Thursday, May 3, 2012

Idleness leads to division

One common characteristic of prophetic leaders in Israel—from Moses to John the Baptist—is their reluctance to take on a task which promised little in the way of comfort and much in the way of hardship. Moses, having grown comfortable tending his father-in-law’s sheep, tried to negotiate his way out of his call to be Israel’s deliverer. Amos, also, would have been content to remain “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees.” Jonah had to spend three days in the belly of a fish before being convinced to go to Ninevah. Jeremiah thought himself too young to be taken seriously. Even Isaiah, before saying, “Here am I. Send me,” was overwhelmed by his unworthiness to stand in the presence of God.

The reluctance of the biblical prophets stands in stark contrast to present-day prophetic wannabes. Claiming the mantle of Elijah seems to have become the last refuge of these ecclesiastical scoundrels in their flagging effort to cling to some semblance of significance at a time when the Christian community (and no small portion of the secular community) has long since seen through their charade. The fact that the vast majority of Christians who read the Bible, regularly attend worship, and say their faith actually influences all aspects of their lives don’t buy their “inclusive” and “tolerant” brand of Christianity is seen by these fading apologists for the old order as proof positive that they are, in fact, being prophetic. After all, they tell us, the prophets of old were also ignored by the majority of the people.

Perhaps some of the old prophets did have a problem getting a fair hearing from the public, but they did not spend most of their time complaining about it. Neither did they constantly go around telling the people to listen to them because they were prophets. Their sole purpose was to proclaim the Word of God, not to call attention to themselves. Jesus could identify John the Baptist as Elijah, but he who said he was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals would never make such a claim on his own.

The gift of prophecy ought to be readily apparent to a community endued with the spirit of discernment. If some persons have to keep reminding the community that they are prophets, it is most likely they are no such thing.

Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-20).

Paul's warning to the Thessalonians is similar (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-15). He tells them to be wary of those who seek personal gain without contributing to the edification of the community. "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," Paul writes, "that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." Such persons, he says, are "not busy at work, but busybodies." They do not have the best interests of the Body at heart. Their "idleness" will undermine the work of the church and lead to division. From the very beginning, the Evil One's strategy for undermining unity in the body of Christ has begun at the local level. That is no less true today than it was in Paul's day. Division starts within a small group, but it has a tendency to spread to the whole body if it is not confronted directly at its source.

"If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter," Paul writes, "take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed."Such shunning of the idle errant, however, serves the larger purpose of unity in the body, for Paul also says, "Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."