Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2014
I like to be comfortable, don’t you? And familiar people, places, and things make me comfortable. The unfamiliar can make me uncomfortable. But I’ve learned this: if I get too familiar, I can lose my appreciation for people, places, and things. There is an old saying: “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Sometimes we can get familiar with a biblical passage and fail to see its deeper truth. Or, we can become overly familiar with a person and fail to appreciate their gifts or contribution to our lives. We can start to focus more on their human frailties more than their worth and usefulness to God.
There is another old saying: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” That saying is as old as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and even Jesus. It was true of most of the prophets recorded in the Scriptures.
Luke tells an amazing story about Jesus, found in Luke chapter 4:16-30. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which was a small town with a poor reputation. He was known there as Joseph and Mary’s son who played with the other children in town and worked with His father in the carpentry shop. The people of Nazareth were familiar with Jesus (see Mark 6:3). They “knew” Jesus, or thought they did.
But, He had been away for years and a lot had happened. He had been baptized by John the Baptist, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and He had performed miracles. Yes, they had heard about what He was now doing, but to them, He was still just a “hometown boy.”
When Jesus came into town, He went to the synagogue, where the faithful went to worship and hear the Holy Scriptures. Jesus had gone there many times as He grew up. The locals were excited with expectation that He might do miracles there as He had elsewhere. He was met with smiles and pride in that he was “one of them”.
The leader of the synagogue requested that Jesus read the Scriptures and so He stepped forward, took the Book, and stood to read. He searched for a specific chapter and verses and arrived at Isaiah 61:1-2. Every eye was on Him and every ear attuned to His Words. Then He began….
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
Then He closed the Book, gave it to the attendant and sat down. Following His sitting down, He said something amazing, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus actually declared that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy. That prophecy had been long-awaited in Israel. But that is not what they heard. What they actually thought was, isn’t He eloquent! What wonderful words! Then they spoke the tell-tale words, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They were too familiar with Jesus to see who He actually was: their Messiah.
Jesus had already diagnosed their familiarity and dullness; those two conditions go together. So, He continued, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” And then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country” (see Luke 4:23-24). Jesus went on to cite Elijah and Elisha as examples.
When the folks in the synagogue heard this, they did not marvel, nor were they merely disappointed. They were enraged! So much so that they threw Him out of the synagogue and tried to push Him off a cliff at the edge of town. The Apostle John later put it mildly when he said, “He came to His own and they received Him not.” They wanted to “own” their prophets (see John 1:11). Their actions were prophetic.
They did not kill Jesus that day; His time had not yet come. He passed on His way to other villages where indeed He performed miracles, but not in Nazareth. They were too familiar with “Joseph’s Son.” Ironically, He was still known as “Jesus of Nazareth.” And to this day, in some quarters, He is only known as a Jewish teacher.
Rejection does not prevent God’s plan. In fact, it is part of His plan, and it occurs when people get too familiar with the messenger and the message. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and most of the prophets could all say, “Amen.”
The fact that human beings can honor the dishonorable while dishonoring the honorable is a testimony to the human condition. Such was Nazareth and such are many who get too familiar with God. It seems so incomprehensible that one’s own friends and family could become so enraged and dangerous.
This problem isn’t limited to those times, is it? Even if people bound by familiar mindsets do not become physically violent, they seek to destroy reputation and callings by malicious words toward a servant of God. They have their “reasons”.
Doctor R.G. Lee was a great preacher, one of the greatest. After one Sunday morning sermon, a lady said to him, “I didn’t like your sermon!” He replied, “The devil didn’t either. Classify yourself.”
Why do people respond that way to one who is trying to speak truth in love?
• They have forgotten history.
• They don’t love the Truth.
• They don’t love the messenger.
• They see the servant after the flesh rather than seeing the truth of the Holy Spirit.
• They are attuned to the culture, not The Holy Spirit.
• They are looking for entertainment, not God’s Word.
• They may not truly love God, only religion.
Jesus said, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (see Matthew 23:39). Those who honor God’s servants hear God’s Word.
I have been blessed to speak in many different kinds of churches, and my experience is that it is much easier to do where people honor God’s servants. There is often the “Spirit of Revelation” that is released, whereas when people fail to honor God’s servant, speaking becomes a chore.
The wrong kind of familiarity brings tragic results. Israel was exhibit “A”. Because they often rejected the prophets, they paid a terrible price. They “slammed the door” on God’s voice. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they had stoned the prophets and refused to be gathered unto God (see Matthew 23:37).
Many servants of God are not the victims of violence, merely discouragement. Discourage means “to take out the heart.” They look around and see their options are few: pander, entertain, grind it out, or quit. Some fall. Of course, there are also failures in the ministry. But the culture contributes to discouragement and that produces sad results. In this season, thousands of ministers are simply quitting and seeking other means to support their families. The damage to their families is another serious topic.
These problems were also true in the 1960s before God began again to pour out His Spirit in a time of great spiritual renewal. I pray that He will again. Churches and our nation desperately need another awakening.
Of course there are many servants of God who are faithful and enjoying success. And there are many faithful followers who hold up the hands of their leaders. Those models should be emulated.
My counsel to God’s servants would be to be faithful in all seasons (see 2 Timothy 4:2). The Apostle Paul gave that counsel to Timothy. There are “seasons.” The Lord is with us, even in the valley. In such times, seek to grow and serve God and His people more effectively. Another model is mentioned in Revelation 12:11, “Love not your life even unto death.”
Having said that to God’s servants, what should all of us as believers on their behalf?
• Be an armor bearer (see First Samuel 14:13).
• Be a prayer warrior.
• Be an encourager.
• Be on mission in the world… be fruitful (see John 15:16).
• Don’t receive accusations and gossip.
• Pray for the pastor and other leaders’ families.
• If you have an insight, tell it to the leader in humility and love.
I am a preacher’s kid, as are my children and my son’s child. I have been both a leader and member. My father pastored for 60 years, and I am drawing close to that. I know the faults of leaders and especially my own. I never wanted that role, given what I knew about myself and other leaders. I also knew how people could treat leaders. It hasn’t gotten better in the recent years as culture has become more secular and post-modern.
My thoughts are not a complaint; I have been blessed beyond measure with loyal friends, armor bearers, intercessors, and supporters. Many of you reading this are among those.
But I also know that there are “seasons” and there are painful failures and losses. When a leader loses a member or a friend, it is often like a surgery that takes something away. What I am saying is that we desperately need to hear from God, whether from a leader, prophetic voice, or simply from a friend and fellow believer.
To be able to hear from God, we must guard against over-familiarity and honor God’s servants who give us the Truth. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). That was Nazareth’s problem and later, Israel’s problem. Let it not be our problem. We have an opportunity to see and hear one another in Christ and in the Spirit. When we do, miracles can happen!
Scripture Reference: Luke 4:16-30, Mark 6:3, Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19, Luke 4:23-24, John 1:11, Matthew 23:39, 2 Timothy 4:2, Revelation 12:11, 1 Samuel 14:13, 2 Corinthians 5:16
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.