Green Bay Packer Chapel: Deuteronomy 17
Have you ever seen a sink hole? Cars can be parked on a street day after day, and everything appears normal, then one day the asphalt caves in and cars disappear into a gigantic hole.
Everybody goes “that hole came out of nowhere.” But they’re wrong. The hole appears suddenly but the process that led to it has gone on for many years. The underground erosion was invisible, but it was there all along. When a man does something terrible, it appears to have come “out of the clear blue sky.” It hasn’t. It’s the cumulative product of years of moral erosion.
Sink holes remind us of two things: 1) something can look good on the outside, when underneath major problems have been going on for years, and disaster’s about to happen; 2) our lives are affected by little choices, that have cumulative effects that can result in either moral strength or moral disaster.
Deuteronomy 17 was written 3500 years ago—it addresses the timeless dangers that come with power and fame. It’s true in government, church, workplace, athletics, true everywhere. Prominence brings with it privilege, but also responsibility and temptation. It’s full of spiritual pitfalls and moral landmines.
Fame puts us in the power position, a position of influence where people will listen to us and follow us. But fame also sets us up for failure. God gives 3 specific warnings of what the King, the most famous and powerful person in the nation, should not do.
1. Don’t acquire many horses.
Horses were a symbol of power and status. Kings collected them not just for military purposes but for bragging rights. For some the equivalent might be cars, or anything we possess that becomes our focus and feeds our pride. Of course, the danger wasn’t the horses themselves, it’s not the cars themselves, it’s that they can become your center of gravity.
2. Don’t take many wives (or heart will be led astray).
Kings were used to having what they want, and they had their pick of women. This led to moral compromise. Remember King David? The King should be careful not to let his eyes stray, exercise self-denial and moral discipline. (Recommend Sexual Temptation booklet.)
3. Don’t accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
Because those things can become the object of your faith, the props that hold you up. The greater its mass, the greater the gravity. “You cannot serve both God and money”—let money be your servant, but be careful not to let it become your master. (Money, Possessions and Eternity)
500 years later King Solomon had 40,000 horse stalls. He had 7,000 wives. He had tons of gold. He violated every one of these warnings, and he paid the price. He began as a wise man, but over time his heart was turned away from God. Solomon didn’t obey God’s Word. He thought he was above the rules. He wasn’t. Neither are we. We can no more get around the moral law of God than the law of gravity.
Verse 18ff. gives a prescription for what the King can do to develop and maintain his integrity, his character, not to be seduced by fame.
Write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law. Copy out longhand the word of God. Very strange, because that’s what the scribes did. The king didn’t do that kind of labor—the king didn’t do anything tedious, it was all done for him by his staff.
God is telling us, take care to labor over every word of the Scriptures. Become a student of God’s Word. When you write it out by hand, you’re dealing with every word, not skipping over anything.
He was to write out the Scriptures “for” himself. He may govern a nation, but the Words of God are to govern him. He may be called King, but he is under the true King. He can’t make it up as he goes, like a lot of celebrities try to do. He is not above the law of God—he is under the law of God. You and I are men under authority—we are not our own, we have been bought with a price.
“The Scripture is to be with him.” Don’t let this book be far from you. Take it on the road. Have it on your nightstand, or the dining room table, keep on the television to remind you not to watch unless you’ve read the Word first, and when something comes on that violates the Word turn it off.
None of us has diplomatic immunity to the laws of God. We’re all under it. No exceptions. The truth is not something we manipulate to further our own ends, it’s not something we twist and spin to serve us. We are not masters of the truth, we are servants of the truth.
“He is to read it all the days of his life.” No day off from Word of God. Every day we miss it is missed opportunity, missed character training. Think of the newspaper, Time magazine, Sports Illustrated. What do they do for your character? They’re junk food for the mind. A little bit, you can get by with, but if that’s your main diet it’ll catch up with you. The Word of God is bread and meat for your character.
v. 19—he reads “that he may learn to revere or fear the Lord his God.” Yes, he’s a God of love, but he’s also a God of holiness, and his standards are to be taken seriously. He watches us and one day we will stand before him and give an account of our lives. I’m leading a group of five men studying The Joy of Fearing God, by Jerry Bridges.
Scripture is full of commands to fear God and it is also full of commands to not be afraid. If we fear God, we need not be afraid of anyone or anything else. But if we don’t fear God, we have reason to be afraid of other things. You fear God when you come to grips with the fact that he is in charge and we are not.
We think we’re much more powerful than we are. Shirley McClain goes out on the ocean beach and shouts into the water “I am God, I am God, I am God.” Couldn’t you just see God flicking his finger and bringing a tidal wave over her. “No you’re not.”
A year ago a non-Christian’s wife died and when I heard I went over to his house. He’d always been a successful athlete and businessman. Jeff told me, “All my life I’ve been able to get what I wanted; but this morning I only wanted one thing, and that was to bring Mary back to life, but I couldn’t.”
One day you think you’re in charge, and the next game you’re injured and suddenly you’re reminded that God is calling the shots.
Verse 19 says the King is to “follow carefully all the words of this law.” All means all. Small acts of daily faithfulness to God won’t make the news. But they will please God and they will build something great into your children. They’re wet cement and every day you’re inscribing something into them that one day will become permanent.
“and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or left.”
That’s the big danger of being in the public eye—that you start to think of yourself better than Joe Shmo who works at the tire shop or the grocery store. And think that you’re above the rules of life. But none of us is. The remedy is to have our Bibles nearby, read them every day, write out verses and put them where they’re visible, and remind ourselves we’re no better than anyone else, we’re all under the same rules and God is watching and he cares how we live.
v. 20 b—if the King reads God’s Word regularly, and learns to fear Him and carefully follow his Words, then “he and his descendents will reign a long time.” You will leave your children a spiritual heritage. It doesn’t take much to leave our children an inheritance—it takes a lot to leave them a heritage, to pass on to them the values and priorities of virtue, humility and the fear of God.
The greatest thing you can do for your children is to love God with all your heart. The second greatest thing you can do for children is to love your wife.
You’re athletes, and you live in a culture that puts you on a pedestal because of your skills. You have to fight for perspective, because you know that gifting and skills aren’t the same as character and virtue.
I’ve had a small taste of that in recent years. One of my books somehow got on the bestseller’s list and others followed it, and suddenly my novels have sold a half million copies. I’m thankful for that. But there’s something dangerous about it. People want me to sign my name in a book when I haven’t been walking with God. People admire me when I’ve been unkind to my wife. People should be admired for their character, but usually are admired for their image.
For all they know, I could be a wife-beater, child molester, rapist, murderer and they’d still be asking me to sign a book. These people don’t know me. They aren’t in a position to judge my character and they aren’t in a position to judge yours. The problem with fame is, it becomes detached from character and integrity. And when people admire you, you can believe you’re worthy of admiration, and you can become proud and let down your moral guard.
It’s a huge mistake to believe what people think about you. If you do, you’re going to get jerked around big time. One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a jerk. That’s why we have to set aside people’s opinions of us. We have to know who you are before God.
When someone thinks too little of me I always remind myself that there are other people who think too much of me. And the court of public opinion isn’t what matters—what matters is what God thinks. I want to hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
The more famous a man becomes the harder it is to cultivate and retain virtue. The bigger your image, the more it tends to eclipse your character. Instead of building character, some people just build image. A celebrity is known for what he does in one area of life, while God looks at who we are in all areas of our lives. People will bow down before the king even when he’s been a jerk, because he’s the king.
But God is never fooled. I can’t con him. He sees me at my worst—and yet he still loves me. If everyone else thinks I’m a loser but my heart is right with him, I’m a winner. If everyone else thinks I’m a winner but I’m not right with God, I’m a loser. God isn’t fooled—he doesn’t believe our press clippings, not the good ones and not the bad ones.
On the judgment day, I won’t stand before literary critics or book-lovers and you won’t stand before the media or football fans. We’ll all stand before the Audience of One. And in that day it will be his assessment of our lives, and no one else’s, that will matter.
God’s eyes are always open. Our lives are an open book. Jesus said what we do in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Our president has learned that—and there’s plenty of people in both parties that have fallen into scandal. There’s no such thing as a private moment. Jesus said Satan was a liar, and his biggest lie is, “No one’s looking. You can get away with this.”
Years ago I researched the founding of America. In several of the thirteen colonies, it was a stated requirement that any government leader must believe in God, the afterlife and a judgment in which he would be held accountable for his actions. The point is, if you don’t believe in those things, you will think you can sin and get away with it.
Image is how you look on the outside to people who don’t know you. Character is what we are in the dark when no one but God sees us. Character is what we really are. When David was being considered for king, people thought he was too young and too scrawny. “God says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height . . . The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
How many people do we admire from a distance, but when we see them close up, we lose their respect. Others, you don’t admire, until you get to know them and then they gain your respect. A great goal is that as people know us better, they would respect us more, not less.
Fame is deceptive, isn’t it? There’s lots of school teachers and nurses and people who work with kids and old women down on their knees praying—they aren’t going to be in the papers, and they’re doing things more important than you and I.
It takes a lot more sacrifice to be a hero than to be a celebrity—and that begins at home, being a hero to your wife, your children, to the weak and needy and poor God tells us to help. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, said “I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life to redeem the many.”
Philippians 2— “Jesus, though he was God, did not grasp unto it, but made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant, and he humbled himself and became obedient unto death.”
God has called us to a lifetime of servanthood. When we’re used to being served, and when we don’t go out of our way to serve others, we can’t be Christlike, because he’s a servant.
Scripture says “Whatever we do, we should do it for the Lord and not men. Whatever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God.” He’s the king—we’re the servants. Not everyone is called to be a star. But everyone is called to be a servant. God says, “It is required of a steward that he be found faithful.”
Let me finish by reading a page from my novel, Edge of Eternity (p. 317).
Prayer: “Lord, help these men to be faithful today, to do their job, to do it with all their strength and all their focus. Help us all to remember you are the Audience of One, that there is no such thing as a private moment. Help us to live out our lives for your glory and use the platforms you’ve given us to serve others and to serve you.”