The Sin Of Counting
Today we will talk about a sin that people have really grown used to. I want to raise our conscience so that it is softer and more on fire for God. Certain sins are so common place that it becomes hard to be indignant about them. We become so comfortable with them that we lose any fire or zeal because to deal with it would be overwhelming. For instance, early on, as this country slowly became more and more sinful, men would speak out against counting. But now it is so common place that you don’t know where to start. We will talk about the sin of counting in the church and keeping track of how many members belong to a certain group.
John 3:22-25 – After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.
Today when a debate breaks out between churches as to who is spiritual, has the correct doctrine, or who’s right with the Lord, people think the answer lies in numbers. They ask, “How many people go to your church?” It has gotten so bad that when people ask you if your church is growing, what they mean how many members you have, not the spiritual quality of your church. So we see the same back in Jesus’ time.
John 3:25 – An argument developed between some of John’s disciples . . .
And it’s usually one individual. You notice it says . . .
John 3:25 – . . . and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.
Many times I will debate with people and go over certain issues, dispute things in Scripture, and they’ll suddenly ask, “How many people go to your church?” “How much is your church growing?” or “How many members have you added?”—as if that would justify a certain doctrine. If I had more members than he, would he say that I was correct? If we go on numbers, then let’s all become Mormons today. They are winning far more converts than even the Christian church. Or let’s become Muslims, for that matter. Numbers mean nothing in terms of your righteousness before God, your holiness, or how correct you are on anything.
Notice when they came to talk to John they didn’t bring up the issue of ceremonial washing. They didn’t even get into it. They went for the jugular vein, the pride of man. They ended up talking about how many members belonged to John.
John 3:26 – They came to John . . .
Remember verse 25 said “a certain Jew.” Usually one person stirs up all the trouble and gathers around him a bunch of people to build up his doctrine, opinion, or debate. So again, the contest is a matter of numbers. One guy with this one question or debate claims, “Everybody says this.” When I discuss the fact that Jesus says you have to hate your own life, people will often ask “You don’t accept the literal interpretation for that, do you?” Meaning, “We have five thousand people who define it this way and you’re the only person who says it that way.” As if numbers means you’re right or wrong.
John 3:26 – They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi. . .”
They came in humility—false humility. They said “Teacher,” (that’s what Rabbi means it’s a sign of respect) and yet they didn’t come with a good heart. They weren’t really interested in the ceremonial washing question, because they didn’t even ask him about that.
John 3:26 – Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—
They tried to subtly divide with a bitter root. “Remember that person you were united with—the one who came to you for baptism? He learned from you, but do you know what he’s doing now? He is drawing people away from you.” You see, they judged John by their own hearts because they lived to gather disciples in order to puff themselves up. They didn’t really work for Jesus Christ or for God.
John 3:26 – Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—
“The one you held up, the one you gave your allegiance to. You were in unity with him, and you taught about him. You shared love, comradeship, and brotherhood. Guess what?
John 3:26 – . . .well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.
“You’re losing members, numbers, and support. You’re losing people who would build you up and make you look spiritual and holy. He is gaining more numbers than you!” So the contest is not ceremonial washing, they weren’t even going to try to deal with that question. It came down to how many people worshiped there. I can’t tell you the number of debates I’ve gotten in with people and when they find out our church is small (at least small compared to theirs) they imply that something is intrinsically wrong because we don’t have the numbers.
John 3:27 – To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.”
You can be a Pharisee traveling over land and sea or be the largest denomination in the world. You can have all kinds of people in your church, but that doesn’t mean they came from the Lord. John simply stated that when he preached and declared the gospel, he only received what God sent him. He didn’t go out to try to convert men to his side of the opinion, or get them in line with his doctrine in order to build himself up. He simply preached the gospel and God either drew the people in or he didn’t. It wasn’t John’s technique, his doctrine, or the way he presented himself. It wasn’t the entertainment or the way of saying things. Only God brought those people to him.
John 3:27-28 – A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.”
Again, John got to the heart of the matter. He exposed their pride. He demonstrated who they preached—themselves. Because we are so used to numbers and gaining people, we fail to realize that there is an inside part of our hearts that wants to draw attention to ourselves. Some people might be partly godly and seeking the Lord, but where you find this kind of counting and emphasis upon the number of disciples, you can be sure that pride and arrogance exists in their hearts and needs to be dealt with. Among certain groups that is all that’s there. Look again at verse 28.
John 3:28 – You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.”
He tried to emphasize that he is nothing. It didn’t matter how many people he had underneath him or aligned with him, it was just a matter of whether God brought people or took them away—whatever God wanted to work. He wasn’t preaching himself, but Jesus Christ.
John 3:29 – The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him . . .
So evangelism requires a lot of just waiting—waiting for God to bring people to you with whom you can share the gospel. God may send you, but you wait for God to say, “Go and get this person. Rescue them from the fire. Go and preach the gospel to him.” Whereas the man who preaches for numbers constantly strives to draw people in, to get a large number count. He doesn’t wait upon God, he acts in the name of the Lord. This is two different sources of evangelism completely; one is total self-effort to build up the pride of self in man and the other is humility, waiting on God to bring people.
John 3:29 – The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him . . .
So if John had to wait years before ever preaching the gospel or winning a single convert, he would have. He would only go and preach when he was called to preach. He was in the position God called him to be. So as a body, we need to be in a position of waiting. There may be times when the pews are packed with people, and there may be times when very few people come. We will be in a position of waiting upon God with our eyes completely off numbers or how many people attend.
John 3:29 – and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
He lived and longed to see Jesus Christ. He longed to be in fellowship with Jesus. He didn’t puff himself up or named his ministry after himself. This wasn’t John the Baptist Incorporated or the website “JohntheBaptist.org.” He preached Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ. That alone gave him joy and excitement. If he never won a convert, added another member, or never succeeded at preaching the gospel and winning numbers, he would do what God called him do and be where God wanted him to be. Goodness, Jeremiah didn’t win a single convert! Everything he failed on an outward appearance, but he did what God called him to do. Now verse 30 is the key to this whole issue and why counting is such an atrocity.
John 3:30 – He must become greater; I must become less.
Whenever we become greater, we lose some portion of Jesus Christ. Some men go all the way and lose Jesus Christ completely. We need to be appalled at the number counting happening everywhere; in missions groups, churches, etc. Numbers are the ultimate goal. It is an idol in the church today and held up as a glorious thing. People will say, “Give to our particular group because we have won this many people for Jesus Christ.” I don’t care if they won one million for Jesus Christ or one. I just want to know if God has called them to be in the field and I will support that man in that field for forty years; even if he doesn’t win anybody. We puff ourselves up and look at the numbers and rejoice in those things. We become greater and so we lose Jesus Christ. If we want Jesus Christ exalted in this body then we must become less and more humble. We must get our eyes off the world and numbers. Jesus said the following:
John 7:18 – He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
How appalling that most ministries nowadays are named after the man doing the preaching. Now we have to step back and sit down because we are used to this sin. We are comfortable with it. We don’t become appalled at it anymore. We don’t find anyone challenging anybody on this anymore. But Jesus Christ was very clear. If a man speaks to bring attention to himself, he works for his own glory, not for that of Jesus Christ. He might talk about God’s glory, sing of God’s glory, and preach about God’s glory, but if he presents himself he is not preaching Jesus Christ. “He who speaks on his own . . .” Again that self-effort, going out and winning, disciples, and not waiting on God. Isn’t that the call today? “How many disciples are you winning to Jesus Christ?” I don’t win anybody to Jesus Christ. I don’t move, persuade, convince, or enlighten people to get them to my side of the issue. I don’t win souls. I sit, wait, and listen to see where God calls me to preach. He is the one that moves peoples’ hearts. He does the drawing. If I do the winning, then I preach myself.
John 7:18 – He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself…,
Let us believe this fully and completely. Let us ask God to put this in our hearts. See the insanity that goes on in regards to accumulating numbers. Zero in on that, because that is the heart of the problem. Until they repent of this emphasis on themselves and numbers, forget the rest of the other doctrines because the pride of self is exalted.
John 7:18 – . . . but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
To the degree that we rejoice in numbers in our own hearts, we are liars and are false. True Christians do not focus on numbers, winning souls, or gaining disciples. They simply wait for their friend the Bridegroom—listening and preaching what he would have them preach. Jesus is the one who brings people. I want desperately for us to believe that this is true, and I pray that God puts this in our hearts.
John 4:1 – The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John,
The Pharisees were religious churchgoers, and involved in ministries and in works. They heard that Jesus was gained more disciples than John.
John 4:2-4 – although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria.
When Jesus Christ learned that the Pharisees focused on who was baptizing the most, he left Judea. He left that church, and got out of that debate. He did not stay there at all. So, when you find a church or a person asking, “How many members go to your church?” or boasting of numbers, it will drive Jesus Christ away every single time. They can boast of miracles, talk about the number of baptisms, brag of all the works they do, and all the answered prayers, but either we will believe what John 4 says or not. Jesus Christ leaves the Pharisees and the individuals who emphasize who baptizes and gains more people.
John 4:3 – When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
We debate with people who count; we argue and discuss it with them, but Jesus just simply left them. He avoided them at all costs. Right now there ought to be congregations indignant with leadership who count. People should simply get up and walk out. That would say a lot, wouldn’t it?
John 4:3 – When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Jesus will not hang around churches and individuals who emphasize, talk about, or rejoice in numbers. Jesus often hides himself away from sin and sinful people. His presence isn’t with them, his spirit is not there, and his love is not present. How can you have the love of Christ and pride dwelling in the same place? You cannot. How can you have an emphasis upon numbers and yet say that you love your body or your flock?
Let’s look at how Jesus hide the miracles he performed because normally miracles and counting go hand in hand, since miracles draw people. The excitement draws people.
Mark 8:11 – The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.
Look at the emotion with which the Jesus responds. I want us to have the same emotion. This is not a logical, doctrinal, dry debate. What does it say in verse 12?
Mark 8:12 – He sighed deeply . . .
They came to him again and tested him. He responded, “I cannot believe that this is going on again.” He shows emotion, fire, and zeal. Jesus Christ was not a stoic man who walked on the earth and didn’t show any emotion at all.
Mark 8:12-13 – He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
So we see in the church today that numbers have become appealing. Miracles have also become a high place, an idol. This mixture exists because each church has to have more and more excitement going on. Everybody wants a miracle to happen. Why? To gain numbers and say their church is growing—and by that they don’t mean growing in righteousness, obedience, or holiness, they mean the number of people sitting in pews.
Let’s look at David and how he sinned in this matter of counting. The real problem is not just with the leadership but also with the individual members. In our own pride why do we tolerate men who count? Why do we serve in ministries, attend certain events, and want to be counted? Do we think it’s a grand thing to be a number rather than a person? Do we think it’s great to be tallied up as if this were some loving, holy thing? You’re not a number. You’re an individual! You’re someone to be loved in an individual way by the living God—not someone to be counted up, tallied, and then hear, “Oh, you’re a part of our group.” Subtly this unlove begins to translate into the leadership. Then you simply become a number—someone to be used for the benefit of the ministry, the work, or the man.
Exodus 30:11-12 – Then the LORD said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life . . .”
It is the height of unlove to count for one’s own benefit, whether it be a king who is counting to see how much reserve and power he has or what God has worked. It is the height of unlove and you move into dangerous territory when you count. Yes, there are times to count. Sometimes a census has to be taken but what does God demand at that time?
Exodus 30:12 – a ransom for his life and at the time he is counted.
If the congregation or leadership goes around saying they will count members, it will cost each person some money.
Exodus 30:12 – Then no plague will come on them when you number them.
Where is the indignation in being counted? Where are the people standing up and saying, “How dare you count me! I will not become a number for your own benefit and selfish needs.”
Exodus 30:13-15 – Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the LORD. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives.
Every time you permit a counting to take place, you place your very life in danger before the Lord. Yet because the sin is so common, we think of it as nothing. We think it is a grand thing. Men are attracted to larger numbers and yet it costs them their lives when this happen.
Exodus 30:16 – Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting.
It should be a reminder that we need to fellowship with one another. We’re not numbers to be used. We’re brothers and sisters—not a goal, not a membership tally, not something to puff up a certain ministry, doctrine, idea, or individual. God made you for fellowship, not something to be used for some man’s glory.
Exodus 30:16 – It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives.
It’s to be a memorial that God spared your life when you were counted and did not hold it against you. Let’s look at the sin that David committed in counting. Sin crept into the Israelite camp. Pride, an underlying serious sin, lurks there. In other words, we might get so large, that secretly inside we begin to rejoice and get excited in the numbers. So God sees within our hearts an attitude of pride, rest, or relying on those numbers, and his anger begins to burn. God allowed some judgment to teach David and the Israelites a lesson.
1 Chronicles 21:1 – Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
Now this story is actually in two different places in Scripture. It’s here in 1 Chronicles 21 and also in 2 Samuel 24. I will read to you where it’s a little bit different. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 it says that Satan rose up against Israel. Let’s also look at 2 Samuel 24:1.
2 Samuel 24:1 – Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
God permitted Satan to do the work. David and the community had allowed this foothold that permitted Satan room to work. God had no doubt been trying to humble the people and whisper in their ears saying they had an underlying attitude of pride developing, but they didn’t heed or listen, so God allowed Satan to have his way in this area. So the foothold in their heart was allowed and Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census. God allowed this to bring them to a place of judgment so they could see the sin that had begun to well up. If God had not done this, you would have found David.org, a non-profit 501c corporation.
1 Chronicles 21:2 – So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”
Just the simple act of counting. They relied on the numbers. They gloried in the numbers. When we begin to see our strength in terms of numbers, remember that one godly man filled with the Holy Spirit can scale a wall, climb a mountain, and do whatever is necessary. Counting on numbers robs us of faith in God. Our eyes begin to look at the temporal things that we can see. This has happened in the mega-churches. They have arrogance, pride, and self-satisfaction centering on people. This is an exaggerated example that demonstrates what could happen to us. We need to look at them and ask the Lord to spare us from that arrogance. Brothers and sisters, it all started with the plaques you see in smaller churches showing attendance. That is where the seed was planted. It began secretly in peoples’ hearts and so God exposed it. What we think is small and minor, at least compared to the sins in churches today, is small and minor, but it started there. Had they taken it seriously then, we may not be in the place we are today.
1 Chronicles 21:3 – But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
Joab warned David and showed him clearly that what he was about to do is sin, but the pride still lingered and David wanted his way. He demanded that it be done. Let us find people within the church that will stand up and ask, “Why do they want to do this wicked thing of counting? Why do you want to put it on paper that you have won so many souls? Why do you want to sin against the Lord?” We know these revivals are false because they advertise and boast about numbers. The Lord is not there.
1 Chronicles 21:4-5 – The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.
Today churches report on how many Christians can handle the word of God with the sword. “We baptized so many individuals for Jesus Christ. We have won so many souls for the Lord. Our prayer meeting was so big. We are united and strong. We are so blessed of the Lord because the numbers are great?” Verse six shows what attitude needs to live and burn within us. Yet we have become so comfortable with this sin and it’s such a “logical” discussion, that we have no emotion about it anymore. We’re not like Jesus, we don’t even sigh deeply anymore.
1 Chronicles 21:6 – But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him.
He could not obey it fully because it was a repulsive thing for him to do. We need to have the attitude that when somebody asks us a question about how many people go to our church, we are repulsed. Not an intellectual understanding, but a gut reaction deep within the heart that says, “How dare you ask me that question. What is the matter with you, that you would ask that question? Where does this sin come from?” Deal with that and then if they can see the pride in that sin, you might be able to answer their other doctrinal questions.
1 Chronicles 21:6 – But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him.
Let there be a fire within us so that we find this number counting totally absurd and repulsive. We need to have an indignant attitude, to be zealous and have some fire about it that says, “No more of this. This insanity will stop and it will not go on anymore and I won’t tolerate people around me counting all the time.” Goodness, the world counts and the church counts. That ought to tell you that something is wrong.
2 Samuel 24:10 – David was conscience-stricken . . .
Let us have a good conscience that is repulsed at counting, that it may never happen to us and that we may call other men to repentance.
2 Samuel 24:10 – David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
Do not be satisfied with anything less than this repentance where leadership begs for forgiveness because they try to count. They must repent for the boards showing Sunday and Wednesday attendance and the offering amount. That is insane and totally crazy!
Samuel 24:10 – David was conscience-stricken he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.”
This is a great sin before the Lord and it costs the congregation their very lives when they permit it to happen.
Samuel 24:10 – Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant.
He begged and pleaded for forgiveness for this sin. He used his power, position, and influence to build himself up. When men emphasize numbers, they preach themselves. They use you in order to build themselves up, to build a name for themselves. And you are permitting it to happen.
1 Chronicles 21:7 – This command was also evil in the sight of God . . .
You cannot leave this sin untouched. You cannot say, “OK, I forgive you for this,” and leave it at that. There are certain sins we commit that when we go in before the Lord and honestly say we’re sorry, he says, “No problem, I forgive you my child, and there’s no discipline associated with it.” There are other sins that we commit that he cannot leave untouched.
1 Chronicles 21:7 – This command was also evil in the sight of God so he punished Israel.
Just because pastors tear down the membership boards and confess the sin, God will still not leave it untouched. He must discipline this deep within our hearts so that we may not commit this sin ever again. If God is ever to bless us in terms of people, we cannot even see that we have larger numbers. To look at the numbers, to rejoice even subtly about it, is the opposite of love.
1 Chronicles 21:8-9 – Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” The LORD said to Gad, David’s seer . . .
God didn’t even talk directly to David on this one. David had to humble himself to learn from another man.
1 Chronicles 21:10 – Go and tell David, “This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.”
Choose your punishment. Choose the discipline that you want. This indeed was a foolish thing, a very wicked and vile thing.
1 Chronicles 21:11-12 – So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
You can see the firmness within him can’t you? You can see the ultimatum he offered. Gad said, “Here are your choices. Tell me how should I answer the living God for what you did.” You have to love David, he took his licking like a man. He didn’t go into self-pity, justify, or be self-righteous about it. He didn’t moan and groan about all the good things that he did for the Lord and how the Lord shouldn’t bring this judgment on him. What did he do? He sat down, reasoned, and thought about his discipline. So in the same way, God comes to churches, ministries, and men who count and says, “Pick your discipline, think about what you’re doing. Think about the sin that you committed, the discipline that you deserve and take it well.”
1 Chronicles 21:13 – David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD . . .”
God increased the guilt, didn’t he? God came to David and told him the sin and David was already conscience stricken. Most of us would be satisfied if we were conscience stricken about it. We would say, “I asked the Lord’s forgiveness and he forgave me.” However, God was not even satisfied with that, he went all the way to the heart. He went to the point that physically they knew they were being disciplined for this sin. So, David’s distress increased more and more as he thought about it.
1 Chronicles 21:13 – David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”
Number counting is a direct sin against the living God and an affront to his face. It is the opposite of who God is and a complete antithesis from his heart. Hate begins to count and take numbers for oneself. Love says, “I don’t care how many people there are, I will love you the same. I don’t love you for what I can get from you, I love you because I love you.”
1 Chronicles 21:14 – So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead.
Let us have emotion and indignation at numbering and not be fooled one iota by all the claims of all the people saying they are blessed. Just because ministries glory in numbers and think it proves God is with them, don’t think for a moment that Jesus Christ is blessing that ministry. He does not bless those kinds of ministries, he curses them. He brings judgment and discipline against them.
1 Chronicles 21:15 – And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.
This is how indignant God is about counting. He struck at the very heart of worship.
1 Chronicles 21:15 – But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”
Now I want you to feel the emotion of God for just a moment. I’ll put this in human terms, but as God became angry, he was almost beside himself. Do you see what happened as Israel was destroyed? God sent out the plague and it began to move, then all of a sudden he said, “Hold it, that’s enough.” It’s like a father who is beside himself as he begins to discipline his family so he draws back a little bit and says, “Enough”? But think about how serious this sin is to God and contrast that to our toleration of this sin. Notice the attitude that God has when he punishes it. Are we beside ourselves concerning this issue of numbering? Does it send us over the edge? Does it make us a little bit uncontrollable? Do we have to withdraw our anger and indignation back and say, “Enough!”? When God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem, he went for the heart of the church and their worship. He went for the heart of the leadership and the ministry, but as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”
1 Chronicles 21:15 – And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”
He didn’t stop there though.
1 Chronicles 21:15 – The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
The angel stood at the threshing floor that divides wheat from chaff. God makes these people think about the sin they commit. He doesn’t let discipline be over in ten minutes. He doesn’t put them in the corner and take them out five minutes later and say, “OK, everything is fine.” This is a slow progression. First, David was conscience stricken and then the seer came to David. David thought about it and chose his punishment. Then he had to watch the punishment unfold. He saw the angel that would destroy Jerusalem and God said, “Stop.” The angel stood there with his sword ready to do the work at the threshing floor—at the place of purification where the wheat and shaft are separated. He wanted them to think about the consequences of using people for numbers.
1 Chronicles 21:16 – David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem.
How many ministries will be completely destroyed in the end times because of counting? We don’t see the root cause of haughtiness, arrogance, and selfishness to the degree that it really exists.
1 Chronicles 21:16 – Then David and the elders . . .
Now the leadership got involved, they saw their own hearts.
1 Chronicles 21:16 – . . . clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.
The pretence, arguments, and justifications are gone. The prayers that justified the census and counting are gone, and they just fell face down before the living God. They were at his mercy. When you begin to deal with people who count, do not let them off with a little bit of a stricken conscience. Until they fall face down in the dust before the living God, relying totally upon his mercy, do not be satisfied with anything less. Number counting is the height of arrogance and unlove.
1 Chronicles 21:17 – David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted?”
He took full responsibility for what he did. He was in charge. He could have led the people in humility, but he did not. He could have seen the sin growing in Israel and called a special service or sacrifice to God to deal with the people’s sins, but he did not. He was responsible for leading and bringing out for everybody to see what was in the hearts of Israel.
1 Chronicles 21:17 – Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted?
If these ministries want to repent, the men must stand up in front of everybody and say, “We are responsible for this sin. We have not been blessed and God has not been with us” until they fully repent of the sin.
1 Chronicles 21:17 – I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O LORD my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.
Leaders must ask for the full judgment of God to be on their lives. It will not be enough for them to just stand up and say, “OK, gee whiz, we’re really sorry that we counted and we see doctrinally that it was wrong and maybe we shouldn’t do it, or maybe just do it in a more humble way.” We are talking about men so convicted by the living God, that they stand up before everybody and say, “We want to ask God for judgment to come in our lives so that judgment does not happen to you because you let us count.” This requires the deepest of godly sorrow for this sin and a fire that burns it away and says, “No more of this! It will not happen. It will not take place.” When you are on the phone with somebody and they ask about numbers, do not tell them how many people worship here. Do not venture into the sin, but rebuke them for it. It doesn’t matter whether there are thirty or three thousand. Tell them, “Our congregation is not about numbers. They are individuals. They are people whom we love.”
1 Chronicles 21:18 – Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor . . .
God was still not through with David. He still needed to sacrifice for this. He experienced the plague, the brokenness, and a stricken conscience, and yet God was not through with him yet. Elders fell down in humility and God still was not through. This is not a cold, dry doctrine.
1 Chronicles 21:19 – So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD.
David was still teachable; he would still hear through a man and be obedient before the living God. Do you know where this angel was? At the same place Abraham offered up Isaac. The same location. Why is that significant? Because that was a congregation of three. If we ran around saying, “Oh, I’m not going to worship with Abraham. He’s only got three members” we would miss the whole point. It’s the same spot where Solomon builds the future temple. It’s not the numbers that matter or make one holy or unholy.
1 Chronicles 21:20 – While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves.
Oh, the symbolism of God showing the threshing of wheat, pulling wheat from chaff! He’s purifying, cleansing, making holy. He finds those who love him and gets a hold of that which is meat and life.
1 Chronicles 21:21-22 – Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground. David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.”
The repentance with the church or ministry that has counted must be paid in full price. They cannot play at this. It cannot be, “Gee, we made a mistake. We’re sorry that we did it and we see your point.” It needs to be rich conviction full of repentance, and nothing short of that will achieve forgiveness for this sin. Everybody wants revival today but is anybody repenting over the counting of numbers? It may take a year to repent over the counting, because God has to purify the heart and cleanse people of pride. God has to humble, break, and convince people deep in their heart that numbers mean nothing.
1 Chronicles 21:22 – . . . Sell it to me at the full price.
Full price repentance. In today’s church people think that just being conscience stricken is full price.
1 Chronicles 21:23 – Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”
He could have had it all for free, but David knew that he was sorry for this sin.
1 Chronicles 21:24 – But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price.”
If there is any leadership willing to pay the full price of repentance, they will have plenty of people come around them saying, “Don’t pay the full price.” That leadership, if they repent, will have to stand up and say, “No, I will pay the full price for this sin.”
1 Chronicles 21:24 – I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.
“I will be the one who stands up and says, ‘I am fully responsible.’ I don’t care if the elders are on the same ground. I don’t care if the people are partly responsible. I was the one in charge and responsible. I permitted it to go on. I did not preach against it or stop it. I encouraged it and allowed it to go on. I am the one fully responsible and I will pay the full price for repentance.” You do not hear that from the lips of ministries and individuals who acknowledge that counting is wrong. They are not repenting. Self, sin, and pride will only rise up again in something more sinister. They will then know to look holy and humble and say, “Oh Rabbi, everybody is going to this individual.”
1 Chronicles 21:25-26 – So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
David brought a burnt offering on top of it all; the sacrifice for sin by paying the cost. It says he brought fellowship offerings, that renewal of unbroken fellowship with God. Jesus Christ hid because of their sin of counting but now he returns once again to fellowship with them. If they would come in with this attitude and offer sacrifices to the Lord, he will return to begin to fellowship with them again. Guess what, God will answer. He will answer this time with fire. There are so many churches crying out for repentance. If they want first love repentance and to fall in love with Jesus Christ, if they want fellowship with the living God, then do this: Repent over the counting and God will answer with fire from heaven. Look at what the scripture says.
1 Chronicles 21:26 – He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
If you stand there in the middle of your sin with the burnt offering and you cry out to God in humility, he will answer quickly with fire and you will have the righteousness, grace, and the first love that you say you want.
1 Chronicles 21:27 – Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.
Full repentance brings full fellowship again. The newness of humility, the baptism of fire that drives pride from men’s hearts. The baptism of fire that removes selfishness in a man’s heart that ever looked at anybody as a number, that even thought about it. A purity so seldom seen or even believed possible, especially when number counting is considered a holy thing to do.
1 Chronicles 21:27-22:1 – Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. The tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the desert, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD. Then David said, “The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”
He realized where the Lord was. The Lord was in the purity and humility, not in counting, not in their high place, but there. When Abraham offered up Isaac, that was as holy an event as when Solomon built the grand temple. Numbers do not justify anything. There will be some who complain that this is “out of context” or out of balance.
Acts 2:41 – Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
So they’ll say, “See, God counted!” So therefore, we have a passage here that “justifies” the insanity. God lists three thousand people for a reason. Let’s go and find the reason. The three thousand in Acts had nothing to do with God taking a roll count to demonstrate the truth of his ministry or Peter taking a number count so he could put it up on the board or put it in a newsletter to say that his church won three thousand and was really growing. It has to do with the beginning of the law. When the law came, three thousand people died. God is trying to show us it costs men’s life with the coming of the law. But when grace came it replaced that which the law took away. He’s trying to show us something much deeper and richer than a justification for counting.
Exodus 32:25-26 – Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
Now do you understand why he wouldn’t number the Levites?
Exodus 32:27 – Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”
Take the sword of the Lord, the word of God and march up and down through the camp. I don’t care if they are your friends, brothers, or some grand ministry—if they are into this sin of counting, show them no mercy until they repent.
Exodus 32:28 – The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day. . .
The same wording as Acts 2:41 says:
Exodus 32:28 – . . . about three thousand of the people died.
It has to do with God’s showing us his mercy, not the issue of counting numbers.
1 Chronicles 27:23-24 – David did not take the number of the men twenty years old or less, because the LORD had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky. Joab son of Zeruiah began to count the men but did not finish. Wrath came on Israel on account of this numbering, and the number was not entered in the book of the annals of King David.
Brothers and sisters, do not let yourselves be counted again by any church, ministry, or man. Do not permit those whom you know to even talk about it or move in that direction. Be indignant about those who even raise such a question for counting, for they will not enter into their glory. How many men and ministries will stand before God and God will be very quiet. He’s going to sit there and they will come in and begin boasting, “We had all these members and did all of these things.” And he’s going to say to them that their glory is their shame. As God blesses us with more people, and we have standing room only, we are not to look at those things. We should be appalled at even thinking about those things. We look to God for the people he will bring and for whom we should lay our life down. It ought to drive us to our knees in the richest of love and humility for we are then charged to lay down our life for them, to have the wisdom, power and grace to know how to bless their lives. I don’t know about you, but having a large number of people doesn’t drive me to all kinds of excitement. It drives me to my knees. How can I feed, direct, and have that wisdom? Where can I get the love necessary and the time? How can I hold it together? How can I prevent bitter roots from happening? How can I keep sin from happening in a place like that? But when all your interest is in numbers, then you don’t care about sin. All you care about is keeping the people. All you care is the appearance of having a lot of people listening to your message. It says that you’re popular and that justifies your doctrine. That is why sin is rampant in the church. Everybody calls for revival, repentance, and change. People are indignant about the world, but until the number counting stops, they will never get the righteousness they want. I preached to congregations of four. Three were asleep in their chairs and one was dozing. Whether it is one individual or one thousand, the love is the same. Besides, we’re part of the congregation for whom the sands of the seashore are not even enough to number, the stars in the universe are not enough to count. We’re already a part of a congregation that is so large it can’t be counted. The board isn’t big enough. You don’t have enough time to count everyone. Where you find men taking numbers into account, who do they preach? Not Jesus Christ! Do not be taken in by them ever again.
Father, come to each one of our hearts and reveal within our hearts, that secret place, where we long to lift up our ministry to bring numbers to signify that somehow we are correct or to justify our cause. Father, if there’s any part of our heart that wants to be noticed or recognized for the work that we do, please purge and cleanse us, and put in the deepest of unselfish love. Keep this body clean and pure. Let no one be ever be looked at as an added number in any form or fashion, even in the smallest degree. Work, Father, what only you can work, the selfless love of Jesus Christ. Amen.
This transcription has been edited to a reader friendly format. Every effort has been made to be true to the speaker’s original message. Any mistranslations are unintentional.