Listening to the Lord and speaking for Him

Image credit: St George’s Anglican Church, Burlington, Canada

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, September 16 (Pentecost 18)

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s voice?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 19

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Summary

The theme for this Sunday is about who we listen to, and what is in our hearts as we speak.

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom is like a woman whose advice (in that culture) could be ignored and even mocked, revealing arrogant obstinacy. Do we respond as learners or mockers?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Peter and the disciples were put on the spot about who people thought Jesus was and who they said He was, but Peter’s declaration sealed their belief in Jesus as Messiah.

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

This teaching from the apostle James stresses power of words for good or harm, and the importance of speech which comes from a heart submitted to God, not human opinions.

The message this week is a reminder that the words we speak are like fruit, showing whether we are a thorny briar or a sweet variety. As disciples of Christ we guard against lapsing into the old, selfish nature, but rather show the Lordship of Jesus over our speech.

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Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom gives sound guidance for living, for all who will hear

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:

“Wisdom calls aloud” – personified as a woman (the Hebrew word is feminine) who cries out, for all to hear in the marketplace, and at the place of business and debate, the city gate. 

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

“Simple… mockers… fools” – Proverbs addresses three sets of people who need God’s wisdom and are progressively less receptive. Those who are simple or inexperienced, pethim, are the most open to God’s truth, Prov. 1:4. Fools, kesilim, have heard God’s wisdom but are resisting it. Mockers, latsonim, oppose wisdom with ridicule and are condemned in Proverbs as those too arrogant and contentious to learn.

For further study on kesiyl, kesilim see Proverbs 17:10, 12, 16, 21, 24-25 and a related word in Prov. 17:7.

23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

“Repent… then…” – the consequence of heeding the warning is a blessing, where wisdom is like a fountain of constant refreshment and, “I will make known”, though revelation.

24-25 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…

“Stretch out my hand” – in appeal, like Isaiah 65:2 where God holds out His hands all day to “an obstinate people”

26-27 …I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

“Laugh” – not heartlessly but at the predictability of those who spurn wisdom’s guidance and find themselves in difficulty as a consequence.

28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.

“Call to me” – sounds like 1 Samuel 8:18, but this is probably not about prayer; wisdom is a personification, not God. The sense is that mockers and scoffers will frantically seek wisdom when they get into trouble, but ‘too little, too late’.

30-31 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

“Eat the fruit… be filled with the fruit” – like the NT phrase “A man reaps what he sows”, Gal. 6:7. Evil people suffer the punishment of living out the consequences of their own actions, and will find themselves consuming the fruit of calamity, fear and destruction that they meted out to others.

32-33 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

“Waywardness” – a play on the Hebrew word for turning which can mean positively “repent” or negatively “turn wayward”. Not heeding wisdom (being wayward) causes destruction; the remedy would have been to turn in repentance.

“Whoever listens to me” – those who listen to wisdom’s voice experience security.

IN PRACTICE  The voice of wisdom is not the same as the voice of God, but closely aligned. It is more the sense of how we live out what we hear as the voice and truth of God.

Wisdom is evident, or lacking, in all our attitudes of heart – and our heart determines what we say. Here we meet those who come across as uninstructed, or a stage worse, just stubbornly foolish and wrong-intentioned. But worst of all is the arrogant mocker, the opinionated “I know best” person who is proud that they have no need to listen and learn. This is the root of dissention, and derogatory slander, that is the devil’s strategy to impede the kingdom of God. To the extent that we allow it.

QUESTION  How proactive are you in seeking God’s wisdom to live by, day by day?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Speaking as disciples of Jesus – who do we say He is?

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

“Caesarea Philippi” – named after Herod the Great’s son Philip the Tetrarch, the recently-built town was on the slopes of Mount Hermon, a prominent landmark 25 miles to the north of Galilee.

“He asked them” – for the first time, Jesus raises the question of His identity. He must clarify the nature of the Messiah as God’s servant who will suffer and be shamed for His people, a difficult concept (Peter’s response v.32 below) against the popular idea that the Messiah would be a military deliverer like King David.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“Some say” – the disciples list some the most popular misconceptions.

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

“But what about you?” – more emphatic in the Greek. Jesus compels a deeper response.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

“The Messiah” – or Christ. Both mean ‘anointed one’. A climax and the first time this is stated in Mark’s story apart from his introduction, Mark 1:1. Peter speaks out the conclusion of all the disciples.

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

“Warned… not to tell” – the mission of Jesus as Messiah could not be understood apart from the ordeal of the Cross, which the disciples were not yet prepared for. To announce Jesus as Messiah would only reinforce the misunderstanding about the Messiah. The Jewish people, desperate to be released from Gentile Roman dominion, would try and make Jesus king by force, John 6:15 and see John 12:12-19.

31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

“Peter… began to rebuke Him” – to Peter, what Jesus was teaching was not only unthinkable but just plain wrong.  In this section, Mark 8:31-10:52 Jesus prepares the disciples for His inevitably, divinely-ordained death as they travel to Jerusalem.

“Suffer… be rejected… be killed and…rise again”. The Messiah had to suffer, as predicted, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and see Luke 24:44, and be rejected, which echoes Psalm 118:22, and die before being raised to life again, promised in Hosea 6:2. The Jews knew these scriptures but misunderstood them. Following the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah sets out how God’s ways are higher than our ways, Isaiah 55:8-9.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

“He rebuked Peter” – with a seemingly harsh word, but Jesus recognised Peter coming under the same attempted deception that He had experienced in the desert confrontation with Satan, Matthew 4:8-10.

34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.

“Take up their cross” – not a medieval-style religion of self-abasement which misses the point made in the sentences around this phrase. The disciple call is to die to the right to determine one’s own life path and success; as in being born anew, willingness to let go of the old life admits new life in Jesus – which will embrace the costs of shame and pain at times.

35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.

36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

“Save their life” – self-preservation is a strong human instinct. We want to hold on to what we know and we believe represents security. To lose life in the flesh is to gain the spiritual life of the soul.

37-38 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Standing up for Jesus, His values and His words, requires courage in the face of ridicule – but it’s a non-negotiable position for those who choose to walk the Way of Jesus.

IN PRACTICE  Everyone wants to be known as a fan of a popular hero. Even if we have no local affiliation, we support a particular Premier football club ‘because it is the best’. People are intrigued by, and sometimes drawn to, ‘populist politicians’. Some “do a Huw’, the highly individual pose modelled by the revered Welsh newsreader.

Jesus is more of a problem. In our church, He would be an outsider, a disrupter, someone bringing change. In our community, He doesn’t look like a figurehead as a servant of incomparable kindness. In a post-modern inclusive world, some want every spiritual insight to be a path to the truth. The question for us, as well as Peter, is who do WE say Jesus is? And that draws out from us where we really stand in relation to His Lordship of us.

QUESTION  How ready are we to stand up, be counted and speak for Jesus and His values in our sceptical world?

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God before speaking – does He have our tongue?

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

“Become teachers” – the rabbi or teacher was honoured in Jewish and by extension, Christian society, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, while Christians generally were regarded as social outsiders, James 2:6-7. James points out that few should aspire to a role which could influence for good or harm, and which therefore carried greater penalties in accountability, Matt. 5:19, Acts 20:26-27.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

“Fault in what they say” – the argument moves from the specific role of those called to teach, to the general responsibility we have for the words we utter, to bless and encourage or to harm. The main issue in the church, then as today, is the twin problem of dissention and slander, James 4:1, 3:9, 4:11.

3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

“Bits…rudder… spark” – the three images of small things that cause big effects were common in literature of the time. The tongue’s power to influence is way out of proportion to its size in relation to the rest of the body.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

“A world of evil” – like a little microcosm of the fallen world within us. “Set on fire by hell” – the cause of so many sins when taken over by the devil’s destructive influence. The tongue reveals the worldliness lurking in our hearts, Matt. 15:18.

7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“All kinds of animals” – probably referring to Genesis 1:26. “No human being” – emphatic: the tongue often has a life of its own and can be like a deadly snake, Psalm 58:3-6, Psalm 14:3, which cannot be tamed except by God’s power working in us.

9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

“We praise…and… we curse” – words have power, either to bless (bringing life and encouragement) or to curse (bringing harm and what is life-sapping). “God’s likeness” – all hearers have the worth of being created in God’s image.

“Can both… flow from the same…” –  it is incongruous for a Christian, reborn with a transformed heart, to utter demeaning words, like a tree producing the wrong fruit or a spring that runs brackish. Only a heart being continually renewed by the Holy Spirit can produce pure and life-giving speech.

IN PRACTICE  The school playground chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is good to help children refute name-calling but a poor representation of truth. Words that curse can have an enduringly hurtful effect. Who has carried the words of a parent or authority figure for whom we were never good enough? Prayer ministry later in life often reveals such barriers, words spoken over us that have had the effect of a curse, the word meaning the opposite of a blessing. On the other hand, the encouragement of the person who believed in us at a not-very-successful time is not forgotten. Words spoken have power, and there can be spiritual power behind the emotional or suggestive power as well. What comes from a resentful heart can do harm to us as much as the target. What comes from a pure heart submitted to Jesus can bring much benefit – perhaps, with faith, even a mountain-moving miracle.

QUESTION  What words have stayed with me as an enduring encouragement? And what words do I need to lift off my heart, to be free of their restriction?

PRAYER    From Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…”  And help me to speak with the tone and truth and compassion of Jesus, whatever is going on around me, and to be quick to forgive those who, like Peter in the Gospel reading, have spoken from the selfish nature and momentarily become a voice for the enemy of our souls.

Heart condition

TLW 35 – The RSL readings for September 2, 2018

The heart is deceitful above all things… Jer. 17:9

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.

OLD TESTAMENT

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.

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.

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?

GOSPEL

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 »Religious tradition can’t hide what is in our heart

In this chapter the 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 more and more Jesus-like.

QUESTION  Have you truly given your heart to Jesus? And which part of your heart might He still be asking you to hand over?

EPISTLE

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.

“Quick to listen (etc)” – this gives a brief outline of the whole letter which is later expanded in James 1:21-2:26 (listen), 3:1-18 (slow to speak) and 4:1-5:18 (slow to anger).

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.

Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

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

 

 

 

OLD TESTAMENT

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?

 

 

GOSPEL

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?

 

 

EPISTLE

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.

When it isn’t humanly possible, God’s providence – God’s kingdom purpose – prevails

TLW25 Church calendar readings (lectionary) for Sunday, June 24

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 – The providence of God in personal vulnerability

Mark 4:35-41 – The providence of God in calming a storm

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – The providence of God through hardships and opposition

The diminutive David takes on the giant Goliath. Image: moneymover.com

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 » The spiritual battle between fear and faith personified in Goliath

  • The young David meets the abusive challenge of his huge, armoured opponent and kills him

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

“Sokoh” – The Philistines encroached on Israelite territory through Saul’s reign, here about 15 miles on the Philistine (west) side of Bethlehem. They faced each other on opposite hills across a strategic valley, the Elah, which offered the Philistines a route into the hill country of Judah.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.

“A champion” – in ancient times it was sometimes agreed that a stand-off would be settled by selected individuals; see another instance in 2 Sam. 2:12-17.

Gath and some other Philistine cities were known for having a number of giant inhabitants. Goliath, more than nine feet tall, would have presented a terrifying spectacle.

5-7 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

“Five thousand shekels” – 55kg or 125lb. This is more than the weight of the massive plate armour worn by medieval jousting knights on horseback. His spear tip was like wielding a large sledgehammer at 7kg.

8-9 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

10-11 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

“Dismayed and terrified” – the intention of this strategy. It was Saul’s job to accept the challenge and step forward.

= = = =

17-19 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

“Bring back some assurance” – literally, take their pledge. Of course Jesse was concerned about his sons.

20-21 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.

“Army going out” – ‘Standing to’ at dawn and moving forward from the camp.

22-23 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.

“Defiance” – not just cursing Israel, but the living God. Silencing Goliath’s defiance of God was a greater motive for David than Saul’s offer of reward, vv. 24-26.

= = = =

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

In contrast to Saul’s fear, verse 11, David has courage – the courage of faith, verse 37.

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34-36 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Lions and bears were common in Palestine in this period.

37 “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38-39 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.

40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Between the opposing armies was a valley – and a stream.

41-42 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

“Glowing with health” – ruddy-faced, the word emphasising David’s youth and inexperience

“Come at me with sticks” – David appeared weaponless, apart from his staff.

“The Philistine cursed…” – By contrast, David praised. Victory over Goliath would demonstrate God’s victory over Dagon, chief god of the Philistines.

45-46 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.

47 “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

“The battle is the Lord’s” – a declaration of faith and praise. David is choosing to agree with the perspective that the Lord is showing him, over his apparent great disadvantage. To David, this is a spiritual battle, not just a physical one, see Eph. 6:12.

48-49 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

David’s sling would have been a leather cup with two thongs to whirl it. Loosing one thong at the right time released the projectile which stunned Goliath so that David could decapitate him. With practice, this could be a highly accurate weapon.

In practice

It is easy to see this as just a heroic battle, the youth who defeats the bully. However, note that David saw this as the Lord’s battle – spiritual as much as physical. So should we. We face ‘goliaths’ of fear and hopelessness and bad news which the enemy of our souls brings out, to taunt us and challenge us. The battle takes place in our thought life, but we can speak out praise of the One who has settled that battle like David did – and see how that praise becomes a slingshot in the face of the ‘giant’.

Question

What has the Lord already provided for your present thought-battle?

 

Mark 4:35-41 » The providence of God in calming a storm

  • Jesus takes authority over the elements that threatened to swamp the boat – and tells the disciples they should have exercised their faith in doing this

35-36 That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him.

In 1986 a 26 ft boat big enough to hold 15, dating from this first century period in Galilee, was recovered from mud that had preserved it.

37-38 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

“A furious squall” – the Sea of Galilee is 200m below sea level, giving rise to strong downdraughts and sudden storms.

“On a cushion” – probably one of the bags of ballast sand used to stabilise the boat.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Jesus’ exercise of authority over the natural power of wind and waves demonstrated who He was.

40 He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

“No faith…terrified” – the disciples had seen Jesus’ authority in action many times but still lacked faith. The Holy Spirit was to transform their faith and confidence later.

“Wind and waves obey” – they knew that in the OT, God commands wind and waves, Job 12:15 and 28:25, Psalm 107:25-30.

For further study on Jesus’ authority witnessed by the disciples, see Mark 1:21-34, 1:40-45, 2:1-12, 3:1-5.

In practice  

Just as we face ‘giants’ of fear, so there are storms of life. One tries to slay us, the other threatens to swamp us. But Jesus rebuked the wind – “Do not do this!” and ordered the rough sea to be calm. “But that was Jesus!”, you say. But the implication of the story is that the disciples should have exercised their faith and spoken authoritatively to the elements. And we have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Jesus, in us to raise faith and bring the right words.

Question

When trouble threatens, do you have a person you trust you can turn to, and pray with you? Why is it important to have a prayer partner you can call?

 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 » The providence of God through hardships and opposition

  • Overcoming a catalogue of hardships is proof of Paul’s genuine call

1-2 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, “In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

“Receive God’s grace in vain” – e.g. by turning back and continuing to live independent from God and self-centred. Or still under a burden of condemnation. Or, as below, showing the very opposite of God’s nature. Saved, but not living as having been saved.

“Time of My favour” – Paul, by quoting Isaiah 49:8, is aligning his apostolic ministry with Isaiah’s prophetic call to repentance in view of the coming day of redemption and judgment, which is salvation.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.

“Now is the time” – This salvation era has already arrived in Christ. God is starting to bestow blessings of the age to come and there is an urgency to turn to God by receiving Jesus in this period of particular favour, between Jesus’ first and second comings.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

Paul and his companions’ character was always being questioned. Slander was their travelling companion – “genuine, yet regarded as imposters”, below.

4-10 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;   sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

“Dishonour…bad report…regarded as imposters” – there was continual opposition from false apostles who in character were self-serving and self-promoting. By contrast, “as servants of God” Paul always puts the focus of his gospel message on the Lord and God’s power coming through his own weakness. The apostolic team’s genuineness is shown by their “yet we live on” attitude of following God’s call.

The nine hardships listed (see also 2 Cor. 4:7-18) are also detailed in Acts e.g. Acts 14:5-6, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 16:19-24, Acts 21:30-36.

For further study: imprisonments are mentioned in Acts 16:3, Eph. 3:1, Phil. 1:13-14, Col. 4:18, 2 Tim 1:16, Philemon 1.

11-13 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

The self-appointed leaders at Corinth have tried to persuade the people there that Paul does not really love them. Unswerving despite the hostility, Paul asserts his true affection, also in 2 Cor. 7:2.

 

In practice

Paul suffered a lot for his faith in pursuing his being called to share what the Bible calls the Good News: forgiveness with God, new life and eternal salvation, all through simply turning to Jesus Christ and asking Him to be Lord of your life. It’s a decision that totally changes us – yet the people who were trying to discredit Paul and stir up trouble for him, were often part of the churches he had started. Jesus had said, you will know a tree by whether its fruit is good or bad. Paul kept on loving people in Corinth who were clearly not motivated by love themselves. In the Christian walk, the most bitter opposition may come from within the church, not outside it, and it may be triggered by doing what is right in God’s sight – keeping Jesus central – not what is wrong. Be encouraged, it has happened to many better people who made a stand for Jesus Christ and His values. Giants threaten us, storms of life blow up out of nowhere and attacks come from people who should be there for us – but God’s providence is over all. His kingdom purpose prevails.

Question

What is this passage teaching you about opposition and spiritual attack?

Confidence in God’s unfailing love at a time of desperation

TUESDAY, MARCH 2O
Psalm 31:9-18

David knew God’s faithfulness when he was under attack – prophetic of Jesus’ time of torment also

Context note: The first eight verses of the psalm (a psalm of David) express confidence in God and praise for His deliverance “You have set my feet in a spacious place”. But it doesn’t feel like that. Now the support completely expected under the covenant seems delayed; help is needed now.

9  Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.

The psalmist knows that under the covenant he can expect the Lord to act on his behalf, but the situation is increasingly desperate. He cannot wait. He cries out for the mercy of the Lord.

10  My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

This is a description of someone drained emotionally and physically, which is the effect of the ’emotional murder’ of hatred.

11  Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbours and an object of dread to my closest friends – those who see me on the street flee from me.

12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.

The victim of the hatred and slander experiences rejection and contempt, even from former friends, v.11, and hopelessness, v.12, is joined by terror.

13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

In this dire situation, the psalmist moves – with the agility of a swordsman – from defending his feelings to offensive faith. He turns the tables on his oppressors (which may be human or spiritual) with prayer declarations.

15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

He pledges trust and gives God the sovereignty and the outcome: “My times are in Your hands”.  Only then does he petition God to give him favour, to save him and vindicate him.

16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in Your unfailing love.

Seeking God’s blessing in the familiar words of Numbers 6:25. The appeal to God to save in His unfailing love is an appeal to Him to act in accordance with the covenant.

17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead.

18 Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

The outcome David wants more than any other is for an end to what is most damaging: the slander.

Application

The threats, and even murderous threats, of enemies are not unfamiliar to us. Perhaps the hardest  part of such an ordeal is the mental stress – and fear. The enemy is always active trying to put anxious thoughts and to turn our focus from faith to fear. He often uses malicious gossip and slander – getting vulnerable people to do his work for him.

The psalmist, David in this case, expresses this well. However, set alongside the  “terror on every side” experience is the statement “I trust in You, Lord… my times are in your hands”.

We may not be able to avoid fear – it is a human emotion and some kinds of fear are necessary, and even healthy. The lesson here is that whatever fears and anxieties the enemy is trying to bind us with, we can come through to a place in that fear and anxiety where we declare, over and against it, “I trust in You, Lord… My times are in your hands.”

Whatever we face, Jesus has faced it already – and won through.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

Could you draw a statement of faith from the second half of this psalm? What would be your basis for speaking it out in faith, and confidently?