Where Are the Watchman?

All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
    all you beasts in the forest.
10 His watchmen are blind;
    they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
    they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
    loving to slumber.
11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;
    they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
    they have all turned to their own way,
    each to his own gain, one and all.
12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
    let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
    great beyond measure.”

The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
   he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
    who walk in their uprightness.
Isaiah 56:9-57:2 ESV

The opening verses of this chapter feature God calling the people of Judah to bring their behavior in line with their beliefs. They claimed to be His chosen people, but their conduct did little to support their God-ordained status. But in light of all that God has promised to do for them in the future, by way of restoration and redemption, He called them to live lives that reveal their gratitude and reflect their desire for holiness.

But now, God points His divine finger at one of the primary sources of Judah’s stubborn refusal to live as the chosen people of God. It was their so-called spiritual leaders. Using blatantly satirical language, Isaiah describes them as blind watchman.  They were responsible for the spiritual care of God’s people, but they were no better than a security guard without sight. His visual impairment would make him unsuitable for the requirement of his job.

And God used the image of the watchman repeatedly in His messages to His people. He told the prophet Ezekiel:

Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

A watchman had one job to do. He was to watch and then warn of coming danger. And this imagery of the watchman was used by God to refer to the spiritual leaders of His people. God had commissioned Ezekiel as His watchman and warned him of the dangers associated with his calling.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:17-19 NLT

But the watchmen of Judah were spiritually blind and, therefore, unqualified for their role. Their inability to see made them ignorant of the dangers that faced the people of Judah. They were without knowledge of the truth. And many of these men, proclaiming themselves to be spokesmen for God, were filling the ears of the people of God with lies. They were painting a rosey picture of the future and telling the people that all would be well, because they were God’s prized possession. But God had repeatedly warned His people to ignore the words of these liars.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

Isaiah describes these men as “silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming” (Isaiah 56:10 NLT). In other words, they are not only like blind security quards, they are like sleeping watchdogs, who doze through the impending danger, dreaming that all is well. They are worthless and unreliable. But, despite their inability to provide adequate security, these lazy dogs demand to be fed, exhibiting insatiable appetites that are never satisfied.

Isaiah compares them to shepherds who don’t know how to do their job. They were shepherds in name only, lacking in the basic knowledge of what it takes to care for the flock of God. And God delivered some harsh words to these men through the prophet Ezekiel.

“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. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And Isaiah echoes God’s words, accusing the shepherds of Judah of  “all following their own path and intent on personal gain” (Isaiah 56:11 NLT). They could have cared less for the spiritual state of the flock under their care. They were much more concerned about their own comfort and personal pleasure.

“Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party.
    Let’s all get drunk.
Then tomorrow we’ll do it again
    and have an even bigger party!” – Isaiah 56:12 NLT

And, as a result of their lousy leadership, Isaiah declares, “The righteous man perishes” (Isaiah 57:1 NLT). This seems to be a statement regarding the diminishing number of righteous people in the land of Judah. The Hebrew word translated as “perishes” can also mean “vanishes.” The godly were decreasing in number. The quantity of the faithful was on the decline, with many of them disappearing from the land through captivity. And for those who remained in the land, they would have to endure the wrath of God because of His shepherds had refused to what God had called them to do. These blind, greedy, lazy, self-absorbed individuals were bringing the wrath of God on the people of God because they refused to do the will of God.

And yet, Isaiah provides a much-needed reminder that the truly righteous need not worry, even if their lives end in death. Because “those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 7:2 NLT). Remember the offer God made to His people in chapter 55: “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life” (Isaiah 55:3 NLT). A pleas was made to the righteous and the wicked to return to God.

Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:7 NLT

While the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah were busy lining their own pockets and satisfying their own selfish desires, God was pleading with His wayward people to return to Him. He desired that the righteous remain so, even in the face of His coming judgment. But He also longed for the lost and wandering sheep of His flock to return to Him.

The sorry state of affairs in Judah was a combination of many factors that included the sins of the people, but also the silence of the shepherds. They had failed to do their job. Rather than telling the people what they needed to hear, they told them lies that conveyed what the people preferred to hear. And God takes this breach of duty seriously.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for…” – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

Today, as then, many of God’s people are like sheep without a shepherd. They are being led by men and women who are in it for selfish gain. They preach messages that are pleasant to hear, but that lack the authority of God. Rather than act as God’s watchmen, they prefer the role of spiritual cheerleader. And they find themselves preaching to a people who “no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching” and who “follow their own desires and … look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Far too many of our pulpits are filled with false prophets, who are filling the people with futile hopes (Jeremiah 23:16). .
God is looking for faithful shepherds who will stand in the gap and declare His message of salvation and call to righteousness. May it not be said of our generation what God declared against the people in Ezekiel’s day.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall…but I found no one.” – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

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

Advertisements

Avoid At All Costs.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

In describing the false teachers who were negaively impacting the believers to whom he is writing, Peter uses some comparisons that are reminiscent of Jude.

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

They are not what they appear to be, and they don’t deliver on what they promise. Like a waterless spring, they can only offer the hope of refreshment, but they lack the means to make it happen. Like a reef lying just below the surface of the water, they are a hidden danger, waiting to reek havoc on and all who come into contact with them. They are cloudless rains, suggesting the hope of much-needed rain, but failing to deliver. They are as unreliable as a wandering star. In a day when people used the stars to direct their paths by focusing on their location in the night sky, a wandering star would be a pathetically poor marker on which to base one’s journey. You would only end up lost and nowhere near your intended destination. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to say about these false teachers.

They were proud and arrogant, filled with boastful words that were little more than proof of their own foolishness. These men were ignorant, not knowing what they were talking about, but putting up a good front. They were persuasive and able to convince others that what they were saying was true. But Peter exposes them for what they really were: Liars and deceivers. “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT). Like a blind person describing the beauty of a sunset he has never seen, these men were speaking about things they were incapable of knowing. They could talk a good game, but it was meaningless, because they had no idea what they were talking about. These men were prisoners of their own lustful desires,

One of the things that makes false teachers so dangerous is their appeal. They have this innate ability to entice others into falling for their lies by appealing to their base desires. That’s why Peter says, “With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception” (2 Peter 2:18 NLT). New and relatively immature Christians are susceptible to their rhetoric. Those who have just recently come to faith in Christ, having walked away from a lifestyle of sin and immorality are especially easy prey to the words of these deceivers. False teachers appeal to the senses, preying on feelings and emotions. They use man’s base passions like a bait to lure immature believers back into a lifestyle they had once left behind – all under the guise of spirituality. We can see it today in the messages of those who preach the prosperity gospel message. They appeal to men’s desire for material things, promising that God wants to make them healthy, wealthy and wise. They promise your best life now, complete with all the trappings of material success and financial reward. And people are drawn to these messages like a fish to a lure, not knowing that death, not life, awaits them.

Verses 20-21 have caused many to assume that Peter is teaching that those who place their faith in Christ can fall away from that faith. In other words, they can lose their salvation, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV).  But if Peter has been pointing out the falsehood of these teachers, it would seem that he is once again addressing them. He describes them as those who have been exposed to “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, and appear to “have escaped the defilements of the world” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). In other words, they look like Christians. They talk as if they have become followers of Christ, but “they are again entangled in them and overcome” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). And, as a result, they are in a worse state than before. Why? Because they have been exposed to the truth of the gospel, but have rejected it. They never became true Christ-followers. In fact, they ended up preaching a different gospel. Paul spoke of these kinds of people in not-so-flattering terms.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

 

And he accused the believers in Corinth of willingly putting up with and buying into the message of these people.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

The people Peter refers to as false teachers were not true believers. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned about these kinds of people. “”Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NLT). He went on to say that you have to judge these people by their fruit, not their fur. They may look the part, they may say all the right things, and they may fool you into thinking they belong to the body of Christ, but “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT).

Peter makes a sobering assessment of the state of these false teachers, saying, “ It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life” (2 Peter 2:21 NLT). In other words, they would have been better off if they had never heard the truth of the gospel and the salvation from sin made possible by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But to have heard it and then, ultimately to have rejected it, only makes their immoral lifestyle that much worse. Peter makes an interesting, yet often overlooked observation in this verse. To know the way to righteousness is a reference to understanding justification or a right relationship with God is only possible through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, we don’t earn salvation by our good works. But Peter points out that our faith is to be followed by an obedience to the command of God that we live a holy life. That is the predominant message of Peter’s first letter.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Had these false teachers been truly saved, their faith in Christ would have been followed by a change in behavior. But their actions had not changed because they had never accepted Christ as their Savior. As a result, they were conformed to the passions of their former ignorance. They had heard the message of justification, but had not accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus. And having heard, but rejected the offer, they stood doubly condemned. And Peter describes their state in fairly graphic and memorable terms: “They prove the truth of this proverb: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22 NLT). Notice that he refers to them as dogs and pigs. These are not terms Peter would have used of fellow believers. He sees them as what they are: Unsaved, unregenerate individuals who have turned up their noses at the true gospel and created their own version, which they use to justify their sinful passions and to lure others into their same false sense of security.

So, what is Peter’s point? Avoid these people at all costs. Stay away from them. Learn to spot them and then keep your distance from them. Be aware that they are an ever-present danger in the church. They will always show up in a local fellowship, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, infiltrating the flock and attempting to lead the weak and immature astray. The words of Paul to the elders at Ephesus would be wise for us to hear and heed.

28 “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. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:28-30 NLT

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

Shepherd Like It.

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:1-7 ESV

Peter turns his attention to the leadership who serve the local congregations within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These men were overseers of their churches and had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the congregations under their care. They are sometimes referred to as shepherds, who have a God-given responsibility to care for the flock entrusted to them by God. That’s exactly how Peter addresses them when he calls them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). It is the same thing Paul said to the elders in Ephesus. But Paul would give further insight into the nature of the shepherd/flock relationship. “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). The sheep belong to God. And notice that Paul points out that the flock were purchased “with His own blood”, referring to the death of Jesus, but clearly indicating His deity. Jesus, the God-man, gave His life, so that those who call themselves children of God could enjoy freedom from sin and death. But those very same sheep have been placed under the care and supervision of elders. And these elders were expected to be men of integrity and spiritual maturity. Paul provided Timothy with a detailed description of their qualifying characteristics.

So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

Peter himself was an elder and understood well the responsibility that came with the title. That’s why he charges his fellow elders to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). And he clarifies exactly what he means by “care for.” The Greek word Peter uses is poimainō, and it literally means “to feed.” Just as literal sheep need physical nourishment to sustain life, so the sheep of God require spiritual sustenance. An elder must see to it that the sheep under his care are being fed the Word of God and receiving instruction in the ways of God. Which is why Paul told Timothy that an elder “must be able to teach.” And his care for the flock must be something he does willingly, not under some sense of compulsion or duty, and not for what he can get out of it. The role of elder doesn’t come with a paycheck and, more often than not, will not be accompanied by a lot of recognition, reward or thankfulness from the sheep. As Peter points out, the motive behind being an elder is service to God.

Peter feels compelled to point out that an elder, who is ultimately serving God, is to never see his position as one of master over his servants. He is not a lord and the people within  his congregation are not his subjects. He is to view himself as a servant, not only of God, but of the people of God. The role of elder is not about power and authority, but about caring for the needs of others. And an elder must never lose sight of the fact that he answers to a higher authority, the Great Shepherd or Jesus Christ. And Peter reminds his fellow elders that, one day, Jesus is coming back, and at that time, they “will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor” (1 Peter 5:4 NLT). Elders don’t get their reward in this life, but in the life to come. This probably does not refer to a literal crown and is most likely not indicating that elders get a specific kind of crown for their service. The apostle Paul wrote, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT). We all get the same reward. The key is that we be faithful to whatever assignment given to us by God to perform in this life. The point is, that our reward is in the life to come, not in this one.

Finally, Peter addresses the younger generation within his audience. He specifically calls them to humble themselves under the leadership of the elders who have God-given responsibility for their care. Submitting to authority of any kind is difficult for all of us. We are inherently autonomous creatures, prone to want to run our own lives and live according to our own wills. But God has placed within the body of Christ a system of authority and structure to ensure that the body works well and spiritual maturity actually take place.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood… – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

This will require humility, and not only from the younger generation. Which is why Peter adds, “all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). There is a sense in which we must be willing to humble ourselves before every other individual within the body of Christ. Paul admonished the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). It would be next to impossible for an elder to shepherd non-submissive sheep. Headstrong sheep who have a mind of their own will be difficult to direct. So there is to be a mutual cooperation going on within the body of Christ that makes it possible for some to lead and others to willingly follow. There is to be a marked lack of competition and conflict within Christ’s church. There is no place for jealousy or envy. No one is to covet the role of another. No one is to think they are somehow better than another, just because of their particular God-given role. We are in this together.

Quoting Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The prideful do not receive the grace of God. They stand opposed to God. Which is why James quoted this same proverb, then added, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Pride is antithetical to the Christ-like life. There was no pride in Jesus. He exhibited no arrogance or sense of entitlement. In fact, Paul wrote:

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And Paul says we are to have the same attitude Jesus had. An attitude of willing, submissive humility to God. It is that kind of attitude that makes the body of Christ work. Without it, there will be conflict, competition, envy, jealousy, disorder, and dysfunctionality. So, Peter encourages us to humble ourselves under God’s might hand, submitting fully to His plan for the church and for our lives within it. We are to trust Him for the future, knowing that at the right time, He will lift us up and exalt us. We are not to look for glory in this life, but in the life to come. Our reward is not temporal, but eternal. And in the meantime, we can take all our troubles and cares to Him, knowing He loves us and has His best in store for us. So elders have a God-given job to do and they are to shepherd like it. The people of God have the example of Christ to follow and they are to humbly submit like Him. All for the glory of God and the good of His people.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Shoddy Shepherds.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
    and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
    with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
    paneling it with cedar
    and painting it with vermilion.
Do you think you are a king
    because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
    and do justice and righteousness?
    Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
    then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
    declares the Lord.
But you have eyes and heart
    only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
    and for practicing oppression and violence.”
Jeremiah 22:13-17 ESV

This particular section of Jeremiah’s message from God continues to focus on the kings of Judah. When Jeremiah had begun his mission as a prophet of God, it had been during the reign of Josiah, who happened to be a good and godly king. The book of 2 Kings tells us: “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2 ESV). It was during his reign that they rediscovered the book of the Law while doing restoration work on the temple. When Josiah heard what the law said, he was convicted about the immoral activity of his people and instituted a series of radical reforms in the land. He ordered the destruction of all the high places where false gods were worshiped. He had the priests purge the temple of God from all the vessels used to worship false gods like Baal and Asherah. Josiah also ordered the rounding up of all the priests who led in the worship of false gods. “And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 22:7 ESV). So, Josiah took the law of the Lord seriously and attempted to set things right in Judah. He even restored the celebration of Passover, which had been abandoned by the people. But his reforms ended up being far from successful, because he could not change the hearts of the people. They remained unfaithful to God and it was not long before the idols entered their way back into the land. And after Josiah was killed in battle against the Egyptians, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Upon his death, Josiah was replaced as king by his son, Jehoahaz. And Jehoahaz would prove to be nothing like his father. His reign would last only three months, before Pharaoh Neco took him captive and replaced him with his brother, Eliakim, whose name he changed to Jehoiakim. He ended up being nothing more than a vassal to the Pharaoh, paying him tribute in order to keep the Egyptians from destroying Jerusalem. And the Scriptures tell us, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:37 ESV).

It was to these sons of Josiah that Jeremiah addresses his message from God. The section we are looking at today addresses Jehoakim, the son of Josiah who replaced his brother Jehoahaz (Shallum), who had been taken captive by Pharaoh. These verses are a continuation of verses 11-12. God warned:

“…in the place where they have carried him captive, there shall he die, and he shall never see this land again.” – Jeremiah 22:12 ESV

Which is exactly what had happened to Jehoahaz. But Jehoakim would learn little from his brother’s experience. And God had some very harsh words to say to him. He accused Jehoakim of building his personal palace with forced labor, refusing to pay those who did the work, even though they were fellow Jews. This was injustice at its worse. It was ungodly because it was against the revealed will of God. Jehoakim was out to build himself a huge palace filled with expensive cedar and precious metals. But God warns him: “a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!” (Jeremiah 23:15 NLT). Jehoakim may have looked and lived like a king, but he was far from one in God’s eyes. Unlike his father, Jehoakim did not practice righteousness and justice. And as a result, Jeohaokim did not enjoy the blessing of God as his father had. God reminds Jehoakim that his father had taken care of the poor and needy, and his efforts had resulted in God blessing him. And God rhetorically asks Jehoakim, “Isn’t that what it means to know me?” (Jeremiah 23:16 NLT). In other words, Josiah’s just and righteous behavior revealed how well he knew God. His actions gave evidence of his relationship with God. He did what God wanted and was rewarded for his actions. All went well for him. But that was not the case of Jehoakim. His reign was all about him. He built himself a fine temple, using the labor of his own people to make himself comfortable and rich. He taxed the people in order to pay his tributes to Pharaoh. He was a cruel, unjust and unfaithful king. And God describes in less-than-flattering terms:

“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 23:17 NLT

This kind of behavior was intolerable to God, especially when practiced by the one who was to be king over the people of God. When God had originally chosen David to be the one to replace Saul as king over Israel, He had made it clear that David was to be like a shepherd.

He chose his servant David, calling him from the sheep pens. He took David from tending the ewes and lambs and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—God’s own people, Israel. He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:70-72 NLT

That is what God expected from all His kings. They were to care for the people of God and shepherd them tenderly and justly. They were not to “fleece the sheep” or take advantage of them. They were to guide and protect them. And the kings of Israel were never to forget that they held their roles as a result of the sovereign will of God. They answered to Him. And He would hold them accountable for their efforts on behalf of the flock of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel records some very sobering words from God concerning the shepherds of Israel.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them. They were scattered because they had no shepherd, and they became food for every wild beast. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over the entire face of the earth with no one looking or searching for them. – Ezekiel 34:1-6 NLT

This was an indictment of all the leaders of Israel, including the kings and priests. But it is particularly pertinent to the message Jeremiah is delivering to Jehoakim. He was supposed to have been a shepherd to the people of Judah. But he was guilty of each and every one of the things mentioned by Ezekiel. And God makes it clear what He is going to do:

This is what the sovereign Lord says: Look, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand my sheep from their hand. I will no longer let them be shepherds; the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore. I will rescue my sheep from their mouth, so that they will no longer be food for them. – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

Jehoakim may have looked like a king and lived in a palace fit for a king, but he was far from being the kind of king God required. And so, his days would be numbered. He would not have a long and prosperous reign. He would answer to God for his failure to shepherd the flock of God well.

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

No Brag. Just Fact.

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV

Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public. 

And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.

Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.

While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus and  offering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.

 

Only By God’s Grace.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:21-23 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turned his attention to himself. He had written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they were going to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up defending himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, and eventually was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So while under house arrest, he had written this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being and knowing that they were all under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul knew that the churches to which he had ministered so faithfully worried about him. They were concerned with his well-being. They each felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly kept them updated as to his condition. With everything else going on, he did not want them to have to worry about him. So he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Tiomothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He did not want them worrying about him. He knew that they did not need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. He could also be passionately compassionate, encouraging them in their weakness and calling them to not lose faith. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. Paul shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “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 elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the churches of Ephesus, because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love Paul for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. But the kind of love Paul is talking about is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love, but is a natural expression of the love that God has for us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf. “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). In fact, all three of these attributes – peace, love and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closed his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24 ESV). The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserve His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible. It is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving He and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

False to a Fault.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. – 2 Peter 2:10-16 ESV

Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them, and wastes no time trying to hide his real feelings about them. He refers to them as “irrational animals creatures of instinct.” Like animals, they are driven by their base instincts. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV). It seems that they were guilty of blaspheming the fallen angels, those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God and were cast out of heaven. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa) that almost always refers to angels. In this case, Peter seems to be talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. But these men do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly about things you do not understand.

These false teachers were evidently spouting their opinions about a wide variety of matters. They also lived lives that were inconsistent with that of true believers. Peter accuses them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.

Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain, but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering what they seemed to promise. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to those who were lost. You could not use them to find your way in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.

Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to the Old Testament story of the people of Israel, when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse them. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, he counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV). The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam would find themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV

So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for personal gain. And in the same way, the false teachers were doing what they were doing it for what they could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. False teachers develop a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they are saying is true. Their greatest danger seems to be the sincerity and sense of authority they evoke. They appear to believe what they teach. They come across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they are like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV). They are dangerous. They are subtle and seductive. They are self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. They are to be avoided at all costs. They are to be exposed and expelled from the church. They are not bad teachers. In fact, most of them are very good at what they do. They are influential and inspirational. They are persuasive and their teaching comes across as reasonable and right. But that is where the danger lies. We must heed the words of Jude, when he warns that they are “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 ESV).

 

 

 

Wearing Humility With Pride.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV

The above title is meant to create a certain degree of disconnect in your mind when you read it. Is it really possible to wear humility with pride. It would seem contradictory to say that someone is proud of their humility. The two characteristics are anything but complementary. In their very essence, they oppose one another. And that is why Peter is continuing this section on suffering for righteousness’ sake with some very specific words of application regarding the role of humility within the body of Christ. First of all, he addresses the elders or overseers of the church. He qualifies his right to address them based on his own role as an elder and an apostle. As an apostle of Jesus, Peter had been en eye-witness to the sufferings of Jesus, having watched Him endure scourging, mocking, beatings and public scorn during His trials, and the public pain and humiliation of crucifixion. He knew first-hand what suffering for righteousness’ sake looked like. He knew far too well just how costly the kind of humility he was talking could be. He had watched Jesus die, willingly and obediently, fulfilling the will of His Father. But Peter had also been there when Jesus appeared in His resurrected state, and he had heard Jesus say, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48 ESV). And Peter had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension back into heaven. He had been “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1b ESV). And Peter had heard the angel proclaim, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV).

So based on his qualifications, Peter addressed the elders by telling them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). They were not to do it for money or power. Their role was not to be seen as a status symbol, but as a statement of humility and service. They were to lead by example. Their lives were to be models of righteousness and godly leadership. They were to find their motivation in their future glorification, not any sense of prominence or pride they might find in this life. Peter had remembered well the words of Jesus spoken on the hillside years earlier: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Jesus had gone on to say that if your motivation was to be seen and praised by men, you would have your reward in full: the recognition and praise of men. But elders were to have a higher standard, a loftier goal. And they were to be examples to all those under their care.

Paul had given similar words of admonition to the elders from Ephesus:

You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:18-24 ESV

He went on to tell them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). They were to see the people of God as belonging to God, having been paid for by the death of Christ. They were simply overseers or caretakers, ultimately answering to God for those He had placed in their care. Like any shepherd, they were to offer protection and provision, care and comfort. Like Jesus, they were to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. They were to live in constant recognition that they would one day answer to the Chief Shepherd.

But Peter didn’t just address elders. He went on to deal with those within the congregation who were younger. He encouraged them to live in submission to their elders. That would require humility on their part. Self-autonomy is a part of human nature. We all want to run our own lives and to control our own fates. But within the body of Christ, God has called for order, structure, and a spirit of submission and humility. In fact, Peter went on to speak to everybody in the church, saying, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV). It is difficult, if not impossible, to lead the prideful and stubborn. Hard-headed sheep require a heavy-handed shepherd. But if we all learn to live humbly and submissively, leadership becomes much easier and following, much more pleasant.

Quoting from the Greek translation of Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James quoted from the same passage when he wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:6-7 ESV). Ultimately, our submission is to be toward God. As Peter will say in the very next verse in this chapter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV). Shepherds are to lead, humbly. The sheep are to follow, humbly. Each is to willingly wait for God to glorify them at the proper time and in according to His divine will. There is no place for pride in the life of the humble.

Loving Those Who Lead.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. – Hebrews 13:17-19 ESV

In our culture, we tend to view leadership through a distorted lens. We aspire to leadership. We see it as something to be sought after and as kind of a reward for a job well done. Leaders are the successful ones, the over-achievers who have earned the right to be followed and all the benefits that come with their title. For many of us, leaders are not so much to be followed as envied. We covet their corner office and exorbitant salaries. We grow jealous of their prestige and power. And we dream of the day when it’s our time to lead.This mentality, while mostly visible in the secular arena, can even makes its way into the church, the body of Christ. But disrespect for leadership among God’s people is nothing new. Moses found himself constantly questioned and blamed for everything. His own brother and sister tried to force him to share his power and authority with them. The prophets of God were all ignored, disliked, and treated like social outcasts – all because their message was not what the people wanted to hear. Jesus Himself was a victim of leadership loathing Himself. As long as He performed miracles, handed out free meals, and talked of a new kingdom, the people flocked to hear him. But as soon as He started talking about suffering, taking up your cross and dying to self, the crowds thinned out dramatically. When He entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, fresh off the heels of His raising of Lazarus from the dead, the people celebrated with great gusto. But when He was arrested, everybody scurried into the darkened corners, including His twelve disciples.

The author of Hebrews knew that people can be fickle when it comes to leadership, even in the church. So he encouraged his readers to do three things: Obey, submit and pray. He knew that leadership was difficult and virtually impossible if those being led refused to follow. He also knew that reluctant or disgruntled followers could make the life of any leader miserable. Gossips, grumblers and discontented followers can become a cancer, spreading discord and disunity throughout the body. So he encouraged his readers to obey and submit. The Greek word for obey is peithō and it means “to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with.” But it also carries the idea of trust and confidence. As believers, we are to place our trust and confidence in those whom God has placed in leadership over us. We are to see them as hand-picked by Him. And we are to submit to them. The Greek word he uses is hypeikō and it means “to yield to authority and admonition.” But it also means to stop resisting. When we submit to and obey the leadership God has placed over us, we are ultimately placing our faith in Him. We are trusting that He knows what He is doing and is working through those He has placed in authority over us.

Finally, we are to pray for those who lead us. It is easy to complain about leadership. We won’t always agree with what they are doing or where they are leading us. But rather than question our leaders, we are to pray for them. Theirs is not an easy job. And we must never lose sight of the fact that they will one day answer to God for how they have led. Leaders in the church answer to a higher authority – God Himself. They will have to give an account for how they have cared for the flock of God. It was Peter who warned the elders of the local church to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).

Leading the church of God is not easy. Shepherding the flock of God is a big responsibility. Do some Godly leaders lead in a less-than-godly way? Certainly. Do all pastors, teachers, elders and deacons always lead in the way that God would have them? Sadly, the answer is no. Moses was far from perfect. David had his flaws and failings. Solomon was wise, but not always the brightest bulb in the box when it came to leadership. But God had placed each of them where they were. Praying for our leaders is the best way to ensure that they become godly leaders. Obeying and submitting to them as having been placed over us by God is an expression of our faith in God. But we must never forget that godly followers are just as important as godly leaders.