A teaching by Peter McArthur
One of the most insidious attacks against the Body of Christ comes from those who are
disaffected. This refers to those who feel they are not appreciated, recognised in their calling,
or simply have a rebellious attitude towards eldership.
This attitude has plagued the Body of Christ from its earthly inception, and was even at work in
Old Testament times in one of King David’s sons, hence the term. We shall look briefly at the
Biblical account as it highlights some important principles for us.
Absalom was David’s third son. We read how his sister Tamar was raped by her brother
Amnon (2 Sam. 13: 8-14), and when Absalom perceived this all he said was; Hold your peace
my sister…do not take this thing to heart (2 Sam. 13: 20).
Such was the heart of Absalom. He was grossly insensitive and acted unjustly. To Amnon his
brother he spoke neither good nor bad (2 Sam. 13: 22). The consequence of this incest
brought forth foolishness and hatred in Amnon (verses 13-15), which then resulted in anger
and hatred within the family (verses 21-22).
Festering guilt mixed with anger led Absalom to plan his brother’s death, after which he fled
the scene and hid for three years. (chapter 13). Eventually upon returning to Jerusalem he was
banned from approaching his father, David (2 Sam. 14: 24).
When, by another act of treachery, Absalom does get to see his father again (2 Sam.14: 28-33), he
immediately sets about to draw attention to himself by providing for himself chariots and fifty
men to run before him 2 Sam. 15: 1.
The working out of this mind-set causes Absalom to not only draw attention to himself, but
also to draw people to himself (15: 2-6). This of course is the basic pattern of the Absalom spirit .
There is a definite plan to all this. Let’s note the sequence of how it is enacted:
1. Absalom chooses to rise early (2 Sam. 15: 2)
2. He deliberately stands at the gate to the City, where much traffic passes by.
3. He focuses in on issues the people have (in Heb. lit =controversies).
4. He also seemingly approves of their dissatisfaction (2 Sam. 15: 3), thus cunningly aligning
himself to their concern, and vice versa.
5. Then he sows seeds of discontent by declaring that only he has the ability to make wise
decisions (2 Sam. 15: 4).
6. The result is that people are duped and pay him homage when they should be going to
their God-appointed leader, in this case, King David (2 Sam. 15: 5-6).
7. Absalom then uses a religious ploy to prepare the next stage of the deceit (2 Sam. 15: 7-8).
8. This brings about an uprising against the legitimate God-appointed leadership (2 Sam. 15: 10)
by drawing others into the web to act deceitfully (the spies of S2 Sam. 15:10).
9. The final working out of all this is the setting up of a competitive seat of power (2 Sam. 15: 10b).
So, we see the treachery that is acted out by one close to leadership. Sadly, this pattern still runs its
course today and we find churches and fellowships undermined by this very same spirit .
Based on this Biblical account, what then are some of the factors to watch for?
THOSE WITH AN INDEPENDENT SPIRIT
Clearly we are to look for those who have an attitude that betrays an independent spirit. Such a
person no longer wants to serve the Body but seeks recognition and reputation for itself. It may
well have been that the person initially did serve others, but often this is only short-lived.
THOSE WHO SUBTLY SEEK SELF-PROMOTION
The next step is when such a person begins to manoeuvre to receive the praise of others. We
have already seen in 2 Samuel chapter 15 how Absalom stood by the gate of the city and stole
the hearts of the people .
SPIRITUAL PRIDE RISES UP
It’s usually those who lack clear discernment who give accolades and praise to the
Absalom-type among them. As this takes root in the heart of the perpetrator he begins to believe
that he’s more spiritual than others, and certainly wiser than the current leadership. He becomes unteachable.
AN OFFENDED SPIRIT COMES TO THE FORE
The spiritual pride that resides deep in the heart of the Absalom-type turns into offence. Almost
anything begins to cause offence because his spiritual insight isn’t appreciated. All the time he
works to have his ideas, doctrines and plans promoted. When it’s clear his suggestions are not
being accepted, he is greatly offended and seeks out others to back him – and to get them to
agree with him about the great offence caused. Disaffected people can so easily seek after
others of like spirits, who in turn are drawn to him.
A CRITICAL SPIRIT BEGINS TO OPERATE OPENLY
Once the pattern gets this far it ‘s not too long before a critical attitude toward leadership begins
to operate openly. This will soon result in nearly every decision, major and minor, being
questioned by the disaffected ones.
About the same time that this begins to operate openly, the Absalom-type feels he can no
longer receive any spiritual input or guidance from leadership. He begins to distance himself
from leadership, and complains that they’re the ones who are causing all this. He is reinforced
in his thinking that only he has the wisdom to carry the group further spiritually. Because there’s
no balance in his thinking he hears only those voices that approve of him, and he can even
begin to find Biblical texts in support of this. He has entered very dangerous territory at this
A SPIRIT OF COMPETITION ENTERS THE FRAY
What now emerges is a direct confrontation, which will ultimately lead to more and more
confusion. The Absalom-type will set himself up in competition to the leadership by deliberately
throwing innuendo and doubt into even casual conversation with the disaffected ones.
Because they too feel unloved they will readily nod their agreement. All the while their
conscience tries to alert them to the fact that something s not quite true – yet they ignore this
alarm bell and continue in aligning themselves to one of like-spirit.
Later the Absalom will begin to distort some of the teaching given by leadership, and
misrepresent certain facts and decisions they make. Thus it moves from a sense of emotional
hurt and lack of appreciation, to challenging doctrine. By this stage there’s now occurred a
major crisis in the pattern.
THE DELIBERATE SOWING OF STRIFE INCREASES
Now Absalom begins to take the strife to a wider plane, often contacting other individuals in the
church to spread the dissatisfaction; always of course making sure the hearer understands that
this isn’t gossip, but truth that needs airing!
When it’s something that occurs through a chance meeting with another disaffected person, it’s
one thing; but when it becomes more organised it’s quite another. By the use of phone calls,
invitations to a cuppa or a meal, and even through clandestine gatherings such as home
fellowships, the strife spreads like a cancer. Absalom is keen to seemingly promote God, the
teachings of the Bible, etc, to validate the reason for speaking against the leadership.
Invitations to attend a cuppa, a meal or gathering are given out to selected ones, who Absalom
knows will readily accept. At the outset of such gatherings Absalom makes sure that the
attention isn’t drawn to him – it is God who is our focus, he readily announces! This soon
changes however, and gradually the gathering turns into a meeting of bruised souls expressing
their sense of hurt.
The greatest accusation any believer will have to face is; You don’t love me enough! We all
know in our hearts we fail at this point, and the poisoned arrow of accusation can go deep. This
becomes the one great area of faultfinding, especially directed at leadership. Usually its not
Biblical love that’s the issue here, but emotional love .
While the disaffected ones are giving voice to their hurt, Absalom waits (somewhat impatiently)
for an opportunity to turn it in a certain direction. He isn’t really interested at all in their
grievances; he wants to air his own feelings.
A Bible text is usually flung about, as if to legitimise the gossip. It doesn’t take too long before
Absalom speaks forthrightly against faults that he’s noticed in the leadership. Topping the list
will be lack of love , followed by an accusation that the current leaders are grieving the Holy
Close behind these accusations will often come a comforter . In the Bible Absalom was keen
to evidence loyalty to both God and David (2 Sam. 15: 7-9), yet his actions showed otherwise.
This use of Biblical quotes or principles, especially that we should still love the leaders whom
we’ve left brings a kind of comfort to the disaffected. They feel they’re not really attacking
God’s leaders at all, because they, at least, still love them! So they think.
Attacks are often related to the spiritual qualifications required of leadership as set down in the
Bible, and how the current leaders fail to measure up to them. Even minor failures in this regard
will be made to be seen as major flaws.
OPEN DISLOYALTY FOLLOWED BY DIVISION
Once this has reached a certain point, it’s not too long before open division rears it’s head.
Absalom doesn’t necessarily need a large group to implement his next move; even a small
band of followers will be sufficient. He knows he has them, he has stolen their hearts (2 Sam.
15: 6) and they have unwittingly given themselves over to him. They have come under bondage
(see 2 Pet. 2: 19).
Soon the disloyalty is shown by the making some sort of declaration (2 Sam. 15: 10), either in
public or in private. It’s remarkable how often those who seek to break away, declare their
intention by any means rather than a face-to-face meeting! A hurried phone call or a short letter
announces their intent; it is curt, to the point and there is no entering into further dialogue. A
final parting dart is flung at leadership when it’s announced, “Others feel the same way I do!”
(compare 2 Sam. 15: 10-13). This of course makes the leader wilt and perhaps feel guilty.
Often it’s only at this point that the leadership actually becomes aware of the division. How
necessary it is then that leadership should pay attention to God’s warnings via prophetic words
Now the awful truth has come into the open: and the people must make a choice between their
current leaders and the Absalom who has deceived them all by treachery. Usually the larger
group are not swayed by the Absalom-type, but he has caused enough division to foster doubt
in the remainder of the congregation. A un-ease now hovers over the people.
A CONGREGATION TORN APART
Amongst those whom Absalom has beguiled are the naïve ones (2 Sam. 15: 11). These are
those who “only wanted the best of church life , those who wanted to move into something
greater , those who truly did desire the deeper things” and “who wanted the freedom of the
Spirit”. Sadly these ones don’t see the truth until much later, and they become confused, and
some ultimately leave fellowship altogether.
Both sides are now in a flurry to re-establish and establish their respective groups. At this point
the leadership may try to encourage the remnant through all sorts of ways, in an attempt to
stabilise them. Sadly there’s often a great over-reaction in this and the people sense the
leaders are trying too hard to keep them. This can actually cause further unease.
Absalom however will begin to gloat, all the time making certain this isn’t seen publicly. But the
signs will be there, and sooner or later, what’s in his heart will overflow in his words and
One thing the Absalom-type cannot fail to do is to speak against what he’s left behind. He will
actively seek out teachings (often through the internet!) that will seemingly approve of his actions.
Those who align themselves with him will find some comfort in these teachings, as it seems to
validate their choice. However the instruction they receive from him will be un-balanced and its
source is often other Absaloms. He has now set himself up as a wise one , subtly imposing
upon his group the view that he can lead them into something more spiritual , unlike the
When the Absalom sees something go wrong in the church, he’s quick to say that God’s
judgement has fallen upon the leadership. Sadly, even insignificant events will be seen as
signs that God has approved of the split. Spiritual discernment cannot possibly function in the
breakaway group because of the bitterness and pride that’s taken hold there.
THE JUDGMENT THAT WILL SURELY FOLLOW
There’s a Biblical principle that states: If the root is evil then the fruit shall also be evil. This
simply means that a group birthed from the workings of an Absalom will suffer the same fate
in due time. Disloyalty, gossip, and eventually rebellion will follow as sure as night follows day.
Note that in Scripture, Absalom died in a most revealing way; his head got caught in trees and
he was left dangling until he was executed. Caught by the head! In Biblical typology the head
stands for authority and leadership.
Absalom set himself up as head and by his head he was judged! (2 Sam. 18: 9-18).
May the Lord and His teaching Spirit guide us into ALL of His wondrous ways and increasingly
deliver us from the spirit of Absalom : may MATURITY be the hall-mark of today’s church!
Blessings and grace to you,
The Issachar Ministry
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