Every Wednesday we’ll post a message having to do with doctrine and purity. Hope it helps.
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel
-Numbers 13: 30-33
They were sent in to spy out the land God had promised, and all of them came back with a similar message: It’s a good land, and there are giants to deal with. Yet there was a marked contrast in the way they reported their findings. Joshua and Caleb emphasized one aspect of the Promised Land (“It’s abundant, fertile, fruitful!”) the rest were focused on another(“Giants!”). And it was in the contrast of emphasis that the difference between a good and evil report can be found.
That debriefing session on the Canaan Project was a critical and tragic moment in Jewish history, and a stern warning to future believers as well. A few points to consider in fairness to all involved. First, it’s scary to leave all that’s familiar to you, even if it is the bondage of Egyptian slavery, and trust the unseen God to guide you through impossible situations (Red Seas, scorpion laced deserts, thundering mountains, to name a few) into something better. A little hesitation is allowed; no one gets the ‘faith’ thing perfectly. Yet by the time they’d reached Canaan’s edge, it wasn’t as though God hadn’t shown His favor and power to them in some pretty stupendous ways, so the confidence of the faithful spies was warranted, and should have been shared by the rest. Besides, what was all the upheaval of the Exodus for, if not to come into a better place? Here they were, facing it squarely with God’s promises and power on full display, yet they as a whole were more shaken by the negative reports than they were encouraged by the positive ones. Small wonder God got mad.
The story is testimony to the power of words, the insult of unbelief, and our responsibility to faithfully report our own Canaan experiences. Just as Peter and John , under enormous pressure to shut up about the Jesus thing, shrugged and said “We cannot help but speak what we’ve seen and heard” (Acts 4:20) so we, followers of the same Master, cannot help but report what we’ve seen and experienced in Him, along with His promises to anyone else who’ll follow. We do it whenever we tell a co-worker about the church service we were in over the weekend, or when we explain to non-believing family members why we train our kids with certain values, or when we engage a neighbor in discussions about world view and spirituality. We answer their questions about the faith and what it’s like to live it, and in doing so, we choose between giving an irresponsible report, an evil report, or a good report. All three are, to my thinking, determined not so much by what we say, but what we emphasize.
An irresponsible report emphasizes only the positive, making it sound like Christianity is a respite from problems; an immunity from turmoil. I’ve heard testimonies like that, and I shudder to think what will happen to people who believe them, expecting Christ, if He is received, to not only clean house but burglar proof it against difficulties. Trials are guaranteed, temptations should be assumed, and it’s irresponsible in the extreme not to let people know up front this aspect of the walk. You probably know of folks who accepted the gospel invitation with an understanding that their new nature would relieve them of struggles towards old ways, a wrong assumption followed up with an even ‘wronger’ one when they assume they must be doing something wrong if their thoughts or desires keep wandering. Better to prepare our hearers for the giants than to avoid the ugly topic; indeed, only by being prepped and empowered by the Holy Spirit do we face and conquer those suckers, finding giant-like capacities in Him we’d never know any other way. God forbid we should shield people from this sobering and wonderful reality.
But God also forbid we get so focused on the giants we discourage anyone from entering Canaan. The Christian who emphasizes only hardship gives an evil report indeed, saying it’s all struggle, little blessing, tiny victory. To say “Come to Jesus and Fight the Giants” seems strangely uninviting, yet the attitude of some believers seems to convey to non-believers something similar: “Yeah, I’m a Christian; it’s a lonely, hard, cross-bearing struggle. Wanna come along?” To paint Canaan as giant inhabited but not also fruitful and abundant is to distort God’s gift and discourage potential receivers, an evil thing to do indeed.
A good report acknowledges the giants but emphasizes the abundance, because that is a factual, fair report. While witnessing to a family member recently I had to honestly admit how many times I’d fallen down on the very beliefs I was promoting – lots of giants there, you know – yet the grace I experienced was a verdant pasture, a set of eye-popping green hills and lush land, fertile and a joy to live in. That’s a good report, neither rose colored nor evil. I’ll strive to give it today and, more importantly, to remember it and live accordingly.