By Tim Sullivan


It seems a common problem among people who want to be considered the servants of the Lord to be rarely (if ever) satisfied with the quality of their service. Personally speaking, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t feel like I should be doing more for the Lord. Now, this is an acceptable state of mind so long as it remains in check. No one wants to harbor a self-satisfied spirit. On the other hand, it is faithful obedience and not religious activity that is the key to pleasing God. Anything done in the name of the Lord are pleasing to him only so long as he wanted that thing done.

This desire to “do more” is what makes God's people susceptible to the sin of presumptuousness. People who desire to live by faith sometimes think that in order to “prove themselves” they should be willing to take chances or “walk out on a limb” for God’s holy cause.

Psalm 19:13:
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

The “great transgression” of Psalm 19:13 is disobedience in the name of the Lord. It is the sin of presumption, to act without authority or permission, supposing that God is somehow obligated to support any venture tied to his name. Webster’s Dictionary tells us that presumption is “marked by headstrong confidence; it is unreasonable adventurousness; it is venturing to undertake something without reasonable prospect of success, or against the usual probabilities of safety.” The Lord does not want his people to be presumptuous. He wants them to follow him and to act within the boundaries he sets.

The sin of presumption can beset both leaders and followers. One of the biblical qualifications to the office of an elder is that the candidate be not selfwilled.

Titus 1:7:
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;

2 Peter 2:10:
But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

Rebellion against God's authentic leaders has never been acceptable.

Deuteronomy 17:12-13:
12 And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.
13 And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.

But too often it is the behavior of the elders themselves that encourages the congregation to despise their rule. Such is the case of those who falsely claim to speak for the Lord.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22:
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

After God proclaimed forty years of wandering for all the Israelites who had been swayed by the ten fearful spies, some of the men decided that now they would believe and went presumptuously into battle. This second act of disobedience did not remedy the first.

Deuteronomy 1:41-45:
Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned against the LORD, we will go up and fight, according to all that the LORD our God commanded us. And when ye had girded on every man his weapons of war, ye were ready to go up into the hill.
42 And the LORD said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies.
43 So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and went presumptuously up into the hill.
44 And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah.
45 And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.

These soldiers were not lacking in weapons of warfare nor were they lacking in zeal. They failed because they “went presumptuously up into the hill.” Faith without obedience is not faith. Yes, the testimony of Romans 8:31 is true: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” God is for his people when they take up his cause. Otherwise their striving is in vain.

The tragic death of King Josiah testifies of a man who died as a result of a presumptuous sin. Josiah got involved in a fight that was none of his business.

2 Chronicles 35:20-25:
20 After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him.
21 But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.

The king of Egypt warned Josiah to stop meddling with God, and mind his own business. But Josiah would not hearken to his counsel.

22 Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.
23 And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded.
24 His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.
25 And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations.

Josiah was among the finest of all the kings of Judah. How Jeremiah must have wept! He knew Josiah should not have died in battle that day. He should not have even been on the battlefield.

Compare Josiah’s defeat with King David’s victory as recorded in 1 Chronicles 14.

1 Chronicles 14:10-11a:
10 And David enquired of God, saying, Shall I go up against the Philistines? and wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto him, Go up; for I will deliver them into thine hand.
11 So they came up to Baal-perazim; and David smote them there....

Being God’s man put David in the best possible position for success, but his success was determined by his obedience. Imagine if he thought, “Wow, that worked out awfully well! I think I will try it again next Sunday with the Jebusites!” Would he have had the same success?

There is a lovely saying that is popular among Christians: “What would Jesus do?” This is fine and proper in its true context. The Lord left many wonderful examples for his people to follow. But when someone asks, “What would Jesus do?” who is he asking? If he is asking himself, he is asking for trouble! The best response to the question, “What would Jesus do?” is that he would seek the will of his Father.

John 5:30:
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

What can we learn from the examples of the soldiers of Israel, of Josiah, of David and of Christ himself? God does not want his people taking chances, acting presumptuously and calling it faith. He doesn’t want them meddling in situations that are not their business. God's people need to seek and obey his guidance so they are innocent of the great transgression of presumptuous sins.


From the August 2002 issue of The Vine & Branches
Revised February 2017