There is one major principle to apply in studying the Bible. It is context! context! context! Without a careful study of the context you might get whatever meaning from a verse or passage you desire. Using verses apart from their surrounding contexts is how cults and sects usually arrive at their twisted interpretations of the Bible.
It is not uncommon for some Christian leaders to resort to isolating verses for the purpose of bolstering a view that would be difficult to support otherwise. This is particularly true when an awkward or wrong interpretation of Scripture provides desired comfort and/or protection to a leader. Such is the case when a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, missionary, author, or teacher of God's Word uses the statement "touch not God's anointed" to mean no one should question or force accountability upon them because they are specially anointed ones.
They see themselves as being above the kind of accountability they demand from others. Instead, they want exclusive control with unlimited power. They habitually over–emphasize their own importance and their authority. Such men or organizations usually claim the right to insist upon total loyalty and agreement from their followers because their "authority" is often portrayed as of divine origin. They may promote themselves as "God's Man," or "God's Church."
Should believers ever question or confront their spiritual leaders?
Let's see what Scripture reveals.
In this context Paul was the newcomer. His apostleship had not been fully accepted throughout the church body. Peter, on the other hand, was a major recognized leader in the early church. But at one point Peter's behavior was so hypocritical that it brought the gospel into question (v. 14). Paul, seeing this, "withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed" (v. 11). In the thinking of some, Peter would have been the anointed and Paul would have had no right to question him. Such, however, is not what Scripture records. Whenever anyone presumes to speak for God twists, subverts, or misrepresents God's Word — either by words or by action — that one should be confronted, exposed, and corrected, always in love; at times in firm, bold love (Galatians 1:6–10).
3 John 9–10
Notice what John, the apostle of love, recorded:
Who was Diotrephes? Apparently he was the pastor of the local church. In this instance, as with Paul and Peter, it is a case of one leader (anointed one?) confronting another, and rightly so.
There is no reason for any Christian leader to behave in the way that it appears was typical of Diotrephes. Such a leader is obviously so insecure in his dealings with others that domination is the only safe means of maintaining a following. Such an approach to leadership, though, is strictly forbidden by the Lord. Jesus told His own apostles:
2 Samuel 12:1–15
The prophet Nathan confronted the anointed King David because of his sin. Here is part of Nathan's accusation against David:
This chapter records the message that Stephen preached to the high priest (v. 1) and other Jewish "brothers" and "fathers" or leaders (vv. 1–2). Who was this Stephen? He was only a servant in this new movement known as The Way. In the eyes of nearly everyone, the Jewish leaders to whom he was speaking were God's anointed ones, and Stephen was a radical. Yet Stephen, led by God's Spirit, confronted these undisputed leaders of Israel with these words: You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51). Their reaction: When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth (Acts 7:54), and they killed him (Acts 7:58–60).
Next we consider a number of passages urging all believers to judge, discern, confront, and contend with others over important truths and issues.
In other words, do not show preferential treatment to one because he or she is in a position of Christian leadership. If we would hold the average believer accountable for his behavior or doctrine, we should do the same when facing a leader; even more so in view of James 3:1:
The Meaning of "Touch not God's Anointed"
To understand the meaning of this phrase there are three areas to consider: God's anointed in the Old Testament, the anointed ones today, and a warped interpretation.
God's Anointed in the Old Testament
In all the following passages we will clearly see the issue was whether to kill God's anointed— not whether to confront God's anointed. Consider them with me.
The most familiar passages dealing with this are found in 1 Samuel 24:1–7 and 26:5–11. Both chapters record David having golden opportunities to kill King Saul yet refusing to do so even though he was urged to do it by his own men. In 1 Samuel 24:6 David told his men:
David's servants were certain that finding Saul alone in the cave was God's timing for his destruction at their hands, but David would have no part of it.
In 1Samuel 26:5–11, David and his servant Abishai went into the camp of Saul while he and his men were asleep. Abishai wanted to kill Saul saying, "God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!"
David's response was typical of the man. He told Abishai, "Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" David knew God would strike Saul dead, perhaps in battle (v. 10), which is how he died (recorded in chapter 31). David added, "The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed" (v. 11).
The issue in both instances was whether to spare the life of God's king who was His anointed one or to kill him (see vv. 21–24). Neither context supports the notion that King Saul should not have been questioned nor have been held accountable for his actions.
Then there are two virtually identical passages which call everyday people God's "anointed ones." 1 Chronicles 16:8–35 and Psalm 105 are the two passages. Psalm 105:14, 15 and 1 Chronicles 16:21–22 both state: "He [God] permitted no one to do them [Israelites] wrong; Yes, He rebuked kings for their sakes, saying, 'Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.'"
In this setting "the anointed ones" are not leaders (like a king), but common everyday people of Israel. The ones to whom God spoke were the rulers of the various Gentile kingdoms (vv. 18–20). They were forbidden to touch any Israelites or harm God's prophets.
The Anointed Ones Today
Turning to the New Testament we find that all of God's children in this age are anointed of God.
A Warped Interpretation
When a Christian leader wants absolute control of a situation or people, he or she will sometimes resort to strange behavior or methods to gain or to keep such control. One ploy is to use Scripture — sort of as a bully whip — to keep others in line; and one such use is to quote the phrase "touch not God's anointed." By this they usually mean, "I am God's anointed messenger. He speaks to me and through me. The rest of you have not been specially called or anointed as I have, so God has forbidden you to speak against me, God's anointed." Of course, confronting an anointed leader was not the issue in any of the Bible passages; doing them bodily harm was the issue in each case.
Sadly, believers who are under such a legalistic influence may become conditioned into thinking that they have no right to question the doctrine, attitude, methods, or behavior of God's uniquely anointed servant. And if they ever do — and are found out — the verbal attacks upon them and the vengeful treatment of them will either drive them out from under the influence of such a leader, or will silence them from ever again questioning the leadership. In either case, the leader has won and will continue his or her tyrannical reign.
Only one Lord, one Master, one Head of the Church
God never intended His Church to be ruled over by men or women who insisted on having the preeminence, or who would insist on being above criticism or accountability. Instead, God tells us that Christ "is the head of the body, the church...that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). The leaders, as we have previously observed, are to be the greatest servants of all. They are to lead by example. They are plainly told to "shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2–3).
Just as clearly, there is to be stricter accountability accompanying higher levels of responsibility. Jesus gave a beautiful parable on this very topic, concluding with: "for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed of him they will ask the more" (see Luke 12:42–48).
Set your eyes upon Jesus, looking to Him as your Shepherd (see Hebrews 12:1–2). He has placed His Word above all His name (see Psalm 138:2), so trust in it as His sufficient guide (2 Timothy 3:16–17).