Confrontational Christlikeness

The kind of man you hate reveals what kind of man you are. “But I hate him,” Ahab declared of Micaiah, God’s prophet.

Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah, sat with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, to deliberate one question: Should they go to war together against Syria? Peace had lasted three years with the pagan nation, but Ahab desired the strategic city of Ramoth-gilead for Israel. He questioned aloud to Jehoshaphat, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we keep quiet and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Syria?” (1 Kings 22:3).

Jehoshaphat consents to fight with Ahab, but desires to hear first from the God of Israel. Ahab calls his four hundred prophets, who, with one voice, give their hearty Amen! “Go up,” they say, “for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Kings 22:6).

The kind of men from whom you solicit counsel tells us what kind of man you are.

These men were no messengers of Yahweh, and King Jehoshaphat knew so. Diplomatically, he asks, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7). To Jehoshaphat, four hundred counselors of any other god could not substitute for one man of Yahweh. There is one, Ahab reluctantly responds, Micaiah. “But I hate him,” Ahab gasps before discretion tutors the statement.

Why did Ahab hate the true prophet? “I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8).

“The kind of man you hate can reveal what kind of man you are.”

Ahab loved the four hundred yes-men around him. He loved prophets feasting with him, prophesying pleasantries. He loved to hear his own positive thoughts returned to himself unaltered. He loved only affirming words, positive words — not the untamed and unpredictable words of God’s true prophet. The kind of man Ahab hated revealed the kind of man he was.

What Kind of Man Are You?

Now, to turn and see the story from Micaiah’s perspective (the point of this article): The kind of person who despises you also may tell you what kind of man you are. Ahab hated Micaiah because Ahab hated Micaiah’s God.

Wasn’t this because Ahab couldn’t comfortably untether the servant from his Master? Micaiah’s allegiance to the living God was not superficial — wasn’t a religious hobby to be picked up and put down. Ahab knew Micaiah didn’t serve the Lord just during office hours. His devotion went to the heart. Ahab would kill the prophet before he killed the prophet’s faith. Can the like be said of us?

This son of Imla was God’s man through and through. Whether talking to the false prophets or to the king himself, he was his Master’s man. Whether struck in the face and questioned by Zedekiah or thrown into jail by Ahab, he was his Master’s man. Whether Ahab invited him to feast at Jezebel’s table, or invited him for a wine-tasting from Naboth’s vineyard, or asked him about going to war with Syria — Ahab knew what he could expect from this lone prophet of the Lord: to deal with the Lord’s man. Ahab could expect God’s truth spoken through God’s messenger. And he hated him for it.

Confrontational Christlikeness?

So, we might then ask, do the right people dislike us?

What? you might think. If we are mature believers — truly humble and gentle and patient and loving and compassionate — will we really ever be disliked? Hatred and disgust may be reserved for those argumentative and obnoxious professors — but not us. Clanging cymbals, flies buzzing about the ear, hornets stinging any who disagree — these are rightly disliked. But we give the gentle answer. We listen and respect others.

Many Western Christians, it appears to me, are tempted with and indulgent in an agreeableness unknown to Micaiah. We stand ready to give the compassionate word, the soft encouragement, the positive uplift — but do not go on to ever risk anything that might displease. We are not disliked more because we do not say many things that are dislikable to the spirit of the age. Unbelievers at work or online or in our families feel free to parade their profanities and perversities before our ears and eyes without restraint, but it is ours, apparently, to keep quiet and let them perish out of politeness.

Nobody mistakes us for Jude, or Elijah, or Paul, or John the Baptist, or the Sons of Thunder. Or Jesus, for that matter. Zeal for our God and his house does not consume us. We avoid having to report, “the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9). Jesus, in such whip-making, temple-clearing aggression, is not our choice brand of Christlikeness. Indeed, confrontational Christlikeness seems to them no Christlikeness at all — despite the New Testament’s consistent testimony to it.

Hated for the Master

Now, we need our gentle and beloved Johns. But we need to also acknowledge that our gentle and beloved John was also persecuted and exiled for being uncompromising with his Master’s truth. He wrote his last letter as a brother and partner in the tribulation, banished to “the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Polish as we may, we cannot smooth over the offense of the cross.

So what am I saying? If no one dislikes you on account of Christ, it’s probably not because you have become greater, more endearing, more friendly to the lost than Jesus, the apostles, or the lineage of persecuted Christians and martyrs throughout church history. If no one dislikes you on account of Christ, it is likely because you have been too quiet about Jesus, too lukewarm for him, or too much like the world for them to notice the difference.

Was this not part of Jesus’s message to the disciples in the upper room?

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:19–21)

If we bear authentic witness to Jesus for long enough, the world will hate us. We don’t pursue their hatred, but we do prepare for it. Do you have a category for this? Do you expect pats on the head from those who would again nail your Master to a cross if they could? Should they treat us better than him? I have thought so — at least hoped so. My wrestlings in the quiet moment have been,

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God? (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross”)

“Woe to you,” Jesus taught, “when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). It is an ill omen for Ahab and his four hundred men to applaud. “What did I do wrong,” Socrates once asked, “that yonder villain praised me just now?” Spurgeon comments, “And so may the Christian say, ‘What, have I done wrong, that So-and-so spoke well of me, for if I had done right he would not; he has not the sense to praise goodness, he could only have applauded that which suited his own taste’” (“Citizenship in Heaven”).

The world’s hatred doesn’t always confirm our faithfulness to Christ. It may be owing to our own sin. But in this unruly world, we must consider, as Micaiah, that frowns, and even a jail cell, can be a better sign of fidelity than smiles and congratulations.

Love in a Hypersensitive Age

After a soft rebuke from Jehoshaphat, Ahab sends for the prophet of his disgust. When found, Ahab’s delegate preps Micaiah for the meeting: “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably” (1 Kings 22:13). Speak favorably, Micaiah. Mind your tongue. Don’t worry — everyone else is doing it. Micaiah responds,

As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak. (1 Kings 22:14)

As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak. Is that my motto? Is it yours? Even when it will cost us?

A word to fellow pastors: We love to comfort our people. We love to encourage them. We love to bring them glad tidings of great news of God’s grace. This we not only must do — we get to do. We labor with them for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). And yet, in an age hypersensitive to hard words, we still must warn, must correct, must rebuke sheep and wolves out of love — come what may.

“Some curses can be compliments — and more than compliments, blessings.”

Just as we can find too much Ahab in the culture (and even in the church), we also might find too little Micaiah in us. But as Christ lives, what our God says, that must we speak.

Sacred Fools

David Wells, in his classic No Place for Truth, gives us the picture of the pastor in the modern world as “the Sacred Fool.” Refusing to “lead by holding aloft moist fingers to sense the changes in the wind,” this man stands beholden to his Master. Wells explains,

So long as they cloaked their advice in humor, jesters were able to say things to kings and princes that might have been fatal for anyone else to say. Happy was the king who had a good fool. And happy are those churches whose ministers are likewise emancipated from the bonds of class interest and social expectation, freed to expose the follies of modernity in light of God’s truth. (250)

What kind of men are we? Are we sacred fools for Jesus who have been liberated from class interest and social expectation? Are we the King’s men? Curses can be compliments — and more than compliments, blessings. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22).

The kind of men who hate us will reveal what kind of men we are.