By Tim Sullivan


It seems a common problem among people who want to be considered the servants of the Lord: We are rarely (if ever) satisfied with the quality of our 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. I’d hate to be guilty of harboring a self-satisfied spirit. On the other hand, I know that it is faithful obedience and not religious activity that is the key to pleasing God. Whatsoever I do in the name of the Lord is pleasing to him only so long as he wanted that thing done.

This desire to “do more” is what makes us susceptible to the sin of presumptuousness. We who desire to live by faith sometimes think that in order to “prove ourselves” we 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 you in your chosen venture. 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.” Our Lord does not want us to be presumptuous. He wants us to follow him and to act within the boundaries he sets.

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;

To be selfwilled is to be presumptuous. It is presumptuous for anyone to think he can best serve God outside the confines of His holy government. Those who despise God’s government despise the God who ordained it.

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.

Deuteronomy 17:12-13:
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.

The people of God can rest assured that God keeps his eyes on those he entrusts with the oversight of his flock.

1 Peter 5:2-3:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Every overseer will give account of his rule.

Hebrews 13:17:
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

So often it is the presumptuous behavior of the elders themselves that leads others to despise their rule. Such is the case of those who claim to speak for the Lord when He has not in fact spoken to them.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22:
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.

Here we read of a company of selfwilled soldiers who went presumptuously into battle.

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. Their lack was in obedience. They failed because they “went presumptuously up into the hill.” Zechariah 4:6b declares, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” Yes, the testimony of Romans 8:31 is true: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” But let us never presume that God is for us! If our cause is not the Lord’s cause, our striving will be 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 35:20-21:
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.

vv. 22-25:
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:
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....

David knew that being one of God’s chosen people did not, in and of itself, guarantee his victory. It certainly put him in the best possible position for success, a “golden opportunity” if there ever was one! It did not, however, give him license to be selfwilled. His success was determined by his obedience.

There is a lovely saying that is popular among Christians today: “What would Jesus do?” This is fine and proper in its true context. Our Lord left many wonderful examples for us to follow. But we must not misinterpret this saying to suggest that we should try to figure out the proper Christian response to a situation at hand. Imagine walking into a church that seems more preoccupied with the sale of religious goods than with true worship. You ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” Well, on one occasion, he overturned all the tables and drove the merchants out of the building! Is that what the Lord wants you to do? You’d better be sure!

When you ask, “What would Jesus do?” who are you asking? If you are asking yourself, you are asking for trouble! Rather than ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” ask, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” The best response to the query “What would Jesus do?” is that he would seek the will of his Father.

John 5:30b:
... I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

The triumph of Elijah over the prophets of Baal demonstrates the victory that is ours through obedience.

1 Kings 18:21-24:
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.
22 And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

All through the day, the prophets of Baal called upon the name of their dark lord without success. Finally, they gave up. Now it was Elijah’s turn.

vv. 29-35:
And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

Talk about high drama! The high priests of darkness watched in wonder and mounting terror as men poured four, eight, no, twelve barrels of water over the altar. The evening sky, growing dark as the sun sank into the horizon, provided the perfect backdrop...

v. 36:
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.

No wonder Elijah was so absolutely confident! He knew there would be no answer from Baal. He knew the fire from heaven would fall at the precise moment God told him it would. “Let it be known that I am thy servant!” he cried out, “And I have done all these things at thy word!”

Maybe I should write a book called “The Elijah Prayer” and teach that his prayer is a template of how all prayers should be prayed. It might even become a best seller! But does that mean all such prayers would be answered? Not unless each petitioner could say as did Elijah, “I have done all these things at thy word.”

Imagine if Elijah thought, “Wow, that worked out awfully well! I think I’ll try it again next Sunday with the Philistines!” Would he have had the same success? Of course not! But don’t we do the same thing when we devise situations of our own minds by which we intend to “prove” God?

What Elijah knew is the same thing that all great men of prayer have known. The first thing to discover is God’s will. Do you really think God would have answered George Mueller’s famous petitions for his orphanages if God did not want those orphanages built in the first place? Of course not.

That is why I like to say I do not believe in prayer. I hope that statement shocks you, but I also hope you will see my point: No, I don’t believe in prayer. I believe in God and that is why I pray. I do not believe in reading the Bible. I believe in God and that is why I read his Word. My faith is in him, and not in rituals.

What can we learn from the examples of Josiah, David and Elijah? God does not want us taking chances, acting presumptuously and calling it faith. He doesn’t want us meddling in situations that are not our business. Therefore, we should pray for wisdom, that we be kept back from presumptuous sins and instead enjoy the victories that have been set in front of us.

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.

God does not set battles in front of you. God sets victories before you. I pray you will enjoy a victorious life of service to the Most High.



From the August 2002 issue of The Vine & Branches