Here are three of the most common ways we are mistaken
This article is linked to the Choosing God’s Way Bible study for June 6 and is based in the following Bible readings (Revised Common Lectionary).
OT: 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15 — The people seek security in a visible rule and ask Samuel for a king
NT gospel: Mark 3:20-35 — Jesus’ family and teachers of the law have wrong expectations of Him
NT letter: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 — The power that raised from Jesus dead is also renewing us
Choosing God’s Way
A common source of disappointment is putting our expectation above God’s priorities
What is the Good News of Jesus? What is the gospel? It’s the same thing. Theological times have been written to answer this question, but stay tuned, I’m, going to give you a really simple, clear definition.
The good news is, there’s a choice, and anyone can take it. It’s a choice for me to turn to Jesus, believe who He is, take hold of what He has done for me — and live for Him with His friendship and help.
Many churches have their own religious systems which they put up, like hoops to jump through.
Jesus simply asks, “Do you believe who I am?” and waits for you to say ‘Yes’ to Him.
No feats of endurance or obstacles course — we’ll leave that to the Royal Marines. I’m told that they are very selective — and understandably. They want the best. Jesus invites us to come as we are and let Him make us the best
The Royal Marines work on the outside — the fitness, the combat, terrain and survival skills, the teamwork and discipline. The Holy Spirit works on the inside, and the discipline is t he personal kind that makes a disciple, or learner.
This week’s story that arises from the Bible readings for June 6 that many churches and chapels follow, is about being empowered by choosing God’s way in life. That choice just keeps on coming up, and we get better at recognising it and choosing it.
The story comes out through three common ways in which we are mistaken.
1. The mistaken request
We can learn by the mistakes of others. Starting as usual in the Old Testament, the first lesson is that everyone else’s way doesn’t mean we have to do it that way.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”1 Samuel 8:4-5 NIV
Samuel was getting on in years and ready to retire from the judge’s bench; his sons, not averse to backhanders, had proved themselves unsuitable successors. The people needed a successor to lead them — but the mistake was that they wanted more of a figurehead to stare down the surrounding nations with a large army behind him.
Samuel… prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king.1 Samuel 8:6-7
It was allowed under the law, but it wasn’t God’s way. The protection of the nation was enshrined in the covenant. All they had to do was to remain faithful to Yahweh, remembering how He had brought them out of Egypt, and a generation later, into the Promised Land.
Samuel listened to God, and the word he passed on to the people was a solemn warning of the cost to them of supporting a monarchy:
“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights…Samuel 8:11, 15-18
…He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.
“He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen…
Having asked for the wrong things, the people then reinforced their mistake by refusing to listen to Samuel’s word for them — which was a word from the Lord.
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we shall be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”1 Samuel 8:19
And Samuel, still following the Lord’s instructions, had a coronation for Saul — and that was the start of a 40 year period of insecurity.
Of course there was a spiritual dimension to all this trouble, including Saul’s deteriorating mental health. We see that more clearly in Jesus’ teaching in the NT gospel part of the story.
2. The mistaken expectations
In this story of a time early in Jesus’ ministry, His own family are disquieted by His behaviour. And the deputation of scribes, sent from Jerusalem to remote, provincial Galilee to check out this unauthorised rabbi are ready to have their prejudices confirmed.
Why were crowds of people pressing in on Jesus? What was it that drew such stinging criticism from the teachers of the law?
… Again a crowd gathered, so that he and His disciples were not even able to eat… His family… went to take charge of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”Mark 3:20-22
… And the teachers of the law… from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons He is driving out demons.
They were right about one thing: He was driving out demons, which is why crowds of people, no doubt bringing their more handicapped friends, were pressing in on Jesus. They knew He could help them. The demons causing physical and emotional affliction knew who He was and were stirred up by His presence.
This was unexpected behaviour. Jesus’ half-brothers were used to Him being the village carpenter, not surrounded by a crowd of needy people demanding His help. Even calling disciples to be with Him in His new role as a rabbi carried the expectation of telling them to obey the law more strictly, to do more of what was right and not to do what was wrong.
But that wasn’t God’s way. He was showing them the One who is the fulfilment of the law, to believe in Him. He was showing them the love and justice and freedom that comes with God’s kingdom rule and reign. He was showing them that people are more important than propriety.
The scribes (and perhaps Jesus’ siblings) expected what was familiar. As we all do. What is unfamiliar, is unsafe — at first. Setting people free from spiritual bondage was not what was expected — and, from the point of view of Jesus’ family, bound to attract the unwelcome attention of the authorities.
They accused Him of having an impure, or unclean, spirit. That was an easy way for them to dismiss Him. But Jesus took this an an opportunity to teach on the realities of the way spiritual light and spiritual darkness are opposed.
Jesus called [the teachers of the law] over to Him and began to speak to them in parables. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”Mark 3:23-24
Jesus is getting them to see how there are two rules, two kingdoms, in view here. And to see for themeselves which one He represents.
“In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.”Mark 3:27
It was a serious slander to accuse Jesus of being in league with the demons He was casting out. It was illogical, unthinking… and far more serious than they imagined. Jesus went on to teach:
“People can be forgiven all… sins and every slander… but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”Mark 3:28-29
These are stern words, and we are right to consider the awful consequences He highlights. But with a view to God’s grace, we can see this as being directed at the kind of persistent and accusatory unbelief which shows a person having lost all facility to change and repent. The believer who fears that they might have inadvertently committed the ‘unforgivable sin’ has already recognised it as something deeply wrong and needing God’s forgiveness. And that’s in the first part of what Jesus said.
We can’t rely on church attendance, the well-intentioned words of others or participation in rituals to save us. The only way is the Way of Jesus, turning to Him who took His sin on Himself to the Cross so that in believing, we could be set free from their penalty, “forgiven all… sins and every slander.”
We should expect to have to do business with the forces of darkness and now that Jesus has gone and the Holy Spirit has been given, it is our job to ‘tie up the strong man’ and break open his stronghold to find those held captive and unable to recognise his deception, and set them free to know God’s love and forgiveness.
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”Mark 3:35
And this is is “doing God’s will” which the Holy Spirit, the Helper, empowers us as those belonging to Jesus, to do.
3. The mistaken perspective
The Christian life may be a bed of roses. It’s a truly beautiful gift from God, but we may feel the thorns as we gather the blooms!
The spiritual conflict which Jesus taught His disciples to recognise, is a spiritual conflict that gives rise to persecution and other, less direct, difficulties.
There’s a temptation that comes at difficult times, to start thinking that we just can’t win.
But that’s a lie. We make the mistake of believing that the only view is our close perspective and our here-and-now sense of timescale. God works on an eternal scale. Where our efforts don’t appear to us to lift the darkness or bring God’s plan closer, they may be highly effective from heaven’s wider viewpoint. The fruit is not evident the moment the flowers have faded — it has to grow in its own time.
This can feel draining at times — and discouraging. And Satan will play on that discouragement. But Paul exhorts us:
We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
He reminds us that we do not always see all that is going on in the spiritual realm, nor can we measure what its eternal value may be:
Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:17-18
What Paul calls “light and momentary troubles” may not feel that way to us! He is using a bit of irony, to show us that God’s glory — the value to Him — brought by our faith and obedience is far greater and more enduring, than the pain we feel in the moment.
The bottom line is, the part of our lives spent in spiritual warfare with its opposition and pain and disappintment is a small part of our lives. The road has its unexpected twists and lurking potholes — but every hazard negotiated is progress to a destination. In Paul’s words:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.2 Corinthians 5:1
If our expectation is to experience heaven because we have trusted Jesus and are saved — that’s unrealistic. If we expect to enjoy His kingdom rule and reign now because we are His — we’ll have some disappointments. Both those ideas are true — but they do not take into account that we live in a fallen world with a thief who will try and steal God’s peace and goodness wherever he can get away with it. To be prayerfully vigilant is to drive carefully on a potholed road, knowing that some shocks are inevitable.
If we insist on making our expectations the yardstick, God will upset that quickly enough. He is not about to let His kingdom priorities be limited by what we feel comfortable with. Instead, we need to show our worship of Him by being willing to let the Holy Spirit help us to realign our expectations by choosing what He is showing us.