In Part 1 of this article, I provided what I believe is a biblical definition of a man of God. In Part 2, I will explain why I believe every open-air preacher, whether or not he aspires to serve his local church as an elder, should possess and exhibit both the character traits and spiritual maturity of an elder,
It’s Time to Hack the Open-Air Agag to Pieces
Then Samuel said, Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.’ And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.’ And Samuel said, As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.’ And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal (1 Samuel 15:32-33).
A number of sermons have been preached about the above passage, including a fine sermon by Pastor John MacArthur. Here is an excerpt from the sermon:
As I said, this is a tremendous insight into God’s attitude toward sinners and His holiness and wrath against sin. But I want to use it just as an analogy, if I might, this morning. It is an excellent illustration analogically of the sin that remains in the believer’s life. When you were saved and I was saved there was at that moment a crushing defeat of sin…a crushing defeat. From one end to the other, east to west, north to south our sin was crushed. But we still have remaining sins. There are some Amalekites running around loose in everybody’s life. We all have our Agags. And the problem in our Christian lives is not that sin has not been defeated with a crushing defeat, it has but there is still remaining sin. There are some loose iniquitous Amalekites in all of us. And though there was a great and glorious and triumphant defeat at the time of our salvation, there is the necessity that the remaining sins be hacked to pieces or they will revive, they will plunder our hearts and sap our spiritual strength. We cannot be merciful with the Agags of our life. We cannot be merciful with the remaining sins in our life or they will turn and create an insurrection and a rebellion to attempt to destroy us.
In fact, it may well be that like the Amalekites, the remaining sin in us often becomes more fierce, more formidable than even before because we don’t expect it. Certainly the children of Israel had felt that the Amalekites were a defeated foe. Their king had been hacked to pieces and here they came. Scripture calls on us to deal with our sin like Samuel dealt with Agag, to kill it. There is remaining sin residing in our unredeemed humanness, our flesh, and it has to be killed. It has to be followed up, found and destroyed. And until we do that, we’re never going to enjoy what Paul experienced in his bold confidence about a holy and godly sincere conscience . . .
Basically, mortification of sin or the killing of sin involves the cultivation of new habits of godliness combined with the elimination of old habits of sin. On the positive side you begin to do godly things. On the negative side you stop doing sinful things. And that is a constant warfare to which we must remain perpetually committed . . .
When Agag comes to you cheerfully and says, Surely the bitterness of death is past,’ which is another way of saying, Well the war is over, you’re saved, you’re on your way, I’m defeated, don’t worry about me,’ when Agag and his Amalekite friends want to make friends with you and declare an end to hostilities, that’s when you grab your sword and hack them to pieces.
The point Pastor MacArthur is making is this: anything in a Christian’s life that tempts or causes him to sin must be, in a metaphorical sense, hacked to pieces. It must be destroyed, obliterated. The most dangerous temptations, the most insidious spiritual stumbling blocks are those that leave you thinking, I’ve got this beat. It will never be a problem again. In fact I can manage this, now, so well that I don’t have to get rid of it completely. So long as I keep it at arm’s length, it won’t be a problem.
Such unspoken sentiments drip with pride and arrogance. Such sentiments show an underestimation of the enemy and the spiritual war within, as well as overconfidence in one’s own flesh. Instead of hacking Agag to pieces, Christians allow him to live to serve as some kind of trophy and testimony to one’s perceived victory over the power of sin and death. By the way, Christian, God won that fight. You didn’t.
As a result, Christians continue to bemoan their struggle with pornography while remaining determined to keep their computers. They whine about their weight while continuing to engage in their favorite sport’gluttony. They say they wish they had more time for the Word of God and prayer, but they can’t bring themselves to miss an episode of Duck Dynasty. They say they want to spend more time with their church family, but Monday night is football, and Thursday night is football, and Saturday afternoon is football, and Sunday afternoon and evening is football. The Christian says he wants victory over sin, but he is unwilling to hack Agag to pieces.
Having now spent nine years in the open-air preaching subculture, to the point of being seen as a leader in the subculture by some, I can unequivocally say that open-air preaching is an Agag for some. There are open-air preachers who know they should spend more time serving and fellowshipping with their church family, but they won’t reduce their open-air preaching to do it. They know they should spend more time with their children, but they won’t reduce open-air preaching to do it. They know they are neglecting their wives’spiritually, emotionally, and physically’but they won’t reduce open-air preaching to love their wives. They know they should spend more time with the Lord, but they won’t reduce open-air preaching to do it.
Some open-air preachers are living a tragic existence, but they are too blind by their zeal to preach to see or accept the reality that their world is falling apart around them and on top of their heads. Their wives are leaving them. Their children are rebelling against them. Their church families don’t know them. They know more about George Whitefield than they know about what’s going on in their home and church. They say open-air preaching is not the problem. They say they’ve got things under control. They say they’ve hacked Agag to pieces while Agag sits next to them, alive and well, being kept on a leash.
Some open-air preachers have allowed Agag to morph into Baal. They refuse to hack Agag to pieces and end up worshiping him as if he were a god.
At the same time, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m setting up open-air preaching as a scapegoat. The open-air preacher can no more say open-air preaching made me do it than they can say the devil made me do it (James 1:13-15). Yes, for some men open-air preaching is an Agag that must be hacked to pieces. They should stop preaching. But for others, the issue is one of maturity. They need to grow up, battle the sin, and mature to the point they live a balanced life in which they are functioning biblically in every area while still answering the call (if they are in fact truly called) to open-air preach.
Why does this happen? Why does it seem this is happening more often? Why is it that many men who open-air preach live shipwrecked lives and seem oblivious to the fact that the ship is sinking? I believe the reason this is happening in the open-air preaching subculture is that too many men are getting up on the box before they ever become a man of God. They are Christians’at least I believe most of them are. But many of them lack the requisite spiritual character and maturity to serve the Lord as a herald in the public square. Someone (and it may have been someone like me) once told them to get on the box. Someone once told them that every Christian should at least try open-air preaching. But no one ever asked them to consider if they are qualified to do so.
There has never been a standard of qualifications in the open-air preaching subculture. There likely never will be. After all, open-air preachers come from a wide array of church backgrounds and theological constructs. And as I will re-emphasize more than once in Part 3 of this article, the open-air preaching subculture lacks the ecclesiastic authority to enforce a set of standards. That privilege and responsibility is relegated by God to the local church. But I believe the Word of God provides a standard for the man of God’a standard which transcends ecclesiological and theological divides, without usurping the authority and autonomy of the local church’which can and should be applied to every open-air preacher.
A Much Needed Standard
In Part 1 of this article, I relied in large part upon the Bible’s character requirements for an elder, for my definition of a man of God. However, as previously stated, I believe it is time, long overdue, for the open-air preaching subculture to adapt a similar standard.
Since the open-air preaching subculture has no ecclesiastic authority, in and of itself’none whatsoever, it is imperative that men (and it should only be men) who take to the streets to preach the gospel in the open-air strive to meet the biblical standards for eldership. At the same time, it should not be the open-air preacher who alone determines if he possesses the biblical qualities of a man of God. This is why it is critically important for all open-air preachers to be members of a local church and under the authority and accountability of pastors/elders who know them, can examine them, teach them, affirm their calling and giftedness, and keep watch over them. The nomadic open-air preacher is an unbiblical open-air preacher.
In Part 3 of this article, I will address a couple of the anticipated objections to developing a standard of biblical qualifications to the open-air preacher, and we will take a closer look to the spiritual character traits to which every open-air preacher should aspire.