We have a saying in the language of Malawi. We say, "Palibe kanthu," which means, "No problem ... it doesn't matter." However, what doesn't matter to one matters very much to another. What doesn't matter to us, matters very much to God. We often take very lightly what God takes very seriously. The Pharisees brushed off the sins of hypocrisy, pride and self-righteousness with a "No problem ...palibe kanthu." Not so Jesus. He was scathing in His denunciation of these religious leaders. It was no laughing matter.
I have been intrigued by the men Jude chose to illustrate those who had "crept in unawares" among the believers and were the objects of God's wrath and judgment along with the Israelites who rebelled in the wilderness, the angels who lost their first estate, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude minced no words. He pronounced "woe" on them. Evidently, what they did were matters that matter with God.
What terrible things did Cain, Balaam, and Korah do that mattered with God and incurred His wrath? What was their sin? Remember, they were all the kind of men we find "among us"... religious God-fearing men. Let's take a look at them.
Cain was a man who worshipped the true God. Yet Jude said, "Woe!" Why?
Because while it matters very much WHO we worship, it matters very much HOW we worship. The matter that mattered was man's MEANS of ACCESS to God.
Balaam was a man who obeyed the true God to the letter. Yet Jude said, "Woe!" Why? Because while it matters very much that we submit to the GOD OF MEN, it matters very much that we submit to MEN OF GOD.
The matter that mattered was the MANDATED AUTHORITY God uses in leadership.
Both Cain and Able worshipped the same God, but the way in which they approached God was very different. Cain approached God as a near equal. Had not Satan said, "Ye shall be as gods"? It was a god to God approach. There was no acknowledgment of unworthiness ... no sense of guilt. Cain had bought the devil's lie. He, too, was a god. He saw no need for repentance. Gods have no need to cry with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
God takes a very dim view of those who say they have no need of repentance. Remember the parable of the one hundred lost sheep? Jesus said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety nine "just persons who have no need of repentance." No need of repentance? Is there such a thing as a man who has no need of repentance? The Pharisees thought so, so Jesus took the words right out of their minds. But if you really want to know what Jesus thinks of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, read what He had to say about Pharisees in the Gospels. In no uncertain words He told them to repent or perish! (Maybe that is why the ninety and nine were left in the wilderness and the only sheep that got home was the one that admitted that it was lost.) The way of Cain is the way of the Pharisee. He thought of himself as a "just person who had no need of repentance." The way of Cain is the way of pride and self-righteousness.
It is a way of arrogance that dares to approach God without blood sacrifice. It is a way that refuses to believe that men are lost. It is the way that says there is no sin to be remitted, and therefore there is no need for the shedding of blood. It is a way that calls for "woe" and judgment.
MEANS OF ACCESS is a matter that matters.
Balaam was a God-fearing and obedient prophet. He never directly disobeyed anything God told him to do. When Balak's men came the first time, Balaam refused to go with them because God told him not to. When they came the second time, God told him to go with them, and he obeyed. When the angel stopped the donkey, Balaam was quick to say that he would return home if that was what God wished. God told him to proceed, but to only speak the words he would be given. He did so. Three times Balak tried to get Balaam to curse the children of Israel, and three times Balaam blessed them in obedience to what God told him to do. There is no more blessed prophecy concerning Israel than that given by Balaam. So why the "woe"?
The thing that mattered with God about Balaam was his MOTIVE. God not only looks at WHAT we do, but WHY we do it. When men do the right things for the wrong reasons, God says "Woe!" Again we look at the Pharisees. They prayed long prayers. Good! They prayed long prayers to be seen of man. Woe! They gave alms. Good!
They gave alms to have the glory of men. Woe! They fasted. Good! They disfigured their faces so that men would know they were fasting. Woe! Balaam, too, did the right things for the wrong reasons. So he tried to play both sides of the fence. He did exactly what God told him to do! Good! But all the time he was meticulously following orders, he was maliciously undermining God's people because he coveted what Balak had to offer. Woe!
The error of Balaam was the error in MOTIVE!
I doubt that any of us are in the ministry with evil motives. But the thing that concerns me is that Balaam's motives, like ours many times, were more "mixed" than "evil." And it is this mix of good intent and temptation that is troublesome and can lead us astray. We have to constantly check our motives. Why am I in the ministry? Why am I going back to school? Why am I accepting a new assignment? Why am I giving toward this project? Why am I shooting for a four-point average? Why am I revealing what I know about my brother's weakness?
In a day of tax breaks, top ten churches, missionary credit, plaques, prizes and peer pressure, it is very hard to test incentive and motivation. Of course, if we prefer our rewards down here, verily we have them. There is nothing wrong with setting high standards for ourselves and seeking to excel. But if, like Balaam, we become greedy and self-seeking and stoop to un-Christlike behavior in our seeking of rewards ... then we are heading for "woe" just as he did. And don't think we are not guilty. The scramble for headlines, the going to court of one Christian against another, the justification of opulent, the inflation of statistics, and the blatant untrue testimonies that are told to "encourage faith," all attest to the fact that we need to take a long look at our motives. Woe unto us if we don't, for God will not judge us according to outward appearances, but according to our hearts.
And what was the matter with Korah? What is wrong with obeying God rather than men? What is wrong with direct access to God? What is wrong with saying, "God told me to do it"?
Korah went wrong in the matter of MANDATE.
He was guilty of gainsaying God-given authority. And he did it under the pretense of obeying the very God who gave that authority!
When I want something very much, it is very helpful to have God on my side. After all, if God told me to do it, it is very hard for anyone to argue with God. So I say, "God told me to do it." That way, if anyone disagrees, he is not disagreeing with me. He is disagreeing with God. Neat!
Now don't get me wrong. I believe in hearing directly from God. I believe that God talks to men. I also believe that there are times when we have to obey God rather than men. But remember ... those times when the apostles refused to obey men, the men they refused to obey were not believers and were asking them to do something contrary to the command of God.
But among believers it is different. We submit to one another. We counsel one another. We uphold one another. Sometimes when I want something very much, I am in danger of confusing my own voice with God's voice. When this happens, I need help. It is for this reason that God has put checks and balances in the church. He has given gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This means that when I think I am hearing the voice of God, I have the help of my leaders who can confirm that it is indeed the voice of God speaking to me. What a blessed thing this is! It eliminates contention. It brings order in the body of Christ. It edifies the church.
Korah was right in saying all the people were holy. He was right in believing that he had direct access to God. But he was wrong, so wrong, in refusing to submit to the men that God had appointed to lead. Holy people do not "gainsay" their leaders. They respect them. They obey them. They believe that in the church, just as it is in civil government, what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Leaders will have to give an account of their leadership to God, but it is the duty of believers to obey those who have rule over them. Woe unto the believer who, in the name of obeying the God of men, refuses to obey men of God who rule over him!
Cain was right in worshipping the true God, but the MEANS by which he sought to approach God was absolutely evil. His was the unpardonable sin. He refused to acknowledge his need. He refused to repent. He refused to bring a blood sacrifice.
Balaam was right in obeying the true God, but his MOTIVES were self-seeking and covetous. The result was fornication and idolatry among God's people. He was technically right but terribly wrong. He turned the grace of God into lasciviousness!
Korah was right in saying all the people are holy and have access to God, but his rebellion against the man God had MANDATED as leader brought him and all who followed to fiery judgment.
MEANS, MOTIVE, AND MANDATE ... these are matters that matter.
They cannot be brushed aside with a "palibe kanthu ... no problem."
To neglect these matters in our walk with God is to invite the wrath of God upon us. Woe unto the man that ignores them!