TLW 35 – The RSL readings for September 2, 2018
Theme: the Lord of love who changes our hearts from within
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 » A loving heart celebrated in a love poem
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 » Religious tradition can’t hide what is in our heart
James 1:17-27 » The word of God is a mirror to show us our heart
SUMMARY The human heart is innately sinful, selfish and corrupt – until it is opened up to God’s transformation through trusting Jesus. The Old Testament reading in Song of Songs is a picture of love, and of God’s heart of passionate love. The Gospel reading in Mark 7 brings Jesus’ confrontation of the religious leaders who were picky about observing religious things while harbouring hatred, anger and other deeply sinful things in their hearts. The epistle reading in James 2 brings teaching on how God’s word acts as a kind of mirror in which we see what our hearts are really like.
Also in the lectionary for this Sunday: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 “My heart is stirred…”
Song of Songs 2:8-13 » God’s heart of love in a love poem
The spring season of God’s love comes into flower
The Song of Songs is part of the Biblical wisdom literature, which celebrate love and wisdom as gifts of God to be received gratefully and joyfully. The title tells us it was written by Solomon and the best love song about marriage ever written. It is the story of various encounters between a young Shulammite girl, chosen for the king’s harem, and her feelings of real love and relationship. It could also be Solomon’s wistful story of an earlier marriage with an Israelite girl, before departing from monogamy and Jewish integrity in a (likely) arranged marriage with Pharoah’s daughter, 1 Kings 3:1, Deut. 7:6. Early interpreters saw this as an allegory of God’s love for His people, or His church. Recent scholarship has seen this love poem for what it is, as it states, a work of Solomon, who reflects on the purity of simple, unfettered romance compared with the experience of every kind of need provided for in the palace. However, it also speaks illustratively of Christ’s deep love for His church.
8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
The girl looks out for her lover with eager anticipation; she sees him as like an agile deer, adept at surmounting obstacles. They just want to be together, despite obstacles.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Winter in the Middle East can be a cloudy, gloomy season of rain, but the transition to spring is rapid.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
“Singing” – more likely from the context than ‘pruning’ in older versions.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
All the senses are aroused in this description of the land awakening.
14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face, let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Doves were associated with love; Solomon is saying that in her, he experiences love. The hidden Shulammite girl is the real dove who he wants to see and hear. The words face…voice, voice…face are in the form of a literary mirror.
IN PRACTICE This excerpt from Solomon’s love song speaks to us about being real about love and its emotions and sensuality – all God-given. It can also be seen as a picture of God’s love for His Church – and for us. He wants to capture our hearts more than any passionate young lover can express.
QUESTION What gets inhibits you from revelling in God’s love for you?
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 »Religious tradition can’t hide what is in our heart
chapterthe Pharisees become more outspoken in opposing Jesus, and the gap between true spirituality and man-created religious tradition becomes more evident.
1-4 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
“Teachers of the law… from Jerusalem” – a delegation of leading Pharisees who had come from the city, probably at the invitation of the Galilean Pharisees. Mark’s readers in Rome needed additional background on the ways of Judaism to understand the dispute.
“Defiled… unwashed” – this washing had nothing to do with dirty hands. Someone would pour water out of a jar onto your hands with the fingers pointing up, then again over both hands with the fingers pointing down. This created a ritual dissociation with anything ‘unclean’ the hands might have touched. There was nothing in the law of Moses about washing hands before eating, except for priests about to eat holy offerings.
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
“Tradition of the elders” – this was a collection of laws and interpretations constructing rules of living that went beyond the Scriptures. At this point it had become a higher religious authority in Judaism than Scripture itself. Jesus was held responsible for His disciples.
6-7 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“ ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.
They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
Isaiah’s prophecy, here in the Greek version, perfectly describes the attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes Jesus encountered. They were ‘pretenders’, masked actors, the original meaning of hypocrites, holding a sham spirituality like many religious people today, where knowing God and His ways had been replaced by unscriptural and non-binding “merely human rules” listing various ‘oughts and musts’. They had turned living in God’s love and faithfulness and knowing Hs heart, into a religion of performing the right actions.
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
“Commands of God…human traditions” – Jesus told them they had abandoned the Ten Commandments and Moses’ summary of Deuteronomy 6:1-6 and Deut. 11:1. God’s heart was to be on their hearts, but instead they had created an exclusive and over-complicated religious system of ‘holiness’, a misunderstanding of Lev. 11:44, that missed the point – what we call a ‘tick box mentality’ that actually cancelled out God’s word, Mark 7:13 (omitted from the reading).
14-15 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to Me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
“Listen to Me, everyone” – Jesus makes a bold and clear statement to encourage his hearers, at the expense of infuriating the religious leaders.
21-23 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
“Outside a person… from within” – it is not living in an impure world that is defiling, but having an impure or evil heart. Sin separates from God, not unclean hands. What a person is on the inside will find expression on the outside and show them to be of true character and therefore purity – or show them up.
Post-resurrection and Pentecost, the apostles taught that spiritual rebirth and the empowered life of the Spirit enabled believers to choose to live in their new nature, above selfish ‘flesh’ motives.
IN PRACTICE This is clear teaching by Jesus of the folly of the Pharisees’ practice of religious ‘righteousness’ (and their pride in it) while harbouring hatred and a desire to speak badly and untruthfully about Him and even try to kill him. To ‘major on the minors’ of tradition while missing the point by having resentful hearts is a lesson for us all. Turning to Jesus and acknowledging His Lordship in a personal submission, is like having a whole new heart, which the Holy Spirit continues to indwell to make us
QUESTION Have you truly given your heart to Jesus? And which part of your heart might He still be asking you to hand over?
James 1:17-27 » The word of God is a mirror to show us our heart
We are responsible for ridding ourselves of wrong attitudes
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
“Father of… lights” – an ancient Jewish expression. God created the sun, moon and starts, which all move in the sky, cast moving shadows and vary in brightness. God’s light is constant, Malachi 3:6, 1 John 1:5.
18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.
“First-fruits” – in the OT, an expression for the first and best of the harvest. Christians are to show God’s new creation that is to come, 2 Peter 3:10-13, as examples of the ultimate restoration of creation, Romans 8:20-22.
19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
“Human anger” – when things go wrong our first reaction is retaliation from the flesh. Until we let go of that first response of, literally, “man’s anger”, we can’t be directed by the Spirit to perceive God’s righteousness coming through our view of the difficulty.
“Get rid of”, literally “put off” like mucky overalls. This is commanded in more detail in Eph. 4:22, 1 Peter 2:1.
“Save you” – sin is never lifegiving but has the opposite effect, death-bringing: first spiritually, then physically.
“Humbly accept” – as those who are teachable. “The word planted in you” – an allusion to the ‘new covenant’ prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 where God promises to ‘write His law’ on His people’s hearts.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
“Merely listen” – the teachable spirit wants to learn and apply. Hearing and not responding is the beginning of more serious and systemic deception.
“Deceive” – or delude yourselves. It is a word used in mathematics. James is saying that those merely listening but not engaging have made a serious miscalculation.
“Do” – more literally, “prove yourselves doers of the word” (NASB). As Jesus taught, Matt. 7:24, 26; Luke 6:46, 49.
23-25 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.
“Forgets what he looks like” – not acting on something in your reflection that needs to be straightened, is to forget to do it. Similarly with the word of God, which is a mirror showing what is askew in our soul.
26-27 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. ‘Religion’ that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
“Religious… religion” – a play on this word which contrasts ceremonial, church rituals and external trappings with genuine faith. Perhaps the third ‘religion’ should be in quotes. Religious acts are no substitute for changed values and a changed, unselfish way of life.
IN PRACTICE Being made holy – the long word is sanctification – is truly a life-long process which starts with new birth through the word of truth. The truth that is God’s word continues to confront and bring change to our deep-seated human independence, and all the attitudes and responses that come from that. We were born in selfishness and independence from God and coming back to Him in holiness is a long journey, with a big step change we call the new birth. All the time the word and the Holy Spirit are working together to transform us from the inside, with our willingness or resistance playing a big part in that. James’ teaching here is about not destroying the good process by “merely listening,” “not doing what it says” and entertaining “human anger” – but working with God the Father to become people who find ourselves doing what He would have us doing.
QUESTION When you hear God speak to you through the word, what helps you to put it into practice?
PRAYER Lord, help me to purify my heart and make it Yours. I know it’s a process, but I pledge my willingness to work with You and listen when You show me what needs to change. Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, and grow me to be more Jesus-like as I set out to do my part. Amen.
Five marks of renewed lives – Ephesians 4:25-5:2
TLW32 August 12, 2018. Theme: Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life
QUICK SUMMARY The story of Absalom’s shameful death, caught up in the mane of hair which was so much his image, is a parable of how not to do life. Absalom’s arrogance and rebellion is a picture of our sinful, independent state and where it leads. By contrast, the story of Jesus patiently explaining that the way to life is He Himself – like the bread that was shared out with no one excluded, and all able to internalise it, – so spiritually internalising Him and what He stands for is our choice to know God personally and receive His gift of life. That brings with it a new lifestyle, the life of the Spirit, which empowers us to say ‘no’ to traits which harms us and others, and to say ‘yes’ to the opposites, which are living and Christlike. The Way of God for us to imitate is to live in an attitude of love. We can do it because we are transformed and Spirit-empowered.
Readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, August 12
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation
John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 » Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation
Defeat in the Forest of Ephraim ends a life marred by arrogance and rebellion
5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
“Be gentle” – whether out of fatherly love or a sense of guilt towards Absalom is not clear.
6-8 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great – twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
“Forest of Ephraim” – not in Ephraim at all but an area east of the Jordan in Gilead, settled by the tribe of Ephraim. The larger army was unable to move effectively in the hazards of a forest, and fell prey to David’s experienced force.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
“Riding his mule” – the usual mount for the king’s sons, 2 Sam. 13:29.
“Absalom’s hair” – what he gloried in, 2 Sam. 14:25-26, became the instrument of his downfall. As in life he had exalted himself with his own monument, 2 Sam. 18:18, in death he was thrown into a pit heaped up with rocks, like stoning, and a monument of shame.
15 And ten of Joab’s armour-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
“Joab’s armour-bearers” – David’s senior officer and his close support had conflicting feelings about the leader of a bloody rebellion. The narrator stresses, e.g. verse 5 above, David’s order to spare Absalom, but Joab had fallen for his deception before, 2 Sam. 14:1-24, and with the king’s safety in view, acted against David’s instructions.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
“Cushite” – “man from Ethiopia’, NLT. Joab had chosen an alternative to the priest’s son to carry the news, in case David overreacted.
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”
“If only I had died” – David had lost Absalom’s love and respect, and now he had lost his son and any possible reconciliation. From the tone of David’s exclamation, it appears that he is seeing what Nathan prophesied, 2 Sam. 12:10-11, is now happening – His sin with Bathsheba, repented of and forgiven by God, still has consequences which are now playing out.
IN PRACTICE The story of Absalom’s death, caught in a tree by the long hair he so gloried in, brings with it a reflection on his way of life. He ingratiated himself with others, gained a following over and against his father, and even built a monument to himself just outside Jerusalem. It is a story of pride that leads to a fall, of man-centred values that can never play out well; a story of self-condemnation. In our sinful state apart from God, it’s how we all start. We can recognise the desire to be something for ourselves, and the rebellious streak. This is the ‘how not to” example that brings out the new life in Jesus, and the life of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to make positive choice and live differently – not needing people’s attention to boost our egos, but able to live for Jesus and even look a little bit like Him.
QUESTION What stands out in the story of Absalom and his death that is the lesson for you?
John 6:35, 41-51 » Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation
Some recognise Christ, the Messiah, and His mission to save while others struggle with believing who He is
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.
“I am” – there are a number of statements where Jesus refers to Himself using the words “I am”, purposefully making His hearers think of the Father’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and prophetically through Isaiah e.g. Isaiah 43:25. This is the first of seven such sayings recorded by John.
“The bread of life” – the crowd had said in verse 34, not getting it at all, “Always give us this bread” or ‘keep on giving us free food’. So Jesus makes it very clear He is speaking of Himself.
41-43 At this the Jews there began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered.
“Began to grumble about Him” – The complaint recalls the attitude in the desert which was the root of the delay in entering the Promised Land. The synagogue crowd are showing the same inflexibility of thought and expectation – and lack of faith – as their ancestors who grumbled about the provision of manna. They consider that they ‘know’ He is the son of Joseph, miracle worker and possible national leader, and refuse to see beyond, to Him being the Son of the Father.
• For further study, read Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:27 and the recollection in Psalm 95:8-9.
44-45 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.
“No one can come… they will all” – the word ‘can’ is dunamai, which has the fuller meaning of ‘no one is able’. Jesus also quotes Isaiah 54:13 – His bigger vision is all being saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth, also the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. A balanced view holds these tensions of God’s election “no one can come… unless the Father… draws them” and “they will all” in man’s free will in responding to the tug of the Holy Spirit, in tension. This is a process of grace from God to us, to which we are divinely enabled to respond as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Scripture emphasises in different places God’s initiative of grace, and our responsibility of responding, in the initial spiritual transformation we call salvation or becoming a Christian.
46-48 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.
“No one had seen… the one who believes” – as in John’s prologue, John 1:18. If we simply accepted what we could see, that would not be faith. We are required to go out on the line of putting our trust in the goodness of someone we have not physically encountered.
49-51 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
“Ate the manna… yet they died”. Manna gave them food at that time, but Jesus, the Living Bread, confers enduring life.
“This bread is My flesh” – ‘this bread is Me’. Jesus is the true living bread who satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. In a more physical sense, He becomes this ‘bread’ by sacrificing His body – “My flesh” – to death on the Cross. His perplexed hearers would reflect on this and some would later understand.
IN PRACTICE The crowd who heard Jesus give this teaching didn’t find it easy to grasp. Many of them had known Jesus for 30 years. But recently, they had seen miracles of healing and provision which pointed to a different kind of identity, His divine Messiah identity, which He was now explaining to them. Some had faith to see Jesus beyond the carpenter’s shop, while others struggled.
It’s the same with us. Every encounter with God requires two things of us: our need of God (depending) and taking Him at His word (believing). John doesn’t use words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ but prefers the action word ‘believing’. Jesus, not our efforts or good deeds, is the source of empowered life now and the way to life eternal. He chooses us, reminding us that He does out of love for us, and hold out an offer. When we trust Him for that offer, everything changes.
QUESTION How would you explain to someone else simply, what Jesus had done out of love for them, and how they might respond to that?
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 » Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation
The hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, who is Love personified, is that they walk in love like Him.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…
Each of you must” – in the context of, each of you, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is now enabled to live like this. A list of five instances follows, each with an aspect not to do, an aspect to do positively instead, and a spiritual principle.
“Put off falsehood” – twisting of the truth comes with anger and bitterness. The emotional response of anger (like any emotional response of the moment) is not of itself sin, but anger that takes root i.e. carries over to the next day and beyond forms a resentful, bitter and often slanderous attitude that is the visible effect of unforgiveness – and that is denying the gospel.
27-28 …and do not give the devil a foothold…
“A foothold” – all sin gives the devil legal rights to oppress us and the sin of unforgiveness and unresolved conflict is perhaps the most common strategy the devil uses to gain a measure of control over our thoughts and lives. Sin is the access he looks for.
…Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
“Steal no longer but… work” – repentance can be defined as stopping something harmful, starting something positive instead, and a changed lifestyle that all can see.
29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
“Only what is… building others up” – a practical guideline and the opposite of obscene language, gossip and slander which like a rotten fruit spreads and corrupts, doing so much damage to individuals and the whole community.
“Grieve the Holy Spirit” – showing the Holy Spirit to be a person and One who is sensitive to any harshness of attitude, perhaps more than we are
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
“Bitterness…anger” – resentment and malice have no place in people who have been forgiven of much -– and so morally cannot withhold from others that same grace. Failure to forgive results in the anger, clamour and malice which follow logically in the sentence.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
“Be kind” – be kind, chrestos, because of Christ, Christos.
“Compassionate… forgiving – the opposite of the bitter attitude. God’s forgiveness of us is the standard we apply to others: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Matt. 6:12.
For further study, compare with Hosea 3:1, Colossians 3:13.
Eph. 5:1-2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Follow God’s example” – more literally, “Be imitators of God”. Believers have been exhorted to learn about Christ, and not to grieve the Spirit, Eph 4:20-21, 30. Now they are set the challenge of adopting and demonstrating God’s values to the world around them.
“Walk in the way of love” – a summary of the section. Christ’s demonstration of loving us was fragrant, i.e. acceptable to God; our fragrant offering is following His example in walking in love towards others.
IN PRACTICE The new life which comes through asking Jesus to be Lord of our lives is – new. ‘The old has gone, the new has come,’ in Paul’s words elsewhere. Foul language and petty dishonesty doesn’t seem clever any more. A lot of our more selfish traits lose their hold on us. But there’s plenty of baggage we need to recognise and lay down, and Paul sets out some choices for us – what not to do, what to do positively instead and the spiritual principle involved. In the flesh, or selfish nature, we can be harsh and critical of others, with standards of behaviour that don’t align with our new spiritual identity. This ‘mixed message’ destroys our witness but more seriously, offends the Holy Spirit and causes Him to distance Himself. Someone whose very nature is love is going to be a sensitive person, and the Holy Spirit is that sensitive person. On the other hand, He is the very One who enables us to grow more Christlike and loving. There’s a part we do, but we cannot do it by ourselves – we need to work with His empowering.
QUESTION Out of the “get rid of” things listed and the challenge to love unconditionally, like Christ, which speak to you most?
PRAYER Father God, as we come to You in Jesus, we are so grateful for the new life You hold out to us. Jesus, You are the Bread of Life! Help us to grasp this with both hands, eagerly, and with the help of Your Spirit, to live it out for all to see what You have done. Amen.
Image credit: http://riveroflifetheriverwalk.org
TLW31 using the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, August 5.
Theme: Lifegiving gift of God, freely given
2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a – a ‘gift’ violated in immaturity
John 6:24-35 – Jesus’ gift to us of eternal lifegiving food
Ephesians 4:1-16 – Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church
To read additionally: Psalm 51:1-12
SUMMARY THIS WEEK David knew about relying on God’s provision yet He was tempted to seize what was not his in a shameful episode. Jesus multiplied food in a miracle for His listening crowd and then explained that the true eternal sustenance was He Himself. They didn’t get it. Paul, writing to Spirit-filled Christians in Ephesus, urges them to keep hold of the unity the Holy Spirit has given them and to keep on growing and seeking spiritual maturity.
2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a » A ‘gift’ violated in immaturity
David becomes convicted of his sin on hearing a story told to him by the court prophet, Nathan.
26-27 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
12:1-3 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“The Lord sent Nathan” – Nathan, a court prophet, was acting as the Lord’s emissary sent with the Lord’s message. He had spoken before prophetically, 2 Sam. 7:2.
4 “Now a traveller came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveller who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5-6 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
“As surely as…” – David’s exclamation is in the form of an oath.
“Four times over” – the customary restitution. David later lost four of his sons, three of whom died violently.
7-8 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.
“Gave your master’s house…” – meaning the throne and its benefits being conferred on David.
9-10 ‘Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“You struck down…you killed…” – A figure of speech; David was responsible for Uriah falling in battle.
11-12 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”
“In broad daylight” – foretelling Absalom rebelling and sleeping with the royal concubines on the palace rooftop, 2 Sam. 16:22.
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
The story continues with David’s wholehearted repentance, and being met by God’s grace in it despite the seriousness of his offences.
IN PRACTICE From a plain reading of the story, David is in denial of his wrongdoing until nine months or more after the affair with Bathsheba and the birth of his son, when Nathan the court prophet comes to him with a story. At this point, the enormity of his sin impacts David – the adultery, deception of Uriah and his constructive murder – and blatant disregard for God’s order. David immediately repents in a wholehearted way. However, sin sets in train consequences. To do what we know not to do, is costly for us as it was for David.
QUESTION ‘Repent’ is a word we shy away from, yet David turned to God from the most serious sin, and received grace. How ready are you to admit to God where you have been wrong?
John 6:24-35 » The gift of Jesus, bread of life from heaven
The bread that never spoils is to believe in the One that God sent
24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
“Capernaum” – Jesus had been seen to leave the scene of the miracle of the feeding of the crowd alone, and the crowd went to search for him in the most likely place.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”
26-27 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”
They saw the sign but regarded Jesus as a miracle worker. Like the 12 disciples, Mark 6:53, they needed Jesus to teach them further, to grasp the fuller meaning.
“Food that endures to eternal life” – Jesus’ miracle with ordinary bread is a sign of who He is, uniquely authorised by the Father as His giver of spiritual, eternal ‘food’ that gives life.
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”
“What must we do…” – The crowd followed the merit-based Jewish religion and misses the point that eternal life is not earned, but God’s gift simply received, Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5. These two verses make a succinct statement of the gospel. The one and indispensable ‘work’ is to exercise faith and believe in Jesus Christ. See Paul’s explanation in Romans 3:20-28.
30-31 So they asked him, “What sign then will You give that we may see it and believe you? What will You do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
“What sign will You give” – there was a popular expectation that the Messiah would be known in the provision of manna again. The crowd had witnessed a single miracle with ordinary bread; Moses (in their perception) had fed a whole nation with heavenly bread for a generation.
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
“Bread from heaven” – far more than manna, the significance emphasised by a seven-fold repetition, here and vv. 38,41,50-51,58.
33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Jesus gently corrects them. God gave the manna in the past, but what is important is the “true bread”, life through the Son, which God is giving now.
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.
“Jesus declared, “I am…” – in Greek the tone is solemn and emphatic, echoing God’s words in Exodus 3:12-15.
For further study: This is the first of seven key “I am” sayings in John’s gospel, John 6:35, 8:12, 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5.
IN PRACTICE The people who had received the miraculous provision of bread to eat on the remote hillside wanted more of the same. They had met Jesus, the provider, but had not yet properly met with Jesus the Son of God – and so didn’t understand the real gift of Jesus to them. The disciples weren’t getting it easily, either. It’s the same today. We are so indoctrinated with the idea of working for a reward, and of achieving preference on the basis of merit, that we baulk at the idea of simply believing and receiving. The bread, or food, that Jesus offers us, which is lifegiving in an eternal way and which never spoils or runs out, is Himself. We create all kinds of substitutes: church heritage and religious observance and good deeds add up in our minds to a completely false sense of our entitlement. This is the barrier and the reason why we find it hard to turn to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord, and to simply and humbly receive what He has done for us.
QUESTION Everyone has struggled with this and everyone has a story… How would you explain how you received Jesus’ life-giving gift to someone exploring Christian faith?
Ephesians 4:1-16 » Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church
Spiritual maturity and unity are a priority for the church to thrive
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
“Worthy of the calling” – The kind of life that demonstrates following Christ’s call will have hallmarks apparent to others
For further study, see 1 Thess. 2:12; Romans 12:1; Col. 1:10.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Freedom from needing to prove oneself and being free to absorb tensions and show grace to others, is part of growing in Christian maturity, vv. 13-16. It is a call to the corporate humility and forgiving love that emphasises reconciliation, Col. 3:12-13. This is attractive to people looking from the outside in. Where those claiming to be Christians are seen to be harsh, arrogant and judgmental, it sends out a mixed message, which is damaging.
3-5 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
“Make every effort” – words of urgent priority, to maintain the unity that the Holy Spirit brings. The experience of baptism of the Spirit is to be one with others in that common experience – but it must be defended from the enemy’s attempts to bring division.
“One body and one Spirit” – seven foundational facets of this spiritual unity, expressed in the form of a prayer declaration.
7-8 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.”
Paul loosely quotes Psalm 68:18, which itself refers to the victory song of Deborah in Judges 5:12, lit. “He took captivity captive”. Christ took captive the bondage imposed by Satan, for all who would turn to Him. The psalm refers to taking gifts; Paul changes that around. Ancient kings would *take* tribute as part of victory, but sometimes *share* booty and show generosity in acts of clemency – the Hebrew words sound similar, hence the word play. Paul here emphasises the goodness of God in giving victory gifts, so it is fitting that He gives victory gifts to His church, in particular the gifts of specific and valuable leadership qualities.
9-10 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
“He also descended” – in this passage, to earth, rather than Hades. The One who ascended and now fills the earth with His graces and presence is none other than the one who descended to become incarnate to live in humble circumstances, and then to be put to death for us.
11-12 So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…
Christ’s gifts to the church are seen as five defined kinds of ministry working through church leadership functions of overseers, also called elders who pastor the flock, Acts 20:17,28. The point of this whole passage is encouraging spiritual maturity which will maintain unity, through these five strands in concert.
- An apostle type of leader may be sent out to pioneer a new work;
- a prophetic leader may be gifted in knowing and encouraging in God’s present purposes and praying them in;
- the evangelist kind of leader is adept at communicating the Good News simply and engagingly;
- another different gifting is the shepherd who cares for the flock, most likely also…
- a teacher who has the gift of explaining the Bible’s stories and message simply and clearly.
These gifts are not mutually exclusive, but the picture is of a team where all the gifts are represented.
13 ...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Fullness of Christ” – the full expression of what Christ is like, Eph. 1:23. People who are filled with Christ are by definition not filled with their own sense of importance, and will be builders of faith and unity, both within the congregation and (vitally in our day and age) between churches and congregations of other streams.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
“Infants” – small children are suggestible, and prone to squabbling. By contrast, maturity means growing up into Christ, knowing Him and becoming like Him. Unity is not mere tolerance, but a one-ness in Christ and His values. The Holy Spirit always works for unity (why wouldn’t He?) but it is man’s stubborn and arrogant unredeemed attitudes which create disunity.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
“The mature body” – Christ’s people, in all their diversity, working together, supporting each other and growing together in Him, v.16 below.
16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
IN PRACTICE Turning to Jesus and receiving His gift of new life is a vital and life-changing decision. But we’re not supposed to live that time over and over. We don’t find a signpost and then camp there! As we know, the real formation of the church took place with the general bestowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This was an empowering time when the continuing presence of Jesus became real for all of them and they grew in this new life of the Spirit. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, urging them to keep on growing true, humble and loving – and together. With an enemy whose tactic is to spoil and cause division in the body, unity is of paramount importance. Of course there will be tensions, but it’s too easy to divide over them – maturity demands that we have the character to absorb tensions and stay focused on Christ and stay together in Him.
QUESTION When someone, perhaps a leader, says or does something that you find difficult, what are the two or three responses you can choose to make?
PRAYER Father God, You are good all the time, gracious when like David we recognise our mistakes and giving beyond anything we could earn or deserve. Help me to love You by being trusting and open to simply receive from You. Amen.
Readings for Sunday, July 22 – God’s promise of inclusion and rest
2 Samuel 7:1-14a – The promise of rest from oppression with God present
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close
Ephesians 2:11-22 – The promise of access to the Father without exclusion
The theme is based on three Bible promises of peace and rest and being included in God’s promise of hope and protection. King David is promised rest from the oppression of enemies – a promise that we can stand on when we face oppression – in Galilee crowds finding Jesus’ compassion give us a promise of God’s mercy, including healing, and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles makes a present-day promise to all of being included in God’s promises without religious separation.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a » David desires a fitting place of worship for God to retain the nation’s rest
God will have a dwelling for people to draw close, but not built by David. He will, however, grant David longevity of rule and lineage
1-2 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
David, as king, now had a palace built of stone and imported cedar while the ark remained under a tent covering, 2 Sam. 6:17. David felt that the heavenly King should be more prominently honoured than him.
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
This word is also referred to as the Davidic covenant. It contains both national (v.10) and person (v.11) promises.
For further study of references to this as a covenant, see 2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3,28,34,39 and Ps. 132:11
5-7 “Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” ’
“Are you the one?” – David’s God-given task was to fight the Lord’s battles to achieve rest, freedom from oppression, in the land that had been promised. See 1 Kings 5:3, 1 Chron. 22:8-9.
8 “Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people Israel.
9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.
“Cut off all your enemies” – Bible material is often arranged according to topic rather than the exact chronology we would expect. The events of 2 Sam. 8:1-14 probably happened before this chapter.
10-11 And I will provide a place for My people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“Provide a place… for Israel” – the real purpose behind making David king.
“Since…I appointed leaders…” – meaning the time of the judges who preceded Saul and David and the kings.
“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you:
“Establish a house” – the play on words is plain in translation. God does not David to build Him a house, or temple, but God will build David a house, or royal dynasty.
Many Bible covenants are conditional with an”if” clause, but this covenant with David is unconditional, as with Noah, Abram and Phinehas.
12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.
14 I will be His father, and He will be My son.
The covenant points forward to its greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ, born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32-33 etc
IN PRACTICE This teaching in the Old Testament from King David’s time contains the first of three promises from God of ‘rest’ which is a state of peace and trust from enemies.
David’s enemies mostly appeared with a spear in their hands, and his battles are trials of military strength worked out in combat on the battlefield. In our world of NATO and Europol and summit talks, is all that irrelevant? Certainly not. Spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies, where the hosts of the defeated enemy, Satan, are still pursuing a vicious rearguard action, are played out in acts of terrorism, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents, and every kind of cruelty and injustice.
When we encounter evil actions and evil people, we need to see the evil that is finding people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to work through.
Now turning to submit to God in worship, who has promised His rest, starts to make very present-day, practical sense.
QUESTION When evil in one of its forms draws near to us, who do we draw near to? How do we bring God’s promises to bear?
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 » The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close
People recognise the Messiah and draw close. Wherever Jesus went crowds gathered and brought their sick
30-31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
“Get some rest” – two meanings here. Another definition of finding rest is taking time in a quiet place with Jesus.
32-34 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.
Or crossed the shoreline. Gennesaret (modern-day Ginosar) is down the coast a little way, towards Tiberius.
54-56 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.
The crowd from vv.32-34 could see the boat and follow its progress on foot.
They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
“All who touched it…” – a clear statement. See also Matthew 8:16-17.
IN PRACTICE To seek a divine encounter with the promise of healing is entirely in line with this teaching, but out of line with most of our experience. It’s controversial. We all know people who have struggled with illness. For some, their earthly life appears to have foreclosed early and suddenly.
The account of people flocking to Jesus, pressing in to Him and the statement that “all who touched [His cloak] were healed” leaves us with both a promise and also a problem.
The promise seems clear enough, but so is the expectation of coming to the Lord (who we can’t touch) and trust in Him, when we have so many alternatives to trust in. Some we know from their stories are miraculously healed; for many it is a process and good medicine may be experienced as God’s gift. For some, the healing is total in transition to new and eternal life. Our philosophy is inadequate to explain this, but let’s not let lack of predictability and our sense of control and reason stop us from simply trusting and believing what God has written.
QUESTION In the battle that goes on in our minds between reason and logic and trusting in what God says, how do we referee the contest?
Ephesians 2:11-22 » The promise of access to the Father without exclusion
The new relationship with God includes Gentiles on the same basis as Jews
11-13 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
“Remember that formerly… at that time” – referring to those outside a personal relationship with Christ, as they were when they “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…”, Eph. 2:1-10. We are either committed to belong to Christ, or we are by default under the sway of the devil.
“You who are Gentiles” – most of those in the church in Ephesus.
The rite of circumcision was a clear mark of distinction and also pride. A major exclusion in the ancient world, between people groups hostile to each other, is reconciled in Christ.
14-15 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…
“Two groups one” – believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
“Destroyed the barrier” – a barrier of prejudice. Jews and Gentiles practised strict religious isolation from one another. Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple area were not allowed past the barrier in the Court of the Gentiles.
16 …and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility.
“One body” – God sees those who are the Lord’s, those who are His, as one body of Christ.
17-18 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
“Far away and… near” – Gentiles, unlike Jews, had no cultural experience of the Living God and so were not as “near”, although both had shared the same need to come into personal relationship through Jesus and His Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household…
“Foreigners and strangers” – addressing what had been a deep-seated division.
20 …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
“Cornerstone” – hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah spoke of God laying a “tested stone” as a cornerstone foundation, Isaiah 28:16, meaning the Messiah to come.
“Foundation of apostles and prophets” – the early church was built on these ministries as people were sent out in ground-breaking roles. Church planting in our time, both overseas and new congregations at home, require the equipping ministries mentioned later in the letter, Eph. 4:11-13.
21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
“In Him… built together” – Peter also refers to Jesus as the Living Stone in whom we ‘living stones’ are being built into a spiritual ‘house’. See 1 Peter 2:4-6
IN PRACTICE The third teaching in this theme of God’s promise of our inclusion in His hope and His promises, and therefore our rest, is about who is included and whether there is a kind of hierarchy of privilege. We think there is. We think that our religious obedience, however that is expressed, gets us up the queue line because that’s how we as humans are programmed – so much in our education, professional life and general experience is based on merit.
When ministers began to take the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of pews and pulpit (as John Wesley did in the 1700s and many others since) God’s love and grace for the apparently underserving presented many surprises to the religious mind. He loves to overturn our comfortable theology! Back in the first century, it was the same. The Jews really did consider themselves God’s chosen people, even if they had largely rejected their own Messiah. They wanted to treat the ‘outsider’ Gentiles as second class, if they had dealings with them at all. God confronted that exclusivity of attitude in them, and He still does in us. Formal religion has created all kinds of barriers to knowing God’s love and He delights in opening another door that needs no ticket other than a desire to enter in and experience Him.
QUESTION If you see another person in church who dresses differently, behaves differently and just is – different, how do you view them and how does God view them – and how will you love them anyway?
The readings according to the lectionary for Sunday, July 1
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – God’s grace in David lamenting his former persecutor
Mark 5:21-43 – God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – God’s grace in Gentiles’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 » God’s grace seen in David lamenting his former persecutor
No rejoicing after tyrannical Saul is killed
1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.
“After the death of Saul” – the battle of Mount Gilboa did not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua were killed during the Philistine pursuit, and Saul was critically wounded and fell on his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:1-4.
17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
“Book of Jashar” – mentioned in Joshua 10:13, an early commemoration of Israel’s exploits, now lost. Probably in verse form like the “lament of the bow”, sung during drill with the bow, Israel’s weapon of choice.
19-20 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
“Gazelle” – figurative language symbolising a special person, here used for Jonathan.
“Proclaim it not” – Gath to Ashkelon was the expanse of Philistine territory. For them to celebrate Israel’s defeat brought reproach, not just to Israel, but to the name of the Lord.
21-22 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul – no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
“May no showers fall” – a curse on the place where Saul and Jonathan perished expressing David’s grief. “No longer rubbed with oil” – the shield no longer maintained, no longer needed.
23 “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
“Not parted” – Jonathan opposed his father, especially in the way he treated David, but fought to defend Israel and gave his life beside his father.
24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“Scarlet” – associated with luxury.
25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.
“Your love for me was wonderful” – No sexual connotation here: Jonathan’s commitment to David, at personal risk, seeing him as God’s choice to succeed his own father, was a truly remarkable bond.
27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”
In practice If someone had spent years cursing you, making life very difficult for you and had attempted to kill you more than once, how would you feel when they themselves have come to a sticky end? Who among us would not gloat, for a while, anyway?
When David hears the news that King Saul and his close companion and friend Jonathan have both been killed while retreating from the Philistines, he does the opposite. He composes a song of lament to honour them in every way he can think of. Human emotions have been overridden – God’s grace is flowing. David had kept his heart clean from resentment for many years; his practice had paid off.
We can do the same and choose not to recount injustice and betrayal, but to love our enemies because we have the Holy Spirit to cause a flow of grace in our hearts.
Question Why did Jesus say it was so important for us to forgive without condition? Think of the Lord’s Prayer…
Mark 5:21-43 » God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded
- Two different people publicly put faith in Jesus
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake.
“The other side” – He had been on the eastern Gadara and Decapolis side of the lake, and now crossed back to the Capernaum and Galilee side.
22-24 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around Him.
“Synagogue leaders” – laymen, mostly Pharisees, who organised services.
25-26 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.
“A woman was there” – but ceremonially unclean owing to her condition, and not allowed in the temple court reserved for women.
27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
By the law, Leviticus 15:19-23, she renders Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, He demonstrates that He is greater than purity laws by healing her, and therefore making her clean.
30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’ ”
“Who touched Me?” – He senses something, a spiritual transaction, more than just touch because He would have felt the nudges of many in the crowd.
32-34 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
She had rendered many in the crowd unclean, a shameful thing to have done from the perspective of the Law. Mark depicts how her fear turned to faith.
“Daughter” – from shunned outsider she has become part of the family of God.
“Healed” – the word ‘sozo’ has a broader meaning encompassing healed, delivered, saved. Faith in Jesus which brought her physical healing was the faith that conferred salvation from sin.
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
“Don’t be afraid” – ‘Do not fear…’ as Jesus says to us in many circumstances, ‘but believe’. Fear and faith are opposites, more than unbelief and faith. Once we decide to turn from the grip of fear to regard Jesus, faith dispels fear. We need the willpower to kick-start this change. A big test for Jairus with a dead child.
37-40 He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.
After He put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was.
“People wailing loudly” – assisted by community mourners who upheld the noisy custom.
“Peter, James and John” – early days of the ministry and a small room, so a call to the ‘senior apprentices’ only.
“They laughed at Him” – the unbelieving crowd created an unbelieving spirituality.
41-43 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
“Talitha koum” – Only Mark’s fast-paced gospel includes references to the vernacular that Jesus and the disciples customarily used – giving immediacy to the story.
“Not to let anyone know” – Jesus was never self-promoting. In Galilee he faced two problems: He was a Galilean with fast-growing popularity in his own region, and this was attracting growing hostility from religious leaders which was pointing to premature crisis, before His work was anywhere near complete.
In practice In Mark’s telling, a story of one extraordinary healing, a raising from the dead, becomes an envelope for another healing and crowd scene.
Jesus’ relationship with synagogues and synagogue leaders was patchy, to say the least. He talked about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the kingdom of God with apparent disregard for the conventions about the Sabbath, but here a synagogue officer faces personal tragedy in the death of his small daughter and appeals to Jesus, who turfs out the wailing mourners and speaks life into her dead form.
Before that, and no less extraordinary, was the covert encounter a chronically ill woman had with him in the crowd, forcing through to touch His robe in a desperate gesture of faith.
Both were held captive by fear and hopelessness but broke free of their feelings to express faith in Jesus: His ‘sozo’ – deliverance, healing and salvation – was the result. The lesson for us is plain – defy your feelings and even facts and conventions, and turn to Jesus. Your prayer might be desperate, but maybe this is what he is listening for.
Question Have you witnessed any extraordinary answers to prayer? What was spoken out in faith as part of that prayer effort?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 » God’s grace in Gentile believers’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church
Corinthians who excelled in gifts exhorted to be earnest in their giving
7 But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
The Corinthians – hardly lacking in self-esteem, proud of their public debating heritage and encouraged by Paul in chapters 1-7 – are challenged to lead in financial generosity also.
8-9 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
“Not commanding” – this was not a command to give – telling people to give more often has the opposite effect – but inviting them to test the sincerity of their love. The Macedonian churches in northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica, not far distant, had shown their love as they “gave themselves first to the Lord” by giving beyond their means at a time of severe trial and poverty. Would Corinth have the same heart?
“You know the grace of our Lord” – here meaning God’s love shown in saving action for undeserving mankind.
10-12 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
“Eager willingness… is there” – the point is that God looks for faith and joy in giving which is part of our worship of Him. Giving out of duty (by the same logic) is not acceptable. We can encourage each other to give more freely, willingly and joyfully, but to expect people to give more because they ought is the wrong message.
13-15 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
“Too much… too little” – quoting from Exodus 16:18 which refers to the Israelites gathering manna in the desert, illustrating the kind of equality he has in mind. Like giving out of duty, giving as a kind of religious penance is not the willingness and Spirit-led enthusiasm that God is seeking.
In practice The Corinthians have taken hold of new life in Christ with enthusiasm – sometimes a little too much enthusiasm, it seems. But they were also early to respond and raise money when news of the need in Jerusalem reached them across the Mediterranean in Greece. But Paul instructs them, it is not dutiful giving that God smiles on, but the joyful kind that relies on His provision and shares it willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or rather, worship.
Question In what ways can you worship God in your freedom to give and meet needs for others?