Theology in 3D

Managing Our Differences, Part 5

Layton Talbert | November 1, 2021

So far we’ve seen:

  1. God uses only flawed vessels; that’s all he has. (Part 1)
  2. God can use our differences, and even our divisions, to advance his kingdom. (Part 2)
  3. God uses our differences to glorify himself. (Part 3)
  4. We need to understand why we disagree. (Part 4)

Around this next turn, however, a surprise awaits us. Remember, God uses only flawed vessels to begin with, because that’s all he has; and some of us are more flawed, and flawed more deeply, than others. So God’s use, and even God’s blessing, doesn’t mean we’re not flawed. In fact, Scripture repeatedly demonstrates that divine use neither requires, nor necessarily implies, divine approval.

The ramifications of this can rattle our mental paradigm. Commenting on Exodus 33:2-3, my pastor once pointed out that

in the same passage in which God is saying [to Israel], ‘I will not go up with you in your midst,’ He is also guaranteeing their success. . . . Now why would God be guaranteeing their success in the very moment that He is withdrawing His presence? . . .  In one word, it’s because of His covenant (v. 1), and His faithfulness to that. . . . Maybe we have not been prepared to acknowledge this, but is it possible that there can be gross disobedience to Scripture and, at the same time, indisputable success due only to God’s miraculous work? . . .  This is a passage in which God said that it would be so. . . . But what would be missing was God’s approving presence.

Mark Minnick, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” (Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Whetstone Conference, June 2007)

It is possible to enjoy a measure of success through the blessing of God but forfeit God’s approving presence in the process. God may use men and women with whom he is actively, even seriously, displeased. Disturbing as that may be to our assumption that divine blessing must surely mean divine approval, it’s amply exemplified in Scripture. Our goal should not be God’s use or even God’s blessing, but God’s pleasure.

God uses Balaams (Numbers 22-24). God blesses Samsons with success (Judges 14-16). Granted, those are pretty negative examples; hopefully we don’t view all with whom we disagree in that light.

Because God also uses Jehoshaphats, despite repeated rebukes and severe expressions of God’s displeasure and disapproval of some of his actions.

The Example of Jehoshaphat

Jehoshaphat is roundly commended by the Chronicler.

  • He was one of only eight godly kings in Judah (out of 20).
  • He was one of only three kings in Judah compared to David (2 Chron. 17:3-4).
  • He had a positive spiritual influence on Judah and instituted many great reforms (2 Chron. 17:6-9; 19:4-11).
  • He experienced God’s blessing on his reign (2 Chron. 20:1-30).
  • Scripture’s overall evaluation of him personally is quite complimentary (2 Chron. 19:3; 20:32).

But Jehoshaphat had a defining flaw: a habitual association with the ungodly kings of Israel (2 Chron. 18:1-2ff.; 20:35-36; 1 Kings 22:48-49; 2 Kings 3:6-12). And in every instance, God sent a prophet to communicate his disapproval (2 Chron. 19:1-2; 20:37; 2 Kings 3:13ff.).

God’s View of Jehoshaphat’s Actions

For example, read 2 Chronicles 19:2. The alliances of God’s leaders are extremely important to God. When such alliances betray the orthodoxy or the holiness for which they profess to stand, it confuses God’s people.

We might object that applying this to religious alliances is taking it out of context. This is a military alliance, not a spiritual alliance. But if God so severely rebukes a merely military alliance—for spiritual reasons—can we conclude that he is less concerned or less severe when it comes to religious alliances?

God’s rebuke of Jehoshaphat through his prophet Jehu in 2 Chronicles 19:2 is instructive. The verse makes the point that even when a man is—like Jehoshaphat—good, godly, and sincere, with an edifying ministry to God’s people that is blessed by God, it does not mean:

  • that all his actions are, therefore, right.
  • that his wrong actions should be overlooked or unrebuked because he is, after all, a good and godly and sincere man.
  • that there is not “wrath on him from the Lord” for his wrong actions or alliances—whether we see evidence of that wrath or not.
  • that his wrong actions and alliances necessarily nullify his good, godly, and sincere character.

How do we know that? From the next verse in the text.

God’s View of Jehoshaphat

Read 2 Chronicles 19:3. Our evaluation of others must be as honest and even-handed as God’s. Can a serial compromiser like Jehoshaphat be genuinely sincere and do good things for the Lord? Yes! Look at God’s account of Jehoshaphat’s actions after this rebuke. God spends the rest of chapters 19 and 20 telling us all the really good and godly things Jehoshaphat did after this. That must mean Jehoshaphat repented and reformed his compromising ways, right? If only . . .

Read 2 Chronicles 20:35.

Jehoshaphat’s apparent tone-deafness to the divine word is astonishing. Scripture’s overall commendation of Jehoshaphat compels us to acknowledge that he was a good and godly man greatly used by God. But part of his legacy is long-term damage to his own family and to the people of God. Because of his intermarriage and cooperation with the house of Ahab,

  • both his son (2 Chron. 21:6) and grandson (2 Chron. 22:3-4) did not follow Jehoshaphat’s example of personal godliness, but walked in the way of the house of Ahab.
  • the royal Davidic line was very nearly eradicated, thanks to his daughter-in-law Athaliah (2 Chron. 22:10ff.).
  • the influence of that alliance with the house of Ahab contributed to the propagation of Baal worship in Judah for years to come (2 Chron. 23:17).

God sent three different prophets to rebuke the godly Jehoshaphat for the same habitual sin. Personal godliness or divine usefulness does not exempt one from severe divine displeasure or from the censure and rebuke of fellow believers. That brings us to a fifth principle regarding managing our differences:

5. Sometimes it is appropriate to disagree (even vigorously).

In the narrative of Jehoshaphat, the prophets Micaiah, Jehu, Eliezer, and Elisha represent God’s perspective on this godly king’s repeated, problematic alliances. With whom in the narrative do we most sympathize and want to be identified?

  • The wicked kings Ahab, Ahaziah, and Jehoram? Surely not.
  • The genuinely godly but habitually compromising Jehoshaphat? Not bad company, right? But still . . .
  • Or those “negative” but honest prophets?  

Who is most clearly and consistently on the Lord’s side? Isn’t that what matters most?

Granted, Jehoshaphat’s sin is pretty blatant: aiding the Yahweh-abandoning, Baal-worshipping northern kingdom. It clarifies the kind of association the passage is specifically talking about. Beyond that, the applications can be messy. We are all, hopefully, trying to ground our applications in scriptural principle, and we will not always come to identical conclusions. That’s basically what this whole blog series is about.

(Question: Was Jehoshaphat trying to ground his guiding policy on basic scriptural principle and biblical-historical precedent? “I will go up; I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses,” in 1 Kings 22:4 and again in 2 Kings 3:7.)

At the same time, the Jehoshaphat narrative reminds us that a really godly person can sometimes make really bad decisions—even in the face of repeated rebukes from God’s word—and still be a really godly person with whom we are compelled to disagree, even vigorously. The point is, when rightly managed, such disagreements neither negate unity nor consign those with whom we disagree to the dustbin of apostasy.

At the same time, how we disagree is important. More on that in the next post.

One response to “Managing Our Differences, Part 5”

  1. Geon Kang says:

    Even though we are all flawed vessels, some vessels make lesser mistakes than others.
    More flawed vessels like me get positive discipline from spiritually more mature people.
    Praised the LORD prescribed the mature Christians for the spiritual health of the church.
    Especially Dr. Talbert for his contribution to the church.

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