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Authority and Its Manipulation

(Taken from a sermon preached by Pastor Shearer in 1995)


item7This morning, we’re going to be examining Christ’s third and final Wilderness temptation. So, turn with me to Luke 4:9...

And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here;

for it is written, He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You,

and, on their hands they will bear You up, Lest You strike Your foot against a stone.

And Jesus answered and said to him, It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Luke 4:9-12

There’s a common thread that weaves itself through each of the three temptations outlined here in Chapter 4. All three, in some way, reflect the issue of power. Did you pick up on that?

antique0029The first temptation deals with intrinsic power - the power that each of us possesses by virtue of a personal attribute – a talent, education, beauty, charisma, etc.

In the case of Jesus, it was the intrinsic power he possessed as the Son of God. In your case,

  1. it might be physical strength;
  2. it might be your charm,
  3. your wit,
  4. your eloquence,
  5. your intelligence,
  6. your beauty,
  7. your cleverness -
  8. whatever.

But whatever it is, it’s yours personally. It’s intrinsically yours.

item4Intrinsic power enables us to take matters into our own hands. That’s the point of the first temptation: “Take matters into your own hands, Jesus. You’ve got the power to resolve for yourself the dilemma you face. You’re suffering from acute hunger. Why? There’s no need for it. Act in your own behalf. Do it! You’re on your own. God isn’t going to provide for your needs. He’s had over forty days to make provision for your needs - and in all that time, he hasn’t. It’s time to take matters into your own hands. Turn those stones into bread. If you don’t act, no one else will.”

But all intrinsic power must be in submission to the authority of God. Whatever intrinsic power you possess - by way of talent, strength, eloquence, intelligence, education, beauty, or personal charisma - whatever - it must be wholly submitted to God. And that submission must be based upon your trust in God’s goodness.

The prophet Habakkuk summed up the kind of trust that God requires of his sons and daughters - the kind of trust that enables his people to wholly submit their lives to him

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no (harvest); the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.

Hab. 3:17-19

That’s the first temptation.

The second temptation deals with the power that’s conferred when authority is bestowed. Here, the power is not yours intrinsically; it doesn’t belong to you by virtue of your own personal item5charisma or talent; it’s yours because you’ve been invested with authority - and that authority is linked to a specific “office” and cannot be divorced from it. It’s institutional, not personal. Moreover, it’s bestowed for the purpose of effecting a specific moral purpose. And that purpose, as we learned last week from Psalm 82, is always geared toward the protection of the weak and needy. The power that’s conferred along with authority is meant to be used only to protect and watch over the afflicted and tempest tossed - the orphan and the widow, etc. If it’s used for any other purpose, it’s abusive; it must never be sought for the glory that it inevitably entails or for the control it affords.

That’s the point of the second temptation. “Is it power you want, Jesus? Here, I’ll give you authority over all the kingdoms of the earth - and with that authority, more power than any human being has ever before possessed. Yes, it’s true that your Father has promised to grant you the same extent of authority; but he will grant it only to effect his own moral purposes; and that, Jesus, will put you on a path that leads inevitably to the Cross. But if you take the authority I grant you, the power it confers is not tied to any moral purpose. Here, it’s authority for the sake of the power it confers - authority for the sake of the glory it bestows and the control it affords. It’s all yours, Jesus, take it.”

That’s the second temptation.

The third temptation, like the first two, also deals with power. But it’s put in a form that’s cleverly disguised. The first two are fairly straightforward and direct. But the point of this last temptation is not easily discerned - and the power it affords is very subtle - it’s tangible and real, but very subtle.

Here, the temptation is based upon exploiting the goodness and love of God for the purpose of forcing his hand. It’s the power that’s afforded by means of manipulation and seduction.

item6I pointed out last week that giving way to the second temptation is a kind of devil worship. That’s the point made in Luke 4:7-8. Whenever you use the power that authority confers merely for the purpose of self-gratification - without any kind of underlying moral basis, it’s a kind of devil worship. Because that’s how the devil uses authority. He uses it only for the sake of the control it affords and the glory it bestows. It’s never guided and governed by an underlying moral rationale. When you do the same, you’re buying into the devil’s kingdom. You’re making yourself a part of it. And that’s a kind of devil worship.

Giving way to this third temptation - capitulating to it - is a kind of witchcraft - because the spiritual dynamic underlying all witchcraft is the manipulation of authority. It’s not that a witch possesses any power herself, it’s that she’s able - or so she thinks - to manipulate spiritual beings - beings whose power far exceeds her's. She’s able to harness the power that belongs to them - or so she thinks - to secure her own purposes. Incidentally, that’s the not so subtle message incorporated in the Star Wars series. It’s witchcraft.

Let’s read again Luke 4:9-11

And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here;

for it is written, He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You,

and, On their hands they will bear You up, Lest You strike Your foot against a stone.

Luke 4:9-11

What the devil is saying here is this: “OK, let’s take it from your perspective, Jesus. God loves you. He’s your Father. Why not take advantage of the fact that he loves you. Exploit his love and his goodness. Make him prove it.”

But Jesus replies:

...You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Luke 4:12

Jesus’ reply is in the form of a quote taken from the Book of Deuteronomy - specifically, chapter 6, verse 16...

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.

Deut. 6:16

Here Moses is recalling the rebellious complaints of the children of Israel at Massah in Rephidim - along the western borders of the Sinai Peninsula. Let me set the scene for you.

It’s been no more than several months - at the most - that God delivered Israel from Egypt. During that brief period, God has displayed again and again his love, his mercy, and the abundance of his provision. There can be no doubt of God’s goodness on the part of Israel. The children of Israel have been the direct witnesses and beneficiaries of it.

Ten plagues smote Egypt - miracles every one - each one attesting to God’s love of Israel and the sufficiency of his provision for her:

  1. water turned to blood
  2. a plague of frogs,
  3. a plague of lice,
  4. a plague of flies,
  5. diseased livestock,
  6. a plague of boils,
  7. a plague of hail,
  8. a plague of locusts,
  9. a plague of darkness; and, finally,
  10. the death of the Egypt’s firstborn - with Israel protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb.

No more than several months ago did these miracles occur - in the plain sight of all the children of Israel.

item11Then, when Pharaoh pursued Israel to bring her again into captivity, God caused the waters of the Red Sea to roll back upon themselves so that Israel could cross over safely, but Egypt’s army, pursuing the children of Israel, was destroyed when the parted waters came crashing down upon it. No more than several months ago did this miracle occur - and, again, in the plain sight of all the children of Israel.

Then, at Marah, God turned the bitter waters sweet - so that Israel could assuage her thirst. No more than several weeks ago, not months, but weeks, did this miracle occur - and once again, in the plain sight of all the children of Israel.

Then there was the miracle of the manna and the miracle of the quail - all proving again the sufficiency and love of God - and in the case of the quail, his forbearance. No more than several weeks ago - indeed, several days ago - did this miracle occur - again, in the plain sight of all the children of Israel.

But now Israel has arrived at Rephidim - at the rock of Massah; she’s weary. But, most of all, she’s thirsty. And, once again, she complains. And we pick up the story in Exodus 17:1-3

And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.

Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?

And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Why is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?

Ex. 17:1-3

Here now is the lesson: God has established his protection over Israel. He has miraculously delivered her. His track record is proven. He has not failed to provide for Israel’s every need. And, yet, Israel complains - calling into question his goodness.

Notice especially Exodus 17:2 - the wording there:

Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?

Ex. 17:2

The word “tempt” conveys the sense of “testing.” And what it means is “Why, Israel, in light of God’s proven record of goodness, are you asking him to prove to you all over again that very goodness. Why are you calling his goodness into question?”

But there’s something more sinister at work here than simply doubting God. The doubt is certainly there. But there’s more. And it’s this “more” that we’re likely to miss if we don’t pay close attention to text.

Turn with me back to Luke 4. The devil is not asking Jesus here to doubt God’s love and protection; in fact, he goes out of his way to remind Jesus that God has promised him his love and protection.

for it is written, He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You,

and, On their hands they will bear You up, Lest You strike Your foot against a stone.

Luke 4:10-11

The issue here isn’t doubt; not, at least, according to the text.

Satan did indeed suggest doubt in the first temptation: “Better take matters into your hands, Jesus; God hasn’t sent the cavalry - and your predicament is very serious and grave.” The whole thrust of the first temptation is doubt - and, having prompted doubt, to get Jesus to act on his own - apart from his Father - and in opposition to his will.

But that’s not what’s occurring here. Again, pay close attention to the text itself. The devil is going out of his way here to remind Jesus of God’s love and protection. And it’s not a ruse. He really intends to convey what he’s saying. And that’s the whole point. “Jesus, you’re right. God is good. He loves you. He won’t let you fall to your death. Go ahead and throw yourself off the pinnacle. God will catch you.”

item12What the devil is doing here is attempting to get Jesus to exploit God’s love and goodness - to bend God to his own will by forcing God’s hand - based upon Jesus’ acute awareness of the Father’s infinite love.

In light of this, turn with me again to Exodus 17. And the whole passage acquires a much darker and much more sinister meaning. It’s not just that the children of Israel doubt God’s goodness; it’s that they’re trying to exploit it to secure their own ends. What, in essence, they’re doing is this: “Did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us? And not only us, but our little ones as well? You say you didn’t? Well, then, prove it. Give us what we want. Prove it.”

Let me go over this point with you again; because it’s so important. Because the temptation, if seen in this light, is prototypical - meaning we’re tempted ourselves by it constantly. More often than any of us might care to admit. There’s a little bit of a "witch" in all of us.

So, let’s go over it all again. And follow me closely:

Jesus’ answer to the devil in regard to the third temptation is found in Luke 4:12.

And Jesus answered and said to him, It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Luke 4:12

It’s clear from the text that the whole point of the third temptation is to get Jesus to presume upon God’s goodness - to get him to exploit God’s love in order to secure his own ends - whatever they might be - it doesn’t really matter. But Jesus’ answer is put in the form of a quote taken from Deuteronomy 6:16

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.

Deut. 6:16

...which takes us back to the specific incident that Moses is recalling here in Deuteronomy 6:16; it’s an incident that’s recorded in Exodus 17:1-3. And when Exodus 17:1-3 is read in the light of the meaning Jesus gives it in Luke 4:12, it’s cast in an entirely new guise. It’s not just doubt that’s at issue in Exodus 17:1-3, there’s more. It’s manipulation that’s at issue. The children of Israel aren’t really doubting God; they’re taunting God. “Prove your goodness! Prove your goodness! Prove your goodness!”

The whole point of all their complaining is to force God’s hand.

Now, we’re down to the nitty-gritty. Last week, I preached on the moral rationale that’s meant to underlie all authority - that’s meant to guide and govern it. And I pointed out how that definition is given in Psalm 82. There, God is calling rulers to account. And he’s warning them to use their authority to protect the weak and the needy. Because any other use of authority is abusive - and lacks a moral basis.

I went on to point out that Ephesians 5:22-33 elaborates on Psalm 82: that authority is not only meant to protect the weak and the needy, but to nurture and glorify those who are its subjects. Husbands, I pointed out, are given authority for only one purpose: to present their wives in glory - just as Christ uses his authority to present the church in glory.

Ephesians 5:22-33, read in the light of Psalm 82, is meant to be a warning to husbands or, for that matter, anyone in authority: use your authority as it’s meant to be used; and if you don’t, I’ll first plead with you to mend your ways, and, then, if my pleas go unheeded, I’ll give you over to judgment.

item13But there’s also a warning here for wives as well – and, for that matter, anyone else subject to legitimately established authority. What would you do, wives, if you found yourself married to a good man? A man who uses his authority as it’s meant to be used - to protect you, to nurture you, and to glorify you? Would you rest content in that fact? Would you never again complain?

What if your husband has acquired a proven track record of goodness? Maybe he hasn’t, but what if he has? Perhaps in the past he’s been abusive. But he’s worked hard to mend his ways - to acknowledge his past failures and to make the necessary corrections. Would you then acknowledge his goodness - and submit reverently to his authority? Or is there more to your complaining than just his purported abuse of authority? Is the real reason you complain to get your way? Is control what’s really at issue?

Just as it is for the husband, so it is for the wife. Control is often the issue.

  1. The husband, invested with authority, is tempted to use his authority for the sake of the power it confers. Ultimately, what he wants is to get his way.
  2. The wife, called to submit to her husband’s authority, is tempted to complain and murmur for the sake of the power it affords her. She manipulates her husband - wears him down and forces his hand. Ultimately, what she wants, just like her husband, is to get her way.

There’s no difference between husband and wife: for both the issue is power and the sense of control it affords.

item14“Do you love me, honey. Then prove it! Prove it! Prove it! If you really love me, dear, you’ll give me what I want!”

And this takes place even on the part of wives whose husbands have, as a matter of fact, acquired a proven track record of goodness. It occurs within congregations led by good men of God who are sincerely seeking God’s will. Still the complaints. The complaints are not for the purpose of bringing abuse to light - which, if true, would make the complaints legitimate, but to force the husband or the pastor’s hand - to manipulate him - which makes the complaints illegitimate.

And that’s what the children of Israel did in the Wilderness - and what Moses specifically warned them against ever doing again in Deuteronomy 6:16. It’s the very same warning Jesus used to ward off the devil’s assault in Luke 4:12

And Jesus answered and said to him, It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Luke 4:12

What’s the cure for this third temptation? Reverence. The authority of a good man - with a proven track record of goodness - needs always to be reverenced. That’s why in Ephesians 5:33, wives are specifically admonished to “reverence” their husbands.

Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Eph. 5:33

Reverence keeps us from manipulating anyone in authority. It’s not that we can’t make our wishes and desires known - or lodge a complaint against truly abusive authority. That’s not what’s at issue here. It’s that we should never employ our charms or whatever other devices are at our disposal - especially complaining and murmuring - to bend an authority figure to our own will.

Let’s take it to the level of the church. Pastors are given authority in the church, right? Of course. And at least some of that authority is given for the purpose of calling God’s children to account - of reminding them of the high moral standing they’re expected to evidence in their lives - and then holding them to it.

Often that assumes the specific form of rebuke and correction. Let’s set aside the fact that there are cases on record of pastors who truly abuse their authority - who use their authority not for the purpose of guarding and protecting the flock, but for the power it confers - for the control and glory it affords them. That’s true; but let’s set that aside for just a moment.

What if you’re blessed with pastors who . . .

  1. possess a proven track record of moral integrity
  2. who are known to be good
  3. who have proven that they will lay down their lives for the flock - and
  4. who don’t use their authority for the control and glory it affords.

Does that proven track record guarantee that they will not become the targets of bitter complaints? Of course not. And why? Because the point of so many complaints is not actual abuse, but manipulation.

Let’s take a hypothetical case - and that’s all it is - hypothetical. Let’s say that someone in the congregation is clearly in need of correction. There’s no doubt about it - both for his own good and for the good of the congregation as a whole. So, correction is brought to bear. Almost inevitably, murmuring arises: "The pastors were too harsh. The pastors were too severe. We’re saddled with harsh and severe pastors."

But here’s the problem. Turn with me to Hebrews 12:5...

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

For whom the Lord loved he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.

Heb. 12:5-6

Skip down to:

Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby.

Heb. 12:11

There it is: no matter how the correction is brought to bear, it’s not going to be joyous; it’s grievous. To the person being corrected, it's likely to seem harsh and severe - no matter what its intended purpose - no matter how carefully it’s applied. That’s what the Word of God itself declares.

And to many in the congregation, it will likewise appear harsh and severe - especially anyone who was raised as a child in an abusive home - or who since then has been exposed to abusive authority figures. And the church is being filled more and more with persons who have been so abused - because the moral foundation of American society has eroded so terribly.

Murmuring arises. Complaints are pressed. It’s not that the correction wasn’t needed. It’s the severity! It’s the harshness! But those complaints, when directed against pastors with a proven track record of goodness, are manipulative in nature.

And what’s gained by it? If the complaints and murmuring achieve their hidden purpose and, consequently, rebuke and correction cease, then the flock is exposed to ravening wolves. The way is left open for the devil to destroy the entire congregation.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Heb. 13:17

Why is it unprofitable? Because the absence of correction exposes the congregation to terrible danger.

I’m very thankful for a congregation as good as this one. It is an honor for me to serve you. But we do well to pay close attention to the lesson that’s incorporated here in Luke 4:9-12.

We live in the Last Days. The very foundation of the church is being eroded. And why? Because moral compromise abounds. Pastors, now more than ever, must be on guard - standing watch. If those pastors possess, by and large, a proven track record of goodness and integrity, it’s vital that you support them whenever they bring correction. It's crucial that their authority is reverenced.

Will God use us mightily? So much depends on whether or not we learn to reverence authority - in the home; at church; and on the job. So much depends on whether or not we resist the temptation to manipulate authority - to force the hands of those in authority. And that temptation is almost irresistible today. It’s pervasive. It has worked its way into every nook and cranny of our culture. We’ve cultivated a mind-set of suspicion and mistrust. It’s a rare person these days who reverences authority. And that fact is far more dangerous than you can possibly imagine!

We’re not quick to give the benefit of the doubt - either to our husbands - or to our pastors - or to our employers. It’s always: Prove it! Prove it! Prove it! And, so, authority is undermined - and our homes, our churches, and our jobs - even our nation - are left exposed to the wolves. May God help us.

I’m going to ask you this morning to commit yourselves to reverence authority - especially the authority of persons who possess a proven track record of moral integrity and goodness. Whether it’s your husband - or your pastors - or your employers - whoever it might be. Without minds and hearts that reverence authority, we’re incapable of effective spiritual warfare.









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