Whose Agenda …and whose glory?

Abner’s political manoeuvrings and boasting lead to a tragic fall (2 Samuel 3). The man who believed he could deliver the kingdom to David meets a sticky end when Joab avenges his brother’s death. Abner has been the strong man in Israel, the commander of Saul’s army and now the power behind the throne of puppet king, Ishbosheth.

So, when Abner asks David “Whose land is it anyway?” as we saw in our talk notes, there’s an element of ambiguity. Is he suggesting that the whole land should really be under David’s rightful rule as the anointed king as the NLT reads, or is he claiming that the land is in fact within his gift?

On the one-hand we might pick up on his words here:

“For some time now,” he told them, “you have wanted to make David your king. 18 Now is the time! For the Lord has said, ‘I have chosen David to save my people Israel from the hands of the Philistines and from all their other enemies.’”[1]

This suggests that Abner is recognising David as the Lord’s anointed, possibly because of some prophetic revelation.  However, on the other hand note that Abner isn’t willing to simply submit to David. Rather, he sees David as someone who still must negotiate with him.

“Make a solemn pact with me, and I will help turn over all of Israel to you.”[2]

In other words, Abner expects something in return from David, presumably to retain his position as commander in chief. He would remain the king maker, the power behind the throne. David would be in his debt.

This interpretation is re-enforced by a careful reading of verse 17-18. Those verses show that the tribal leaders had always wanted to recognise David’s kingship. So, what had stopped them doing it? Very simply, Abner had stopped them. He’d manoeuvred his man into position. “Now is the time” because now it suits Abner’s purposes.

The sad thing is that we can find our fair share of “Abners” in our churches today and that each of us can easily have a little bit of Abner in us so that we fall into the same temptation. We see this when:

–          Men jostle for positions of power in the church especially when this leads to tribalism either within churches or the creation or development of networks and affiliations around personalities.

–          We become proud and think in terms of what we can/will achieve for the Lord forgetting that it is his work to build his church and extend his kingdom.

–          People use the church for their own agenda. For example, when I think that I have to be allowed to do a particular ministry because I enjoy doing it and see it as my gift then I am in danger of using the gifts given to me for self-fulfilment and self-satisfaction rather than for God’s glory and the care of his people.

–          People try to control the agenda of the church expecting it to run at their pace. When it suits them, they will block decisions so that gospel ministry is subject to their timing. They may well demand the provision of proof texts or a personal subjective revelation (dream, vision, word of knowledge) before things can go on.

So, how do we guard against Abners in the church? Well obviously, the last thing we need is a few Joabs, though that’s what we often get, equally powerful and power hungry assassins wreaking revenge for personal slights. Instead I would suggest that we need.

  1. A clear focus on Gospel vision and mission. It is vital that a local church and any networks/fellowships of churches are governed by Christ’s commission in Matthew 18 not by the personal mission statement or agenda of one leader.
  2. Genuine plural leadership with elders that are humble and properly accountable to one another.
  3. A properly functioning church membership where the whole body engages in prayerful discernment.
  4. A church that sits under God’s word, not just learning about it out of intellectual interest or even pragmatic need but rather where we seek to hear God speak to us, challenge us, expose our hearts and draw us back to himself.


[1] 2 Samuel 3:17-18

[2] 2 Samuel 3:12.