"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Avoid at All Costs the Soul Virus Called "Stiff-Neck"

At the heart of the gospel message is transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, taking what is broken and fractured due to our self-destructive habits and hang-ups, and transforming us to look more like Jesus (see Romans 8:29). 

Our conformity to Jesus isn't natural. Sin and selfishness are inherent to us all. Jesus is selfless and sacrificial, and we are not. That's why God is in the business of transforming lives. God, by His grace and for His glory, transforms us to conform us. Over time, we look more like His Son in character and lifestyle. That's God's purpose for us.

God forbid we resist.

God calls any resistance to His transformational work by the name stiff-neck.  For example:
  1. "I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 32:9). 
  2. "You are a stiff-necked people." (Deuteronomy 9:6). 
  3. "He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord." (II Chronicles 36:13).
  4. "Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to Me" (Jeremiah 17:23). 
  5. "You stiff-necked people! You always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). 
Stiff-necked is used as a description of God's people when they resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to do what they know God desires.  We don't use the compound word "stiff-neck" often today, so Christians have little understanding of its meaning. Let me see if I can help bring some clarity to this soul virus to help us avoid it.

This word is transliterated from the original Hebrew as qesheh `oreph. It literally means "hard of neck." We use the English phrase "bowed-up" to describe someone who gets angry or defensive. "Bowed-up" is similar to what the Bible calls "stiff-necked." It's becoming hard to the truth. It's obstinacy. It's defensiveness. It's a spiritual condition of hardness to the truth of God. 

I'm a lover of God's people. I'm also a vocational pastor. My role is to simply speak the truth in love. I am never the transformational Agent for God's people. That's the job of the Holy Spirit. I speak the truth in love, but it is between God and His people whether they receive it or not.  

In religious circles, pastors and people play God. They speak the truth and then they "goad" people to obey the truth. It's God's job to goad, not pastors.

Let me explain. 

The term "stiff-neck" (qesheh 'oreph) came from ancient farming when the Hebrews used oxen to plow their fields. The farmer tied the plow to a pair of oxen, and the oxen pulled the plow. Sometimes, an ox would move to slow so the farmer would use a goad to poke the oxen in the hind legs to pick up the speed. The goad was a long pole with a pointed end, and when an ox got poked on the rear end or hind legs, it became quite uncomfortable, even painful for the ox. Every now and then, a "stiff-necked' ox would "kick against the goad" and literally stop and fight the farmer. The farmer, with reins in one hand and the goad in the other, always won the battle. But the fight could sometimes be intense. 

When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and transformed Saul's life, Jesus said something to Saul that is interesting: 
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14). 
Three things I learn from Christ capturing Saul, things that are always helpful to me in pastoral ministry. 
  1. Christ is the one wrestling with Saul. Nobody else even heard Jesus speaking.
  2. Christ has more than one goad in His arsenal of change, for it's "goads" (plural).
  3. Christ moves in mercy toward Saul, revealing "it is hard for Saul" to fight Him. 
I'm reminded of the Scripture verse that should put every Christian at ease when it comes to other people and their relationship with God. "Being confident of this, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6). God's got this; we don't. We should be confident He'll always win the fight in the end.

One of the ways I always know if I love my brother or sister in Christ unconditionally is by measuring my ability to tell people the truth without playing the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

God's people are only truth-tellers. We are not the Holy Spirit. 

If we become stiff-necked and decide to go our own selfish way and do our own destructive thing, God will intervene. He sends people like prophets (eg. Jeremiah) and others to plead with His people "to change the way they are thinking."  God will sometimes take direct action, without any intermediary, like He did with Saul on the road to Damascus

God's got this.

When we stop playing Holy Spirit and simply love people where they are, loving them enough to always speak the truth, but accepting them whether they obey God or not, then we can relax and rest in the confidence that the God who began His transformational work will finish it. 

The goads of God are always effectual in their purposes. We'd be wise to avoid the painful soul virus called "stiff-neck" ourselves, but we should rest easy if others are infected. God knows how to cure.

Do you see the picture at the top of this post? It's an actual drawing of ancient Englishmen plowing with oxen. The prayer says this: 
"God speed ye plow; bring us corn now." 
The fruit of one's life (corn) is in the hands of the One who carries the goad (God), and when I wish someone God speed, I am asking God to "prod them along" the path of what is right, for the good of all.

God speed.

10 comments:

Bob Cleveland said...

There's an interesting story in 2 Samuel 6, about a woman who got all stiff-necked with her husband. Michal, daughter of King Saul and wife of King David, got angry with David when he danced enthusiastically before the ark, as it was brought into the city. And she told David so, to which he replied he was going to get even more enthusiastic, next time He danced before the Lord.

There's another really interesting aspect to the story. Scripture says "And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." I noted it does not say she became barren ... which is said of other women in Scripture ... it just said she never had any children.

I'm guessing in those pre-pill days, the most likely way that happened is that the king never came to see her again.

I wonder if it might be that the King doesn't show up where people are not free to worship Him ... where such worship is despised.

Dave Panzera said...

I am really glad for your expounding on the very important point of how it is the job of the Holy Spirit to "goad" people into obedience or to sense guilt and such. We "Christians" have a very poor track record of that. Having grown up at first a Catholic until I was 13 then switching to a very legalistic Baptist Church I would take 20+ years to learn just what damage Christians do with their good intentions.

God IS unlimited in capability and capacity. If it were His choice and will to see a sinner not only fully transformed overnight from every sin they do to a near perfect follower and believer God can do so. There is so much that goes into that too. However, for many there is a process of transformation. So the smoker or alcoholic in that former church of mine found condemnation, not assurance and assistance. The homosexual found a finger-wagging judge, not an image of Jesus lovingly accepting you and introducing you to holiness. While I am 100% for the aspect that Jesus forgave anything He also gave instruction to go and sin no more...but you never saw him beating people into submission and I think that is what a lot of non-believers have seen thus come to expect from "Christians!" If you want to know why so many homosexuals feel the way they do about born-again Christians its that very fiery condemnation that told them they were worthless and unredeemable that sent them away bitter. Same for all manner of others caught up in divorce or some other thing that people seem to judge about. If anything, we can be the most "stiff-necked" people int he world.

I so very much need Jesus every minute of every hour to keep me from doing all that I described and while at times i still fail in this way the times I see His way prevailing are a sweet blessing of an extraordinary kind.

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Thanks for an important message.

So easy for young pastors to leave their place of training already infected with this virus. I was infected as many of my colleagues were. Some of us were awakened to it early on.

Much Biblical knowledge and theological training doesn't necessarily lead to wisdom nor a spirit sensitive to the Holy Spirits still small voice.

Aussie John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...


"Our conformity to Jesus isn't natural."

Neither was His assumption of our humanity 'natural'.
The idea of becoming transformed to Christ as a 'process' is not something that fits in with the instant salvation moment of some Christian beliefs, no;
but yet the 'becoming' transformed is understood by those same Christian people because they can see this transformation happening in others and happening in themselves and can recognize it as 'grace'.

" I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."
(Anne Lamott)

Dave Panzera said...

Christiane, What I feel you suggest is that the instant transformation in the hearts and minds of people must then directly translate into that same transformation in their physical lives. That may well happen, that often does happen. Yet, many will tell you of the sins they go right back to time and again only seeing complete victory over them in time. I have seen it happen. I have also seen men and women affected differently as they come to know Christ and in so doing develop in relationship with Him. Drawn ever closer to Him they see more and more of the sin that is in their lives. Steve Green sang a song years back called "Refiner's Fire" speaking directly to how God reveals more and more of the things in our lives that are (as 1Cor 3:12 says) wood, hay and stubble in our walk. We are not sinless in our lives here, we are forgiven but are not sinless. I will not question How or why God brings people to Him they way that He does. To do so suggests I know better than He does and I most assuredly do not. I will also not do that with how God works in their lives. If I enter into that process at all I can easily set myself up as a judge...trust me, I would be an awful one.

Gordon said...

Pride and self-will seem to be the ever-present enemies of the Christian causing bad relationship with God and with fellow believers.
A good aid for anyone who may be suffering from spiritual stiff neck is to engage in the simple practice of kneeling in prayer. It can reinforce an attitude of reverent submission to God and man. Humble fellowship with Christ strengthens your spiritual immune system to withstand and expel evil while at the same time building up faith, hope, love and joy in your heart.

Luke 22:41 (Jesus) knelt down and prayed.
Hebrews 5:7 He was heard because of his reverent submission.
Psalm 75: 6 Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Christiane said...

Hi Dave Panzera,

I don't see someone who continues in the same sin showing repentance for it, no. I can understand sinning, being sorry for it and asking for forgiveness, yes ..... but I would think that included in that request would be a commitment to AVOID the people, places, conditions, situations that led up to that sin. If a person cannot make that commitment to God, I would question whether or not they were sincere in coming before God to ask forgiveness.

A habitual sinner with a weakness who is hurting other people is someone who needs assistance to stop being destructive to his/her own person and destructive to others. The mercy of God is that IF this person wants the help, there are many ministries that offer it. I believe that Wade is one pastor who understands the need for this kind of ministry and has reached out to people in need to come for care. Such ministries are Christian works of mercy, yes.

Dave Panzera said...

Hello Christiane, Were talking the same thing. I never said living in that sin or in denial of it but growing to a realization it is precisely what you call it...sin.

Christiane said...

I think God helps us to 'get over ourselves'. He helps us to 'break up our fallow ground'. He helps us to see.

“The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.”
― St. Francis de Sales