TODAY’S READING: 2 Chronicles 10–12
Rehoboam’s folly is oft repeated by young, zealous missionaries. It is the hubristic mistake of despising the wisdom of the elders and discounting the experiences of the previous generation. Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, followed the advice of the young men, and did not listen to the people (2 Chr. 10:13–15). Chronological snobbery can work in both generational directions (the elder can discount the younger), but it is most damaging when the new do not respect the old. Lessons learned the hard way through painful missionary mistakes don’t have to be continually relearned at great cost if new missionaries would only listen to the veterans. Age and experience are no guarantee of wisdom, but they sure have a better chance with it than youth and inexperience. Indeed, some veteran missionaries have lived the same year twenty times over, learning little, but others truly have hard-won, sacred understanding, which they will freely share if we will humbly listen. This chronological egotism can work broadly as well in which a whole generation of missionaries discount the hard-won truths of eras gone by. Whether through revisionist condemnation of past missiological discipline or egregious undermining of indigenous principles due to the desire for rapid results, new missionaries commit all over again the folly of Rehoboam.
A second missionary folly is the lust to lead and the inability to see less leadership responsibility as a gift. When Jeroboam takes most of the tribes away from Rehoboam, the Lord sends word that this reduction is from Him (11:4). What seems like a demotion is actually an opportunity. In missionary terms, the fundamental assignment is to make disciples and plant churches where they don’t exist. The natural tendency is to shift from doing that ourselves to telling others how to do it. The reality is that it’s difficult to effectively be a boots-on-the-ground, hands-in-the-dirt-church-planter and travel incessantly to mobilize, coach, teach, and inspire others to do likewise. If God in His mercy reduces our leadership footprint, it provides the marvelous opportunity to focus on a local context, pouring our attention into making local disciples—the heart of our missionary calling. In Rehoboam’s life this is exactly what happened. Reduced responsibility led to concentration of what was vital at home (vv. 13–17). Godly people flocked to Jerusalem, and for three years God was glorified and Rehoboam and the kingdom walked in strength and in the righteous ways of David and Solomon. If ever our leadership responsibilities are removed or reduced, let us rejoice and refocus all our energies on making disciples.
Unfortunately for Rehoboam, this refocus lasted only three years and when he had established the kingdom and strengthened himself, he forsook the Lord (12:1). A third missionary folly is to depend on the Lord when we are weak and then to turn from Him when we are established and strong. The real evidence of missionary maturity is when we depend on Jesus at all times, especially when things are going well. The tragedy of self-reliance is that it always has negative consequences among the nations. God’s people were blessed with His presence in order to be a blessed with His power in order to be a blessing to the nations. When Rehoboam forsook the Lord, the Lord forsook him and put him into the hands of Shishak (an Egyptian ruler of Libyan descent with Sudanese soldiers) that he may distinguish God’s service from the service of the nations (vv. 5, 8). There are eight million Kurds in Turkey who do not yet know the liberating service of King Jesus. God needs missionaries to live among them, missionaries who will demonstrate how good it is to serve Jehovah, missionaries who depend on the Lord when they are small and when they are big, when they are young and when they are old, when they are weak and when they are strong.