A Warning For Our Times

2 Samuel 15:6: "And on this matter did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king of judgment:
so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel
."

Many, many years ago there lived a very handsome and eloquent prince named, Absalom.
The Bible tells us that "In all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty;
from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him
."

He would get his haircut at least once a year.
He also had great ambitions.
He wanted to make certain that the crown of his father, David, would one day
rest upon his own handsome head.
Cold-blooded, treacherous, vengeful, he plotted insurrection against his father,
and devised a clever scheme to undermine the king and to win people over to his side.

He rode up the streets with horses and chariots to impress the people with his power.
He rose up early in the morning to stand at the city gate and watch for the disgruntled,
dissatisfied people who came to the city to voice their troubles before the king.

He had great sympathy to everybody, and made himself popular with the people.
Whenever he met a man with a grievance, he oozed sympathy and friendliness,
"Where do you come from, friend?"

And he would say to him.
"Tell me your troubles. My name is Absalom."

And the unsuspecting citizen would pour out his woes against the world in general,
and against the present administration in particular.
"Oh, that is terrible" – the handsome prince would say,
"there is nobody in this corrupt government to hear your case and help you.
Ah, if only I were king.
If only I had the power, I would see that you would get justice."


He would put his arm around the complainer and console him.
It was all very touching.

The record says, "On this matter did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment;
so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel
."
They thought how good it would be to have someone in high places who would be interested in their plight.
They were getting tired of David who was getting old and inefficient, they were ready to listen
to this democratic charmer, and to welcome the new order he promised to bring in.

"So the conspiracy grew.
David was gradually undermined
" for the people increased continually to Absalom.

But the record goes on to tell how empty were the charmer's promises, and how sadly the people were deceived.
David had his faults, but he was an angel in contrast to this young monster of a son.

The people came by painful experience to understand that Absalom had been interested in them
only to betray them --the cures he promised were worse than their diseases.
He had preyed on their discontent only to promote himself, and to establish himself as king.

The Bible is a tremendous book.
Every mood of the human soul is mirrored in it, and every experience that people face today
is paralleled in its pages.

Here in this ancient story is a striking parallel of our own times.
It shows how thoughtless, thankless people can so easily and unconsciously undermine their heritage
by simply failing to appreciate it because of the lack of the moral capacity to distinguish between good and evil.

Absalom is the classic illustration of the principle we have come to call subversion.
Subversion is that undermining process that works like leaven in society feeding on discontent,
creating dissatisfaction, and starting up division.
This process gets its leverage mainly by two painful facts.

The first is the fact of imperfect world.
Nothing in life is perfect.

There is no perfect system.
There is no perfect government.
There is no perfect person.
There is no perfect anything.

There is some disadvantage in every climate.
The are some weeds in every garden.
There are some faults in every friend.
There are some rough spots on every road.

We can always find plenty in this world to complain about because imperfection is stamped
on everything we touch.

The second fact is that God has provided us with certain moral equipment to deal with life's imperfections.

God has given us a critical faculty -- the moral capacity to discriminate and criticize and find fault.
It is a necessary function, and woe to any people when they lose it,
or have the right to criticize taken from them.

For the function of the critical spirit is to correct, to see the wrong and right it,
to find fault with imperfections and improve them,
to see the weeds in the garden and pluck them out.
Indeed it is also needed so that we might see our own faults and repent of them.

Repentance is only another word for self-criticism.
Most of our human progress has come because people were critical of imperfections.
People have found fault, or dissatisfied with what they were or what they had.
They grappled with the imperfect in an effort to improve it and to make something better come out of it.
Without criticism, there would be no progress.

But the critical spirit, like every other human faculty, contains very definite and often tremendous dangers.
Meant to be corrective, it may easily become a destructive, subversive, disintegrating force.

It was such a misuse of criticism that Jesus was referring to when He talked about people
who strain at gnats and swallow camels.
Also it is about the man who saw the speck of dust in his brothers eye,
but overlooked the 2' by 4' plank in his own eye.

Fault-finding can go too far.
It can become lopsided and lose perspective.

Two women were on the way home from a concert in which a violinist had given an almost perfect performance.
One moment exclaimed, "Wasn't it wonderful?"

The other woman replied, "I didn't like it at all.
The way he blew his nose after that first number ruin the evening for me
."

There are people like that, who habitually miss the music and hear only the blowing of a nose.
They concentrate on the 5% bad in a situation, and overlook the 95% that is good.

This capacity to find fault must be balanced by a capacity to recognize and appreciate the good.
Otherwise, what was meant to be an instrument for correction becomes perverted
into an instrument of destruction.

That was the sin of David's people.

Certainly, there were plenty of faults in David, and there was much in his reign that was wrong.
But unable to see the garden for the weeds, the people allowed their discontent with the small things
that were wrong to blind them completely to the larger things that were good.

So this opened the door to Absalom – the saboteur.
It is a good way to lose any heritage.
For instance, it is a good way to lose heritage of life itself – with all the common mercies
that make it rich and beautiful.

I wonder how much value we really put on the very practical and important grace of gratitude,
and on the spirit of thanksgiving.
It is impossible to live happily anywhere without the grace to recognize and appreciate the good
in what we have.
We can undermine our own heritage of happiness by overworking the subversive force of a too-critical spirit.

I have heard a story like this in many forms:
"There was a farmer once who, having lived on a small farm all his life,
grew tired of it and desperately desired to change.
He subjected everything on the farm to his own blind and merciless criticism.
And at last, he decided that he would sell the old place, and buy another more to his liking.

He listed the farm with a realtor who prepared an ad for the newspaper.
However before given it to the newspaper, he read over to the farmer very flattering description
of the property which he had prepared.

He talked of the farms' advantages, of its ideal location, of its up-to-date equipment,
its fertile acres, and its well-bred stock.

The farmer said, "Wait a minute.
Read that again and take it slow
."
Again the realtor read description of his farm.

Then the farmer said, "I changed my mind.
I'm not going to sell.
All my life I've been looking for a place like that
."

Dr. Russell Conwell's great lecture, "Acres of Diamonds," was built around this idea.
That the riches of life are all around us wherever we are.
But our eyes fail to see them for the simple reason that we magnify the difficulties.
We overlook the advantages.
And we fail to recognize the good in what we have.

That was the story of the prodigal son, as he set out for the far country.
Something fine had broken down inside of him before he packed his bag – he lost the grace of gratitude.
He never stopped to evaluate his inheritance.

To be sure, there was plenty at his home to complain about – such as an elder brother with a sour disposition.
But the prodigal allowed that 5% wrong to obscure the 95% that was right.
And so he was easy prey for the inner voice that led him to believe there was a new freedom in a faraway land.

There are so many families where the grace of appreciation has broken down,
and where all the family members magnify each other's faults and minimize each other's virtues so long
and so habitually that love has been undermined, and the home has been broken.

So often, we lose our finest friendships by flaring up at some small irritation or magnifying some minor fault
until all the years of rich relationships are canceled.
So easily we allow the fine things to slip away when we do not appreciate them.

"When little things would irk me, and I grow
Inpatient with my loved one, let me know
How, in a moment, joy can take its flight
And happiness be quenched in endless night."

Consider the spiritual inheritance which lies in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can lose that by a simple failure to recognize it's worth.
Subversive forces have long been working here.

In the first century Paul talked about the apostate teachers who would deceive even the elect,
Paul also talked about the spirit of iniquity that "worketh in the children of disobedience."
The forces of anti-Christ are always conspiring to weaken and discredit and undermine the church.

The church has many faults.
It contains all the imperfections that we have in ourselves, and its critics, to be sure, have plenty of ammunition.
In fact, we who love the church have often joined in the criticism.
We talk about the faults of the church and the failures of the church,
but we should exercise the critical faculty only because we want the church to improve.

None has been more critical of the church than we who love it best.
And one day, we are suddenly awakened to the fact that many of the forces denouncing
the church's failures are not merely finding fault with it – they are Absalom's out to destroy it.

The time has come for us to deepen our appreciation of the church and to balance criticism of his wrongs
with a recognition of its worth, lest, as in other countries, little by little,
we let this precious heritage of the church slip away.
We must not permit its minor faults to blind us to this larger worth.

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White