Let’s Talk Spiritual Legacy
(Legacy: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past)
Jehoahaz son of Jehu began to rule over Israel…But he did what was evil in the LORD’s sight. He followed the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.” 2 Kings 13:1,2 NLT
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years…He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.” 2 Kings 22:1,2 NLT
Jeroboam and David—a tale of two kings, two national leaders, two influencers in the lives of enumerable people, two completely different spiritual legacies. When the nation of Israel divided following the death of Solomon into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, their destinies took two very different paths. From the beginning, Jeroboam in the north led the ten northern tribes away from God and deeply into idolatry. Attempting to dissuade those under his rule from pilgrimaging to Jerusalem for worship, he made two gold calves and placed them in the north and south of his kingdom, at Dan and Bethel respectively. Jeroboam also raised up shrines all over the land and appointed priests from the common people.
There were nineteen kings in Israel and they were all evil. The northern kingdom of Israel was overthrown by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The biblical account describing the character of the kings of Israel almost always included the phrases, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” and “He followed the example of jeroboam.” Of the nineteen kings in Judah, eight were considered good kings. The following phrase was associated with their assessment: “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David.” David and Jeroboam had similar responsibilities before God but they chose very different paths. Because of the high positions they held over God’s chosen people, the consequences of their devotion and walk with God were inestimable. They each left a spiritual legacy for the people of Israel and Judah that lasted for generations.
So what is a spiritual legacy and why should it concern Christians as they go about their daily lives? Spiritual legacies are the intangible deposits we knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally give or leave to those whose lives we encounter day-by-day. These deposits can come in many and varied forms. It may be in things we say, actions we take, attitudes we manifest, or responses we make. It is the nature of a spiritual legacy to influence others as it finds a home in a person’s heart and life. Legacies can be conveyed continuously over long periods or simply be brief encounters.
For example, when I started school at American River Junior College in Sacramento, I had a serendipitous exchange with a professor that left a deep and rich deposit in me that bankrolled my psychological currency. I grew up with a lot of insecurities and low self-confidence. I was ever in search of a sense of significance and I was clueless as to what I was going to do with my life. As I was crossing the campus one day, my psychology professor joined me and engaged me in conversation. He began talking with me about running for a position on the student council telling me how good he thought I would be in such a position. I can tell you that I was not used to having anyone in my life encourage me in any manner whatsoever. This professor, who seemingly knew little of me, was showing incredible confidence in me. Well, I decided to take his advice, ran for and was elected to the student council. That experience turned out to be extremely positive and laid the groundwork for future activities and involvement later as I went on to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland.
In that brief brush with the professor, he deposited something life-changing in me. He was aware of what he was doing and intended a certain outcome. It wasn’t just coincidental that he was my psychology professor. That man was “reading my mail.” Although most of the time we are oblivious to what we may be laying on others with whom we are interacting, it is always going on. This is why it is imperative that we understand the principle involved here. None of us would want to intentionally hurt another person, but things said or not said in even casual conversations can indelibly scar another person. My personal goal in all relationships of whatever depth is to interact with others in such a manner so as to always be calling them into becoming the persons in Christ he died for them to be.
So far, we have been talking mostly about a kind of legacy that evolves over a period of time. This would be like building moral character in our children or like in past generations when a school master might tutor children over a number of years. There is also a type of spiritual legacy that bequeaths something that abides for generations. I believe this is what our founding fathers did when they created a new form of self-government that Europe only dreamed of. Lincoln, later at Gettysburg, memorialized our republican form of government with the phrase, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Unfortunately, like inheritances, legacies can be squandered and ultimately lost. Even our founding fathers saw the fragility of the government they had just created as seen in Benjamin Franklin’s response when asked what kind of government do we have: “A Republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.” The framers of our Constitution greatly endeavored to limit federal power and keep as much government as possible in the hands of the people. We can see today how far that concept in theory and practice has utterly deteriorated. When the moral fiber of a nation erodes, then self-serving persons of corrupt character gravitate to the positions of responsibility.
We have a biblical illustration of such a thing from Judges 9 which describes the state of the nation following the death of Gideon. Gideon’s success as one of Israel’s judges was a mixed bag. He delivered the Israelites from the Midianites and brought 40 years of peace to the nation. Spiritually, he refused the people’s offer to be made their ruler reminding them that God would rule over them. However, Gideon failed miserably in other ways. He was a polygamist fathering 70 sons. He also fathered another son by a prostitute in Shechem. Sadly, Gideon accepted honorarium in the form of gold earrings from a pagan source and turned them into a sacred ephod. Scripture relates that “all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.”
Possibly the greatest of Gideon’s shortcomings was his failure to build a lasting spiritual legacy for the nation. He failed to prepare new generations of moral and capable leaders. When his capable leadership and judging ended, we find this:
As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping the images of Baal, making Baal-berith their god.” Judges 8:33 NLT
As the nation succumbed to moral decay, Abimelech, the son by a Canaanite prostitute, rose to fill the void left at Gideon’s death. With silver coins from the temple of Baal, he hired lascivious, wanton soldiers to kill his seventy half-brothers. Jotham, the youngest brother, was able to escape Abimelech’s purge. The people of Shechem then made Abimelech their king. Next in this sad story we read of Jotham’s parable of the trees. (Please read Judges 9:7-21 at this point.)
The parable is a story of trees desiring a king. The trees petitioned the olive tree, the fig tree and the grapevine, all of which produced worthy fruit that pleased God and man. These all turned the trees down for their desire to continue in the calling and purpose for which they were created. The trees next finally turned to the thornbush or bramble who readily accepted their proposition.
The essence of Jotham’s parable came to pass as the alliance of Shechem with Abimelech eventuated in death and destruction for many including Abimelech.
Sometimes it may be necessary to plan for the future in terms of the legacy God may have called one to build. Not only are individuals involved with legacies, but also entities like the church as well. How responsible is the church for the eventual moral decay of a nation when it fails to be the salt and light it was ordained to be? Could this be what happens when the church places greater emphasis on liturgically correct, choreographed worship services than on discipling the believers and teaching them to live out their new life in Christ?
Whether we are consciously thinking about it or not, in all our interactions with others, we are sowing, to some degree those intangible deposits that will either help to further their maturation in Christ or possibly hinder it. May our hearts be, that no matter how short or protracted an encounter or relationship might be, to always leave others more ready to love, follow, and serve the interests of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together…Let all things be done for edification.
1 Cor 14:26 NKJV