AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
There’s a popular rumor floating about in certain sections of the Church that fancy titles can earn men and women special privileges from God. Some leaders like to claim a blanket promise of protection from God and then drop not-so-subtle hints that you’d better treat them extra special or else God will strike you down. If He doesn’t strike you down, He’ll put some kind of curse on your life and bad things will happen to you. So then, is this true? Can pastors, prophets, missionaries, evangelists, healers, and teachers really claim special protection from God?
This theory was clearly started by human ego, and like so many ego-based fantasies, it directly counters what we find in the Word. The Bible is far from perfect, but it does provide us with some very educational records about how God has dealt with His leaders in the past. So let’s see what we can learn.
God’s prophets were His most prominent leaders during the Old Covenant period—a timespan of about 1400 years. The prophets functioned as a critical communication line between Yahweh and His chosen people—the Jews. But the Jews found Yahweh rather tiresome, and they found His prophets quite annoying. So what we find in the Old Testament are God’s prophets being brutally slaughtered. Sometimes when the “we hate Yahweh” mood was at its peak, the prophet slaughtering machinery really revved up and we find scores of God’s prophets being mowed down in a short period of time. One example of this was during the reign of Israel’s King Ahab. Ahab was a Jew who married a non-Jew named Jezebel. Jezebel was obsessed with the god Baal, and once she was in power, she made it her personal mission to exterminate all of Yahweh’s prophets. She did such a thorough job that the prophet Elijah honestly believed he was the only one left. Crying out to Yahweh from the pit of depression, he said:
“I have been very zealous for Yahweh, the God of hosts. The Israelites have rejected Your Covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Ki. 19:10)
Over time, Jerusalem slaughtered so many of Yahweh’s prophets, that Jesus said:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Mt. 23:37)
What can we learn from the mass slaughter of God’s prophets? Did all those who attacked Yahweh’s leaders come to a swift and terrible end? Not hardly. Many thrived—at least while they were on earth. So can those who speak for God today claim some promise of special protection? They can claim it if they want to, but they would only be setting themselves up for disillusionment.
Now Jews who were actually paying attention to Yahweh understood that it was pretty stupid to oppose His prophets. This is why the good King Jehoshaphat said:
“Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in Yahweh your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.” (2 Chron. 20:20)
Let’s make sure we understand what Jehoshaphat is saying here. He’s not saying that any man who calls himself a prophet ought to be blindly believed. He’s not saying that prophets by themselves have any power. But a legitimate and devoted prophet of God will be accurately speaking messages from the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit gives you some bit of instruction, you’d be a fool not to obey it. If you up and attack the instrument God is currently using to speak to you through, what are you saying to God? You’re defying Him, of course. You’re saying, “Shut up! I don’t want to hear from You anymore!” Is God going to be angry at you for this rebellious attitude? Of course He is, and He might very well discipline you for it. But if He does, He will be responding to your direct attack on HIM, not because you were picking on His guy.
Prophets, priests, and other leaders of God’s people don’t get any blanket promise of special protection. Instead, what we get are a whole lot of examples of how lackluster God’s protection of us can be in the critical moment. God promised the prophet Jeremiah special protection, but Jeremiah then found himself locked in public stocks, mocked, beaten, and thrown in prison for so long he was afraid he would die there. Sometimes God does hand out a promise, but the fulfillment of that promise often leaves much to be desired.
On the upside, God does have a long history of coming through for His leaders in unexpected moments. Moses was outmanned a million to one in the desert by a mob who kept wanting to kill him. If Yahweh hadn’t come through with some miraculous protection, Moses wouldn’t have made it. But here again, we must remember that whenever Yahweh started mowing down Israelites with some freaky plague, He made it clear that He was punishing them for being snarky with HIM—not just a man.
God comes first. But that’s not to say He doesn’t ever publicly stand by His guys. When Aaron and Miriam started trash talking their younger brother Moses, Yahweh responded by striking Miriam with a terrifying skin disease. He then shamed the two siblings for their attack on His appointed leader by saying:
“When there is a prophet among you, I, Yahweh, reveal Myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of Yahweh. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8)
Again, let’s be clear about what’s being said. Yahweh is not saying Moses ought to be treated like a god. Instead, He’s pointing to His public favoritism of Moses as an obvious sign that the man should be treated with an extra dose of respect. It’s important to note that the favoritism here has nothing to do with material blessings or fame. These things are often promoted in the Church today as evidence that God is smiling on someone, but such blessings indicate nothing. Solomon was super rich and super blessed, yet he turned into an idolatrous yuck who worshiped demonic idols instead of Yahweh. Queen Jezebel enjoyed the luxuries of palace life as she systematically hunted down and murdered God’s prophets. Does Yahweh rip away material blessings from those who defy Him? No, He does not. Material abundance does not indicate that a man is pleasing God. A far better indicator of God’s pleasure with someone is when God invites that person to know Him and commune with Him in an extra close way. Every day, Moses would have a special, private meeting with Yahweh at a special tent.
Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. (Ex. 33:11)
No one else got to talk to Yahweh like this. Moses was publicly set apart by God as having extra special privileges and everyone knew it. Is it stupid to go throwing rocks at a guy that God is treating like His special friend? Of course it is. By attacking God’s friends, you’re attacking God Himself, because God’s favor of them is really the thing that’s getting you all huffy. Let’s face it: we get jealous when we see someone getting special treatment from God. But when we act on that jealousy by trying to discredit that person or make his life miserable, we are saying to God, “You don’t get to choose who Your friends are. I choose them for You.” This is a defiant attitude which God will address.
King Saul was the first king Israel ever had. Saul was Yahweh’s choice, and even after Saul turned into a lemon and Yahweh had told David that he would be the next king, David was very careful not to try and seize the throne early. Even when Saul was hunting David down and trying to kill him, David still respected the fact that it was Yahweh who had put Saul on the throne. When David had the perfect opportunity to kill Saul and end the miserable manhunt, he declined out of respect for Yahweh.
David said to his men, “God forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, Yahweh’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of Yahweh.” (1 Sam. 24:6)
Let’s be clear about this anointing business. In Saul’s case, it was legitimate. The prophet Samuel—who was devoted to God—had publicly anointed Saul based on specific instructions from God. David knew this, and David knew that God could have dethroned Saul at any time. Even though Saul was making David’s life hellish, David endured Saul’s persecution out of respect for God. David’s restraint was very honoring to God, because God was the one David was seeking to honor by keeping his sword in its sheath.
Now today any idiot can get up on stage and anoint themselves in the Name of God. Many do. Others just let you know that they’re anointed every time they open their mouths. Should you treat the term “anointed” the way David did? No, you shouldn’t. David knew Samuel, he knew Yahweh, and he knew that the anointing of Saul was legitimate. In most cases today, you don’t know the person who claims to be anointed, nor do you know the people who are doing the anointing in public. When you don’t know someone, how can you trust that they’re really acting on orders from God? Don’t go treating people as anointed until you get confirmation from God that He feels that term applies to them. And as Saul proves, even if someone was legitimately anointed by God, it doesn’t mean that they are obeying Him today. Saul turned his back on God. Many of our prophets and preachers in the Church who started off with legitimate callings have also turned away from God. Once a man turns his back on God, what use is he to you? Why would you want to listen to anything he has to say? Why would you call him “godly” when he’s really rebellious? By misusing titles in the Church, we’ve made them all meaningless. Today you can’t trust a man just because he claims to be a preacher or a prophet. You have to run everything he says past the Holy Spirit before you take any of it to heart. And if it turns out the man is teaching lies, are you wrong to say so? No, you’re not. We Christians are supposed to be discerning. Don’t call a message “inspired” when it’s really full of rot. Such mislabeling insults God and it misleads the young. It’s important that we know how to identify wolves in our midst, but it’s equally important that we respect every soul as cherished by God. If a pastor is spewing lies from the pulpit, he should be fired and called out for what he was doing. The actions should be condemned, but not the soul. We should still love the man as a creation of God and we should hope that he gets back into alignment with the Holy Spirit.
God does what God wants to do. If He wants to shower extra blessings on someone, no pipsqueak of a human is going to tell Him that He can’t. If He wants to save three men from a fiery furnace or save His prophet from a lion’s den, then He will. But as a leader, is it wise for you to count on God for these kinds of miraculous saves? No, it isn’t. We like to talk about how Paul was saved from a poisonous snake bite on the island of Malta. But let’s remember that before death came slithering over to him, he was violently shipwrecked and clinging to debris for dear life. Sure, he and Silas sang in their cell with miraculous joy after just being beaten. But Paul was also beaten to the ground with rocks and left for dead. He was also assaulted by his own countrymen and left to rot in many prisons. When God chooses you out to be a leader for His people, it’s like He paints an invisible target on your back. People start coming out of the woodwork to gun you down. It’s when you start speaking publicly for God that you start getting publicly ridiculed. People who you don’t even know decide that they hate you just because you remind them of a God who they don’t like.
God has always been clear that being one of His leaders is a challenging assignment—and then He adds on an extra level of accountability. Once you start instructing people about who God is and what He wants, you step into a tougher realm of judgment. When you stand up wearing titles like pastor or prophet—when you assume any kind of teaching role over God’s people—you are setting yourself up as His representative. Did He authorize you to do that? Did He give you clearance to attach His Name to whatever it is you’re saying or writing? Being called by God to preach doesn’t give you some free pass to decide for Him what He’ll say through you for the rest of your life. You have to make sure that EVERY TIME you speak for God, you have received His authorization to say whatever you’re about to say. You have to make sure HE is the Source of your message, not yourself or some other fool in the Church. To treat God’s Name and Person with disrespect is to bring serious judgment down on your head. Does it mean a lightning bolt will fall from the sky? No, but you’ll wish it would have when you find out what God has planned for you instead.
We are such fools to think God’s judgment of us will play out on this earth. He’s already told us that isn’t going to happen. In this world, good men will be abused and bad men will be rewarded. Sometimes we’ll see the miraculous saves. Sometimes we’ll see God publicly defending His own in some dramatic way. But most of the time we won’t. If you’re looking for special blessings on this earth, you’re being far too shortsighted. It’s eternity that you need to be focused on, for it’s only after you die that you’ll experience the full consequences for how you served God down here. If you spent your leadership career arrogantly boasting that you were God’s anointed one and that anyone who messes with you had better look out, you’re going to reap the rewards of your foolishness in Heaven. Those who are loyal to God know better than to try and tell Him how He ought to treat them on this earth. God doesn’t owe us anything. We owe Him everything. If He wants to feed us to lions, He gets to. If He wants Satan’s pawns to make a mockery out of us, He gets to. Once we look at the cross that saved our souls, there’s no argument we can possibly make to convince God that He owes us special favors down here. We are the debtors in this relationship, and we will never come close to balancing the scales. We don’t serve God because He’s promised to get our backs. We serve Him because we are His property, His slaves, His eternal debtors. If you don’t like those labels, then you have no business holding a leadership position in the Church. We are nothing. God is everything. We should be teaching the flock to revere Him and Him alone. There is no room for talking about ourselves.
FURTHER READING FOR LEADERS:
Preparing a Sermon that Honors God (Guidance for Pastors)