A cursory reading of the Scriptures will reveal that it is not only important that we believe and confess what is written, but that we also “practice” or “do” it. This is true with regard to our ethical or moral conduct as well as the way we do ministry. We have been called to promote the truth of Scripture throughout the world, but we must do so according to the Scriptures. We are stewards of the truth of God and not inventors of it. Likewise, have been given specific orders regarding how we are to advance the truth and therefore we have no need to innovate, contrive or concoct a new plan. From the several texts that we will consider in this chapter, we will learn that submission, not innovation, is the need of the day!
The Great Error
“You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”– Deuteronomy 12:8
“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”– Judges 17:6; 21:25
The wilderness wanderings of Israel and the time of the Judges represent two of the most tragic scenes in Israel’s history. Although each is distinct in its circumstances, a common thread links them together. In both cases, God’s people had set aside the revelation of His will and were functioning according to what seemed right in their own eyes.
In Deuteronomy 12:8, Moses instructs the people that once they entered into the promise land a change would be required. In the immediate context, the phrase, “doing whatever is right in his own eyes” refers to the laxity with which they had followed God’s precepts, especially with regard to the service of the tabernacle and their offerings. Their present disregard for God’s will and their nonchalant attitude toward his precepts would no longer be tolerated but must give way to a strict adherence to God’s revealed will. Here we learn a simple but fundamental lesson. God not only calls for our worship and service, but He also requires that we worship and serve in the manner that He has prescribed.
In Judges 17:6 and 21:25, the author describes in a single stroke of the pen, the chief cause for all the maladies that had come upon Israel during that time—“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The first phrase of the verse is often overlooked but is key to understanding the whole. Israel’s king was to be appointed by God and was to rule according to the revealed will of God.1 Thus, during the time of the Judges the people did “what was right in their own eyes” because of the absence of divine authority and an ignorance of the revealed will of God.
From the moment of Israel’s formation as a nation, to the exile, and finally to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Israel’s great “sin of sins” was “doing what was right in its own eyes” instead of simply following the divine directives set before them in the Law and the Prophets. To some degree, this same sin plagues the church today. Whenever the will of God, revealed through the inspired Scriptures, is forgotten, distorted, or replaced with the wisdom of man the result is always the same—heresy, sin, impotence, chaos, and judgment. It is for this reason that God declared through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.”2 The nation of Israel was rejected from being God’s representative and servant on the earth because it had spurned the revelation of His will through the word. The church at large and the individual Christian today must be wary of committing the same error.
In Proverbs 29:18, the Scriptures warn, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” Too often this biblical maxim has been taken out of context and used to promote some vision of the pastor or to motivate the church to do “great things.” However, the meaning of the word “vision” in the first phrase is clarified by the word “law” in the second. The true meaning of the proverb is, “Where there is no law or revelation of God’s will, the people run unstrained.” Or in the words of the author of Judges, the people “do what is right in their own eyes.”
Everything in the Christian life and ministry is dependent upon our genuine recognition of the foolishness and impotence of human wisdom and our absolute dependence upon the will and power of God. The great message to the church and its ministers is that we must not attempt to grow the church or advance the cause of the Great Commission through human wisdom, ingenuity, or cleverness, but through strict adherence to what is written in the Scriptures. We must not only “hold fast” to biblical doctrine, but we must also “hold fast” to a biblical methodology. It is a commonly accepted truth that the end does not justify the means. This is especially true with regard to ministry and the Great Commission. Not only must we have a biblical end or goal (i.e. making disciples), but we must also employ biblical means to attain that goal. In our desire to fulfill the Great Commission, we must employ only those strategies and methodologies that are clearly set forth in the Scriptures. The more we stray from the biblical standard and rely upon our own ingenuity or cleverness, the less we will see the power of God and the advancement of His kingdom! It is a contradiction to employ unbiblical means in order to propagate biblical truth. It is equally dangerous to employ means that are not warranted by the Scriptures in order to fulfill the tasks that are assigned to us in the Scriptures. For these reasons and more, we must take every opportunity to drive nails in the coffin of pragmatism and human wisdom. We must be equally relentless in submitting ourselves and all our endeavors to the twin doctrines of Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of Scripture.
- Deuteronomy 17:18-19: “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes…”
- Hosea 4:6
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer