Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dangerous Faith: Speaking Up*

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

"Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him."

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity."

Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!”
2 Samuel 12:1-7

The above passage of scripture is God’s response to David’s affair with Bathsheba and eventual murder of her husband (to get the whole story read II Samuel 11-18). Most of you probably remember the story of David and Bathsheba; but since the mind tends to lose important details over time, allow me to refresh your memory.

King David was out for a walk on the palace roof one night when he happened to see an attractive woman bathing on a nearby rooftop. He discovered that the woman was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a soldier in his army who was away at war. Even though David knew that she was married, he was stricken by her beauty. He sent for her to be brought to him, and he slept with her. Not long after, Bathsheba sent word to King David that she was pregnant. David wanted to cover up his sin, so he devised a plan to get Uriah to come home from the war on leave that way Uriah would sleep with his wife and the child would appear to be his. David sent for Uriah to be brought to him so that he could give the king a report on the progress of the war. After Uriah gave his report, David sent him home for the night thinking that he had solved his problem. But Uriah did not go home that night; he chose instead to sleep at the gate of the palace with the king’s servants. When David questioned Uriah about why he had refused to go home, Uriah replied that he did not think it was right for him to go home and eat and drink and lie with his wife when the ark of the Lord and Israel’s army were sleeping in the open field. Uriah was a righteous man. The next night David got Uriah drunk before sending him home, but once again Uriah, even in his drunken state, refused and slept at the palace gate. As a last ditch effort, David sent Uriah back to the war carrying a sealed letter instructing Joab (his commanding officer) to place Uriah on the front lines of battle and then withdraw the troops around him to ensure that Uriah would be killed. Joab followed orders and Uriah died. After Bathsheeba’s time of mourning was complete, David took her to be his wife. The Lord was displeased with what David had done.  

But notice, God didn’t speak to David Himself. He did not appear in a thundering cloud. Nor did He appear in a windstorm. Rather, He sent His servant, Nathan, to speak on His behalf. And that pretty much sums up the job description for an Old Testament prophet. Prophets were God’s mouthpieces. They said whatever God told them to say to whomever God told them to say it. In short, they spoke the truth—good or bad. They predicted victories and they predicted defeats. The proclaimed good health and they proclaimed death and disease. They spoke to Kings both Jewish and Pagan. They spoke with the authority of God; His hand was heavy upon them.

Can you imagine being one of God’s prophets? Can you imagine being called to speak God’s words (good or bad) to powerful kings and peasants alike? Put yourself in Nathan’s shoes. He had to walk up to the man who by Jewish standards was the greatest king of all time and call him out on his sin? Nathan had no way of knowing how David would respond to this rebuke. David could have had him killed in an instant. In fact, David could have had him and his whole family killed in an instant. I imagine that Nathan was at least a little bit afraid.

But if he was afraid, then why did he do it? What gave Nathan the courage to step out and live his faith so dangerously for the Lord? Simply put, I think that Nathan feared the Lord more then he feared King David. Nathan served a King that was much greater than David—a King who truly had the power to sustain Nathan’s life or to take it away. Nathan knew that the only thing more dangerous for him than obeying God in his situation was disobeying God, so he stepped out on faith and obeyed the Lord’s command. He confronted the king.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that God has appointed you as a prophet and that you need to go around telling everybody how sinful they are. You probably wouldn’t be very popular or effective if you did that.

What I am saying is that God has called us as Christians to live in community and sometimes that requires “speaking up when we want to shut up” as J.R. Briggs put it. Confrontation is never easy, especially in our comfort-centered culture. Most of us would rather pretend the problem isn’t there and hope it goes away than actually confront someone about it. But sometimes confrontation is necessary in the family of God. We have to be bold enough to “speak the truth in love” to one another (Ephesians 4:15). It takes a dangerous love to be willing to risk losing a friendship, but sometimes it is worth that risk when you know a friend is in danger of being swallowed up in their sin. And it takes a dangerous love to listen while a friend confronts you with your sin, but sometimes that is what it takes to wake us up to the seriousness of our actions. 

The Bible says that we as a group of believers make up the body of Christ. In this body, Christ is the head and we are the different parts, each with our own function and calling. Sometimes we lack the perspective to look at our own lives and see when sin is preventing us from performing that function, and sometimes we even lack the ability to see the complete devastation that our sin will inevitably bring upon us if we don’t repent. Sometimes a good kick in the pants is just what the doctor ordered, and most of the time it takes someone who loves you enough to endure your defensiveness and anger to deliver that kick.

So if you have friends that are willing to speak the truth in love to you, then cherish them. If you don’t, then perhaps you need to enlist some. I challenge you to approach one or more of your friends this week and give them an open-ended invitation to ask you hard questions about your faith walk. Give them the right to challenge you and to confront you with your sin before it gets out of hand. James chapter five commands us to “confess our sins to each other,” and this is exactly what I am challenging you to do. I am challenging you to live in community with other Christians in such a way that you are willing to confess your sins to one another, hold one another accountable for your sins, and confront one another when one of you is slipping into sin. And I leave you with a James 5:20. “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

I pray that you would find Christian friends with whom you could be boldly honest concerning your sin, so that you can experience Christian community in the way that God intended it to be experienced.     

*(This part of our series is heavily influenced by a book entitled When God says Jump: Biblical Stories that Inspire You to Risk Big by J.R. Briggs.)

For further reading this week:
  • II Samuel 11-18: Read the whole story of David’s sin and punishment.
  • Proverbs 27:17: Accountable relationships with other Christians help us to mature. 
  • James 5:16-20: Confess your sins one to another. 
  • Ephesians 4:1-16: The body of Christ needs your contribution through the special gifts God has given you.

No comments: