How often we kick ourselves after-the-fact. When things don’t turn out as we desire, and we are reminded that we should have known better, we find that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach.
It was an uncomfortable introduction, during our family’s devotional time, as we read in Claiming Christ the disconcerting words of God spoken to Eli the High Priest. God reiterated his promise that Eli’s branch of Levi would always remain priests before God. It was a reference to an earlier promise that when spoken appeared to be unconditional. God was simply going to make it happen.
But Eli was then reminded of God’s holy expectations upon all who claim to worship him; expectations that were not given at the same time that promise was given. But as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel, God told Eli that he should have known better and so God cursed Eli’s entire family and killed them all.
How was Eli supposed to know that God’s promise held demands upon him, when none were spoken at that time? More to the point for us, how are we to recognize God’s expectations upon Christians as we embrace his promises?
This story highlights the biblical reality of the “unspoken priority”.
The principle behind the unspoken priority is that when God states something, it always remains within context, even if we hear it out of context. You may be familiar with the statement that even if we are unfaithful, God will always remain faithful, because he cannot be untrue to himself. That reason is the same one here. What God says always remains dependent upon who he is and what he has already revealed to us.
So, when Eli heard God’s promise regarding his eternal position as a priest before God, that promise remains within the expectations God revealed elsewhere; expectations that Eli should have known. What Eli was told, at the point God judged him, was that in spite of the promise, the expectation that was unspoken at that moment was “Those who honor me, I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained”.
It was not honor that earned the promise (any more than our works could ever earn our salvation), but the promise would only be maintained if the recipient upheld God’s honor.
There are many examples of the unspoken priority within Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, but one that very blatantly cuts to the bone of our doctrinal pride is recorded in Eze 33:
“If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right…he will surely live; he will not dies”.
At face value, it looks like God’s promises are fickle and can’t be trusted, but there is an unspoken priority involved. It is perhaps one of the reasons that Scripture tells us that only those who have the Spirit of God can actually understand the things of God. Understanding truth is not principally a matter of education or intelligence; it is a matter of submission to the revelation of God by the Spirit of God.
Can you identify the unspoken priority in the above quoted passage? If it is not yet clear, try reading the entire chapter and look for what God expected of those to whom he at one time called “righteous” before him. Remember, the foundation of Christianity comes through both the Apostles and the Prophets with Jesus as the Chief corner stone, and so what is recorded here by the Prophet Ezekiel is not dependent upon the Old Covenant and applies to us Today as well.
In summary, it behooves us to embrace God’s promises within the context of his full revelation as recorded and preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures. Be careful about picking and choosing only those passages that you like, while by-passing the others that may well reveal the unspoken priority that governs the desirable passages.
Ultimately, recognizing the unspoken priority is a matter of spiritual maturity. It requires that we study to show ourselves approved by rightly dividing Scripture and not approaching it as a buffet where we enjoy picking only the items we want while ignoring the rest of the spread laid before us.
Which is more important to you, upholding the Name of God before others or getting what you’ve been promised?