The Functional Prince (Part 1)

Edmund Blair Leighton - A little prince likely in time to bless a royal throne

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”- Psalm 146:3-4

Princes are powerful and intimidating. They, by their very nature, command respect, honour, and fear. They are commanders and leaders, decorated and mysterious to the common person. Here on our American soil, official princes are few and far between. We do not usually run into them in Burger King or at the mall. We rarely sit beside them at movies or football games, and yet we really are surrounded by functional princes all the time. What, do we ask, is a functional prince? A functional prince is any ordinary person we turn into royalty by fearing them, tweaking our actions to be approved by them, and by mistaking trust in them for security.

It is so true of my life that I make princes out of ordinary, everyday people. I decorate them in medals, I give them a history that suggests royalty, I fear there glances, and I yearn for their approval and cringe when they seem disappointed. From talents to physique, I frantically compare myself to them, examining whether I match up to their wonder and glory. Ultimately, I seek a refuge in them. If they extend to me a peaceful hand, I take it, hoard it, and covet it. How can we tell if we have made functional princes out of people? Here are two questions we can ask ourselves…

1. Who has all the qualities I think I need? Certainly it isn’t wrong to have heroes or people we admire. Our functional princes, though, are people whose qualities we covet, whose qualities dwarf our own identities as Christ-made individuals and make us feel as if we have nothing to offer. The qualities of our functional princes, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, are constantly in our minds, condemning us and making us doubt the surety of the identity we have in Christ.

2. Whose opinions and/or approval matter the most to me? There are legitimate opinions that should matter to us; the opinions and approval of a mentor or loved one usually contain much-needed wisdom and can propel us to true, godly living. People turn into functional princes, however, when their opinions and approval paralyze us, ruin us, and prevent us from functioning. We are constantly seeking the approval and attention of our functional princes, bent always on assessing their reactions to us. In essence, we perceive that our worth and value are tied up in what they think of us.

Of course, a function prince is a functional savior, a person that we perceive can rescue us from the shame we feel, can shelter us from the insecurity we harbor, and can give us a measure of life we could not achieve without them. The ironic thing about our distorted view of people is that it elevates them to a place in which they were never meant to be and expects from them benefits which they can never deliver. This means that our functional princes will never come through for us in the ways in which we want them to.  As a result, we are always enslaved to them in a vicious cycle of expectation and disappointment, never to find release, never to find rest. Making functional princes and saviors out of ordinary people can only lead to slavery, fear, frustration, and, ultimately, death. In this passage, the Psalmist gives us three reasons for not exalting people to the place of God:

1. There is no salvation in them. Mere humans can’t give other mere humans the safety, security, and salvation that we all long for and need. They simply aren’t capable of the things expected of them.

2. They’ll die. Contrary to our opinions that the functional princes of our schools, workplaces, and dreams will endure into eternity, they are just like us; they are headed for death and decay. Maggots will consume them just like they will consume you. It’s pretty depressing, but it’s true. They do not have a special measure of eternality that you don’t have.

3. When they die, their plans will die with them. Every scheme, every good grade, every dress size, every bit of muscle, every accomplishment, every people skill, and every bit of money our functional princes possess will fade when they breathe their last breath.

Then who are we to trust in? Who can deliver us!? The Psalmist gives us 12 reasons why we should put our trust in the true Prince and the true Savior: God. We’ll look at the first 6 today and the others in Part 2 of the post.

1. God made everything. Verse 6 tells us that God “made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” Our functional princes didn’t create the sea, the animals, or anything else on this big, blue globe we all inhabit. Our functional prince, is, in fact, a creation and not the Creator. In Christ, this quality shines out brightly, for “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made,” (John 1:3). All things were created through Christ, and believers are remade through Him!

2. God is faithful. The Lord “keeps faith forever,” (v. 6). Our functional saviors and princes will fail us time and time again. In any way you think your functional prince cannot fail, he will, and he will fail in his relationship with you. But God will not. His word is supremely true and able to be trusted because the universe is upheld by it! Because He is faithful, we breathe at this moment. We do not disintegrate into nothingness, for He is faithful to keep us alive. How faithful is our God in Christ! He has stuck with the covenantal promises He made with them to save them from their sins and deliver them from destruction!

3. God executes justice. The Lord “executes justice for the oppressed,” (v. 7). Indeed,  His people were oppressed under the bonds of sin, and yet He punished that sin in Christ, executing His justice in the body of Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of His people’s’ sin. He is both the “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” (Romans 3:26). But He will also execute justice for His people when He comes again. Those who mock Christians, who persecute them by any means, will receive the punishment for their actions. He will vindicate believers.

4. God provides. God “gives food to the hungry,” (v. 7). We believe our functional princes give us what we truly need. But how mistaken can we be?! God is the one who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust,” (Matthew 5:45). Is Jesus not the bread of life (John 6:35), and does he not offer us the water of life which will cause us to never be thirsty again (John 4:13)? God has richly provided, is richly providing, and will richly provide for His people in Christ. What we need is Jesus, not the gifts our functional princes can give us. And Jesus will be given to all who ask.

5. God sets people free. Does God not “set the prisoners free” (v. 7)? We are all so busy searching for a measure of freedom and joy from ordinary people while completely unaware that we remain chained and enslaved to death. But Christ can set us free from slavery to our sin (Galatians 5:1), and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:36). But in Christ’s freedom, we also find a better slavery. If we trust in Christ, we are set free from the sin which cannot deliver anything it promises and chained to Jesus, who can give us all that we truly need. In Christ, we have been “set free from sin and have become slaves of God,” (Romans 6:22).

6. God makes blind people see. He “opens the eyes of the blind,” (v. 7). What a demonstration of power! The perceived power of our functional princes is dwarfed by the One who can command dead people to live, deaf people to hear, and blind men to see. How beautiful it is to hear the words of Jesus, “‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well,'” (Luke 18:42) and to read, “immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God,” (Luke 18:43). God has the power, though, to not only command physical sight, but to command spiritual sight as well. Paul prays in Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know that is the hope to which he has called you,” (1:17-18). All sight comes from God.

Our functional princes look more like functional minions now. The pull to trust in people over God is a fundamental distortion of the Fall and points us to our natural tendency to worship God’s creation over God Himself. We need, however, to be reminded of these essential truths every day, especially in a culture like ours which prizes the movie star, the pop singer, the celebrity football player, the lifestyle of the CEO, and the high school valedictorian. It is God alone who is God (a statement that should not have to be made, but one which I need to hear everyday). The God of the Scriptures, Father, Son, and Spirit, is the only One who should be worshipped, not only for his benefits, but for his essential qualities as well. We’ll look at the rest of the Psalm in Part 2, but, for now, the question has to be asked: who have we made functional princes out of? In our schools, in our workplaces, in our families, in our everyday lives, who do we trust in in the place of God? Let us be reminded of the sufficiency and perfection of our Great God today. Let us reorient ourselves around Him who is already being worshipped by the universe even as this is being written. It is His hand and gaze that we should covet, His approval that we should long for, and His glory that we should bask in.


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