Summary: A sermon delivered to the 2007 annual meeting of the Mountain State Baptist Association exhorting the primarily pastoral audience to finish their ministries well.
1. The first prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your prosperity (3-15a)
2. The second prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your press clippings (15b-16)
3. The third prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your position (17-20)
4. Conclusion: The epitaph of pride (21-23), the epitaph of Paul (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
This afternoon, we will be looking at the recorded life of King Uzziah which is told throughout chapter 26. But for right now, we’ll just read his epitaph. We’ll just read verse 23.
I haven’t seen one in a while, but several years ago, they used to have a commercial on TV for Tombstone frozen pizzas. It had a man standing in front of an old-timey firing squad. The executioner came up and asked the condemned man if he wanted a cigarette. He said no. Then he asked if he wanted a blindfold. Again, he defiantly said no. So finally, the executioner asked him what he wanted on his tombstone. To which the condemned man said, pepperoni and sausage. It doesn’t take much to figure out what we might want on a Tombstone Pizza, does it? But it’s a whole different story when it comes to figuring out what we want on our real tombstone. People try to sum up entire lives in things like obituaries and epitaphs and tombstones. I’m sure that many of you have sat with families as they have tried to come up with the exact right words for an obituary that would sum up the life of a lost loved one. What we’ve just read is a sad example of an epitaph. A sad example of a life that went wrong. A life that was as full of promise and potential as any in Judah’s history. But a life that was ruined by falling into the terrible trap of pride. Uzziah was the king of Judah. God had specifically and specially called him to that position. To lead God’s chosen people. To shepherd God’s chosen people. God specifically and specially called Uzziah to that role, just like He has specifically and specially called many of us to be undershepherds of His flocks. But Uzziah didn’t finish well. Just like many who God calls today don’t finish well. I read some disturbing statistics from George Barna and Focus on the Family this week. 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches—EACH MONTH. Over 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce. 80% of seminary graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years. Almost 40% of pastors who were polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry. One of my Liberty professors handed us an article on the first day of class. It said that 19 of 20 seminary students who entered the ministry would fail to finish their ministry well. And people think the military is a dangerous profession. At least in the military, you usually know who the enemy is and the direction they’re coming from. But that’s not always the case in the ministry, is it? It’s not always the case, because most of the time the enemy is from within. Enemies from without are usually pretty easy to deal with. They’re time consuming and draining, but you can deal with them. But the enemy on the inside is different. He’s sneaky. He’s cunning. And many times he’s almost invisible. But even though he’s almost invisible, he does have a name. His name is pride. And just like he did in the life of Uzziah, he is in the business of setting traps. He set traps in Uzziah’s life. And Uzziah fell into them. And because he fell into them, he failed to finish well. I don’t want that to happen to any of us here today. I want each of us to leave here determined to finish well. But in order to do that, we need to recognize some of the traps that are before us. This afternoon, we’re going to use the tragic story of Uzziah to look at three prideful traps that will keep you from finishing well. The first prideful trap is your prosperity. Back up and look with me at verses 3-5:
The first prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your prosperity. Did you notice that? “As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.” We’ve got a strange idea of prosperity, don’t we? We almost look at prosperity as something that God owes us when we’ve done certain things He’s asked of us. If we do step A, B, and C, God’s going to bless us with prosperity. Yes, prosperity can be a blessing from God. But did you also know that prosperity can be a test from God? Look at Uzziah’s life. By the time he was 16 years old, he was the most powerful man in all of Judah. But he wasn’t just a figurehead. History tells us that for several years, he was coregent with his father. Apparently he was a pretty good apprentice, because once his father died, the kingdom really took off. For the sake of time, we won’t read this entire section. But in your own studies, I would encourage you to go through here and see the areas where Judah prospered under Uzziah’s leadership. Verses 6-8 tell of Judah’s prosperity in the area of foreign affairs. It is interesting that the Chronicler specifically points out Uzziah’s success with the Philistines. The nation hadn’t had such success against the Philistines since David. Back up in verse 2, he also points out Uzziah’s success in rebuilding the strategic port city of Elath. They hadn’t had control over Elath since the days of Solomon. So, you can see that in the area of foreign affairs, Judah hadn’t prospered that much since the days of her two greatest kings. Verses 9-10 tell of Uzziah’s prosperity in the area of domestic affairs. They were having a building boom at home. Buildings, public works, economy, beauty and luxury—things had never been better on the home front. Verses 11-13 tell of Uzziah’s prosperity in the area of military strength. Other than their ally Israel to the north, Judah had the strongest military in the area. They were unrivaled in their manpower and equipment. As a matter of fact, verses 14-15 tell of Uzziah’s technological prosperity. They had the most advanced technology of the day. The text reads like they had invented catapults. Many commentators claim this to be impossible, because that kind of technology supposedly wasn’t available till at least 300 years later. But since that is the most plain reading of the text, I take that to mean that they were that far advanced in their technology. The bottom line is, any way you look at it, Uzziah was extremely prosperous. But that prosperity went from being just a test of God to becoming a trap of the devil. How has God prospered you? Has He given you a good church? Has He prospered you with growth? Has He prospered you with new ministries and new members? Has He prospered you with facilities and resources and money? Praise God! Praise God and pass the test. But don’t fall in the trap. Don’t fall in the trap that leads you to believe that you had anything to do with it. Don’t fall into the trap that says your church’s prosperity is because of you. It’s because of God. When you are obedient to Him, He will enable you to be content in prosperity without reveling in it. As a matter of fact, He will enable you to be content in either prosperity or poverty, just like He did with Paul. And that kind of God-given contentment is what will keep you from falling into the prideful trap of prosperity. As long as Uzziah sought the Lord, He mad him prosper. And as long as he sought the Lord, the Lord kept him out of the prideful prosperity trap. The first prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your prosperity. The second prideful trap that will keep you from finishing well is your press clippings. Look with me at the second half of verse 15 and verse 16.