There’s a prophetic and very sobering verse at the end of the book of Judges, which, I believe, speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Another translation puts it this way, “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Book of Judges, and that verse in particular, sets up the context for the Book of 1 Samuel, which is about Israel desiring, demanding, and getting their first human king.
The larger idea expressed in those words of Judges 21:25 was that there was no longer an accepted authority over the people of Israel. They no longer submitted to the King they already had. They weren’t content with their invisible, yet divine, King. Thus, the people did whatever they wanted to. It seems that we too live in a culture that shuns the whole notion of authority outside ourselves. We all know parents who have abdicated their rightful authority in their own homes; schools where students don’t recognize the authority of the teachers; communities where citizens no longer respect police officers as authorities in their lives.
It seems also that the Church at large no longer commands the respect of authority that it once did. How often we have heard words to the effect… “Well, my church believes such and such, but I don’t.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority for our lives. How often have you heard someone dismiss something that the Bible plainly teaches because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore isn’t relevant to our day and age? It’s practically a cliché.
“There’s no authority in our day, and each person does what is right in their own eyes.”
Our culture is confused and many in the church are following the culture’s lead. Some time ago journalist, Steve Turner, put a humorous spin on this. He wrote what he called the modern day “Apostles’ Creed” to communicate what he perceived to be the state of affairs in our day. He wrote:
He then added this…
“If chance be the father of all flesh – disaster is his rainbow in the sky. And when you hear a state of emergency: sniper kills 10; troops on rampage; bomb blasts school; it is but the sound of man, worshipping his maker.” (Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, pp. 42-44)
When there is no recognized authority to govern and lead a people, then the people themselves become the measure for all things. You can imagine the chaos in a city of one million people, if each person thought that he or she was his or her only authority. Such a conclusion would certainly lead us to ask the same question as the late Francis Schaeffer: “How should we then live?”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes, which based on casual observation of their external conditions, looked basically the same. Yet our Lord tells us that there was a profound difference between them. One house was built upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other house was built upon the sure foundation of rock.
To state the obvious, Jesus was teaching us that we are all builders of lives. And, according to Jesus, we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation, which should undergird every sphere of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength we need to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word – both hearing it and obeying it.
Francis Schaeffer compared this idea to the small bridges throughout Europe built by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. He said these small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. And yet, he pointed out that they would immediately crumble if a modern-day 18-wheeler were to drive across one of them. The lesson: they are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load would destroy them.
I want to suggest that God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere of life – for the light and heavy loads. United Methodists believe that God’s Word is authoritative and sufficient for every sphere of our faith and life.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how greatly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy that all Christians would be persecuted, and false teachers would continue to run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.
It was in that context that Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. He then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his salvation, faith and life. “The holy Scriptures,” Paul wrote, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
We’ll dig into those words of the Apostle in the next post.
Grace and Truth,