You are not the loyal servant, Dear Missionary.
Hello again from sunny California! For those who don't know, we have been fundraising since September 2019 in order to start our second phase of ministry. Mark has been called as one of the pastors of Kaihin Makuhari Megumi Church and has been approved as a new MTW Team Leader. Please see this brochure for an overview of what we hope to do. Here also is a brief 5 minute video. 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? Last newsletter, I started sharing the first half of my sermon on 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath) that tries to reflect on our dysfunctional relationship with power. This issue, I have included the second half that focuses on how we should think about power and how we should respond to it. The passage's message on power was great preparation for my soul as we embark into our new ministry.
...But, is the point of the story[of David and Goliath] that we are supposed to be more obedient and faithful? Yes, to a certain degree. BUT if you look closer, it’s a different story. This leads me to the second questions: who is this about? The story is about the people’s failure to be faithful, and the people’s need for a King, a champion, to fight on their behalf. I think this really depicts the nature of what faith is. I think everybody can identify the main characters of this story—David, Saul, Goliath, and the people of Israel. But let me ask you this: who should we identify as in the story? Are we David? Are we Saul? Are we Goliath? Yes, those three are possibilities, but if this book was read by the people of Israel—it would be very natural for the people of Israel to be… the people of Israel. It’s not rocket science. ...So in Ancient Near Eastern culture, champion warfare—this one on one battle between representatives of two armies—was not uncommon. And it was not odd, for a king to send out a champion rather than going himself... Look at verses 12-16. Three of David’s brothers and many able Israelites are in the army, obviously. But not one of them raise their hand to fight for Israel. Later, we learn that there’s even a pretty good reward: lots of money, marrying Saul’s daughter and becoming part of the royal family, and being free of taxes for life. But then again, there are no sign ups. But its pretty amazing how stubbornly unfaithful the people of Israel are. Goliath blasphemes the name of the LORD and declares war on the kingdom of God, but the people of God do NOTHING for 40 days straight. 40 out of 40 times, Israel chooses NOT to fight Goliath. They betray God by watching Goliath blaspheme him for forty days straight. So I want to emphasize here that the point of the book of Samuel and actually the book of Kings, the book of Chronicles, and the entire Old Testament is NOT—Go fight and prove your loyalty to God… The point of the entire Old Testament is this: even if you had five chances, forty chances, one hundred chances, one million chances to prove your loyalty to God over the Goliaths of this world, you will CHOOSE to not fight. And that is why your salvation from Goliath CANNOT be contingent on how you fight. You shouldn’t trust yourself! It needs to depend on a champion who will fight for them. However, in champion warfare, if no one raises their hand, it was expected that the King—the greatest warrior of the people—would fight on behalf of his army. This is where Israel looks to their champion to be the faithful and courageous servant of YHWH for them. And if the entire army of Israel refused to fight for YHWH, this faith and courageous servant would be the human King of Israel—the Anointed King of God, whom YHWH selected himself. If you actually look at the broader of the Bible, this is really what Christianity about: Because everyone fails to be obedient, faithful, and loyal, we need someone else to be obedient, faithful, loyal. This is the essence of Christian faith. Christian faith is NOT about our fight for God, but it’s about the people of God WATCHING the champion fight Goliath for them. This is the essential difference between how other religions see faith, and how Christianity sees faith. Other religions say you must FIGHT your Goliaths, but the Christian religion says, you must WATCH your champion fight for you... But there are some very practical people who may think: “Wait. Are you telling me to forego my own power, influence, and wealth to follow some random champion? If I don’t have a powerful champion to fight, then I can’t protect anyone: my family, my friends, or even myself. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” And yes, I absolutely agree. That moves us to the third question: What’s this story about? The Christian faith is not about merely foregoing our power. This story and the Christian faith is about picking and trusting the most powerful champion. And the most powerful champion is NOT a champion who fights with the power of this world, but with the LORD’s weapon of choice--obedience and faithfulness. This story presents two potential champions: Saul and David. And basically, Saul and David represents two different ways to serve and fight for God. First, we see Saul. His approach is obey God if and only if you have the worldly power to do so. I am absolutely sure that Saul had good intentions. I am also sure that Saul loved God and wanted to be a faithful Israelite; however, this does not change one fact. Even if Israel refused for 40 days to fight for the LORD, the appointed King, the greatest warrior of Israel REFUSED to fight for YHWH, despite the fact that Goliath was mocking the name of YHWH in front of his face. Why? I think Saul just said to himself. “I know I have direct orders from King YHWH himself to slay this Goliath. I am not strong enough, smart enough, or “anything”-enough to obey God. I will not obey. I will obey when I am powerful enough.” And that is why he waits for 40 days. It sounds humble. It sounds calculated and strategic. However, it is his obsession with power that deters him and ultimately drives to him to disobey God and betray him. Do you see yourself here? I certainly do. And this obsession with power drives Saul to STOP David from fighting Goliath. Why? Because David does not have any power. “You are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” Saul says—David, you do not have the proper experience, education, training or anything really, while Goliath was raised to be the ultimate killing machine. So David, because you are not powerful, you are not “qualified” to serve God—that’s why I’m not fighting. That’s why Saul allows David to go, only if David uses his armor and a sword. Again, symbols of power. Again, Saul’s mantra is this: Obey God, if and only if you have the power to do so. It sounds good, but a complete betrayal of God’s power. It basically says—the power of God doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, it’s my power that counts. But David’s approach is the completely opposite. He says: Obey God, regardless of how little or how much power you have. Why? The power I have does not matter, at the end of the day, it’s the power of the King that counts. When David goes to the front lines on his father’s orders to greet his brothers and deliver some food for their commander, by mere coincidence, he hears Goliath for the first time. And when he hears Goliath blaspheming the name of Christ, David is furious and he immediately volunteers to be the champion of Israel. David was not concerned about Goliath’s height, armor, scimitar, spear, or giant shield—he could not care less about any form of power. His question in verse 26 encapsulates his priorities: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David was solely concerned about the honor and glory of His King and says: “WHY is this idolater stepping foot on the holy Promised Land of God? WHO does he think he is waving his scimitar against the Holy Holy Holy One??” David was a faithful, loyal servant. THIS was the response that King YHWH was looking for these past 40 days. And I want you to hear how David responds to Saul’s point about his lack of power: “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.”” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV) David looked back on his life and said: my victories in the past was never really about my power or the lack of it. It was about whether the LORD was there or not. If the LORD says he will be with me, I will obey—is what David thought. He knew that obedience to the LORD with a slingshot and five stones was more powerful than swinging a giant sword in a coat of armor in complete disobedience. And of course, power-obsessed and power-hungry Goliath and the world laughs at David. I love Goliath’s line: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”(1 Samuel 17:43 ESV) Goliath is offended that Israel sends probably the weakest kid they have. He believes worldly power should be met with more worldly power—not obedience to YHWH. But he does not realize, in God’s economy, in God’s army, he is the mightiest warrior. That is why David responds: “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel ,and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.” (1 Samuel 17:46–47 ESV) And the forty long and grueling days of Goliath’s taunting, literally ends in three seconds. 48 long verses comes to an abrupt halt in one single verse. A single pebble of the LORD topples the towering epitome of the power of the world. And actually, after this, David becomes the King of Israel and goes to follow God and destroy any enemy of God in the Promised Land. And because of David’s faithfulness, God chooses to be with Israel. This is God’s faithful and loyal champion. And Israel sent this champion to stave off the judgment of God so that they continue to be the people of God. David’s victory is given to the entire people of God. Because David is faithful and loyal, God deems the entire people faithful and loyal—despite their unfaithfulness and betrayal. But that is not the end of the story. David is just a trailer to the ultimate faithful, and loyal servant, Jesus Christ. He is the champion who fights on our behalf. But who does he fight? Because at the end of the day, our greatest enemy is death itself. God in judgment says this: “You have not acted like a grateful servant to me. And because of this, I will send Death to you and I will disown you.” Death is the powerful Goliath that overshadows everything we’ve done: whatever career you have, whatever family life you have, whatever achievements you have, we cannot defeat Death and Death destroys us all. Do you think you can defeat Death? And do you know what Jesus did? He like David, did not hesitate to fight on behalf of his people. And He did not fight with sword or spear, but he fought with merely his obedience to the LORD. He declared to the world that he would defeat sin, death, and Satan himself by merely obeying God, hang as a naked body on a plank of wood, and die as Philistines—or Gentiles or idolaters—mocked him. People thought it was a complete joke. They mocked him like Goliath did. The 12 disciples deserted him on the Cross. But the ultimate King David, Jesus Christ, still charged towards death, sin, and Satan with nothing in his hands—not even a sling shot and five stones—just two nails drilled in his hands. And what happened? He was resurrected on the third day—chopping off the head of death, sin, and Satan himself… declaring to the world, the battle is the LORD’s and God has given everything to his obedient champion, Jesus Christ. In light of this, God gives us two choices. The first choice is this: use our own power to fight off Death and the judgment of God. And this is exactly what Saul did in the David and Goliath story. Despite the fact that he found the perfect champion—Saul asks his servant “Abner, whose son is this youth?” Which basically means, “Is this David part of some royal family? Is he going take away my royal throne and power?” Saul wanted to continue to be the King and fight as the champion of the people of Israel. He wanted to continue to fight on his own. Obey God but using his own power—this is not faith. The antithesis of faith is choosing yourself as the champion. That will lead to complete failure. The other choice is how Jonathan reacted to David. Jonathan was actually the son of Saul. He was next in line to the throne. He was the next champion, the next king after Saul. But when he saw David, the champion of God, what did he do? If you look at 18:4-5, Jonathan gives ups everything, gives up his right to the throne, and recognizes and acknowledges David as his King—the champion who will fight for him. God is calling us to not be like David—that’s actually what Saul tried to do. God is calling us to be like Jonathan to give our power to Jesus Christ and watch him fight for us. May we watch our glorious King, the faithful and loyal servant fight for us, so that we may be saved from the judgment of God and continue to be his beloved people.