I am smiling as I write this but let me say that my wife loves shopping. I don’t. To this day I see something I click on, buy it and ship it. If I don’t like the price, I forget it. But not my wife. The woman has a gene, I mean I have never seen a person haggle like her. After 33 years of marriage the list price of anything means nothing to her.

I realized it on our honeymoon in Acapulco. We would go to the market, and one time I saw this marble chess set. It was a while ago, but the price was ridiculous. I would have bought it; I was happy to be a newlywed and was feeling especially generous. She was not. I made a grim discovery about my new, lovely bride. She was a negotiator. That’s right. A negotiator. Well, she haggled with the vendors all that week. It was hilarious to watch. I will never forget one of the men taking out a whip and offering it to me saying in his Mexican accent, “Here, for the woman.”

My wife married a preacher, so she has learned how to wheel and deal. Last year she discovered Facebook Marketplace and this unlisted spiritual gift went into overdrive. I have tried everything to stop her. It is futile and it is endless.

My wife is a good Christian woman, and there is nothing wrong with using wisdom in what we buy or sell. But I use this humor to illustrate something of deadly seriousness. Some people want their Christianity at a discount price. They want all the benefits of being a Christian. They must realize that the Bible teaches obedience, self-sacrifice and service but they bristle at the cost and negotiate it down to minimal price. They do it by reinterpreting scripture in such a way that God is more interested in their quality-of-life issues, self-esteem and feelings. They may leave a church, denomination, modify their beliefs not because of them having valid issues over doctrine and practice but because it was not a “good fit” for them.

King Saul was a prime example of a negotiator. At first, we see him as a man who knew the presence of God and prophesied by power of the Holy Spirit even though he was a nobody from an insignificant family and small tribe. He was given a new heart and saw wonderful evidence of God’s Providence in his life (1 Sam. 10:9-13). He was so timid that one time they found him hiding behind the equipment (1 Sam. 10:22-25). He was tender toward those Israeli’s that opposed him as King (1 Sam. 11:12-13). He acted against injustice with holy anger and the Spirit empowered him to rescue Israel (1 Sam. 11:6).

But hidden in his heart was envy, self-pity, impatience, pride and rebellion. They were latent sins, dormant in his heart and hidden in his mind. These vices were subdued by the wonderful things that happened for him at first but somehow his sinful nature began to usurp and dominate his actions.

We are not sure except by what we read but somewhere in his heart he began to negotiate that he was too busy for spiritual things and his downfall began when he would concentrate more on “the work of the Lord than the Lord of the work” and other things became important. After all, he cannot be too heavenly minded and be no earthly good.

Saul stopped praying as much, meditating on God’s word, the glory and honor of God became less important to him, and the praise of people took its place (John 5:44; 12:43).  He became more concerned about what people thought of him and then oddly blamed them for his bad decisions (1 Sam 15:15, 24). Maybe he began to believe his own press and failed the test of humility as he was praised for his height, appearance and charisma (Prov 27:21). He began to depend on his army, his armor and past victories (1 Sam 17:38-39) that despite all of them being gifts from God he began to be like Nebuchadnezzar believing that he did all he did by his own strength and became like a wild animal (Daniel 4:31-33). An evil spirit replaced the peace of God’s blessing and presence, and he became a mad man (1 Sam 16:14, 15).

It all began when Saul wanted to appear godly so in times when he is told to wait, he thinks he knows better and he oversteps godly teachers like Samuel and becomes the priest of his own life using, if you will, “bull” to negotiate with God (1 Sam. 13:8-10). He learned how to create smokescreens with religious verbiage to cover his disobedience. But in his heart, his rebellion was like witchcraft and his stubbornness, idolatry (1 Sam. 15:22-23). What he did was he substituted his obedience with religious rituals (Hosea 6:6; Matt 9:13; 12:7).  But God says, “I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.” (Hosea 6:6 GW).

This is a great temptation for us all. How many people think because they have been baptized, confirmed, catechized, tithe, attend church and the like that they can escape God’s judgment as they do evil things. Everyone wants forgiveness of sin, but it seems only a few people desire freedom from sin.

The tragedy of Saul is a great warning to those who have learned a well-oiled system of rationalization and have become spin doctors to justify their own sins and yet call themselves believers in Christ. He shows us that this kind of negotiator is a person that plays with demons and worships other gods.

While the genuine Christian has been given a heart of love, faith and a desire to obey God but the presence of the flesh and the old man can dress up in religious clothing. It is amazing how people find comfort in religious products and ceremonies rather than in Christ. No wonder Paul must constantly identify in his writings the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal. 5:17-23; Eph. 5:4-5). This is not somehow to steal the assurance a true believer has in Jesus Christ, but we must make it clear there is a difference between those that serve God and those that do not.

They look right, eat right and vote right but it is a coverup and a spiritual conspiracy. Most Christians today get overheated about politics but cannot shed one tear for souls in danger of the wrath of God and hell.  They have the camouflage of pathetic fig leaves and hide their own nakedness in the bright daylight of eternity and the One who sees everything.

That is why some church going people have learned the art of avoidance and deflection when it comes to those issues of the heart. They especially cancel or avoid preaching that is like a scalpel getting at the root issue. They love the preaching that dulls or even cauterizes their conscience (1 Tim 4:2). They have forgotten the Bible; God’s Word is like a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12). It is a fire that melts and a hammer that shatters (Jer. 23:29). They want a smooth, soft and superficial word and they end up shallow and one dimensional. They minimize the law and demands of God. Instead they want pity, to feel good about themselves and so they negotiate the glory of God for the heart idols they love and change the truth of God into a lie so they can suppress that truth that threatens the sin of their own heart. They have been negotiators rather than obedient servants and worship a weird marble statue that says at the bottom, “me, myself and I.”

How these people need to see Jesus afresh again. We cannot make up for our many sins, our hypocrisy and negotiation tactics. Christ calls down God’s wrath on hypocrites and yet today he offers the broken sinner forgiveness and restoration. Lay down your religious negotiation tactics. Confess and forsake your sins, and God will show you mercy with all his heart. The Gospel is the friend of the sinner but the enemy of the negotiator.


© August 2021 Stephen S. Gibney

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