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Pentref Baptist Church

Thought of the Day

May 12, 2020

My reading today took me to the sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel, and a passage sometimes known as the “Four Woes” (there are eight woes if you read Matthew’s gospel).

The last of the four woes says this: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets”.

The phrase “I don’t care what people think of me,” trips off the tongue quite easily, but I think it is seldom true. To some degree the desire to be popular, to be liked by others, is something that we all suffer from.

The false prophets of old suffered from this to the extent that they no-longer proclaimed the word of God, but they told the people what they wanted to hear. Their words made them popular at the time, but when they failed to come true their popularity soon took a nose dive.

In one English translation of the Bible (I can’t remember which one), when Moses comes down from the mountain top and finds the people worshiping the Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what’s going on? Aaron replies “Only giving the people what they want.”

This, I think, is the real temptation of leadership that this ‘woe’ refers to. The temptation is not to lead in the direction that the leader believes God is going, but for the sake of popularity, to give the people what they want.

In leadership, especially in pastoral leadership in the church, there is a balance that has to be kept. On the one hand the pastor has to avoid simply giving the people what they want, on the other hand there has to be a listening to what the people have to say. Over the years I have made many changes to the way that I do things, because of the constructive criticism that I have received (usually but not always delivered with Christian love), but I have tried never to change in order just to become or remain popular.

There is a story recounted in 1 Kings, chapter 22, of the prophets Zedekiah and Micaiah. Zedekiah tells the people what they want to hear and is popular. Micaiah tells the truth and is unpopular, and he is sent to prison for his trouble.

In the end it is Micaiah that is vindicated, as it is his, not Zedekiah’s prophecy, that turns out to be true.

I think there is a danger in this present crisis, that those in charge may be swayed by a desire to be popular, a desire to give the people what they want, and thereby to make the wrong decisions.

Let us pray for all leaders whether in state or church, that they would resist the temptation to be popular, that they would not simply bow to the clamour and give the people what they want. Let us pray that our leaders would have the courage to do that which is right, wherever that may leave them in the opinion polls.

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