Selfish Ambition Is Demonic, Dear Missionary.
Since I (Mark) was planning to be assessed as a Team Leader, the sin of 'power' has been something I have been thinking about more. Although the sin of being "power-hungry" or "authoritative" is as toxic and destructive as sexual immorality in a leader, too often this sin in Christian leaders is left unchecked, unaddressed, and/or accepted/tolerated. I've been thinking: why are Christian leaders (including myself) so adamant to protect themselves from sexual immorality but freely flirt with their lust for power? Do we truly believe that a "selfish ambition" is demonic? (James 3:13-18 has been a passage that has been stimulating my thinking here) In the next couple newsletters, I will be sharing excerpts of my sermon on 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath) that tries to reflect on our dysfunctional relationship with power. The below sermon was preached at a high school retreat where I preached 5 evangelistic sermons from the OT and pretended that they were non-Christian Japanese students. The principle was: "You can't teach basketball (or Evangelism) by teaching the best trajectory for a 3-point shot (or the intricacies of evangelizing). You have to show it to them." However, I could have just air balled all 5 sermons. Who knows?
Power. I'd guess that not many people would characterize themselves as "power-hungry." We imagine corrupt politicians, ruthless multinational companies doing all for the sake of money, and evil villains wanting to take over the world. Those are the power-hungry people--not me! But I will venture to guess, you may not want to be the Ruler of the World, but you want shiny, glittery, power and you are incredibly fearful of it. You know why I know that? Because I'm talking about myself. From a very young age, I structured my entire life in order to get closer to the source of power and figuring out how NOT to be crushed by it. I pursued education because more degrees for prestigious schools allows me to wield power and influence, while I am greatly intimidated of someone with a Ph.D. from Harvard or Princeton. I pursued a certain job because it gives me financial security and social status, while I am intimidated by those who are successful and have an impressive resume. I dress, talk, and act in a certain way in order that more people like me, listen to me, follow me and I can cash in favors, while I am intimidated by those who have charisma, who are incredibly eloquent and know and have the ear of powerful and influential people. But let me say, there is nothing wrong with wanting power and being intimidated by it. Power is a good thing and you need it to survive, live, and enjoy life. We need to recognize that. However, does your hunger for power or fear of power betray your most important loyalties? In the interest of being closer to power or being intimidated by it, have you ever ignored, disregarded, hurt, or betrayed a loved one before? In the interest of being closer to power or being intimidated by it, have you ever compromised some principle/moral you hold dearly, or disregarded the greater good? In the interest of being closer to power or being intimidated by it, have you ever ignored or betrayed God before? The David and Goliath story is a story about a lot of things… I think it speaks to our relationship with power and the search for true loyalty. It teaches us that, at the expense of power, we have failed to be loyal to the thing we must be loyal to the most--God himself. Therefore, we do not deserve to be in a relationship with God or anyone for that matter. In order to be in a relationship with God, that is why we must look outside of our self and put our faith in the perfectly loyal anointed servant, Jesus Christ, who fights on our behalf. Let me unpack this famous story through three questions: 1) Why is Israel in war? 2) Who is this about? 3) What is this about? Why is Israel in war?
Israel is in war because God is judging them. Israel was supposed to prove their loyalty to their King, the God of the Bible, King YHWH, but God sends the Philistines to judge them but to give them one last chance to prove their loyalty. This point is longer than the other two and I want to focus on us and our problem. When this scene starts in verses 1-3, we can imagine two armies lined up at battle, the Philistine army on one mountain side and the Israelite army on the other mountain side. But why are these armies are fighting? We all know the David and Goliath story, but do you know what this is about? ...The invasion of Philistine was an act of judgment on God’s part—he was going to disown this unfaithful people. Why? Because the people of Israel have been unfaithful to their Savior, their King, and their God. God sends the Philistines to invade various cities and they are coming closer and closer to their capital. And basically, King YHWH says this, “This is your last chance. If you do not obey me and if you do not prove yourself as my faithful, courageous servant, I will let these Philistines invade and consume you. You will no longer be my people.” Basically, Israel’s war with the Philistines was not about winning some territory or protecting the Capital. It was God’s judgment and his final test to Israel to see if they were faithful and loyal servants of King YHWH. But we see that the Israelites continue to be unfaithful. But why? And I think this little scene with the speech by Goliath really encapsulates the reason why they were so quick to betray their loyalties. As the two armies stare each other down, Goliath, the Philistine Champion, breaks the deafening silence. And he shouts to Israel, saying, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul?” What he’s saying is this: Are you not the servants of the King of Saul who represents the Kingdom of YHWH? I am an idolater, an enemy of King YHWH, and an invader of your Promised Land. You have come to line up in front of us… but have you just come to stare at us, or are you actually going to fight us??? Are you not going to eradicate an enemy from your beloved God’s kingdom?? And let’s make this simple—one on one battle with me. Winner takes all." If there is a moment for Israel to prove that they were faithful and loyal to King YHWH and earn the right to stay in the Promised Land, THIS WAS IT. But what happens after this declaration of war? Crickets. No one stands up to the Philistines. In verse 11, it says “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Why? Because Goliath was the epitome of power: Goliath was nine feet, nine inches tall. Goliath was the ANE version of the Terminator, dressed in basically metal from head to toe. He had the most powerful and up to date military technology: bronze helmet, 126 pound bronze mail, bronze leg armor, a bronze scimitar to chop off heads, an iron spear that he could throw at oncoming enemies, and a huge rectangular shield which was held by shield bearer—basically moving bunker for Goliath to hide behind. I think the answer why the Israelites were so prone to betray God is because of their relationship with power: they were controlled by their pursuit of power. The Israelites were attracted and desperate for power. Not only that, they were intimidated by the power of this world and did not declare war against it. They wanted to worship other gods because their next door neighbors had shiny glittery idols, high and majestic temples, happy and rich people. They said… hmmm… if I want to be happy and rich like them… I guess I should worship their gods too. They didn’t want to kick out the other kingdoms because they saw their powerful chariots and military technology, high and intimidating walls, and their superiority in politics and wealth. Even if they knew they were the servants of King YHWH, even if they knew this King YHWH drowned the elite Egyptian army in the sea, even if they knew that King YHWH destroyed the tall walls of Jericho as if they were pieces of paper, even if they knew about the fiery glory cloud of YHWH that consumed anything in its way, they said: “I don’t have the kind of power that Goliath has and I will be crushed by it. I don’t care who God is. I’d rather betray God rather than be crushed by Goliath.” And because of this deep disloyalty, unfaithfulness, and cowardice, they are not worthy to be the people of God. If you were their King, would you keep them in your Kingdom? But you and I know that, if we are honest, we are just like the Israelites. Do you have moments like this? When you know what is the right, good, and true thing, but because there’s something that looks more powerful or you’re intimidated by power, you say, act, or behave in a way that totally works against what you care about? I certainly do... It is those moments where we show our true colors—we are cowards. We betray the people, the principles, and the highest authority we care about most because we care more about shiny, glittery power than the people we love, the principles we hold dearly, and the authorities we respect. Whether we admit it or not, we are spineless mercenaries for power, willing to switch sides at any whim, to whoever who can offer us the most power—whether that means education, status, money, influence, reputation, fame, comfort… Its power over our loyalties. And as cowardly traitors, do you see that we have the same problem as the Israelites. But if we do, do you think we DESERVE to have a relationship with the people who love us and the God we revere? If we do not properly show obedience and thankfulness to the God or faithfulness to those we profess love to, they have every right to say: “Mark, you have not been a faithful or loyal. You are not worthy of my love or my time. I will not consider you special to me.” And if its our King or God, he has every right to punish us for our disloyalty. This is not just about Israel’s dysfunctional relationship with power and how it’s destroying their relationship with God. Actually, it’s about our dysfunctional relationship with power and how it's destroying our relationship with God. Because of our neglect of God for the powerful people in front of us, we are not welcome into the Kingdom of God—heaven itself...