Articles and Helps for the Christian from the desk of Pastor Greg Neal
Are You a Sideline Christian?
“And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him. And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.” I Samuel 17:28, 29
Jesse had eight sons, the oldest being Eliab and the youngest David. Eliab was far more impressive a man than David. In fact when Samuel saw Eliab he was convinced that this was the perfect choice to be anointed as kings Saul’s successor. The Lord acknowledged the impressiveness of Eliab to Samuel. He said, “look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature.” He was an impressive looking man, no doubt in the vein of King Saul. It would have made sense for a man who stood head and shoulders above the people to be replaced by a man who was, if not equally as impressive, at the least close to it.
However that was not the choice that God had made. After bypassing seven older brothers, the youngest son David was anointed to be the king. No doubt David was an impressive looking young man as the Bible describes him. However David was not skilled in the ways of war. His weapon of choice was not a sword, but a slingshot. He played a harp. His main duty was shepherding. So when David came to the battlefield to bring food to his brothers no one would have expected David to be a hero. Eliab perhaps, but certainly not David.
The relationship between David and Eliab is one worthy of study. No doubt David looked up to all of his brothers but especially to his eldest brother. Perhaps when he decided to challenge Goliath he hoped that he would finally impress his big brother. Maybe he saw a chance to make him proud. Regardless, Eliab showed nothing but disdain towards David. Long before we see the story of the prodigal son and his elder brother. We see the story of David and his older brother, Eliab. David was no prodigal but Eliab certainly behaved like the “elder brother”.
Sometimes the people who judge us the most harshly our own brothers who stand by while we are fighting the battle they should be fighting. Many times they are more impressive than us and expected to be more successful. When a “lesser” one comes along and gives his life to the cause it rubs against their grain. Sadly many Christians are hurt by the spirit of Christians like Eliab who stand on the sidelines during the battle. Let me share eight qualities that are found in many elder brother Christians who stay on the sidelines while the least likely one volunteers to fight for the cause.
1. Sideline Christians are oblivious to the rewards of standing for the cause. “And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.” While David was very aware of the benefits that would come to him from his king, Eliab was totally oblivious to them. Perhaps Eliab was not truly loyal to his king like David was. His loyalty rested with his own welfare rather than with the king. When a king rewarded someone for bravery it was not the reward that mattered most to the recipient but the favor of the king. David wanted to win the favor of Saul because he loved his king. Saul was more concerned with his own safety then in winning the favor of his king.
2. Sideline Christians are more critical of the words of those who fight for the cause. “And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men” Eliab was bothered more by what David was saying than what the enemy, Goliath was saying. It’s interesting that those who stand on the sidelines pick apart their brother’s words more than they do the words of the enemy. Perhaps it is jealousy. Whatever it is, Eliab was far more concerned with what David was saying than with what Goliath was saying. Those on the sidelines get more indignant over our words than over what the enemy is saying. They judge their own far more harshly than those who are fighting against the cause of Christ.
3. Sideline Christians get angry at the efforts of those who fight for the cause. “and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David” Eliab got angry at David’s efforts. All David wanted to do was defend his king, his country, his faith, and his God. Eliab got angry at David’s courage. When someone stands for Christ and offers himself for the cause why would someone become angry at them? Their anger should have been directed towards the enemy. People who stand on the sidelines are typically more angry at the person who is doing what they are not than they are at those who hate our Lord and his work.
4. Sideline Christians question the involvement of those who jump in the battle. “Why camest thou down hither?” Basically what Eliab was saying is that David did not belong there. David did not get the right training from the right school. David did not wait his turn. David did not ask permission to defend His God. Whenever someone who stays on the sidelines sees someone who in their mind is not qualified enter the battle they typically question their right to do so. What gives you the right to pastor that church? What gives you the right to be on that staff? What gives you the right to preach in that conference? The question is not what gives us the right, but Who put us there. David knew he had been anointed king. He had every right to be there. He did not consider the battle to be his right but his responsibility. He was after all Saul’s armor bearer. He simply was doing what he felt was right for him to do while Eliab stood idly by.
5. Sideline Christians minimize the value of those who fight for the cause. “and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness?” Eliab emphasized the shepherd part of David as if to minimize his value. You are just a shepherd David, who do you think you are? A characteristic of those who stand on the sidelines during the battle is to minimize the value of the one in the battle. They not only look down their noses at the people who are doing the work they minimize who they are and their value. “They are JUST a bus worker.” “They only pastor a country church.” “They are just a Sunday School helper.” “They don’t run very many.”
6. Sideline Christians in their own pride assign pride to those who fight for the cause.“I know thy pride” David was not the prideful one in this story. David was humbly willing to give his own life for the cause while Eliab, the most impressive of Jesse’s sons stood by as Goliath breathed out threatenings. Those who choose to serve God are often accused of having pride while those who standby and judge are the ones who have the real pride.
7. Sideline Christians judge the hearts of those who fight for the cause. “and the naughtiness of thine heart” Eliab judged David’s heart as naughty but God saw David’s heart as pure, which is why he was chosen to be king. When someone is standing by they often judge the heart of the person who is in the battle. They do not know their heart. They assume they are in the battle for their own benefit and judge them as such. The question is not what in David’s heart made him willing to fight, but what in Eliab’s heart made him unwilling to do so.
8. Sideline Christians judge the motives of those who fight for the cause. “for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.” David did not send himself to the battle. David was sent to the battle by Jesse. He belonged there. He was there because he was obedient. He was there because he was humble enough to bring supplies and food to his brothers. He was there because God had ordained him to be there. People like Eliab who stand on the sidelines and do nothing have an uncanny ability to know the motive of those who are willing to enter the battle, yet who are in the battle because God put them there.
David’s response to his brother was twofold. The first thing he said was, “what have I now done?” If you reword that just a little bit you can understand what David was saying. Reverse “now done” and it reads, what have I done now? No doubt this was not the first time that Eliab had questioned David. This was not the first time he had put him down. Perhaps David was treated the same way when he killed the lion and the bear while protecting the sheep. Maybe Eliab knew all along that David was the better man so time after time David faced the scrutiny of a brother who rather than applauding the efforts of his younger brother found fault in them. Those who stand on the sidelines and criticize do not do it on occasion. It is their pattern. They are a constant thorn in the flesh of the ones who do what they are not willing to do.
David’s second response was, “Is there not a cause?” He did not ask this question judgmentally though it certainly was an indictment to Eliab. No, David asked this question honestly and sincerely. David would have gladly stepped aside to allow his older brother to fight Goliath. But David was not going to let Eliab’s refusal to fight stop him from doing what had to be done. There was a cause bigger to David than the approval of his brother. There was a cause bigger than his brother’s opinion. There is a valuable lesson that we as Christians must learn.
When your brothers criticize and judge you for what you are trying to do for God, do not allow their disapproval to stand in the way of you doing what you know you are supposed to do. Do not let their disdain prevent you from having the courage to stand for the cause. Certainly David would have loved his brother’s approval, but his brother’s approval could not compare to the bigness of the cause before him.
So, to all who stand by while those lesser of us fight your battle, there is a reason why you scrutinize us. There is a reason why you criticize us. There is a reason why you judge us. The reason is because you have remained on the sidelines while others have joined the battle. Rather than worrying about one another perhaps we should see the CAUSE for what it is and give our gifts and talents to the cause instead of standing on the sidelines and criticizing lesser people for doing what they can. May the story of David and Eliab be a reminder to us all of the danger of Sideline Christianity.