Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

23 And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, 25 Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, 26 “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:23-29 ESV

The commissioning of Joshua by God seems a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? It takes just one verse to record the whole affair. There were no animals sacrificed, no anointing oil poured over the head of Joshua. A comparison between his commissioning and that of Aaron reveals some remarkable and glaring contrasts.

And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:6-9 ESV

And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:12-13 ESV

Yet, all Joshua got as a word of encouragement from God: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23 ESV).

But even these words of encouragement and affirmation had to come across as a little underwhelming to Joshua. After all, he had just heard God say that the people of Israel would prove to be rebellious and unrepentant, earning them the full weight of the curses Moses had warned them about. So, while God provided Joshua with the assurance that he would be successful in his new role as leader of the people of Israel, it had to have been bitter-sweet news to his ears. Yes, Joshua would accomplish his God-given assignment and lead the people into the land of Canaan, but how could he forget the fact that they would not be allowed to stay there. The day would come when they would be destroyed by their enemies and taken as captives to foreign lands.

And even after his rather abrupt and abbreviated commissioning, Joshua had to hear Moses repeat the warning God had delivered to them in the tent of meeting.

“I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!” – Deuteronomy 31:27 ESV

Put yourself in Joshua’s sandals. He has just been commissioned the new leader of the people of Israel and yet when he and Moses step out of the tent of meeting, he doesn’t even get an introduction. There is no official announcement of the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. It’s almost as if Joshua simply stood in the background, eyes wide with shock and surprise. He had just seen the Shekinah glory of God, heard the voice of God, and was still digesting the devastating news from God that the nation of Israel would end up back in captivity one day. And just as he is about to take over the reins of leadership, he has to sit back and hear Moses accuse the people of being rebellious and stubborn.

And Moses wasn’t done. He had one more punch to the gut he wanted to deliver.

“I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

I can’t help but imagine how Joshua felt as all this transpired. Here he was getting ready to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, not exactly an easy task, and Moses was busy stirring up and offending them. On top of that, Joshua had just been informed that, while the whole conquest-of-the-land initiative would be a success, it would prove to be shortlived and irrelevant. 

This is probably not the way Joshua had envisioned his tenure as the shepherd of Israel beginning. This entire section of the book of Deuteronomy is weighted with a dark sense of foreboding. This should have been one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Israel’s long and storied history as they prepared to cross over the border and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God centuries earlier. But rather than joy and celebration, the occasion was marked by sadness and disappointment. The party balloons had popped. The candles on the cake had blown out.

And Moses told the people that the law itself would bear witness against them. He instructed the Levites to “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26 ESV). His handwritten copy of God’s commandments would be a constant presence among the people, practically screaming out its judgments against them every time they violated its contents.

Moses assembles all the elders and officers of the 12 tribes and calls heaven and earth to witness against them. But what does this mean? How do the heavens and the earth bear witness against the nation of Israel? Well, in the opening stanza of the song that God gave Moses, we read these words: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth” (Deuteronomy 32:1 ESV).

Moses was going to sing the words of God’s song to the people, and the first words would be addressed to the heavens and the earth. It is as if God is saying, “If you won’t listen, creation will.” The rest of the creative order will hear the commands of God and bear witness against the Israelites for their stubborn refusal to do as He has said.

In a sense, Moses is saying that the heavens and earth will still remain, even after the Israelites are long gone. The sun, moon, and stars will still be in the sky long after Israel is exiled from the land of promise. They will look up from their new home in Babylon and see the same unchanging scene in the heavens, but they will be in captivity. The land of Canaan will remain right where it was when they left. Nothing will change about it except the identity of those who occupy it. The earth will keep spinning. The sun, moon, and stars will keep shining. Canaan will remain a land flowing with milk and honey. But the fate of the Israelites will be markedly different than it had been.

“…in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 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

The Need For Strong Leadership

1 So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel. 2 And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. 4 And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. 5 And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:1-8 ESV

Moses’s days were numbered, and he knew it. His long and somewhat drawn out homily to the people was meant to prepare them for the inevitable and, possibly, to delay the unavoidable. He would not be going with them into the land of Canaan. God had denied Moses the privilege of leading the people of Israel when they crossed the border of Canaan and began their conquest of the land.

Moses had been God’s hand-picked deliverer. He had been chosen by God for the unique assignment of rescuing the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, and he had performed that role faithfully and effectively. Then he had successfully led the people to the edge of the land of promise, only to see them refuse to keep God’s command and cross the border – all because of an excess of fear and a lack of trust in God. So, Moses was forced to spend the next 40 years leading this rebellious generation around the wilderness until they had died off. Then, with a new generation in tow, he once again brought them to the edge of the land of promise so they might enter and possess it. But he would not be going with them. Why?

It all goes back to a regrettable scene that happened at a place called Meribah. Early on in their exodus from Egypt to Canaan, the people of Israel found themselves short on water and patience. So, they complained to Moses, who took the issue up with God. And God gave Moses instructions to take his brother Aaron’s staff “and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV).

But Moses was angry with the people for reading him the riot act over their lack of water. So, when he had assembled them, he took the staff and, rather than speaking to the rock as God had commanded, he took his anger out on it.

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

God accused Moses of two sins: Disbelief and disrespect. He expressed a lack of faith in God by refusing to do exactly as God had said. God’s word was not enough. He decided to add a little drama to the moment by striking the rock. And, on top of that, he seemed to take credit for the miracle, showing a deep disrespect for God. In doing so, he did not treat God as holy in the eyes of the people. As a leader and the representative of God, he had displayed unholy behavior, and his actions had reflected poorly on God. When Moses spoke, he spoke for God. When he led, he did so on behalf of God. When he struck the rock in anger, he did so as the representative of God. And his ungodly actions made God look unholy in the eyes of the people. This was a serious issue that brought a severe punishment from God.

“…because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 32:51-52 ESV

And yet, just a few chapters later in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. – Deuteronomy 34:10-12 ESV

Moses was a great leader. He was a God-appointed and Spirit-anointed leader. But at Meribah, he had chosen to doubt and disrespect God, and he would pay dearly for that lapse in judgment. So, at the ripe old age of 120, Moses broke the news to the people of Israel that he would not be the one leading them on the next leg of their journey. That responsibility would fall to Joshua, Moses’ protegé and successor. And Moses assured the people that, ultimately, it would be God who would be going before them as their divine leader. 

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them.” – Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV

Their true leader had always been God Almighty. Moses had been nothing more than a human representative whose authority and power had been delegated by God. Now, the responsibility to lead God’s people would fall to Joshua, whom Moses assured them would “cross before you just as the Lord has said” (Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV).

And just to make sure that the people understood that God, not Joshua, was their true leader, Moses reminds them just who it would be that gave them victory over their enemies.

 “…the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og…” – Deuteronomy 31:4 ESV

“…the Lord will give them over to you…” – Deuteronomy 31:5 ESV

“…the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

It would be God who gave them victory over their enemies. It would be God who went before them, never leaving them alone or on their own. Which is they could be “be strong and courageous” and not fear. Joshua would be their new human leader, but it was God who would make their path straight and their battles victorious.

Unlike Moses, God would never leave them or forsake them. Even good leaders can make bad mistakes that let their followers down. But not God. Moses would not be leading them into Canaan, but they could rest easy knowing that God would be with them every step of the way.

Next, Moses turns his attention to Joshua. He brings his much-younger successor before the people and provides him with a similarly worded charge:

“Be strong and courageous, for you will accompany these people to the land that the Lord promised to give their ancestors, and you will enable them to inherit it.” – Deuteronomy 31:7 NLT

Joshua would be attempting to fill some rather large sandals. He was tasked with stepping into the formidable role that Moses had held for nearly half a century. And he was going to have to be strong. But his strength would have to be in the Lord. Without His help, Joshua would find the days ahead difficult, because as Moses knew all too well, leading God’s people was anything but a walk in the park. And he gave Joshua the same simple, yet vital reminder.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV

The people of Israel were going to need strong leadership if they were to be successful in fulfilling God’s command. The conquest of the land was not going to be easy. The enemies who lived in the land would not give up without a fight. There would be many battles to fight. They would face more powerful foes and come up against what appeared to be impenetrable defenses. But the people and their new leader would need to constantly remember that their strength and success would be God-ordained, not man-made.

Moses knew the people were going to need Joshua. But he also knew that Joshua was going to need the Lord. Effective spiritual leaders are those who allow themselves to be led by God. They find their strength and courage in the Lord, not in themselves. Moses knew from personal and painful experience just how difficult the role would be that Joshua was taking on. He was going to need all the help he could get and the only reliable source he could turn to was God Himself.

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

Signs In “The Times”

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 ESV

The Thessalonian believers are living in what Paul refers to as “the times.” This is what may also be referred to as the church age or the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). It is the period of time between Christ’s first and second advent. The phrase, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” used by Jesus in Luke 21:24, refers to the period leading up until His second coming. He used it in direct reference to Jerusalem, indicating that the holy city would remain predominantly under Gentile control or influence until He returned to set up His Millennial Kingdom at the end of the seven years of Tribulation.

Paul wrote of this same time period in his letter to the church in Rome, telling them, “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26 ESV). Paul seems to indicate that there is a specific number of Gentiles who will come to faith in Christ, but it is only known to God. When the full number of Gentile converts is reached, the day of the Lord will begin, and it will commence with the Rapture of the church. 

The Thessalonian believers were excited about the possible return of Jesus, but they were also confused by what appeared to be His delay. So, Paul has reassured them that God has a plan and that they were living in “the times” leading up to the day of the Lord. But God has provided no date or length of time by which to measure its arrival. As Jesus told His disciples, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT).

So, rather than worry about things God has chosen to keep a mystery, Paul points his readers back to God’s clearly revealed will.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification… – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

While it was proper for them to eagerly long for the Lord’s return, they were not to allow their anticipation to turn into preoccupation or lull them into a sense of spiritual complacency. While they waited, they were to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) and to work hard to show the results of their salvation (Philippians 2:12). They had work to do. And if God delayed the return of His Son, that was up to Him. In the meantime, they were to stay actively engaged in the pursuit of holiness. Which is why Paul told them, “So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 NLT).

Paul was all about practical holiness. It wasn’t meant to be some kind of pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by and by mentality that leaves you heavenly minded but of no earthly good. That’s why he challenges them to show respect to those who minister among them. This would have included Timothy, their elders, and any other God-ordained leadership in their local congregations. Notice that Paul doesn’t tell them to respect their leaders if they deem them worthy of it, but because of their work. This had less to do with the leader than with God’s calling on that leader. As Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus, spiritual leaders within the body of Christ are to be seen as gifts provided by Christ Himself.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

These individual have been given authority by God to lead and, sometimes, admonish. They were shepherds who had the responsibility to lead, feed, protect, and, if necessary, discipline the flock of Jesus Christ. And they were to be treated with honor and respect.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He calls them to live in harmony with one another. They were to pursue peace at all costs. There was no place for disunity within the body of Christ. Paul shared this same advice with the believers in Rome.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18 NLT

The author of the book of Hebrews gave similar counsel.

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life. – Hebrews 12:14 NLT

But the presence of peace is not an absence of conflict. It is impossible to live in close proximity with other people and not experience some degree of disagreement. So, Paul provides them with steps to deal with the inevitable threat of disunity. He tells them to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV). These four admonitions run the gamut, covering everything from reproving the lazy and strengthening the timid to caring for the weak and showing patience to all. That about covers every possible relationship scenario in the local church.

Paul wanted them to know that their survival was dependent upon their mutual care and concern for one another. There was no place for backbiting and payback. Instead, they were to seek the good of one another. That requires selflessness. It demands that each individual put the needs of others ahead of his own. And Paul knew that kind of lifestyle was only possible if they remained prayerful, joyful, and thankful.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

As soon as they lost the ability to rejoice in the unbelievable reality of their salvation, they would become myopic and self-focused again. And if they failed to pray, they would tend to live according to their own wills, rather than God’s. If they became ungrateful to God for all He had done for them, they would become envious and jealous of others. And that would lead to quarreling, conflict, and disunity.

Failure to rejoice, refusal to pray and a reluctance to give thanks will only stifle the work of the Spirit of God among the people of God. When believers begin to live selfishly, ungratefully, and prayerlessly, the Spirit’s power is diminished in their midst, like water poured on a flame. Paul referred to this as living according to the flesh, and he described it in these terms to the Galatian believers:

…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. – Galatians 5:17 ESV

A believer’s decision to give in to their fleshly desires will end up stifling the transformative power of the Spirit in his or her life. And it will do damage to the body of Christ.

Paul also provided the Thessalonians with what appears to be a very specific word regarding prophecy. It appears that there were some in the local congregations who were rejecting the idea of someone having a direct word from God. In the 1st-Century church, there were those who were given the gift of prophetic utterance, the ability to hear from God and to share that word with the local congregation. This was before the finalization of the Scriptures. Evidently, in their worship services, it was not uncommon for someone to stand up and share a word from God. And it appears that the Thessalonians were reluctant to accept that these individuals were speaking on behalf of God. But Paul warns them to test the words of these people, not to reject them. If these people actually spoke for God, it would be proven true in time. God would validate their words. And whatever God validated, they were to hang on to it as having come directly from Him.

And Paul wraps up this section with the simple, yet profound, phrase: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV). They were to avoid sinful behavior like the plague. But not only that, they were to have nothing to do with anything remotely associated with evil. Paul provided the Ephesians believers with a similar word of admonition.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:10-14 NLT

The Christian life is comprised of acts of commission and omission. There are things we are to do and other things we are to refuse to do. There are activities we are to pursue, and there are those we are to avoid like a plague. This is part of what it means to be in the world but not of it. In His High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus addressed the awkward reality of the believer’s presence in this fallen world.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:15-19 ESV

Living in “the times” was not going to be easy for the Thessalonians, but it was also not impossible. They had all they needed to live as lights in the darkness. And Paul was convinced that they could and would.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

A Call to Older Men

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. – Titus 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has spent a significant portion of his letter warning Titus about the dangers of those who were promoting their man-made doctrines among the churches on Crete. These individuals were blatantly adding to the simplicity of the gospel message and contradicting the teaching of Paul and the other apostles of Jesus Christ. And one of the reasons these false teachers were making an impact was because of the spiritual immaturity of the congregations. As Paul concluded a few verses earlier in his letter, the believers on Crete were not sound in the faith.

So, Paul turns his attention to Titus, tasking his with the job of teaching “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Notice that Paul is not asking Titus to teach sound doctrine. He seems to know that Titus has been faithful to promote what is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. But what Paul wants Timothy to do is to teach what “accords with” sound teaching. The Greek word Paul used carries the idea of reflecting or demonstrating. In other words, Paul is asking Titus to teach the Cretan believers what Christ-like behavior looks like. He wants Titus to make it clear to these people what true doctrine looks like when it’s lived out on a daily basis. 

This is in direct response to the false teaching that had begun to infect and influence the church. They were promoting everything from license to legalism. Some were demanding that any and all behavior was acceptable because they believed the spiritual and the physical were two completely separate realms. These individuals taught that what we do in our flesh makes no difference. As you can only imagine, this false doctrine would lead to some abhorrent behavior that was in direct contradiction to the Word of God.

These people were often referred to as antinomians, which literally means “anti-law.” They took the teachings of Paul regarding our freedom from the Mosaic Law and turned them into permission to practice moral license. But Paul addressed this misconception in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 NLT

But right alongside the antinomians came the legalists, the party of the circumcision, who were teaching that strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was mandatory for any and all professing believers, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. These people taught a strict code based on abstinence and adherence. Paul addressed this false teaching to the Colossian church.

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:21-23 NLT

So, with these two diametrically opposed brands of false teaching bombarding the local churches on Crete, Paul commanded Titus to provide the people with clear instructions on what proper Christian behavior should look like. And what should stand out to us is the simple, practical nature of Paul’s examples.

Paul begins with the mature males in the church, using the Greek word, presbytēs. It was a common word typically used to refer to someone who was more advanced in years. They were not necessarily elderly, but simply older. For Paul, these men were essential to the overall health of the church. And he states that they were to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 1:2 ESV). Each of these terms is packed with meaning, and they are not to be taken lightly.

The first descriptor Paul uses is nēphalios, which is translated as “sober-minded.” Some translations use the word “temperate” which is probably much closer to the original meaning. The original Greek word meant “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” And this meaning seems to fit the context. In the very next verse, Paul states that the older women were not to be “slaves to much wine.” It would seem that over-indulgence had become a problem in the churches on Crete. License had led some to drink wine to access. Any belief in moderation had been abandoned for the pursuit of personal pleasure. But in his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul listed drunkenness among the works of the flesh and temperance among the fruit of the Spirit.

The second attribute or characteristic Paul requires of all older men in the body of Christ was semnos, which conveys the idea of being venerated for their character. They were to be looked up to for the way they lived their lives. These men were to be examples to the rest of the congregation, emulating the character of Christ and leading the younger men in the church to aspire to follow their example. It could have been that these older, more mature believers were setting the wrong example, having chosen to follow the teaching of the antinomians. Perhaps they were leading the way in licentious behavior and causing their younger brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. But Paul demands that their behavior be Christ-like in every way.

Next, Paul emphasizes their need to be self-controlled. That particular translation of the Greek word sōphrōn is somewhat misleading. It seems to convey the idea that this character quality is completely up to the individual to pull off. But we know that Paul firmly believed in the role of the Holy Spirit in assisting us in our pursuit of Christ-like behavior. In fact, he told the believers in Galatia: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Paul clearly taught that self-control was only possible when one was under the Spirit’s control. 

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. – Galatians 5:16 NLT

The Greek word has to do with curbing one’s desires and impulses. It is the mark of someone who is not controlled by his emotions, physical appetites, or sinful desires. And it listed in the qualities required of an elder found in chapter 1.

These are all characteristics that should accompany physical maturity. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds a few more qualities that should reflect spiritual maturity or godliness. He states that these older men should be “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “sound” has to do with wholeness or completeness. It was often used to refer to a person being sound of body or in good health. Paul is insisting that older Christian men should be whole or healthy when it comes to their faith in God and His gospel message, their love for God and His children, and their patient endurance as they wait for His Son’s return.

Paul held these older men to a higher standard and, more than likely, he included himself as one of them. He worked hard to ensure that his life was an example to the younger men in his life, including Titus and Timothy. Paul was able to say to the believers in Corinth, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3:17 NLT). He went on to tell them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9 ESV).

Paul was demanding of these men what he demanded of himself. But this was not some form of legalism or license. He was not promoting another form of rule-keeping or behavior modification. For Paul, this was all about living out his faith in everyday life. It was to permeate every area of his life. His belief was to result in changed behavior. And he knew that this was true of each and every person who professed to be a follower of Christ.

The reason older men are singled out first is that they were the pool from which the elders of the church were to come. The Greek word used for older men is presbytēs and the word for elder is presbyteros. Paul had charged Titus with the task of finding and appointing elders in all the churches on Crete. But where was he going to find such individuals if there were no older men who met the standards? The truth is, the church should never be in short supply of elders, because it is filled with older men whose lives reflect the characteristics of an elder. Godly leadership should be readily available and easily accessible because the older men of the church are sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

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.s

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

Well-Deserved Judgment.

10 Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.
11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him,
    for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him.
12 My people—infants are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your guides mislead you
    and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.

13 The Lord has taken his place to contend;
    he stands to judge peoples.
14 The Lord will enter into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord God of hosts.

16 The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
    and walk with outstretched necks,
    glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
    tinkling with their feet,
17 therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
    the heads of the daughters of Zion,
    and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

18 In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19 the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20 the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21 the signet rings and nose rings; 22 the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23 the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.

24 Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
    and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
    and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
    and branding instead of beauty.
25 Your men shall fall by the sword
    and your mighty men in battle.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn;
    empty, she shall sit on the ground. – Isaiah 3:10-26 ESV

The people of Judah were guilty of misplaced trust. Rather than placing their hope in God and relying upon His goodness and grace, they had chosen to depend upon false gods, faithless leaders and faulty substitutes for God. And God warned that the day would come when their unfaithfulness to Him would be rewarded in full. Isaiah flatly states, “the wicked are doomed, for they will get exactly what they deserve” (Isaiah 3:11 ESV). But the righteous, those who do good, while in the minority, will be rewarded for their faithfulness. “…all will be well for them. They will enjoy the rich reward they have earned!“ (Isaiah 3:10 ESV).

God’s assessment of Judah’s leadership is far from flattering. He compares them children, lacking in wisdom and incapable of making wise decisions for those under their care. They are “momma‘s boys” who can‘t think for themselves, but must rely on their mothers for help. And, as a result, they end up misleading God’s people, guiding them down paths He never intended for them to take.

And like a magistrate or judge, God stands in the docket of the divine court, prepared to mete out His sentence upon these faithless and foolish leaders. And God pulls no punches in delivering His condemnation of them.

“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor?” – Isaiah 3:14-15 ESV

Ultimately, their sin was against God. They had mislead and mistreated His people. Judah was His possession. And God took special delight in the poor, needy, and defenseless. The entire nation had suffered as a result of the self-centered and self-serving leadership of its kings and princes, but God‘s heart always reached out to those who had no representation and no means of defending themselves.

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. – Psalm 82:3 ESV

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. – Psalm 68:5 ESV

God had warned His people long ago:

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. – Exodus 22:22-24 ESV

But along with comparing Judah’s lousy leaders to immature children, God describes its people as haughty and materialistic women who are obsessed with their outward appearance and easily distracted by treasures and trinkets of all kinds. They are vacuous and vain, devoid of spiritual depth and moral discretion. And God warns that He will destroy their outer beauty and expose their true moral character. They will be seen for what they really are: Empty and immoral people who care more about appearances than they do about the true condition of their hearts.

Virtually every detail of God’s description of them paints them as nothing more than well-dressed prostitutes, who cover their immoral behavior with find clothes, expensive jewelry and sweet-smelling perfume. It‘s all meant to disguise their immoral and unfaithful character.

On that day of judgment
    the Lord will strip away everything that makes her beautiful:
ornaments, headbands, crescent necklaces,
     earrings, bracelets, and veils;
     scarves, ankle bracelets, sashes,
     perfumes, and charms;
     rings, jewels,
     party clothes, gowns, capes, and purses;
     mirrors, fine linen garments,
    head ornaments, and shawls. – Isaiah 3:18-23 ESV

Their outward display of beauty and wealth may fool others, but it would not fool God. He would replace their perfume with rottenness, their expensive belts with ropes, their carefully crafted hair with baldness, and their fine robes with sackcloth. God was going to bring humiliation and destruction, in the form of the Babylonians. The once-proud and haughty people of Judah would be brought low. Their mighty men in whom they trusted for protection would fall by the sword. The gates of the city, where the prostitutes sold their services, would be destroyed. There would no longer be any customers.

The picture is one of abject humiliation and devastation as God brings His judgment upon the stubborn and rebellious people of Judah. They would be brought low by the wrath of God Almighty. The one they should have loved unconditionally would become the source of their despair and defeat. The lover of their souls would become the destroyer of their souls. Rather than trust God, they had placed their hope in godless leaders and their own vanity-fueled sense of self-worth. The words of the hymn penned by Charles Wesley in 1740 reveal the repentant heart for which God longed.

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

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

Godly Leadership.

28 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. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. – Acts 20:28–38 ESV

Paul had stopped in Miletus on his way to Jerusalem and, while there, he had invited the elders for the congregation in Ephesus to come visit him, so that he could impart some words of encouragement to them. Paul was well aware that he might never get to see these men again, and wanted to challenge them to take seriously their role as the spiritual shepherds of the flock over which God had placed them. Paul used his own life as an example of selfless service, declaring “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). He was confident and content with his efforts on their behalf, having served “the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:19 ESV). Now, he was passing the baton on to them, and challenging them to “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). Notice that he began with a warning for these men to pay careful attention to themselves. Their personal lives were to be closely monitored and the state of their own spiritual health was to be constantly assessed. In one of his letters to his young protegé, Timothy, Paul described the qualifications for an elder.

2 So a church leader 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. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

These men had a grave responsibility, and they would one day answer to God for the manner in which they cared for His sheep. They needed to see themselves as overseers, or guardians over those under their care. The Greek word Luke used is episkopos, and carries the idea of someone who cares for and watches over the well-being of others. But Paul knew that it would be difficult for them to properly provide for and protect those under their care if they themselves were not adequately fit for duty. Spiritual deficient leaders will always result in spiritual anemic followers. Men who were unfaithful to their own wives, lacking in self-control, unable to manage their own households, quick-tempered, quarrelsome, greedy, and unable to teach the Word of God, would make lousy shepherds and do more harm than good to the flock of God. And Paul made it clear why they had to be spiritually prepared and properly equipped for their roles as shepherds.

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 20:29-31 NLT

The dangers were real. Paul would have fully concurred with the statement made by Peter: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT). For Paul, the thought of false teachers slyly infiltrating the ranks of God’s people and leading them astray with clever-sounding words, was more than he could stand. The subtle, yet sinister reality of false doctrine was going to be a constant threat to the spiritually well-being of the church. It remains so today. Half-truths and watered-down doctrine are always more dangerous than outright lies. Frontal assaults, while always a possibility in spiritual warfare, are rare. The enemy tends to inflict his damage in more subtle and deceptive ways. But elders must understand that distortion of the truth can be just as dangerous and deadly as the denial of it. But to be able to recognize the lies of the enemy, God’s leaders must know the truth of His Word. That is why Paul told Timothy:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

Those who remain ignorant of God’s Word will be unable to live or lead well. They will find themselves living like “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Leaders can be appointed, but their ability to lead is God-given and a byproduct of their time in the Word and the degree of their dependence upon God. Which is why Paul stated, “I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself” (Acts 20:32 NLT). Their capacity to lead was going to be directly tied to their reliance upon God. They would need to daily lean on the grace of God and recognize that He alone could provide them with the strength and wisdom required for their role as shepherds of His flock.

Paul closes out his discourse with these men by using himself as an example. He was not speaking pridefully, but was confident that his own life could be used as a model for godly leadership.Paul had never been in it for the glory. He didn’t serve for any kind of recognition or financial remuneration. He plainly states:

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. – Acts 20:33-35 NLT

And Paul’s life fully reflected the teaching of Peter concerning godly leadership.

2 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. 3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Godly leadership is not about power, position, or prominence. It has little to do with matters of superiority or control. Being a leader in the context of the church of God is all about service, not authority and power. In fact, Jesus provided His disciples with some fairly stunning words about this very matter. He spoke them immediately after James and John had made their rather arrogant and self-centered request to be given positions of power when Jesus established His Kingdom. Jesus simply said:

25 “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

And Paul added his own little twist, reminding the elders in his audience of some other words spoken by Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NLT). Paul was expecting these men to lead like Jesus. He wanted them to lead by putting themselves last and others first. They were to lead by selflessly sacrificing their lives for the sake of the flock. All of this recalls the words of Jesus, spoken to the apostle Peter in the days immediately after His resurrection. Three times Jesus questioned Peter’s love for Him. And three times Peter assured Jesus of his love. And each of those times, Jesus responded with three simple, yet profound statements.

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 NLT

The greatest way a leader can prove his love for Jesus is to love those for whom Jesus died and for whom the leader has been called to serve.

When Paul had finished his meeting with the elders, they prayed together, then parted ways. There were many tears and much sorrow because, of all the things Paul had said to them, the one thing that had stood out the most was his announcement that he might never see them again. It is obvious that they loved Paul dearly. They clearly saw him as a loving and godly leader. He had been for them what he was asking them to be for those under their care: A selfless, sacrificial shepherd who had always been willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Now, they were to return to Ephesus and do the same.

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.

The Message (MSG)  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

Godly Men.

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 on Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption within the church on Crete. Paul will describe these individuals as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10 ESV).  He will accuse them of “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11 ESV). That’s why Paul tells Titus that he has been left in Crete with the specific task to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. The first 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 will spend a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was to appoint elders. He was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was based on a void of qualified leadership. Within any organization, if there is not adequate, qualified leadership, the void will end up being filled by someone. 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 is 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 these couldn’t be just any kind of men. They were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to be considered. 

But it’s important to notice that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and says little about Scripture 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 were to “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 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to know the truth of the Gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man, if they were going to be able to refute falsehood and defend the Good News from attack.

But the real point Paul seems to be making is the contrast of character between these future leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those who would lead the church had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This didn’t mean that they had to be perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used referred to the fact that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in such a way that it would cause people to point their fingers in criticism, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church. They were to be loving husbands who didn’t have reputations for unfaithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ and who were modeling lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending men who were older, with children old enough to have come to faith in Christ and to have exhibited godly character. Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8 NLT). It's interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits. He went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence and a problem with alcohol would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They are outward signs of someone who is under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more details list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sin 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 was controlled by his own flesh was going to make a lousy leader. He would 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 who exhibited lives that were under the control of the Spirit of God.

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). In other words, they must remain committed to the gospel message by which they came to faith in Christ. One of the problems going on there was the influence of false gospels. 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 gospel message. They would not accept alternative versions of the truth. They would not tolerate false gospels or destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to be figure heads or to function as nothing more than an advisory board for Titus. They were to be overseers, shepherds and pastors to the flock. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness. Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. Which 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 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

Lousy Leadership.

Multiply yourselves like the locust;
    multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
    more than the stars of the heavens.
    The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Your princes are like grasshoppers,
    your scribes like clouds of locusts
settling on the fences
    in a day of cold—
when the sun rises, they fly away;
    no one knows where they are.

Your shepherds are asleep,
    O king of Assyria;
    your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
    with none to gather them.
There is no easing your hurt;
    your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands over you.
For upon whom has not come
    your unceasing evil? – Nahum 3:15b-19 ESV

Nineveh was a wealthy city full of prosperous people who had benefited from the global expansion of the Assyrian empire. Along with tremendous amounts of plunder, the city of Nineveh had become a powerful trading hub, with merchants coming and going all the time, bringing in commodities from all around the known world. It was a great time to be alive if you lived in Nineveh. You had a powerful king with an army that was second to none. You lived in a city that was well-fortified and the envy of all your enemies. Every imaginable produce was available for purchase or trade within its walls. The signs of affluence were everywhere. You were surrounded by elaborate temples, sumptuous palaces, and fine homes. Wealthy and influential individuals walked the streets. Dignitaries from all around the world flocked to Nineveh to strike alliances and bring tribute to the king. As a result of all the Assyrian conquests, there were so many slaves, virtually anybody could have one. It was a great time to be alive.

But not for long. Nahum sarcastically tells the Assyrians to keep on multiplying. It is as if he is saying, “Keep it up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because it is about to get very dark, very quickly.” Nahum has no problem if their army keeps on expanding and their population continues to increase, because it won’t do them any good. Their many military victories had brought financial success. Business was booming, with the number of merchants plying their trade growing daily. They were like locusts. Too many to count. Their army was massive in size. In fact, Nahum refers to them in verse 17. The word translated as “princes” is actually the Hebrew word for “captains” and it most likely refers to the military leaders who oversaw the vast Assyrian army. The term translated as “scribes” literally means “crowned ones” and probably refers to the large number of princes and royal officials who helped oversee the administration of the massive bureaucracy of the Assyrian government. He compares these two groups to locusts and grasshoppers. They were everywhere and their numbers were too many to count. But Nahum warns that the day is coming when they will all disappear and no one will know where they all went. The merchants, princes and captains will be no more. Like locusts that cover the land, they will suddenly vanish. Here today, gone tomorrow.

And Nahum has a special word for the leaders of Nineveh. He compares them to shepherds who are responsible for the care of the sheep, but accuses them of being asleep on the job. They are negligent. The king and his officials are so busy building an empire, that they have forgotten to care about the common man. Global expansion had taken precedence over everything else. These men believed that surrounding their people with military might and financial success was all that was needed. They had the fortifications and the army to defend them. No one would dare attack the impregnable city of Nineveh. They had grown cocky and overconfident, drunk on their own success. They wouldn’t see the disaster until it was upon them.

But the word translated as “slumber” has another meaning. It was used as a figurative expression of someone dying. It is as if Nahum is warning that the day is fast approaching when all the princes, captains, royal officials, and the king himself, will all be dead. And the result will be that the sheep, those under their care, will end up scattered. No longer safe within the walls of Nineveh, they will flee to the mountains and try to escape capture at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians.

And there is nothing that can be done to stop what is going to happen. Nahum warns them, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). This is going to be terminal. There is no escaping what God is bringing upon them. So, they could keep on growing and expanding, trading and doing business around the world, but none of it would prevent the inevitable. God’s judgment was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who puts kings on their thrones. He is the one who established kingdoms. And in every case, He expects those in authority to rule justly and care for those under their authority. Paul reminds us, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT). And he says that, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:4 NLT). It is important to remember that, when Paul wrote this, he was addressing Christians who were living under the heavy-handed rule of the Roman government. But God has established the role of all government to provide rule and order and to protect and provide for those under its care. And He will hold all governments responsible for the role He has given them. He will hold to account each and every king, dictator, despot, president, government official, senator or member of congress. God even held the leaders of Israel accountable for their leadership over those under their care. Take a look at what He had to say to the shepherds 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. 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

"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," says the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:1 NLT

God takes leadership seriously. He allows men and women to enjoy roles of responsibility, but He expects them to wield their power and influence for the good of their people. Even pagan kings and communist dictators are expected by God to provide their people with protection and the provision of their needs. But in so many instances, we have seen governments spend more money on their military than they do on meeting the needs of their people. They build vast military complexes while their people suffer from a lack of the basic necessities of life. God will not allow that to go on forever. He will hold all leaders accountable, regardless of their political ideology or spiritual philosophy.

And lousy leaders are never missed. Their untimely exit from the stage of life is applauded, not mourned. Everyone loves to see the bad guys get their just desserts. As Nahum so aptly puts it: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). Eventually, everyone says good riddance to bad leadership.

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

Prayerful Leadership.

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:4 ESV

As the early church continued to grow in size, there were inevitable problems that came up. Acts chapter four describes a situation that arose between two different groups within the rapidly expanding church in Jerusalem. As a result of the events surrounding the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jews who had come from all over the known world to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost had come to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. There were native Hebrews who spoke primarily Aramaic and were from the region of Palestine. But there were also Hellenistic Jews who were primarily Greek-speaking and from outside the land of Palestine. One group used the Hebrew Scriptures, while the other used the Greek translation, called the Septuagint. It seems that their main issue was a linguistic one that translated into a cultural conflict and ended up making its way into the early church. Even in those early days Satan was attempting to use division and dissension as a means to create disunity within the body of Christ.

While Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews had their own synagogues in Jerusalem, when they became believers in Christ, they ended up worshiping side by side. This inevitably led to some tension. Luke records that a dispute arose over the distribution of food to the widows within the church. The Hellenistic Jews were claiming that their widows were being neglected. This dispute led the twelve apostles, who made up the leadership of the local church, to appoint men to oversee the distribution of the food to ensure it was done fairly and equitably. Their reasoning for this decision was simple. “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 ESV). They were not diminishing the importance of the issue or demeaning the role of service, but were simply establishing priorities. In their minds, it was essential that they continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ. That was the mandate given to them by Jesus Himself before He ascended back into heaven. So they chose “ seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV) to handle the issue of the distribution of food to the widows. This decision left them free to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

It is interesting to note that the apostles saw their responsibility as two-fold. Jesus had made His instructions clear: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). But Jesus had also taught them how to pray. He had modeled for them in His earthly life the importance of prayer. His ministry had been marked by a careful balance between preaching and prayer. The apostles knew from watching His life, that Jesus lived a life of dependence upon the Father. As impressive as His miracles had been, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them to heal, they asked Him to teach them how to pray. They had been amazed at the intimacy of His prayer life with the Father. They were taken by His need for time alone with God and the power and guidance He seemed to receive from those moments alone in prayer. They had lived with Jesus for more than three years. They knew how hard He worked, how tired He became at the end of a long day. And they had seen Him spend entire nights in prayer, skipping the evening meal and missing out on much-needed sleep. Yet He met the new day with a renewed sense of commitment and a supernatural energy that they couldn't explain. When Jesus had his encounter with the woman at the well, the disciples had returned with food and offered some to Him. But He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32 ESV). They were confused by His statement, wondering where He had gotten food to eat. But Jesus replied, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). That statement of Jesus probably came to the minds of the disciples as they considered their responsibilities within the growing church. They had a job to do. They had been given a task to accomplish by Jesus and in order to do it, they were going to need to rely on prayer just as Jesus had done. Their accomplishments for God would be directly tied to the time they spent alone with Him. It is interesting to note that when the disciples went to Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus, “they went up to the upper room, where they were staying” (Acts 1:13 ESV). And Luke tells us, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14 ESV). It was in that context that the Holy Spirit came.

Prayer must be an essential part of the ministry. Activity alone is not enough. Prayer is an act of reliance upon God. It conveys our need for Him. It communicates our dependence upon His power and our need for His direction. God doesn’t need us to do things for Him. He wants to do things for us and through us. He wants to unleash His power in our lives. But sometimes we get too busy to pray. Our self-confidence can turn into self-reliance, which can end up being self-destructive. Prayer reminds us that we need God to accomplish our God-given responsibilities. Jesus needed God. Jesus depended upon the Father. So why don't we? The apostles devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. They knew that one was not more important than the other. But they also knew that one was impossible without the other.

I'd Rather Die.

Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. – Exodus 32:31-32 ESV

The people had sinned. While Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had grown restless and had decided to make their own god. They had turned to Aaron, Moses' right-hand man, and demanded, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1 ESV). And Aaron had given in to their demand, created a golden calf and allowed the people to worship it, attributing to it the glory due to God alone. “And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4 ESV). When God had seen what they had done, He was less than pleased and had told Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV). God was going to destroy them. They had rebelled against Him, turning their back on Him and making for themselves false gods to replace the one true God. But the Scriptures tell us that “Moses implored the Lord his God” (Exodus 32:11 ESV). When he heard what God was going to do, Moses was grieved. The word “implored” does not adequately convey what was going on with Moses. The Hebrew word communicates with much more intensity. Moses was grieved to the point of sickness. The thought of God destroying the people of Israel literally made him sick to his stomach. He couldn't bear the thought.

Now it's important to remember that Moses and the people of Israel had had their fair share of issues since the time they had left Egypt. They had questioned his leadership over and over again. They had doubted his word, grumbled and complained, threatened to go back to Egypt and generally made his life miserable. But when he heard that God was going to destroy them, he was sickened at the thought. So he took his concern to God. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-14 ESV). Moses gave God four great reasons to show mercy. He appealed to the very nature and character of God. First, He reminded God that these were His people. Secondly, it was He who delivered them from Egypt with great power, redeeming them from captivity and promising them their own land in Canaan. Third, if God was to destroy them now, the Egyptians would have every reason in the world to mock God and question His integrity. Finally, Moses reminded God of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses knew God to be a covenant-keeping God.

As a result of Moses' prayer, the Scriptures say, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14 ESV). Now this raises all kinds of questions, not the least of which is whether or not our prayers can change the mind of God. Or to put it another way, can we alter the will of God with our prayers? God seems to have clearly indicated His plan to destroy the people of Israel for their actions. Moses interceded and God appears to have changed His mind. But on closer inspection, we see that God had told Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:10 ESV). This was God speaking to Moses. It was as if God said to Moses, “Get out of my way! Let me at them!” In essence, God was testing Moses' leadership characteristics. He was wanting to see what kind of a shepherd Moses really way. So He threatened to destroy those for whom Moses was responsible. And while Moses could have simply stepped aside and said, “Do what You want!”, he instead stepped up and intervened and interceded on their behalf. In fact, he told God that he would rather die than see the people destroyed. He was willing to give his life rather than see these rebellious, stubborn, stiff-necked people get what they deserved. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word that is often translated that God “repented” could also be translated that God was “comforted”. His anger was eased by the way in which Moses rose to the occasion. He stepped up. He interceded. He put his own life on the line in order to see the people of God spared.

In a way, I think this was far more a test for Moses than anything else. God was not surprised by the actions of the people. He was not caught off guard when He saw what they had done. But Moses was. He hadn't seen this one coming. And when he saw God's reaction, he suddenly realized just how serious the sin of the people really was. So he cried out to God on their behalf. He begged God to show mercy. He appealed to God's covenant-keeping nature. And God spared them. Moses learned a great deal that day. He learned just how sinful the people really were. He learned just how much God hated sin. And he also learned just how merciful God could be even when faced with open rebellion and the blatant rejection of His goodness and grace. But the most important lesson he learned was the value of godly leadership. He was responsible. He had a vital job to do and he did it. He was willing to die for the people God had given him to lead. It makes me wonder just how committed I am to the people under my care. Do I love the people of God enough to give my life for them? Am I willing to die in order to see God's people blessed by God? Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). My death can't save anyone, but my willing sacrifice of self is the greatest expression of my love for them. What would this world be like if we had more man and women with the attitude of Moses?

Prayer For Leadership.

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

Moses knew that his days were numbered. While had had been the one to lead the people of Israel from captivity all the way to the edge of the land of Canaan, God had told him that he would not be the one to take them into the land. It all went back to an event that had happened during their time of wandering in the wilderness. They had come to the wilderness of Zin. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam. When the arrived at Zin, they found no water, so the people did what they were so prone to do. They complained bitterly to Moses, questioning his leadership and wondering why they had ever allowed him to take them away from Egypt. Their complaining made Moses angry, but he and Aaron took the matter before the Lord, and God gave His answer. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). God was going to provide water for the people and their livestock – miraculously. But the Scriptures make it clear that Moses did not follow God's instructions carefully. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’  And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock” (Numbers 20:10-11 ESV). Rather than speak to the rock, Moses chose to strike it. He made it all about him. He let the people know just how angry he was and just how undeserving they were. He really did not believe that God was going to provide for them, which is why he sarcastically said to the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” We know that Moses did not believe it was going to happen because God immediately responded, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12 ESV).

As a result of his unbelief at the wilderness of Zin, Moses lost his right to lead the people into the Promised Land. And yet, as disappointed as he probably was, when the time came for the people to make their long-awaited entrance into the land, Moses prayed that God would provide them with a worthy leader. He knew the people of Israel well and recognized that they would be like sheep without a shepherd if God did not provide them with a capable leader. As much as he would have liked to have been that leader, he knew it was not to be the case. But rather than pout and have a pity party for himself, he prayed. While he had been constantly mistreated and disrespected by the people of Israel over the years, he loved and cared for them. He wanted the best for them. And he knew that godly leadership was one of their greatest needs. So he asked God to “appoint a man over the congregation.” He wanted this to be a man of God's choosing, not the peoples. He also knew that it would not do for some self-appointed leader to step to the fore and claim responsibility for the well-being of the people. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron had tried that once before and it had resulted in God striking Miriam with leprosy for her insubordination and presumption (Numbers 12). Moses understood that the only kind of leader that would work would be a God-appointed leader. He desperately wanted God to provide the people with someone who could lead well because he listened well to God. He longed for someone who had a relationship with God like he did. God had told Aaron and Miriam, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6-8 ESV). Moses knew what it was like to have God speak to him directly and clearly. He had even been given the privilege of seeing God's glory and living to tell about it. Moses was painfully aware that godly leadership was only possible with God's help. He had struggled in leading the people of Israel for over 40 years and, even with God's help, it had been difficult and, at times, impossible.

The people of God still need godly leadership. But how often do we pray for God to raise up men and women of His own choosing to lead His people? How many times have we prayed for God to appoint the right individual to lead the body of Christ and provide them with godly direction for the future? Moses knew that even God's people were prone to godliness without godly leadership. And if you study the history of the kings of Israel, you see this fact proven out time and time again. Ungodly kings repeatedly led the people to make ungodly decisions. Ultimately, godlessness if disbelief in God. Just as Moses struck the rock because he doubted God, so godless leaders tend to make decisions apart from God because they don't truly trust God to lead them. They take matters into their own hands. They rely on their own wisdom and strength. But God's people must be led by God and we must pray that God provides men and women who have a heart for God to provide leadership for His people.

God-Exalted Leadership.

Joshua 3-4, Acts 7

Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. ­– Joshua 3:7 ESV

Joshua was God's hand-picked replacement for Moses. But it was essential that the people see him as Moses' equal and not just some unqualified stand-in. Also, God knew that Joshua was going to need some reassurance that his role as leader had God's “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” So God let him know that He was going to “exalt” him in the sight of the people. He was going to elevate Joshua's stock in the minds of the people by giving clear and convincing evidence that he was indeed God's man for the job. It just so happened that the very time of the year that God had picked for the people to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan was the same time of year when the Jordan River overflowed its banks. This was not a coincidence or a circumstance that caught God off guard and unprepared. It was all part of His divine plan. Just when the people of Israel were going to have to cross over the Jordan, God made sure that the circumstances were as difficult and impossible as they could be. They had lost their esteemed leader, Moses. They were faced with the prospect of having to get over a flooded, rapidly flowing river. They were being led by an unproven, novice leader. In other words, the situation was just right for God to work. And He did. He instructed Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the waters of the Jordan and, when their feet touched the water, the river ceased to flow and left them standing on dry ground. The people were able to cross over the river and into the land of Canaan, safe and sound. God had exalted His new leader. He had proven to the people that Joshua was His man for the moment. “On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all that days of his life” (Joshua 4:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God confirms those whom He chooses to act on His behalf. Moses was given the ability to perform signs and wonders, confirming his position as God's spokesman and deliverer. David was given the ability to defeat Goliath, an adversary far greater in size and strength, and in doing so, revealed that God's hand was on him. The prophets spoke on behalf of God and their right to do so was confirmed by God's fulfillment of their prophecies. God exalts or lifts up those whom He chooses. He confirms those whom He calls. But it isn't always the way we might expect. Not every called one ends up working miracles or performing great signs and wonders. In the story of the early church, found in the book of Acts, we see the rise of Stephen to leadership. He had been recognized as a man of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV). He was full of grace and power. God elevated him to a position of leadership within the church and gave him the ability to speak truth boldly and without compromise. He was clearly God's man for the hour. Luke describes him as having a “face…like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15 ESV). And yet God chose to exalt Stephen in a way that most of us would find shocking and surprising. This man, whose life was marked by grace and power and who was filled with the Holy Spirit, was stoned to death by the hands of those with whom he attempted to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He was exalted in death. Jesus had warned the disciples that this was going to happen. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9 ESV). Stephen became the consummate leader that day. He gave his life for the cause of Christ and was exalted by God in his death. Again, Jesus had taught His disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 ESV). “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35 ESV). The truth is that God sometimes exalts His chosen leaders through suffering and even death. This was the case with Jesus. Paul writes, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9 ESV). Jesus was God's own Son, and yet He had been sent to suffer and die. He was the Chosen One, but His role was to be that of the suffering servant and sacrificial Lamb. His obedience “to the point of death” resulted in His exaltation.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a warped view of leadership. We have saddled the concept with misconceptions and misunderstandings, turning it into a self-centered and self-elevating notion surrounded with power, position, prominence and possessions. We see leadership as tied to authority and power. And in the world, all these things are true. But in God's economy, leadership is always about service, humility and sacrifice. Some of God's leaders, like David and Solomon, held positions of prominence and power. Others, like Stephen, found their tenure short-lived and marked by tragedy. Virtually all of the disciples would die in their service for the Kingdom. There is no doubt that they were chosen of God and served as leaders for the cause of Christ, but their leadership would be marked by suffering and death. There is something attractive to most of us about being a leader like Moses or Joshua. The idea of being God's instrument for accomplishing great signs and wonders is appealing. We all want to be used by God. We would all love for others to see the hand of God on our lives through the miraculous things He accomplishes through us. But what if God's exaltation of us involves our suffering and death? What if His calling on our lives is revealed through our suffering in this life? Prosperity, power and prominence are not necessarily the mark of God's hand on a man's life. Before David could become the king of Israel, he had to suffer for years, living as a fugitive in the wilderness with a bounty on his head. He lost his job, his wife, his mentor, his reputation – and yet he was God's chosen one. He had been anointed by God, but had to suffer on behalf of God. Joseph was God's hand-picked choice to provide a place for the descendants of Jacob to live in the land of Egypt during the time of famine. But Joseph had to suffer humiliation, slavery, false accusations, imprisonment and worse – all before he could experience the exaltation of God. His suffering was all part of God's divine plan. Stephen's death was all part of God's plan. It actually confirmed his calling by God. We don't understand it. We don't necessarily like it. But even in his death, Stephen revealed the hand of God on his life, calling out“Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 ESV). His life was a witness right up until he breathed his last breath.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I must constantly learn to see my role as one of God's chosen ones, not through the world's false concept of leadership. I must see that sometimes suffering is God's form of exaltation. He may call me to suffer on His behalf. He may choose me to walk a difficult path. My life may at time be marked by suffering and shame, but that does not mean I lack His hand on my life. It may be confirmation that He has chosen me for something great. He may be exalting me by making less of me. Paul reminds me, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). That prospect is not attractive to most of us. We would prefer to be Joshua; standing before the people, giving instructions, wielding power and authority, and acting as God's spokesman. But it may be that our leadership will be marked by suffering, insignificance, pain and even death. I want to be able to say as the apostle Paul did, “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). Whatever God calls me to, I want to honor His Son with my life – whether that means living it or losing it for Him.

Father, exalt my life however You see fit. Help me to see that suffering for You is just as much a form of leadership as accomplishing great things for You. Help me to see that as long as I am living my life in submission to Your will and dependent upon Your strength, I will be living a life worthy of my calling. Then I can leave the results up to You.  Amen

Real Men.

Philippians 2:19-30

I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. – Philippians 2:20-21 NLT

What does a real Christian look like? How do they behave? What are the characteristics of their life? In these verses, Paul gives a glimpse into the lives of two men who meant a great deal to him. They were his brothers in Christ and his fellow workers in the mission to which God had called him. Timothy and Epaphroditus, while not household names to most of us, were icons of spiritual virtue in Paul's mind. He couldn't have done what he did without them. And he commends both of them to the believers in Philippi as men whom they could not only trust, but emulate. Both were evidently young men, but that didn't stop Paul from praising their value and virtues as men of God.

Paul described Timothy as one of a kind, who showed genuine care for the people in Philippi. He didn't view his efforts on their behalf as work, but legitimately cared for their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Paul then describes what appears to be a consistent problem among leadership within the early church at that time. "All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:21 NLT). I don't think Paul is saying that there is no one else who cares, but that there is a prevailing presence of self-centeredness among many within the church, especially among the leadership. Sadly, It was a rare thing to find a believer who puts the interests of Christ before his own. Timothy was such a man. Timothy had served Paul well, and had become like a son to him. Paul even referred to Timothy as "my true son in the faith" (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He was a faithful, loving, reliable, godly young man who modeled Christ-likeness and ministered faithfully alongside Paul even at his darkest moments. He was a real man.

Paul describes Epaphroditus as "a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25 NLT). He had visited Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome, bringing a financial gift on behalf of the Philippian believers. Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to them because he was anxious to see his friends and fellow believers back home. And Epaphroditus wanted to put to rest any concerns over his physical well-being, because he had been ill, but had now fully recovered. Upon Epaphroditus' return home, Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to "welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve" (Philippians 2:29 NLT). Obviously, Paul thought highly of Epaphroditus. He had risked his life for the cause of Christ, having been close to death, all in order to serve Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul appreciated and valued men like Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knew that he could not accomplish the ministry without them. He was under house arrest, unable to travel, and restricted from ministering to the various churches he had helped plant around the world. He had to depend on faithful men like Timothy and Epaphroditus to be his hands, feet, eyes, and voice; delivering his messages and expressing his love for the body of Christ.

The church today needs men and women of character like Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is a shortage of reliable, faithful, loving and selfless individuals who put the needs of the body of Christ ahead of their own. Paul knew that men like Timothy were going to be constantly tempted to compromise their character, and the same thing is true in our day. So Paul warned this young man, "But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT). The church needs men and women like that today, who have that same attitude and focus. The church needs to raise up and recognize those kinds of leaders, men and women who are willing to risk their reputations, careers, comfort and even their lives for the cause of Christ. While men like Paul were vital to the church in those early days, the spread of the Gospel was dependent upon men like Timothy and Epaphroditus for its long-term survival and success. They were the faithful foot soldiers in the battle for the lives of men. And we need more like them today.

Father, raise up more men and women like Timothy and Epaphroditus today. Show us who they are. Help us to find those who have the selfless, sacrificial attitudes like those men had. Too often, we look for the wrong things in our leaders. Give us the insight that Paul had, so that we might recognize those men and women who have the true heart of a leader – like that of Christ Himself. Amen.