The Truth Principal

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23


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Entitlement Christianity

What does it mean to be entitled? It means to have an intrinsic right or claim to, usually because of position or birth. The president is entitled to certain rights and privileges that are inherent to the office of president, such as round-the-clock secret service protection. In our society, entitlement has come to mean “deserving” something that you haven’t earned either because of your race, your gender, or other socioeconomic class, your desire to have it, or for no particular reason at all except someone else has it and therefore you “should” too.  At least, that’s how it appears to me. At its core, entitlement is self-centeredness.

Recently, I have become disappointed by how vastly the entitlement mentality has infected Christians. It’s everywhere and so often, we don’t even recognize it. It is glaring in my children’s generation. I have thought about this a lot. This is the generation whose parents worried about damaging their self-esteem. So little girls were treated like princesses and they grew up to think they actually were and everyone should treat them as such. Competition was frowned upon (“it would hurt their self-esteem to lose”) so everyone got a trophy they didn’t earn. Those same children, all grown up, think they should always win, and because they haven’t had the experience of losing and losing and finally winning because of hard work, skill, effort, and perseverance, they give up easily. There is no reward quite like winning after so much struggle, but in order to avoid a little pain and tears along the way, we robbed them of this joy. We made their whole childhood about them, and now, remarkably, we are surprised that they still believe it. All of our foibles in parenting were done with such good intentions, but we allowed societal and church fads and trends to lead us.

Ultimately, regardless of who our parents were or how well we parented, every person makes their own choices about who they are and what they allow to define them. We have all seen people from terrible home situations overcome their past to be thoughtful, productive, gracious, loving people. We have likewise seen people raised in loving homes with every benefit waste their lives in laziness, addiction, or empty and self-centered pursuits. And we know that, by God’s grace, when we give our life to Him, we become a new creature; new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As I have been thinking about this plague of entitlement alongside my theme of obedience, they keep intersecting. God calls us to a life that is completely opposite of entitlement. If anyone has a legitimate claim to entitlement, it would be Jesus, the King of kings. And yet…

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:28

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 

He gave up his divine privileges. Can you imagine? No person on earth, no matter how rich or powerful, can even come close to having what Christ gave up. This is amazing. And He gave it up for us – to serve and save us – not because we are “entitled” but simply because of His great love for us, love that we don’t deserve.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24 

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Guidelines for a King

As I have been studying obedience in preparation for my next chapel with my students, I came across the guidelines God gave Israel for a king, before they ever had one. It can be found in Deuteronomy 17. The verses that caught my attention were verses 18-20. They say, “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.  He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees.  This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” (New Living Translation)

There were several things that grabbed my attention in this passage that I had never really thought about before.

  1. The king is commanded to copy for himself God’s law. He already had the law, so it wasn’t because he didn’t have it that he needed to copy it. As an educator, this is striking. God is the Teacher of all teachers, and He knows that copying something assists in learning. The king was required to make his own copy in his own writing. After copying the full law, he should be intimately familiar with it!  It would have been a crash course – Law 101.
  2. He is to copy it in the presence of the Levitical priests. No summarizing or rewording. No adding to or taking away from. Presumably the priests would ensure the accuracy of the copy he was to make. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.”
  3. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. Now this wasn’t the full Bible that we have today, of course. It was simply God’s law – probably just the book of Deuteronomy. But he was to read it every day. I don’t think this was a “verse a day” reading. I think God intended him to read the whole law every day. Regardless, reading it every day would ensure he was intimately familiar with the law. He would know it inside and out.

And why did God require all this?

  1. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. He will learn to fear the Lord by obeying, and you cannot obey completely without knowing what needs to be obeyed. Unlike other countries where the king was the law maker, Israel belonged to God and He was the Ruler of all and the law giver. The king was learning his rightful place “under” God.
  2. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. Leaders often behave as if they are “above the law”, so maybe the daily reading was intended to keep the king grounded. I think that the more he understood the law, the more his own sinful heart would be exposed and it would humble him.
  3. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. Throughout Deuteronomy, it is clear that God expects complete obedience to every detail of the law. Just like a dieter who stops counting and weighing and logging their food intake, it’s easy to let things slide a little. The accountability of daily reading would ensure complete and consistent obedience.
  4. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel. God repeatedly promises blessings for those who faithfully obey his laws, not only for that king, but for generations to come as long as they continue to obey.

I wonder if any of the kings actually followed these directions, from making their own copy, to reading it daily until the day they died. If you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who did. We know that Saul, the first king over Israel, did not. In fact, he lost the throne because he did not obey completely. You can read about that in 1 Samuel 15. While David was a “man after God’s own heart” I think the sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband might not have happened if he had been reading the law daily. Many kings did what was “detestable” in God’s sight, so we can be sure they did not.  Maybe it was Josiah that did. The “Book of the Law” was found during a renovation of the temple in the 18th year of his reign. He immediately read it and humbled himself before God. 2 Kings 23:25 says, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.”

There have been many disappointing and heartbreaking stories in the news recently of Christian leaders who have fallen for one reason or another. I think God’s instructions for a king are really appropriate instructions for all of us, particularly those of us in leadership. Meditating on this passage today has really challenged me to be more intentional and diligent, reading God’s word daily, so that I can be more firmly grounded in the truth and more completely, wholeheartedly obedient.