[Insert Clever Sermon Title Here]
Last Sunday morning, I took to the pulpit and did something I had never done in my nearly ten years as a full-time minister. I stood before God's people without a prepared lesson. No notes on paper or on my iPad. No rough outline in my head. Not even a clever sermon title or flash PowerPoint presentation. Nothing but an open Bible and a burden on my heart that I felt compelled by my Lord to share with his church. I must admit, I was scared and anxious and intimidated by the task before for several reasons. I made clear at the outset that the sermon was directly targeted at the elders of the congregation, the very men who sign my paycheck. But I was also clear that I was speaking to every future elder in the audience.
The story we read from Scripture was from 1 Samuel 4, the story of how Israel is defeated in a skirmish against the Philistines. In their panic, the elders of Israel foolishly decide to seek victory by summoning the ark of the covenant from Shiloh and taking it into battle. They thought, "The ark's presence has brought us victory before; it will surely do so again." But the ark wasn't a foolproof lucky rabbit's foot because God can't be manipulated like that. Israel lost 30,000 soldiers that day, but the worst of it was that the ark was captured. When Eli the priest was told of the battle's result, it wasn't news of his sons' demise, but of the ark's loss, that killed him.
After reading the story, I noted the significance of the previous chapter, 1 Samuel 3, particularly the final verses. Samuel was an an attested, proven prophet of God known throughout all Israel. He was famous for discerning the word and will of God.
The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel. — 1 Sam. 3:19-4:1
So why did the elders of Israel, in the the aftermath of disaster in 1 Samuel 4, not seek Samuel's counsel? Why did they never say, "Surely Samuel, the man of God, will know what Israel should do"?
It has long bothered me that in the churches of Christ, we often demand greater biblical training from our preachers than we do our elders. This is absurd and inconsistent with the biblical pattern. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it recently,
It’s my opinion that the most biblically educated in the church shouldn’t be the preachers, but the elders. It’s pitiful when an elder isn’t capable of answering the Bible questions that the preacher answers. Sure, the preacher may have a formal Bible education, but, still, it’s the elders who shepherd the flock. If they can’t match the preacher’s knowledge, why are they elders? — Steven Hunter, Veritas Venator Blog
In Sunday's sermon, I urged and exhorted my congregation to select men as elders who would hold fast to the Bible and seek its wisdom. We have this terrible, fallacious notion in American churches that wisdom is the unique possession of the aged. But the Bible claims that true wisdom in God's eyes is not the exclusive possession of any age group, but belongs to anyone of any age who seeks refuge and counsel in God's Word.
"I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts." — Psalm 119:99-100
I am also saddened when elders do not heed, let alone seek, the input of their ministers when making important decisions. Such arrogance or neglect is a declaration that age and worldly experience (usually in the business world) trumps faithful reflection on the Word over many years.
To elders, may I encourage you in the name of Jesus Christ to read and reflect on the Word often, lest you lead your flock astray. May you crave this Spiritual Bread like a poor man hungers for a Thanksgiving feast. To Christians, may you demand that your shepherds be men of the Book, that they seek the will and word of God.
Let the story in 1 Samuel 4 serve as a warning to God's people today. Let us encourage our leaders to seek out with word and will of God in all things, lest his glory depart from Spiritual Israel.
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