Most everyone I know wants to feel good about themselves. We want to feel like we are going somewhere, moving forward in life, and accomplishing something. We want to feel good about ourselves. Even though this is true about most of the people I know, the reality is that most of us don’t feel like we measure up. We don’t feel good about ourselves. We look around and we see those who make us feel like we are “less than,” rather than “greater than” and it plunges us into insecurity and depression. They are smarter, prettier, more athletic, more successful, taller, thinner, wealthier, and more likeable than we are. For those who gauge their value based on how they compare to those around them—it is a hopeless cause.
There is another group of people who feel really good about themselves. They find those in society who are not as smart, not as pretty, not as athletic, not as successful, not as tall or thin, and they compare themselves to these folks. You and I will always be able to find someone that makes us look better than we really are if we will just try hard enough. Comparing ourselves to those who make us feel better about ourselves is just as destructive as comparing ourselves to those who make us feel worse about ourselves because this type of thinking breeds arrogance, a sense of superiority, in our hearts.
Within this second group of folks are many of the followers of Jesus who look around and compare themselves, not so much to things like looks, financial wealth, or I.Q., but to those who are not as passionate about their faith and who do not live with the same moral and ethical values that they espouse. This is a real problem for the followers of Jesus because this type of comparison fosters self-righteousness and isolates us from others.
I hope you are beginning to clearly see that all of those that I’ve described for you suffer from the same problem—they are comparing themselves to those around them and the comparison is more destructive then they can even imagine. It doesn’t matter if the comparison results in our feeling better or worse about ourselves, the comparison is destructive. If comparing ourselves to others will only lead us to either feel insecure or arrogant then what are we to do? Stick around and we will get to that in a few minutes.
As we turn our attention to Amos 7 we will see that destruction is coming to Israel. God’s people were definitely comparing themselves to those around them and it led to their ruin. They were arrogant. They were self-secure. They were condescending to those they looked on. They had no respect for others and as a result they took advantage of those that they could take advantage of in society. They valued their lives more than they valued the lives of others in society. While all of this was going on, God gave Amos a vision of what was to come. God would step onto the scene and He would pull out of His pocket a plumb line. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in Amos 7:7-17 and then we will get started.
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” 14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’ 17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: “‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.'” (Amo 7:7-17 NIV)
If you will remember our last study of Amos then you will remember that in Amos 7-9 there are five visions that the Lord gave to Amos. The first two visions consisted of the destruction God had planned for the Northern Kingdom by swarms of locusts and a consuming fire. After the Lord showed Amos each of these visions, the prophet interceded for those in the Northern Kingdom and God stopped what He had planned. Now we come to the third vision, the vision of the plumb line. After Amos sees this third vision there is no intercession. In the third vision Amos sees God standing by a wall built true to plumb with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line is a simple tool used by builders to determine whether or not something is perfectly vertical. The plumb line is nothing more than a string with a weight of some kind tied to the end.
In the opening of the third vision God is standing next to a wall that was built true to plumb and He had a plumb line in His hand. God says, “Amos, what do you see?” Amos told the Lord what he saw. Then we read, 8 …Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” There are a couple of things that you and I really need to notice about this simple little sentence that packs tons of teaching for those of us who are the followers of Jesus.
First of all, the plumb line is what will be used to check the people. God isn’t going to find the brightest and best in Israel and see how everyone measures up next to them. Neither will God find the most holy in Israel and see how everyone measures up with them. God is going to use His plumb line. What is His plumb line? God’s plumb line is His Word. He had given His Word to His people and God was going to check them out to see if they were living out His call upon their lives. Just as a builder’s plumb line tests the true straightness of a wall, the Lord’s plumb line would test the true character and relationship of the people to the call of God upon their lives. This is one of the most important lessons you and I can learn. The question is not, “How am I doing compared to him or her?” or “How are we doing as a church compared to the other churches in our community?” The real question is, “Am I living out the call of God upon my life? Am I walking in obedience to God’s will for my life?” The only question we, as a church, need to occupy our minds and hearts with is this: “Are we, as a body of believers, being who God has called us to be and are we doing what He has called us to do in this community?”
God had built, if you will, the Northern Kingdom true to plumb. What I mean by that is that He had established them in righteousness and set before them His call to be His people. I want you to go back to 1 Kings 11 with me and let’s take a look at how the Northern Kingdom was established.
Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials. Solomon, David’s son, had strayed in his commitment to the Lord. God decided that He would take ten of the tribes of Israel and give them to Jeroboam as judgment against Solomon’s wicked ways. This wouldn’t happen until Solomon died. God sent His prophet, Ahijah, to deliver the message to Jeroboam. This is what he said,
35 I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37 However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. (1 Kings 11:35-38 NIV)
God was going to give Jeroboam what would be the Northern Kingdom. God said that He would build for Jeroboam a dynasty that would be as enduring as the one He built for David, “if…” I want us to read verse 38 again.
38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. (1 Kings 11:38 NIV)
From the birth of the Northern Kingdom the nation was established “plumb” in God’s eyes. He had laid the foundation. He had set their course. The only question would be, “Would Jeroboam do what God commanded? Would he walk in the ways of the Lord and do what was right in God’s eyes?” You and I both know the answer to those questions. The “walls of the nation” began to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa because the lives of the people of God veered far from God’s call.
The second lesson that we can learn from the simple sentence of verse 8 is this: The plumb line was going to be put up in the midst of God’s people. God says to Amos: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel;” I want you to notice where God is setting a plumb line. It is in the midst of His people. We, who are the people of God, living our lives under the call of God, must stop looking to society for our approval, affirmation, and validation. We must stop looking to society to see if we are on track and doing well. Our eyes are to be set on our King and our ears are to be tuned to His call alone. If we would spend as much time and energy in seeking to know God’s Word and His will for each of our lives as we do trying to win the approval of people and trying to fit into our society, then we would see our lives and our society transformed. Yet, because we persist in trying to win the approval of people, we will end up under the same judgment as those who lived in Israel. The plumb line of God will expose our crooked ways.
In Amos 7:9, God makes it clear that the nation would be tested and their crooked ways would be exposed. As a result of this God would destroy the worship places and He would rise up against the government of Jeroboam. Read Amos 7:9 with me.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” (Amos 7:9 NIV)
God was looking for righteousness and justice in two specific areas of leadership—the worship centers and government of Israel. He found no righteousness in either place. We’ve already seen, in Amos 5, that God despised what was happening in the worship centers of Bethel and Gilgal. Let me refresh your memory. Turn with me to Amos 5:21-24.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24 NIV)
Here is something for us to consider. “Is it enough for us to have wonderful times of worship, solid biblical teaching, and a correct theology?” The answer to that question is “No!” Not if it does not translate into a transformed life that seeks to live out the call of God in our everyday life.
Not only was the church corrupt because the people and their leaders were crooked, but the government was corrupt as well. Again, in Amos 5, we read,
12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:12 NIV)
15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:15 NIV)
In the United States we have something called the “separation of Church and State,” but don’t think for a minute that our governmental leaders are exempt from the plumb line of God. They are accountable to govern and lead in a godly way.
I know that there are many who say they are followers of Jesus who would say that this kind of talk is radical, it is extreme, it’s not realistic. You need to know that it wasn’t received very well in Amos’ day either. Amaziah was a corporate priest. He was the CEO of the King’s Sanctuary and he didn’t like what Amos was saying at all. In Amos 7:10-13, we read,
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:10-13 NIV)
Amaziah didn’t like what Amos was saying so he sent a message to the king of Israel. In his message he twisted the words of Amos to make it sound like Amos was planning some kind of a conspiracy against Jeroboam. In reality Amos was merely a messenger, he was delivering a message from God. Amaziah, after reporting Amos to the king, told Amos to leave and go back to where he came from. He insinuated that Amos was a preacher for profit and he could make a living in the land of Judah where they liked his kind of preaching.
Amaziah had no interest in whether or not what Amos was saying was true. He had a good job, he was comfortable, and things seemed to be going pretty well in society. Amaziah desired to maintain his comfort level more than he desired to hear a word from God. Amaziah was like Ahab, one of the kings of Israel that we studied about this past week in our Men’s Bible Study.
About 850 B.C., Ahab was the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah. Jehoshaphat was a good king, but Ahab was a horrible, ungodly king. To forge an alliance, Jehoshaphat had his son, Jehoram, marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. Jehoshaphat went to visit Ahab one day and Ahab said, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?” (1 Kings 22:4 NIV) Jehoshaphat said, “Don’t you think that we should first seek God’s counsel.” Ahab called in 400 of his prophets and asked them if he should go to war with Ramoth Gilead? They said, “Sure. You bet. The Lord will give you the victory!” Jehoshaphat was listening to all of the discussion take place and he saw right through the charade. Ahab might have had 400 prophets, but all of them combined weren’t worth a dime when it came to inquiring of the Lord. They were the king’s prophets, not God’s prophets. Ahab might have thought that he had strength in numbers with his 400 prophets, but in actuality all he had was 400 “Yes men.” As soon as the prophets answered Ahab, Jehoshaphat spoke up.
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” 8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king should not say that,” Jehoshaphat replied. (1 Kings 22:7-8 NIV)
Isn’t that interesting? Ahab knew there was a man of God that he could seek godly counsel from but he wasn’t looking for godly counsel, he only wanted to hear what he wanted to hear. Ahab said, “Go get him and bring him here.” When the king’s prophets went to get Micaiah, they told him,
13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” (1 Kings 22:13 NIV)
Do you see what’s going on? The supposed “men of God” were trying to convince Micaiah to go along with them. Now there is a lesson in that for us my friends. As a follower of Jesus you and I can either seek godly counsel or you can seek out the answer you are looking for—and you can do either of those two things right here in the Body of Christ. Don’t fool yourself into believing that just because your friends say they are followers of Jesus that you are going to get godly counsel from them.
I’m afraid that there are far too many of us Christians who are like Amaziah and the 400 prophets of Ahab. We are comfortable Christians. We don’t take our faith too seriously. We go to church on Sunday. Throw a little money in the plate now and then. We do our Sunday morning duty, but don’t expect us to carry our faith into the shop, the office, or the classroom on Monday through Friday. And as far as Friday and Saturday night go, we’ll we know lots of Christians who go to the same places and do the same things that we do on those nights don’t we? You really can’t expect us to allow the Bible to influence how we spend our money or our time. We believe in the separation of Church and everyday life, but that is a concept that is totally foreign to God. It is also totally foreign to anyone who has truly been captivated by the Good News of the Gospel. So, if I am one of these casual Christians, what am I to do? Well, I can tell you what most of us do. We find folks who think like us to surround ourselves with in everyday life and we try to find a good church that will make us feel good about ourselves rather than force us to be confronted with the Word of God. This really is nothing new. Ahab did it as he surrounded himself with 400 prophets who were more concerned with what Ahab thought than what God said. Amaziah did it by trying to drive Amos out of the country. And in Paul’s day, he said that the day was coming when people would no longer put up with the God’s Word. Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV)
I will admit that it is far easier for me to surround myself with those who will only tell me what I want to hear, those who will make me feel better about myself, but I have to keep in mind that the plumb line of God has nothing to do with how I measure up to those around me. I must also always remember that I will never measure up based on how good I am. I can strive to live a more moral life than any of you here, but my goodness is as filthy rags to God. I will only measure up to God’s plumb line through my relationship with Jesus. He is my righteousness. He is my salvation. The more I seek to live in Him, the more I seek to walk daily in His steps, the more His life will shine through mine. He is our only hope. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today and begin to allow Him to transform your life this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114