To focus us on a basic understanding of Christian existence, I want us to begin with an incident that happened in Israel's early history. This incident occurred before Israel completed its journey from Egypt to Palestine. It begins in Numbers 22.

  1. This massive migration of Israelites was camped on the plains of Moab.
    1. The city of Jericho was nearby on the opposite side of the Jordan River.
      1. Balak, the Moabite king, saw this huge mass of people camped in the plains.
      2. He and all his people knew that the Amorites could not stop Israel.
        1. The Moabites were terrified.
        2. They feared that Israel had come to conquer them, and they knew that they could not defeat them.
    2. So Balak the king sent a delegation to a man named Balaam, a seer, who lived near the Euphrates River
      1. Balaam was known for his spiritual power.
      2. Balak's message: "An enormous people has come out of Egypt and are camped opposite us."
      3. "Since it is impossible for us militarily to defeat them, I request that you come place a curse on them."
      4. "If you curse them, perhaps we can militarily drive them away."
      5. "This I know: whom you bless is blessed and whom you curse is cursed."
    3. Balak sent this message with an impressive delegation who took an impressive gift to entice Balaam to come and use his power of divination.
      1. The delegation brought the message to Balaam.
      2. Balaam said that he would have to ask God what he should do.
      3. God told Balaam, "Don't go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed."
      4. Balaam told the delegation to return to Moab without him because the Lord told him not to return with them.
    4. When the messengers reported to King Balak, the king sent a larger, more prestigious delegation to Balaam promising greater honor with greater riches.
      1. "I beg you, Balaam, do not allow anything to keep you from coming."
      2. "You must come curse this people."
      3. Balaam told the delegation, "I can do nothing contrary to God's commandment."
        1. "But spend the night here."
        2. "I will find out what else the Lord will say to me."
        3. God said, "If they want you to go, go, but only speak what I tell you to speak."
    5. Balaam got up early the next morning and went, and God was extremely angry that Balaam went.
      1. Were it not for Balaam's faithful donkey, an angel would have killed Balaam.
      2. When Balaam's eyes were opened so he could see the danger, he said, "I have sinned. If this displeases you, I will go back."
      3. The angel replied, "Go with them, but only speak the words that I tell you to speak."

  2. Our reaction: "Wait a minute. I don't understand what is happening here. Why was God angry?"
    1. God's anger challenges our basic model for determining correct behavior.
      1. Our basic model:
        1. The most important question is the question of authority.
        2. Make certain God authorizes what you do.
        3. As long as you have God's authority, you are free to proceed.
      2. At first glance, it appears that Balaam followed our model.
        1. The first time he took the matter to God.
        2. When God said, "Do not go," he did not go.
        3. The second time he said that he could not do anything more than God commanded, and he approached God again.
        4. The second time God told him he could go but to speak only what he was told.
        5. Balaam went, but he obtained permission to go.
      3. Then why was God angry? God's anger does not fit our model.
        1. Some suggest, "God was angry because Balaam went to God a second time to see 'what else' God would say."
          1. That is an important clue to the problem.
          2. But I doubt that was the problem.
          3. It is common to make repeated requests of God concerning the same matter, problem, or desire.
        2. When we are committed to God's will, there is something besides divine authority that is as important as divine authority.
          1. Divine purpose is as important in the will of God as is divine authority.
          2. I can distort divine authority to support my desires and conclusions.
          3. If I surrender to divine purposes as well, I am concerned about God's desires.
    2. Let me challenge you to see this.
      1. God's entire first answer was this: "Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people (divine authority); for they are blessed (divine purpose)."
      2. Do not bless the Moabites and curse Israel because Israel is blessed.
      3. Blessed by whom? By God.
      4. "Balaam, you need to understand this: I have a purpose for Israel; Israel is blessed."
    3. Consider carefully what happened.
      1. Three times at three different sites Balaam offered sacrifices and pronounced a blessing on Israel.
      2. King Balak was irate.
      3. He brought Balaam to curse Israel, not bless them.
        1. Why did Balaam bless Israel?
        2. Immediate answer: because this is the word God put in his mouth.
        3. Primary answer: because God's purposes were to be achieved through Israel.
    4. Then why was God angry when Balaam decided to return with Balak's delegation?
      1. Balaam was deaf to God's declaration of purpose in Israel.
      2. Balaam was not focused on God's purposes; he was focused on his desire.
      3. Balaam was sensitive to divine authority, but not to divine purpose.

  3. "David, what does this have to do with my Christian existence?"
    1. It states something fundamental to your serving God's will.
      1. God will let you do whatever you want and decide to do.
      2. When you are only concerned about divine authority, you often will find yourself opposing divine purpose in the name of authority.
      3. This is an essential question every Christian must answer:
        1. Am I only concerned about God's authority in my life and behavior?
        2. Or, am I concerned about both God's authority and God's purposes?
      4. If you decide that you are only concerned about God's authority, if you decide you can do anything you choose to do if it is covered by God's authority, you make the same mistake Balaam made.
      5. If you want to seek spiritual maturity in your life, you must be as concerned about God's purposes as you are about God's authority.
    2. To grasp the importance of understanding God's purposes, consider this.
      1. Look around you and listen.
        1. Hate groups appeal to God's authority to justify hating.
        2. Racists groups appeal to God's authority to justify racism.
        3. Violent groups appeal to God's authority to justify violence.
        4. Some political groups appeal to God's authority to justify their perspectives.
        5. Some economic groups appeal to God's authority to justify their economics.
        6. Somewhere in our society a group or an individual appeals to God's authority to justify any form of human conduct that you can imagine.
      2. Look in the church:
        1. There are Christians who appeal to God's authority to justify destroying reputations of other Christians, making false accusations against other Christians, and misrepresenting other Christians.
          1. "He or she is a false teacher."
          2. "God authorizes us to oppose false teachers."
          3. "We must destroy their evil influence."
          4. "Therefore we are justified in taking any course of action necessary to destroy their evil influence."
          5. Or, if we appeal to authority, the end justifies the means.
          6. Such actions give little consideration to God's purposes in Christ.
        2. There are Christians who use God's authority to create division.
          1. "We must separate ourselves from the unfaithful."
          2. "By our definitions and criteria, these baptized believers are unfaithful."
          3. "We must keep the church pure."
          4. "So in this situation creating division is the godly thing to do."
          5. This reasoning is blind to God's purposes in unity.
          6. It is blind to the fact that the passages urging unity and oneness were written to the congregations.
        3. Too many things illustrate our use of divine authority to oppose divine purpose. Just consider our confrontations in the church about:
          1. Congregational cooperation.
          2. The use of church buildings.
          3. Positions on how the world will end.
          4. The use of Bible classes.
          5. The way we serve communion.

  4. In your personal life, God will allow you to do what you choose to do.
    1. If we refuse to be sensitive to God's purposes, God will allow us to use some concept of divine authority to justify anything we want to justify.
      1. God will not to stop us.
      2. God will not force us to seek His purposes.
    2. If our minds, hearts, and lives are to be open to God's will and work, we must keep our hearts soft, our minds open, and study the Bible to understand.
      1. We must be focused on Jesus Christ to understand the purposes of God.
      2. We must never stop learning.
      3. We must never be afraid for a better understanding to bring us closer to God and Christ.

God originally created us in His image. Before sin, God created us with the ability to be a reflection of God. After the death of Jesus, God recreates us in Christ when we place our lives in Christ. We are recreated with the ability to reflect God by reflecting Jesus.

In Christ God gives us this potential. But we must want to reflect God and Christ. That desire must be the driving ambition of a Christian's life. We become that reflection when we our understanding of God's authority and God's purposes is constantly maturing.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 August 1999
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This sermon is also available in French.

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