Wolves and Their Worshippers
Robert Wurtz II
But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and you did not receive me: if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, which receive honor one of another, and do not seek the honor that comes from God only? (John 5:42–44)
Our passage is one of the most sobering in the entire New Testament. The Lord Jesus is telling the people that they do not have the love of God in them and then follows it up with the reason why. Understand that the love of God spoken of here is not the love of God as defined by an evil and adulterous generation; but the true love of God that seeks God’s glory and His will for the people. So if they are not motivated by the true love of God; what is motivating them? We will explore that question in this entry.
Earlier in John 5:34, Jesus said that He did not receive the testimony of men. The very works He was doing, in His Father’s name, and by His Father’s leading, testified of Him. He was sent by the Father to do His will. In fact, Jesus mentions being sent three times in John 5 alone. He was the sent one (if you will). He did not send Himself. He did not come with His own agenda. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7 emphasis added). In this way, Jesus Christ will serve as the model template for all future “sent ones.” In a different figure, the Father is the Lord of the Harvest, and He sends forth His laborers into His harvest. Jesus was the first and many will follow.
In John 5:41, Jesus tells us about something else he does not receive; honor from men. That is to say, He was not looking for man’s approval — nor was He concerned about their opinions. He was not ambitious. His desire was to accomplish the will of the Father. He was not like the religious leaders who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:43) They were forever doing something to be seen so that men would praise them. (Matthew 6:1-5) This was not Jesus. His whole state of mind was different than these ambitious men. What a pity that man would feign religion for their own selfish ambitions.
How Can The Ambitious Believe?
Have you ever been talking to someone trying to explain something that to you is very obvious, and yet they are not getting it? You look into their face, and their eyes just seem to glaze over. They hear you talking, but they are not hearing you. This is challenging enough when speaking of carnal subjects; but what are we to make of it when we speak of Spiritual things? I often speak with people of the things of God, and it is as if they weigh what I am saying against their own agenda to determine if they will receive it or not. More often than not, the Biblical counsel is rejected. This would seem to be a mystery except the Lord had told us why this happens. It happened to Him, and it will happen to us. Observe from John 5:42-44:
The passage reveals two issues that are obstacles to a genuine belief in Christ and His words:
1. People desire to give the glory that belongs to God alone to those who come in their own name.
2. People cannot believe Christ because they are more concerned about receiving glory from men (that belongs to God alone) than receiving the glory that comes from God.
In other words, men seek to give and receive the glory that belongs exclusively to God. That is a very sobering thing to ponder. Once a person has charted a course for receiving glory from men, they cut themselves off from receiving the teachings of Jesus Christ. Why? Because one cannot build ones own kingdom and Christ’s Kingdom at the same time. To seek the glory of men is to fall in the ditch with a multitude of names who have disgraced God and the people of God over the centuries. It is a sure evidence that the spirit of Satan is at work in the person.
It is embedded in fallen human nature to want to idolize people. In the 21st century, we have television shows that manufacture human idols. People worship talent as if it were an attribute of deity. Think of all the young girls that have been filmed screaming, weeping, and fainting as their favorite celebrity passed by them. The stage is the place where man is worshiped. Crowds in the thousands spend good money to throng at a chance to pay homage to another man or woman. This is what the religious leaders were doing in Israel. This is what the people were doing at Ephesus in Acts 20. People want to serve the Lord for the glory of a Rock Star. In modern times the basic temptation is the same — only the circumstances are different.
The True Sent Ones
Human nature desires to be popular. Few people enjoy being an outcast. People like praise, acceptance, and affirmation. Some will do almost anything to draw attention to themselves; they want their five minutes of fame. This principal in man, if left undealt with in a professor of Christ, becomes a major obstacle to the program of God. This is why Paul wept when he was leaving Ephesus. He knew that men would come drawing disciples after themselves. A band of “self-sent” people were about to rise up and challenge the truly sent ones. One group tried to follow in the footsteps of Christ — doing the Father’s will. Another group inserted themselves into the Father’s harvest doing their own thing. What a sad state of affairs! Here was Paul, who had spent several years pointing the people to Jesus Christ, and now this other group will have their opportunity. Even as he was leaving the area he commended them to God and not to man. He reminded them of how he conducted himself so they could contrast it with the self-serving, dangerous leaders that were rising up.
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:27–29 KJV)
We need not be theologians to understand what Paul is saying here. He reminds the people that he did not shrink back in declaring the WHOLE counsel of God to these Ephesians. In fact, he preached to them until their blood was no longer on his hands. Nevertheless, as soon as he left the whole paradigm was going to change. Men would solicit their own followings and take the peoples attention off of Christ and lay it on themselves. They would do this by preaching a Gospel that tickles the peoples ears; that made them feel good about themselves. (Romans 16:18; 1 Thess. 2:5) This is a diabolic strategy that makes the people codependent on the leader to build what we call today “self-esteem” (another word for pride). (Matthew 7:15; 2 Timothy 4:3; 2 Peter 2:1; Mark 13:22; Jude 4; et al.)
How should we characterize these type people? Paul called them wolves that will show no mercy on the flock. They allure the people away from Christ with niceness. They stand in the place of God and affirm and reaffirm the people — never challenging them to consciously respond to the dealings of the Holy Spirit. They stand in the assembly as if they are the Head — rather than Christ. The whole ministry becomes “man based.” Slowly the people die from a lack of genuine edification. They are fed a substitute for the sustenance which comes from Christ alone (His word). Why? Because the man wanted the attention on him. Why? Because the people would rather give glory to man than to God. Yea rather, they give glory to man in the name of giving it to God.
More Hope For An Atheist
How can you believe, which receive honor one of another, and do not seek the honor that comes from God only?
I am persuaded that there is more hope for an atheist than for a man or woman who seeks honor from men rather than God alone. Jesus asked, “How can you believe?” What is implied? They are not believing. This question ought to give us pause and make us tremble. If something is impossible from Christ’s perspective; what hope on earth is there? Certainly, none while the person continues to receive honor one of another, and will not seek the honor that comes from God only. Who do we want to please? Paul asked the Galatians, Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10) That’s right. He would be the servant of men.
Whose approval is more valuable? Whose friendship is more important? If a chorus of a trillion men shouted our praises from cradle to grave it would not carry the weight of simply hearing, “Well done thou good and faithful servant” from the one mouth of God.
Some people are never going to “get it” until they stop basing their lives and beliefs on the opinions of men. We cannot seek to receive glory from God and man at the same time. It will be one or the other. No man can serve two masters.