This morning I finished the book of Second Kings and as I was reflecting on the carrying away of the Southern Kingdom into the Babylon for their sin, I began to think back to the end of chapter 17 before the Lord raised up Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the first in a long line of both righteous and unrighteous kings who actually had the courage to remove the high places (2 Kings 18:4). This was something that even the righteous kings were not willing to do, such as Asa and his son Jehoshaphat.
First Kings 15 says, “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done,” and describes how he expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and destroyed all the idols that his ancestors had made; he even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as Queen Mother because of the repulsive image she made for the worship of Asherah. In verse 14, the Scripture says, “Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life.” Similarly, we read of Asa’s son Jehoshaphat in First Kings 22:43, “In everything he followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” Such would not change until the days of Hezekiah in Second Kings 18.
Before the Lord raised up Hezekiah, however, the last verse of Second Kings 17 is very illuminating, especially for believers today. Second Kings 17:41 reads:
Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.
It is very easy for God’s people to fall in line with the ways, customs, and thinking of the world, and when this happens, such things become very difficult to abandon. Any custom or pattern of thinking can quickly become generational – “This is the way my grandparents and parents thought, and these are the customs that my family has always done.” On the one hand, a nominal respect for God is retained – He is still addressed as Lord and Master – but through the generations, the people have tied themselves to the practices and thinking of the world. Therefore, although He is formally addressed as Lord, He is in fact not their Lord. Such is the reason why it is critically important that we examine ourselves every day. The apostle says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The key point in self-examination are the three words “in the faith.” Do the customs we engage in, our patterns of thought, and overall way of life identify us with the world or with the Lord?
This past Sunday, Bro. Kevin Carroll, the pastor of the church where I serve, preached on the will of God, and he said:
The will of God is not so much what we should do, but who we are to be and how we are to relate to others.
His primary text was on Acts 21:12-14 when Paul’s companions wept for him and pleaded that he not go to Jerusalem, concerned for his safety. Yet, Paul was resolute and knew that Jerusalem was where the Lord wanted him even if it meant being bound and put to death for his Lord. The people finally gave up trying to dissuade him and simply said, “The Lord’s will be done.” The last verse he touched on in the message on the will of God was 1 Peter 2:13-15, a hard verse for liberty-minded Americans to swallow and one of which you yourself may disagree with my analysis. However, make sure that your disagreement is rooted in exegesis of Scripture. The text says:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
Now, I realize that in the United States we do not have an emperor, our supreme authority being the Constitution. Yet, the apostle does not say to only submit yourselves to the highest authority of your nation. He says “submit yourselves… to every human authority,” and that includes the highest authority, which for those of us living in the United States would be the Constitution, but he also says to submit yourself to “those who are sent by [the supreme authority].” That is, as Christians we are to also submit ourselves to the laws passed by those who have been duly elected or appointed in accordance with the manner laid out by the supreme authority of our land. Of course, this is all under the obvious caveat that we are not to obey an authority that tells us to disobey the moral principles in God’s Law, such as forcing Christians to take part in sodomite marriages, for God is the most supreme authority (cf. Acts 5:29). Yet, that caveat does not give us the right to argue the fine points of the US Constitution as our basis for disobeying the edicts of the lawfully elected.
For example, I personally believe very strongly in the Second Amendment. I grew up in the South and guns have been part of my life since birth, receiving my first gun from my grandfather for my 3-year-birthday, and have had a handgun carry permit for years. Today, guns are legal and it is legal to carry a gun in most places, and I will continue to argue for the right to own, carry, and use guns by the private citizen. I realize, however, that with the recent shooting in El Paso which seems to have been motivated by hate toward a particular group, that there are people who genuinely do not like guns, who genuinely want to make the world a safer and better place by banning firearms. Of course, I disagree that such a ban would make the world safer, especially since getting rid of guns in England only led to a trade-off from mass shootings to mass knifings. However, if such legislation was to be passed, while it may be within my Constitutional right to disobey, as a Christian however, I am called by God to submit and trust Him for my welfare.
The apostle Paul, in answering the possible objections of freedom-loving individuals in the church of Corinth, says, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). If those in our country who continually worry over every mass shooting that occurs are one day able to convince lawmakers to enact strict gun control, I will strongly disagree with that law. However, my life is not my own – my life belongs to Christ and He tells me in His Word to think of others before my own personal rights. I will not be happy to do it and right up to the moment that it is passed I will argue against it. Yet, should it be passed, I will submit to such a law, knowing who my vote will be opposing in the next election. As Christians we ought to submit to those in authority over us in the same way as our Lord who Himself “did not open his mouth” to argue his case (Isaiah 53:7). Rather than responding with “that which is right in [our] own eyes,” based on our private judgments and interpretations of our nation’s laws (Judges 17:6; 21:25), the Christian submits, not willing to make a fuss over anything less than the moral principles in the Lord’s Law.
We must be careful that the way of life and pattern of thinking throughout our generations has not become idolatrous as it had for the people in Second Kings 17. We must be willing to put aside our focus on self and focus on giving God the glory in our submission, even to what we may think are unjust laws. 1 Peter 2:15 ends with a statement that shows the distinction between Christians and Conservative-Libertarians, that through our submission we will “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” What separates the Christian from the Conservative-Libertarian is the principle of submission. Although we believe in many of the same things, the Conservative-Libertarian will rail all day on how they will fight back should guns be banned. The Christian, however, is called ultimately to submit to the law of the land.
So, I will ask again, have you examined yourself? Do the customs you engage in, your pattern of thought, and overall way of life identify you as merely a Conservative-Libertarian or as a Christian? Both Asa and Jehoshaphat bore fruit as believers but both fell short of the faith by not removing the high places. Are you falling short of the faith in some area of your life?