By Webb Harris, Jr.
Whenever I find myself facing situations within the church of our Lord that are less than ideal, I find myself wishing that the 20th century church had the maturity of the 1st century church. Oh, for her zeal, her love, her demeanor! And after I dream for a while, my mind returns from its fantasies to the firm world of reality; to the truth that the church of Paul’s day indeed had its Philadelphia’s and Smyrna’s, but also its Laodicea’s and Corinth’s.
There is much to be learned from the blessed record of faithful service on the part of early saints like Peter and Paul and those who comprised congregations like that in Philippi. Inspired exhortations to perfect love and obedience motivate and move us, as well. On the other hand, there is a wealth of wisdom to be gleaned from the mistakes and failures of the first Christians, also. The Bible does not present our spiritual ancestors as without imperfection. Rather, many of their shortcomings and problems are spelled out for all time in the pages of the New Testament.
They are not novelties, by any means, these men and women who threaten to destroy the peace, unity and growth that so many have worked so hard to affect. As has been stated, I find myself, when confronted with people who seem to want to sow discord among brethren, wishing that I lived in Century One when such people did not exist. Do not be deceived: they were there, too.
There is a fellow referred to in 2 John whose name was Diotrephes. This man had the same character flaw possessed by some today (only he lived nearly 2,000 years ago), namely: an ungodly lust for preeminence. He longed “to be first” among the brethren (NASB). Not “first” in service, mind you. Rather, “first” as in most important; in charge; king of the mountain. He would usurp Christ’s place as head if he could. He would own the congregation as his own private toy.
So badly did Diotrephes desire the preeminence that he would go to any length to get it. Read 2 John 9, 10. He rejected the authority of the apostles; he slandered such men with wicked words; he turned his back on faithful brethren; he forced others to do the same; he actually put people out of the church! The man was a renegade, a rebel and an enemy.
It is an ugly thought, I know, but the spirit of Diotrephes exists today. I would rather not think about it. I would rather not be exposed to it. Who would? The problem is this: to close our eyes to the unpleasantness of the usurper is to invite him to wreak havoc among the saints. Preachers, elders and faithful brethren in every church need to re-pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and his authority and kingship, and stand stalwart against any who would steal his throne and scourge his saints with a whip of arrogance.
Diotrephes has a plan. It flies in the face of our naivete, but anyone who wants the preeminence that badly, has thought about how to get it. And the plan hasn’t changed from its earliest forms. It was during the days of Israel’s budding glory, long before the Word became flesh and dwelt bodily among men, that King David’s son Absalom longed for the preeminence in the kingdom. Absalom was the son of David through a Geshurite wife, Maacah. She must have been a beautiful woman, for the two children which she bore to David were very pleasant to look upon. The girl Tamar was lovely; the boy Absalom was the most handsome young man in all the realm (2 Sam. 14:25). Much of Absalom’s vanity rested in his perfection of form. His wondrous head of hair was his apparent pride and joy. However, in spite of his good looks, Absalom was not destined to own the throne. That position would belong to Solomon.
It is impossible to say for certain at what point our “Prince Charming” formulated his 3-point plan for stealing the kingdom. Perhaps it was placed on hold when he was forced to go into hiding for three years, away from the presence of his father. When his sister Tamar was raped by one of their half-brothers, Absalom rashly took vengeance through bloodshed. Afterward, he would flee and not see his father again for some five years! At that time, David received his runaway son with a kiss. The events are recorded in 2 Samuel 13 and 14. It is chapter 15 which now demands our attention.
The 3-Point Plan
Absalom’s 3-point plan for stealing the kingdom is made crystal-clear in 2 Samuel 15:1-6. Please read this brief passage. The same plan is being used by godless pretenders today to steal preeminence from our Savior!
A. Slander The Leadership. It was the custom in Israel for citizens of the kingdom to come to the gates for royal arbitration. They came expect fair judgment and resolutions for their problems. We are told in verse 2 that Absalom would rise early in the morning and stand beside the way to the gates so as to accost plaintiffs on their way to the judgment seat. What would he say to these people? He would hear their plight and respond with these sweet words: “See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.” You’ve got a perfect case, he would say. You deserve justice, he would croon. You’re getting the short end of the stick, he’d offer: “It’s too bad the king won’t hear your case!” His insinuation was that the king was sleeping on the job.
Was the leadership sleeping on the job? Frankly, I don’t know. It may have been that the court didn’t get started until noon. Or maybe the King had been extra-busy the last few weeks. Or maybe he was lax in his judgments. The point is that, whatever the circumstances, Absalom would have served the plight of the citizenry and the leadership by counseling with his father instead of stirring up the ire of the people, instead of going out of his way to put the leadership in a bad light.
When someone goes about the local church griping about the elders, to everyone except the elders, it often is not the elders we need to keep an eye on. Brother, do you feel like the elders are sleeping on the job? You’ll do a favor to all concerned by going first to them with your thoughts, always in a spirit of humility. It certainly is not your intention to slander them, is it? It was so with Absalom; it was just the first part of the plan.
B. Toot your own horn. After he pointed out what a horrid job the leadership was doing, Absalom would campaign for their position by “tooting his own horn.” He said in verse 4, “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land; then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me, and I would give him justice.” How real! And how ironic. This boastful one who sought to run the affairs of the kingdom, could not even effectively run his own. Up until that time he had been living as a fugitive for a period of three years. Later on, when he actually would gain control of the kingdom for a short time, his first great accomplishment would be to shame the nation by his having sex with his father’s concubines on the palace roof-top. “If I were judge, I would be something else!” Oh, Absalom, you’re something else, all right.
Did you ever notice that so often those who would tell everyone else how to run their affairs, have the messiest affairs of all? How that those who complain loudest about the preacher, but never preach? How that those who pick apart the Bibleclass teacher, but are never willing to teach?
Friends, we qualify for the big jobs, by excelling in the little jobs (1 Tim. 3:4,5; 1 Sam. 17:32-36). Instead of slandering our leaders, we ought to be an encouragement to them. Instead of tooting our horns about how great we’d be in that position, we need to be excelling in the position we’re in.
C. Use People. The final note. In verse 5 we are informed that whenever a citizen came near to bow before Absalom, he would interrupt by reaching out and taking hold of the man and kissing him. Appreciate this fact: Absalom had no real affection for the person. He knew no true sympathy. He knew no real concern for the fellow’s welfare. But he kissed him anyway! Why? Because it got him up the ladder. Because it would win the hearts of a shallow people. Like a politician who kisses babies and afterward purges his mouth with Listerine, Absalom hugged and kissed the citizenry . . . and used them right and left. There are people in the church who will lick the bubble-gum off the bottom of your sneakers, just to win you to their usurper’s cause. We better believe it.
2 Samuel 15:6 says, “And in this manner Absalom dealt with all Israel. . . So Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” He actually ran his father right out of the kingdom.
I am sure that when Paul warned the Ephesian elders of savage wolves and pointed out that these would arise from their own number, he did not receive a standing ovation. It was an unpleasant proclamation, to say the least. But it was timely and true.
Sometimes such words are necessary. Brethren, the church is too precious for us to stand idly and watch it afflicted by a handful of self-indulgent, disgruntled, megalomaniacs . Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 18, pp. 550-55