Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ILLUSION OF BEING IN CONTROL”

Proverbs 21.1

 

In Genesis 1.27, we read of the creation of mankind in God’s own image and likeness. However, the next verse is sometimes overlooked in our thinking. In Genesis 1.28, we are told, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Turning to Psalm 8, we read verses 3-9:

 

3      When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

4      What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

5      For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

6      Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

7      All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

8      The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

9      O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

 

To be sure, this Messianic psalm is ultimately fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in a sense, this psalm also speaks of the dominion God gave to mankind over the works of His hands. However, sin entered in, the human race was plunged into the dark abyss of spiritual death and depravity, with its distortions, and perversions of what had been legitimate and God-honoring impulses and desires. Whereas man had been created by God to submit to Him and to serve Him, while subduing God’s creation here on earth, and while exercising dominion over all of His creatures, sin certainly changed man. However, sin also changed God’s creation. Romans 8.22 shows us that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain” as a result of Adam’s fall into sin. Thus, the task of subduing and exercising dominion suddenly became far more difficult. In ways that we cannot entirely understand, in the main because of man’s own sinfulness, but perhaps also partly the result of the unruliness of creation because of the curse, man’s desires to subdue and exercise dominion are sometimes distorted and perverted into a desire to assert control in ways God never intended.

Sometime back I was standing outside the church before an evening service, talking to Lavona and Kelly. How the subject turned to this issue of being controlling I do not know. However, one of them mentioned how controlling the nurses at their hospital are. I was surprised until the other nodded her agreement, and then they were off to the races with illustrations and examples of nurses exerting improper control over other people, mainly over their own pathetic husbands. No one is asserting that all nurses are control freaks. However, other professions require caution to prevent the inappropriate exerting of control over other people.

Vince Lombardi, the hall of fame football coach was just such a man. To be sure, he was a genius, and those who succeeded under his tutelage speak very highly of him. However, what about those casualties whose lives were wrecked by his authoritarian rule? Basketball coach Bobby Knight is another example. He shrieks and screams at the top of his voice at players, assistant coaches, referees, and anyone else that gets in his way and denies him what he wants and feels he just has to have. Why does he go off like that when it seems like he is not controlling the situation he is in to the degree he wants?

Is such behavior required to be a genius basketball coach? Why did John Wooden, the greatest of all college basketball coaches, never act like that? Why did Red Auerbach, the greatest of all professional basketball coaches, never act like that? We have no evidence that the great professional coach, Paul Brown, ever acted that way, or Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys.

This message is not about fits of temper, but about a passion to control things you have no right to exercise control over. What a challenge this issue is to me, as a pastor. One of my former pastors followed the example of yet another pastor in seeking to exercise a degree of control over church members that the Bible never authorizes. Therefore, this issue of being controlling is an issue that exists. While some people seem to try to control other people, others desire to firmly control all the details of the environment they live in.

Mr. James Dunn related to me what he once observed. A fellow walked into church impeccably dressed. His posture, movements, and even the manner in which he sat in his chair, were all precise. Then he took his pristine new cell phone and carefully placed it on the seat next to him, just so. The entire picture, to Mr. Dunn, was a display of a young man’s attempts to control everything in his environment. Perfect room. Perfect car. Perfect clothes. Perfect hair. Perfect shoes. He is seeking to control everything about his life so he can produce what to him is a perfect life.

However, no one can control everything. Those with experience in life recognize that there is very little in life that anyone can control. Related to this issue of control is my observation that some people resist the claims of Christ because they see conversion in a false light. They see conversion as a matter of control, but opposite what the Bible declares to be true.

Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint that a lost sinner retains control over any aspect of his life. Quite the contrary, the life of a sinner is a life of no control. The life of a sinner is actually a life that is completely out of control, with regard to matters God deems to be important. Thus, no actual control is surrendered when a sinner is converted to Jesus Christ. How can anyone who has no control possibly lose control? This is because, in one sense, the sinner is dead in trespasses and sins. In another sense, he is completely enslaved to sins and passions, unable to exercise anything but the most superficial control over his thinking, over his impulses, and over his decisions. Even when he thinks he exerts control over those aspects of life he is blind to the reality of having no control over anyone else’s life, or over anything that “accidentally” happens to him.

Turn with me to Colossians 1.13, where Paul describes conversion using some striking imagery: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” What actually takes place when a sinner comes to Christ is not any surrendering of freedom to the control of Another. Rather, it is a transference from the hobnail boots of Satan’s authoritarian and dictatorial oppression of the sinner to the liberty of Christ’s reign over the lives of those set free from bondage to sin. However, few people pay much attention to truth in the abstract, so I thought I would spend some time this evening relating the life experiences of a few extremely powerful and controlling men.

Imagine, if you would, the shakers and movers of their day. We are about to review the experiences of the most powerful men who have ever lived, men who totally dominated everyone around them, men who epitomized this idea of controlling and dominating their environment. Imagine what we will see in their lives.

 

First, ABRAM’S PHARAOH

 

When you get home tonight, you might want to read Genesis 12.10-20. In that passage you will find a very interesting story in which there are three individuals, Abram, Sarai, and Egypt’s pharaoh. Abram and Sarai went to Egypt during a time of famine and were observed by Egypt’s pharaoh, giving us a hint of the wealth and prestige of Abram. However, when Pharaoh saw Sarai’s beauty, and desired her, and took her into his house not knowing she was Abram’s wife, God intervened with a plague. This man who controlled everyone around him, who had anything he wanted, who had anyone he wanted, found that there was something he could not control . . . God.

 

Next, ABRAHAM’S ABIMELECH

 

Abimelech is the word, much like the word pharaoh with the Egyptians, which refers to the king of the Philistines. Genesis chapter 20 records this example of a controlling man. Abimelech took Sarah, much like Pharaoh had taken her. This woman must have been stunningly beautiful to be so attractive at such an advanced age. That, or the benefit of being seriously covered by modest attire has been completely lost on women or our day. What could Abimelech not have if he wanted it? What woman in his kingdom could he not take if he desired her? What aspect of his life could he seemingly not control? Everything was set until God spoke to him in a dream, telling him that if he wanted to continue living he must immediately restore that woman to her husband. Abimelech seemed to be a man in control. What could he not control? He had the power of life and death over every Philistine. Yet he could not control God.

 

Next, JOSEPH’S PHARAOH

 

You remember the story of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery and a slave in the household of Potiphar, then confined to prison, before becoming second only to Pharaoh. The contrast of their lives is a wonder to behold. Joseph is a man who has control over absolutely nothing. Bound by his brothers, bound by the slave merchants, a slave to Potiphar, imprisoned by Potiphar, then, though with a very high rank, enslaved to Pharaoh. Where is Joseph’s freedom? Where are Joseph’s choices? What are his options? Contrast him with Pharaoh, who may have been the most powerful man in the world at that time, the absolute ruler over what was already one of the oldest and most well established empires in history. So powerful was Pharaoh that it is doubtful that he had ever lifted anything in his lifetime, ever performed a menial task of any kind, or ever had anything happen to him that he had not previously considered and approved. Yet God sent dreams to Pharaoh’s sleep, dreams only Joseph could interpret. Then God sent seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of drought. Why did God do all that? He did that to establish Joseph in Pharaoh’s household, to strengthen the hand of Egypt’s priestly class in preparation for the Exodus four centuries later, and to bring Jacob and his family into Egypt where that family would grow into a nation. Through all of that, who was controlling what? I am sure Pharaoh thought he was in control. It may even be that he looked like he was in control. And certainly, Joseph was not in control. Who was in control the whole time? Only and always God.

 

Fourth, MOSES’ PHARAOH

 

Advance four hundred years to the book of Exodus. A Pharaoh who heads up a different dynasty, one that has enslaved the Jews and badly mistreated them, now rules Egypt. This Pharaoh seems far more arrogant and confident than Joseph’s pharaoh does. Yet when Moses returns from the Midian desert after forty years of training to be a shepherd under God’s tutelage, whose control is put on display when the plagues are visited upon the Egyptians? When the water is turned to blood, who is in control? When the frogs came, who was in control? The night the death angel came and took the lives of all Egypt’s firstborn, who was in control? When the waters of the Red Sea were parted to allow the Israelites to pass over, and then when the waters came back together to destroy the army of Pharaoh, who was in control? Throughout his whole life he had been raised to exert control, and perhaps even thought he had achieved control. He certainly tried to control God’s chosen people. However, the plagues showed who is really in control. Egypt’s king was not in control. Egypt’s priests were not in control. Egypt’s gods were certainly not in control, since every plague God sent was a direct attack against Egypt’s false gods. Only God was in control. Only God is in control.

 

Fifth, JUDAH’S MANASSEH

 

More than a thousand years after the days of Moses, it is in Second Chronicles chapter 33 that we learn about a twelve-year-old boy who ascended to Judah’s throne when his father, Hezekiah, died. Manasseh was the worst king Judah ever had, growing up to be a man guilty of killing his own children to worship a false idol, and leading his people into the basest of idolatries. He thought he could do anything he wanted to do. The Bible shows us that when God spoke to Manasseh, he refused to listen.[1] How arrogant, and how wicked king Manasseh must have been to resist God as he did. God’s response to Manasseh was astounding. He moved the Assyrian empire to wage war against Judah for the express purposed of taking Manasseh captive while he was hiding in the thorns, and then taking him in chains to Babylon. It was in his captivity that he humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers and admitted to himself that the LORD, He is God.[2] If you would have asked him, who do you think he would have said is really in control?

 

Sixth, DANIEL’S NEBUCHADNEZZAR

 

The book of Daniel introduces us to the relationship that existed between the Jewish prophet, Daniel, and Babylon’s monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel chapter 4, we read of a prophesy given by means of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation. Of course, the king was very proud, and thought he could say anything he wanted, and do anything he wanted. He deluded himself into thinking he was in complete control of his life. However, in connection with this prophecy of impending judgment from God, Daniel warned the king and urged him to repent.[3] Of course, the king ignored Daniel’s plea. One year later, while walking and talking to himself in his palace, Nebuchadnezzar uttered these words: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”[4] Was he not a perfect illustration of someone who thinks he is in control of his life? Let me read the very next verse to you: “The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar.”[5] Within one hour God’s judgment fell upon Nebuchadnezzar, and he not only completely lost his mind, but he lived outside like an animal and ate grass like the oxen. Did God restore him? Yes. Listen to what the man who was then the most powerful ruler on earth said when God gave his mind back to him. Daniel 4.34-37:

 

34     And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35     And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

36     At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.

37     Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

 

Methinks you who are not converted do resist the gospel because you erroneously perceive the Christian life to be a life of bondage, and your own sinful life to be a life of freedom, a life in which you control the circumstances of your own life.

I am here to tell you that is an illusion. You have as much control over your life as does a goldfish control which room I choose to place the aquarium he lives in.

You control nothing.

You have no control over your intelligence, your physical strengths and weaknesses, whether you get cancer or Parkinson’s disease, whether you are shot in a drive by shooting, or if something falls off a flatbed truck in front of you on the freeway, crashes through your windshield, and kills you.

The illusion of control. The priests and the Romans thought they were in control when they brutalized and then crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. They thought they were exercising their own free wills when they acted, and when they decided, and when they moved. Yet Simon Peter uttered these words on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2.22-24:

 

22     Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:

23     Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

24     Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

 

When Jesus Christ was crucified, who thought they were in control? The Jews thought they were manipulating the Romans. The Romans thought they were crucifying Him. And these things are all true. However, at one and the same time God was fulfilling His plan, showing that God is ultimately in control.

Want to continue exercising control in your life? You decide when and when not to come to church. You decide whether to come to Christ or not. It is very much a matter of control, to some of you. You do not want to give up control. Just understand this, my friend. You are not in control of anything. It is all an illusion produced by sin. Here is the truth, Proverbs 21.1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.”

So, the next time you are pondering the claims of Jesus Christ, and you are mulling over this idea of giving up control of your life . . . admit to yourself that you actually control nothing. When a sinner gets saved he is freed from his bondage to Satan and sin and becomes a servant of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wisely boasted of that servitude.



[1] 2 Chronicles 33.10

[2] 2 Chronicles 33.12-13

[3] Daniel 4.27

[4] Daniel 4.30

[5] Daniel 4.31

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org