

Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. – Isaiah 5:23 NLT

For the leaders of my people—
    the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
    are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
    that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
   Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
    all following their own path
    and intent on personal gain. – Isaiah 56:10-11 NLT

Not a pretty picture. But sadly, it was an accurate one. Both Micah and Isaiah provide an irrefutable assessment of the state of affairs in Israel. And it all started at the top. The nation of Israel had a long track record of lousy leadership. And it had taken its toll on the population.

And the worst part was that these men feigned allegiance to God. They claimed to be dependent upon God. And they were quick to claim that they held their positions of leadership because of God. Yet Micah exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11 ESV

The word translated as “lean” is the Hebrew word sha`an, and it can mean “to trust in” or “to lean upon.” But these men were not really trusting in or relying upon God. They were simply giving Him lip service. Their words were little more than spiritual rhetoric, pious-sounding platitudes intended to give the appearance of godliness. But God was not fooled. He knew their hearts. And in the book of Isaiah, we have God’s no-holds-barred assessment of their true spiritual condition.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

They were quick to claim God’s presence and provision. They were depending upon the Almighty to place His force-field of divine protection over them. Which had led them to falsely claim, “No harm can come to us for the Lord is here among us” (Micah 3:11 NLT). But they had failed to consider God’s commands concerning faithfulness, obedience, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Back in Isaiah 1, we find God’s clear communication of His divine will concerning His disobedient people.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

But from the top down, the people of Israel had been guilty of doing just the opposite. And, as a result, God was going to bring His judgment against the nation.

Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
    Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
    where the Temple now stands. – Micah 3:12 NLT

They had no excuse for their behavior. They couldn’t claim ignorance or blame their actions on a lack of information. God had faithfully, persistently, and lovingly called them to change their ways. He had sent prophet after prophet, each declaring His message of pending judgment. These men had begged the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. But their messages had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, time was running out. God would not tolerate their stubborn rejection of His gracious offer of redemption forever. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God was not done with Israel. Despite the actions of their lousy leaders and the lemming-like behavior of the people, God was going to act on their behalf. He had a plan in place that included their judgment as well as their future redemption.

And chapter four opens up with words of hope that shine like a bright light in the midst of the darkness of Israel’s despair.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it… – Micah 4:1 ESV

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just and Justified.

Woe is me because of my hurt!
    My wound is grievous.
But I said, “Truly this is an affliction,
    and I must bear it.”
My tent is destroyed,
    and all my cords are broken;
my children have gone from me,
    and they are not;
there is no one to spread my tent again
    and to set up my curtains.
For the shepherds are stupid
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
therefore they have not prospered,
    and all their flock is scattered.

A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!—
    a great commotion out of the north country
to make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    a lair of jackals.

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
    not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
    and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
    they have devoured him and consumed him,
    and have laid waste his habitation. Jeremiah 10:19-25 ESV

In the opening lines of this section of chapter 10, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the people, expressing the dismay they will express at the coming destruction. He personifies the nation of Judah as a nomad whose tent has been torn down and his children, lost. He has no one to help him rebuild his home and he has no idea where his children might be. Understandably, he is distraught and filled with grief. But he realizes that there is nothing he can do about it. He must simply endure the pain.

But Jeremiah blames the religious and political leaders, those men who had been tasked with shepherding the people of Judah. He describes them as stupid and accuses them of refusing to seek the Lord. They led the people according to their own wisdom, rather than trusting and obeying the word of God. Their failure was imminent and they would be held responsible by God for the moral decay and inevitable destruction of His people. But that did not mean the people were guiltless and innocent before God. They had allowed themselves to be misled because they wanted to be. Their leaders were simply telling them what they wanted to hear and setting an example they were more than willing to follow. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of allowing bad leadership to infect and influence the church.

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. – 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 NLT

There were evidently so-called leaders in the church in Corinth who were denying the doctrine of the resurrection. They were teaching that this life is all there is, and encouraged the people to “feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). In other words, there is not afterlife, so grab all the gusto you can in this one. That kind of message was popular because it appealed to man’s base desire for pleasure and self-gratification. But Paul warned the believers in Corinth to consider carefully before following the advice of these individuals. He wanted them to do what was right, not what was most appealing. Paul would also warn Timothy about this problem, telling his young protege, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT).

Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular, but it won’t win you any brownie points with God. Along with the crowds, you’ll end up attracting the judgment of God. And judgment was coming on the leaders and the people of Judah. The Babylonian invasion was looming. And this led Jeremiah to offer up to God a personal prayer of repentance. Even though he was God’s prophet and had faithfully fulfilled his duty to deliver God’s message to the people, he knew he was not without guilt. He was one of the people of Judah. They all shared in the responsibility of their corporate sins against God. So, Jeremiah pleaded with God to correct them, but not in anger. He didn’t ask God to refrain from bringing judgment, but begged Him to be gentle.

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
    We are not able to plan our own course.
So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.
    Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

But Jeremiah also asked God to judge the Babylonians. He fully understood that God was going to use this pagan nation to discipline the people of Judah, but Jeremiah wanted to know that God would also bring judgment upon them for what they were about to do to His people. As a citizen of Judah, Jeremiah was willing to accept the judgment of God and suffer the consequences for their unfaithfulness. He knew God would be just in His judgment and perfectly justified in bringing it. But He also appealed to God’s sense of justice when it came to those whom God would use to mete out His judgment. Jeremiah simply wanted to know that God would do the right and just thing when it came to the Babylonians. And near the end of the book that bears his name, Jeremiah receives a message from God letting him know that the Babylonians will one day face a judgment of their own.

This is what the Lord says:
“I will stir up a destroyer against Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia.
Foreigners will come and winnow her,
    blowing her away as chaff.
They will come from every side
    to rise against her in her day of trouble.” – Jeremiah 51:1-2 NLT

The Babylonians would be judged by God as well. God would eventually raise up the Medes, who would defeat the formally indestructable Babylonians. And God will remind Jeremiah:

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has not abandoned Israel and Judah.
He is still their God,
    even though their land was filled with sin
    against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

God can be counted on to do the just and right thing. He is always right in all His ways.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways… – Psalm 145:17 ESV

God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. – Psalm 18:30 NLT

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

Therefore, the LORD has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The LORD our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him. – Daniel 9:14 NLT

Destruction was coming on Judah. They deserved it. The judgment of God was justified and He would be proven righteous in every action He took against Judah. He would also be just in His dealings with Babylon. While His ways may not seem to make sense to us or appeal to our sense of fairness, we have no right to question His motive or means. He is the sovereign God of the universe who not only has the right to deal with His creation as He sees fit, He is righteous in all that He does. He will not sin because He cannot sin. He is holy in all that He does. And His will for mankind is not based on a whim or subject to emotional instability on His part. He is not driven by His emotions or susceptible to sinful reactions. He can be trusted to do the right thing each and every time and in each and every circumstance.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Proverbs 29

With Power Comes Responsibility.

“When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

All of us long for power in some form or fashion. The thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to most of us. And the truth is, we all experience some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we wield our power with pride, arrogance and in an abusive manner? Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibilities to care for and have authority over the creation. God gave Abraham authority as the father of a nation of people chosen by God. God gave Moses authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. He gave the prophets authority to act as His spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease and even death. But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The Proverbs have a lot to say about authority and Proverbs 29 is no exception. We are reminded that godly leadership is the best form of leadership. It causes those under it to rejoice. While the leadership of the ungodly produces pain and heartache in those who must bear up under it. According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but always with love. We must guide and direct those under our care, but out of love, not anger.

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There is no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain. Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. God watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and to constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So rule well. Lead wisely. Practice authority responsibly.

Father, the world is filled with irresponsible leaders who abuse their roles and take advantage of their authority, to the detriment of those under their care. Help me to see any authority I may have as God-given and to use it wisely, knowing full well that I am under Your authority. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org