The prophet Micah set before us one of the most profound pictures of peace that has ever been put into words. It’s difficult to imagine a world without war; without military implements, military training academies; a world without battlefields that flow red with the blood of youth. But not only is it difficult to imagine a world without war, when we read church history it is equally difficult to imagine the church without war. And let me state right off the top the number one manifestation of war in the church is our constant judgement of each other.
Eph.6:12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
This is the only legitimate warfare the church should be engaged in. But we all know this is not always the case. Very often our warring is against each other. The apostle James told us the origin of this particular warring: James 4: 1 Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.
I want my own way when it comes to theology and doctrine. I want my own way when it comes to ministry and function. But nowhere do I want my own way anymore than when it comes to mission; thus my theme: Mission Wars. My mission may be one hundred percent legitimate but when I begin to judge everybody else with respect to their position in relation to my mission, I am not doing spiritual warfare I am simply warring against my brother and sister.
James told us exactly where this type of war comes from. It has nothing to do with the external realities of our life. It has nothing to do with that particular brother or sister you are judging. James made it clear that this fighting comes from “deep inside yourselves.”
So the external manifestations of war – and I am speaking of the words of judgement we speak to and about each other – will never cease until the place “deep inside ourselves” is healed by the word of God. But as long as I can focus
upon you and blame you for the war then I can avoid looking at the place deep within my own heart.
The prophet’s picture of each man beneath his vine and fig tree is profoundly brilliant. In the context of this message let’s consider the vine and fig tree as the particular mission we have been assigned. We don’t get to choose our vine and fig tree. Whatever your mission is you did not plan it, create it, or choose it.
This means we do not own the mission; ownership belongs to the one who created it and assigned it. We are mere stewards of the vine and fig tree, and the vine and fig tree are never about the steward but always about the owner. When the steward speaks more of his stewardship than he does of the owner; there is a problem.
The first thing we need to know is the mission – the vine and fig tree – God has assigned us. If there is uncertainty about that we tend to remain quite insecure. Because of that insecurity we feel others who are confident about their mission are judging us.
To the degree that we truly know the mission God has called us to; to the extent that we truly understand the particular vine and fig tree God has assigned us to tend – to that same extent we will be passionate about that mission; and we should be. For instance, I know what my vine and fig tree is and have known from almost fifty years ago in Bible College. My mission is to the church (the believer as opposed to the unbeliever). My mission to the church is the preaching and teaching of the word of God. I don’t care what the structure is: a classroom, a pulpit, casual conversation in the corner, or reams and reams of written material on face book. I can tell you that there is nothing I am more passionate about than this.
But there’s a vulnerability that comes with that passion, and it is simply this: We tend to see and judge everything through the lens of our mission. We view our mission as the one mission that makes the church successful. I know this morning that if every believer on the planet would just abandon their vine and fig tree, get their butts over here under my vine and fig tree the church would finally experience revival, become perfectly mature and Christ could finally come and rapture us all out of here.
When we think of the church (in the broadest definition of that term) we realize there are multitudes of missions, ministries, callings, or functions involved in its life and expression. But if I had to pick two that were dominate – two that are found in pretty much every quarter of the church – they would be the preaching and teaching of the word, and secondly the mission of prayer/intercession.
Because my vine and fig tree lies with the teaching of the word let me use it to illustrate my point. If I call a series of Bible studies and twelve people show up, does that give me the right to judge those who don’t show up as not loving the word? There’s a great deal more to loving and learning the word than showing up at a public bible class. There was a time I did not understand that and I felt hurt and rejected with the “no-shows” and out of that hurt and perceived rejection I judged them all as not loving the word.
In like manner there is a great deal more to prayer than a public prayer meeting. So why do we feel compelled to judge each other when we are not present at a public prayer meeting. My absence from a public prayer meeting tells you nothing – absolutely zero – about my prayer life. You have no idea what my private prayer life is like.
Believe it or not there is something as important (and perhaps more important) than our physical presence at either public Bible study or public prayer meeting. It’s that “deep place inside” that James wrote about. If you cannot tend to your vine and fig tree without judging your neighbour’s vine and fig tree then you might want to examine that “deep place inside your heart” that James wrote about.
Let’s take what we have considered and set it down in the story we read in Exodus. There are two distinct scenes to be aware of; one is on a high hill, the other is in a low valley. On the high hill are three people: Moses, Aaron, and Hur. In the valley are Joshua and an army of chosen fighters.
Notice how different the scenes are. Those in the valley are clutching swords. They are putting forth endless amounts of energy in the battle. This is all about blood, sweat, and gore. It’s dangerous and it’s dirty. In the valley your hands get really dirty.
Check out the top of the hill. Moses is standing with his undirty hands in the air. Then he sits down and Aaron and Hur hold his hands up. I am not ready to make a hard clad doctrine out of this but it works for me personally. The picture on top of the hill is all about intercession. The picture in the valley is all about the place of the sword; the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
In the context of the Micah picture Joshua has been assigned his vine and fig tree, and Moses has been assigned his. Joshua’s mission was to use the sword. Moses’ mission was intercession. But here is the central truth to take away from this amazing story: these are not two separate missions divorced from each other. They form a single mission.
If Moses gives up on his mission, then Joshua can swing his sword all day long and have nothing to show for it. If Joshua walks away from his mission then Moses can hold up his hands until the cows come home, but Amalek and his hordes will fill and control the valley.
Look at Moses on the hill and Joshua in the valley. Though they are part of the same mission their roles in that mission are very different, and this is where we must guard against the vulnerability of judgement. Moses could have judged Joshua as not being a man of prayer. Joshua could have judged Moses as not being a man of the sword; a man of the word. This whole thing could have turned into a mission war and the real enemy, Amalek, would have been the only winner.
Whenever we judge the other person’s mission we tend to take credit for anything God does. In that scenario Moses and Joshua would have claimed that their particular mission made the difference in the outcome. This is exactly why God cannot do what He desires to do among us, because we turn the very manifestations of God into an occasion to judge those who are in a different place than us.