There comes a time in the life of any Christian leader when he has to decide just who he will serve. Will he go the easy way, or the way that God directs? Will he seek to please men or please God? Will he just offer a pleasant word or faithfully deliver a prophetic word? Will he seek to make peace at any price, or will he be willing to disturb the peace when necessary?
The temptation will always be to go the route of the former in these situations instead of the latter. The temptation to please men, to not rock the boat, to curry the favour of the masses, will always be there. But the real man of God will not take that path. The real leader knows that to serve and obey God often means to displease and anger men.
Scripture is full of examples of this. My daily reading will suffice as an illustration here. Consider the life of King Ahab, and the two hardcore prophets he and his family had to keep dealing with: Elijah and Elisha. Ahab was one of the worst kings ever to sit on the throne and rule over Israel.
We are first introduced to him in 1 Kings 16:29 (a few verses later we are introduced to Elijah: 17:1). His evil 22 year rule was in no little part due to his wicked wife Jezebel. He allowed her to push her idolatrous beliefs and practices on the nation.
Ahab and Elijah have a continual run-in with each other. They never exactly get along. At one encounter the king said of the prophet, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah could easily have tried to be a men-pleaser and a king-pleaser, but he instead insisted on being a God-pleaser.
And for that he paid a very big price, including having to flee for his life. But he prophesied to the king that his days were numbered, and that he, his wife, and his offspring would face the wrath of the living God (1 Kings 21:20-24). In 1 Kings 22 we read about the death of King Ahab, and in 2 Kings 9 we read of Jezebel’s demise.
But his descendents were just as bad – indeed, every king in the northern kingdom (Israel) did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So we read about how Elisha, the successor to Elijah, continues in these hostilities with the kings following Ahab.
In 2 Kings 9 we read of king Jehu, and how he kills his two predecessors. Two incidents here are worth mentioning. Notice how Elisha is considered in the same light as Elijah was. In 2 Kings 9:11 we read: “When Jehu went out to his fellow officers, one of them asked him, ‘Is everything all right? Why did this maniac come to you?’ ‘You know the man and the sort of things he says,’ Jehu replied.”
Here the prophet of God, Elisha, is called a “madman”. That always seems to be the response of those who do not know or obey God. They see prophets as troublers, or maniacs, or madmen. And things are no different today. When a true leader of God stands up and proclaims the word of God, he too will receive similar treatment. People will think he is a nutter or troublemaker.
They will argue, ‘but we must learn how to get along and be nice to each other’. They will think that peace at any price is the most important thing. But that leads to the second observation I wish to make here. Even though King Jehu was evil and rebuked by Yahweh (2 Kings 10:31), he did fulfil the prophecy of Elijah.
He killed the sons of Ahab (Ahaziah and Jehoram – or Joram) and had his family and the Baalist put to death (2 Kings 10). One verse worth noting here is 9:22: “When Joram saw Jehu he asked, ‘Have you come in peace, Jehu?’ ‘How can there be peace,’ Jehu replied, ‘as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?’”
Here he has the right attitude. When the kingdom is full of idolatry and sin, there can be no peace. So at least in this regard he did fulfil the Lord’s will (see 2 Kings 10:30). Peace at any price is never an option. When evil and corruption reign, action must be taken.
Indeed, it has been a hallmark of false prophets to shout “peace” when God declares the very opposite. The false prophets wanted to pretend everything was just fine, when Yahweh thought just the reverse. Jeremiah for example had to face this time and time again.
A classic text is Jer. 6:13,14: “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”
So it is today as well. How many pastors and leaders tell their people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear? How many churches are mushrooming in size because the leaders are “greedy for gain” and ignore the spiritual ruin of God’s people.
Instead of properly dealing with the sin and carnality, they deal with the wound of “my people slightly”. They certainly don’t want to give a hard word – people might leave. They certainly don’t want to focus on sin and the need for holiness – people might get upset. They certainly don’t want to rock the boat – the money might start to dry up.
Just hours ago I came across a helpful quote from R. C. Sproul: “All of us want to make a difference for the kingdom. And all of us, not just pastors of churches, are tempted to measure that difference by counting noses. The ease of such accounting is likewise in inverse proportion to its usefulness. We should not be counting noses, but courting hearts. We should be hoping and praying that God would use us to change fewer lives more, rather than more lives hardly at all.”
Yet I am aware of hardly any churches that take this approach. Almost all are into “getting the numbers”. Almost all think that as long as they keep building bigger auditoriums, God must be blessing it all. Mere numerical growth seems to be an end in itself.
And one can guarantee that the numbers will keep climbing: simply give the masses just what they want to hear. Never give them the hard demands of the gospel. Never talk about denying self, crucifying the flesh, and sacrificially following the Master.
Never talk about the holiness of God, the horrors of sin, and wrath to come. Instead, say soothing words which gloss over their real spiritual condition. Pretend that everything is just fine, and God is just peachy keen with our spiritual condition. In fact, tell them that God basically exists to serve them, to pamper them, to meet their needs, and to please them.
As long as we turn the gospel inside out, we will always draw a crowd. It is peace at any price. But it is a false and deadly peace. The false shepherds will have to give an account for leading their flocks astray. Even the evil ruler Jehu could get it right here: “How can there be peace as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?”
Yet some will protest: “We don’t have witchcraft in our churches!” But they ignore 1 Samuel 15:23: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. Our churches are full of rebellion, selfishness, carnality and compromise. The first order of the day for most churches should be repentance.
Instead we offer a false peace and a false sense of security. Peter reminds us that judgment must first begin in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). We had better get our houses in order soon. And we need God-fearing leaders to bring this about. As Tozer reminds us, “We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.”