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August 11, 2016
The Damage When the Bible is No Longer About God
By Anthony Wade
A biblical look at how bad preaching hurts real people...
Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Hebrews 3: 5-6 (ESV)
I want to encourage you today. I want to take you on a journey back to the Valley of Elah. Picture yourself standing there. The Israelite armies and the Philistine armies have aligned themselves on either side of the valley. Every day the Philistines send out their greatest warrior, Goliath of Gath. He is a giant. Some say nine to ten feet tall. He is a natural warrior and armed to hilt. He taunts the men of Israel who cower in fear of this giant standing before them and mocking them. They fear for their very lives and refuse to come out to fight him. Along comes a young shepherd boy named David. He was the last to be considered in his family with seven older brothers. He was only there to deliver bread and cheese to the "fighting men", which included his brothers. But how many know that God uses what we overlook, amen?
Hallelujah! We all have a goliath standing in our way at some point in our lives. Something that looks so overwhelmingly large that we cower in fear of it. We dare not go out to fight it. It is intimidating. It is overshadowing. It taunts us. It mocks us. Maybe our goliath is that boss at work we just cannot seem to get a break from. Maybe it is some unforgiveness in our marriage. Perhaps it is our own sense of insignificance in a world that seems as large as a giant in our valley. But God is telling us here that we need to be brave like David. We need to not consider how the world looks at us but rather how God looks at us. You and God are always a majority! The Bible says David taunted Goliath right back and told him he would cut off his head. We need to be bold like David! We need to pick up the smooth stone of our faith and stand up to that bully! Turn to your neighbor and say, "I got a smooth stone of faith!" Amen?
No beloved. No amen. What you just read is what passes for preaching these days in the vast majority of purpose driven churches across this country. In case you are not aware, we are not standing in the Valley of Elah. There is no goliath standing before us. The Bible is not about us. It is about Jesus Christ. It is not a self-help guide to improving our mortal existence but rather a grand story about God and how He has provided us with a gift to overcome this mortal existence. When we preach like above we cheapen that message and we miss the entire point. I pray we understand today that God did not write the Bible so we could feel more significant. He did not write it so we can have a better marriage. He did not write it so we can glean life lesson applications each week about ourselves and our lives. He wrote it so we would understand our desperate need for a Savior and how we can rely upon Him. By doing so we will end up with a better marriage by default. We will feel more significant because we carry the Gospel message to the lost. We will be able to more readily deal with the things that arise in our life. The difference is we do these things through Christ. He carries the burden because His yoke is easy. When we preach like the above and make the Bible about us then we might learn a helpful life lesson but it will be entirely upon us to maintain it because we got there without Christ.
Secondly, let us not lose sight of the fact that God had a reason for what He wrote. Shouldn't we want to hear what sayeth the Lord as opposed to what sayeth Pastor Bob? I am sure Bob has a lot of human wisdom and great speech-craft but I would rather hear what God is saying. And He is speaking loudly through the story of David and Goliath. This is a story about Jesus Christ. What do you mean preacher? Jesus is not mentioned. Oh but He is! You have to be looking for Him of course. You have to realize that this entire book is about Him. The story about David and Goliath provides what is known as a "type" of Christ. Let us start with the basics. We are not David in this story. If we are anyone, we are the cowering Israelites. Let that sink in for a moment. So who is David? Well we know that by this point he has been anointed by Samuel. He is the anointed one of God. Hmm"guess what the term Christ means? The anointed one. By the way, it is not merely ironic that in all of the false teachings on this story man keeps trying to say he is David. Think about that for a moment. What is the oldest sin? Wanting to be God. It was why Lucifer was thrown out of heaven. It was what Eve desired when she bit the fruit. What does nearly every false theology teach? That we are or can be God. Word faith heretics believe we are little gods. Mormonism believes we become God. Joseph Prince's antinomianism tries to eliminate sin, which only God can do. Even the false signs and lying wonders movement trumps up the ordinary into the supernatural. So it is no wonder that when narcissistic preachers try to make the story of David and Goliath relevant to the goats that are listening, they cast them as David. What better way to encourage them to come back then to tell them a story where they are God? Still not convinced that David is the Christ?
For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening. -- 1Samuel 17: 16 (ESV)
So for forty days and nights the enemy of God's people presents himself in the wilderness. Sound familiar? After Jesus Christ is baptized and anointed by the spirit He too enters the desert and for forty days and nights is challenged by the enemy. How does David defeat the giant? He crushes his head; a referent back to the first prophecy in the Bible in Genesis. So what is God trying to show us and say to us in this story beloved? First of all, once we recognize ourselves as the cowering Philistines the story forces us to realize that we cannot fight our enemies on our own. Just the mere backdrop of this story reinforces the need for a Savior. A champion. It reinforces the need we all have for Jesus Christ. By the way, we are supposed to be the ones taking hit. In this story the fighting men are cowering and the shepherd (yet another referent) is the one that steps in on their behalf. In terms of salvation, Jesus Christ, the shepherd, steps in and takes what we were supposed to get. Our punishment is upon Him. Then we come to the point about bravery. Many preachers exposit this as a call for believers to be brave and bold when facing their giants. Once again the emphasis there is on the individual instead of God. But is David really displaying bravery in this story or faith?
And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against the Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth and he has been a man of war from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep the sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took the lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God." And David said, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you!" -- 1Samuel 17: 33-37 (ESV)
Let us first deal with the obvious referents in the text. David, being a type of Christ in this picture is a servant keeping the sheep of his father. He has protected the father's sheep from those that would do them harm. He pursued the enemy to get back even one sheep that was taken, hearkening to the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Now, do not get me wrong, what David did in carnal terms is considered brave by the world. No question about it. But this bravery was born out of faith beloved. Not bravery in who he was but faith in who God was. His faith informs him that this giant is only so in appearance. Nothing can stand against God. It is not that you and God are a majority but that God is the majority. With or without us! It is important here to note that David refers to Goliath as this "uncircumcised Philistine." Why does David so describe him? Well, circumcision was the covenant God made with His people! David knew two very important facts that day in the Valley of Elah. He was under covenant with God and this uncircumcised Philistine was not. In the natural none of this made any sense. The cowering men must have thought David was a fool and would be slaughtered. Even the cowering king Saul tries to talk him out of it and explains that within human reasoning, this cannot be done. Does David refer to any human reasoning when explaining why it will work? No he does not. Everything is couched in what God can do.
Why is this important? Because the false preaching sample I opened this devotional with misses all of this. It promotes self-reliance instead of God reliance. When we are David, we are saying we are God. The problem is we are not God and when we march out to meet our Goliath we will be slaughtered in the natural. That is why we need Christ. Relying upon ourselves for salvation means we will spend eternity in hell. Relying upon God however means we are saved, as David saved the men of Israel that day in the valley. Trying to make the Bible relevant to our daily lives is not why God provides the Bible. Turning Goliath of Gath into a difficult boss or some existential search for significance cheapens the work of Christ by removing Him from the story. If we are found increasingly in Christ then we will know how to deal with our difficult boss. We will realize that our role on this earth is not our own satisfaction but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a faithful servant means we represent Christ when we face our difficult bosses. The same goes with the concept of significance. By teaching some form of earthly significance we miss the larger picture. Our significance is found in our position in Jesus Christ not our condition in this world. Consider some of the most significant people in human history. What is their eternal significance? Alexander the Great had conquered the entire known world in his lifetime. There was no one with more significance during that time. Yet his life was required of him when he was only 32 years old. His entire significance lasted 12 years while he lived and while certainly the effects of his life carried beyond his mortality, he is but a footnote in history at this point. This is the disservice preachers do every week by not preaching the Bible as God intended it to be preached. By gleaning life lessons from it that make this existence a sliver more palatable, they ignore the true Gospel message. For the saved, it means starving the sheep, who need the true Word of God in order to grow into Christ-likeness. For the unsaved, it means closing the doors to the kingdom of heaven in their faces:
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across the land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. -- Matthew 23: 13-15 (ESV)
This was part of the seven pronouncements of judgments Jesus made against the false teachers of His days. We see the same thing today. Most mega-church heretics are not satisfied to simply corrupt their own backyard. They outreach and provide faux-evangelistic efforts to spread their false doctrine as far and as wide as they can. Due to the spreading of American leaven-Christianity, Africa now boasts five of the top ten richest pastors despite it remaining one of the poorest continents. Jesus warns us that many will stand before Him on the last day and say "Lord Lord"; only to discover that He never knew them. Think about the sadness of that warning for a moment. People who are well churched will come to realize they bought a poisoned bill of goods from their pastor. Sure they felt more relevant and maybe even significant. Sure they may have dodged that bad boss problem at work or improved their marriage but they never knew Jesus Christ. Why? Because their pastor told them they were God in the Valley of Elah. You must understand that this is only one example. We can all survive one bad sermon or one bad exposition. The problem is that this is what we are fed every single week in nearly every church across America.
We are taught that the story of Joseph is about going from the prison to the palace overnight or the importance of not showing favoritism in familial structures. I guess they think that is much better than explaining how the betrayal of Joseph led to the saving of many lives as the betrayal of Christ led to the salvation of many lives. Or that we have to learn to sacrifice what is dearest to us from the story of Isaac instead of focusing on the fact that God provided the sacrifice to save Isaac, as He provides Christ to save the world. Or Abraham. Or Jacob. Or Joshua. Or the three Hebrew Boys. Or Daniel and the Lion's den. All pointing to Jesus because the Bible is about Him, not us. Instead it will be preached that God will shut the mouths of those who seek to devour you too! How hot is your fiery furnace today? Ugh. Consider the key verses today from the Book of Hebrews. Moses was faithful as a servant to testify to things that were yet to be spoken. Christ is faithful over God's house if indeed we hold fast to our confidence and our boasting in hope. Well what does that mean? Moses played a crucial role in biblical history yet his faithfulness is in the fact that he only points to Christ. His story points to Christ. Our boasting in hope is always found in Christ Jesus. Not in clever sermon series designed to scratch itching ears and make people feel better about their temporal lives. Moses points to Christ as does David. As does Jacob. As does Isaac. As does the entire Bible. That is why we are not supposed to deviate from it. We are not supposed to add to it or take away from it. Most preaching today is nothing more than proof texting. The pastor-vision-casting dude decides he wants to spend four weeks preaching on community. He then turns to the Bible to find any texts that he feels proves the conclusions he has already reached. Many churches this summer have engaged in movie themed sermon series.' This is where they glean life lessons from a popular, secular movie and then throw some Bible verses in to try and give it an odor of piety. This is not how you handle the Word of Truth. When you pre-decide then you are shutting God out. You no longer care what He might want to say. The Gospel is discarded for feel-good messages that cannot save a single person. Only the Gospel has the power of God unto the salvation of men. It alone can save people from hell. The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ and His Gospel and we sit through sermons about how we can be just as bold as Peter on the day of Pentecost or have the "Joseph anointing." That last one is an actual thing that was preached once. A Joseph anointing. Like I want an anointing that will throw me in prison for 10 years for something I did not do after being sold into slavery by my brothers and accused of sexual assault for doing the right thing. The church has simply become experts in missing the point. Let us conclude today with two of my favorite quotes:
"I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it." -- Charles Spurgeon
"Any sermon that cannot be brought back to the cross is not worth preaching." -- Pastor Russ
For the uninformed, Pastor Russ is the man I consider my pastor. He said this to me one evening during a conversation we were having on sermons. It was so profound to me that it has stayed with me all these years later. The Spurgeon quote is in the same vein. Every text in the Bible leads to Jesus Christ. Every one. If you think you have found one that has not, either do not preach on it or build a bridge to the cross. If your representation of the Gospel results in one person being saved there is rejoicing in heaven and you have just become more significant than Alexander the Great. It must have been a sight to see on that day in the Valley of Elah. To see this shepherd boy take down the 10 foot giant but what he was pointing to was of far more astonishment and value. Pointing thousands of years in the future to that day on Golgotha when the unassuming carpenter's son was crucified for our sins. David's story is great but Jesus' can save you! David's story was inspiring but Jesus' can raise you from the grave! Keep your temporal sermons about how great I am. Give me that Gospel that David is pointing to that assures me how great God is. Do not be sold short again beloved. Do not sit for sermons and teachings that point to the sufficiency of man. We are not David winding that slingshot up. We are the cowering Israelite, desperately needing someone to save us.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- August 11, 2016