Theme: God loves us without favouritism, and that is His way for us
Image credit: Gail Davis, www.linkedin.com/pulse/favoritism-prejudice-mercy-james-21-13-gail-davis
Proverbs 22:1–2, 8–9, 22–23 » The principle of God’s impartial kindness
Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in a Gentile district is impartial in His ministry
James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially
SUMMARY The theme explores God’s lack of favouritism – and how we treat each other in that regard. Proverbs 22 lays down principles which the Mark 7 stories expand. Jews had little to do with non-Jews; Jesus, however, carried out a deliverance for a Syrian Gentile woman with a severely demonised child, and then performed another healing miracle in a largely Gentile Decapolis area. James’ teaching in the epistle reading challenges how impartial our response is, to someone coming to join in who is ‘not like us’ – in particular, whether we discriminate between the well-off and others. These Scriptures urge us to go beyond our human love with its social constraints and conditions, to love people with God’s impartial love.
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 »The principle of treating others impartially and with God’s kindness
The Lord’s way is to treat people of His creation evenly
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
To oppress the poor, who are made in God’s image, is to insult God himself. See Proverbs 14:31.
8–9 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken. The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
“Reaps calamity…will be blessed” – Scripture says much about the grace of God but also that all actions have consequences such that we reap what we sow; meanness and generosity of spirit both come back to us, but in opposite ways.
For further study, see Proverbs 11:25–26; 14:21; 19:17, Hosea 8:72; Cor. 9:6–10, Galatians 6:7.
22–23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
IN PRACTICE These verses set out God’s way which is to regard everyone without partiality – “God is no respecter of persons, meaning He does not show favouritism”, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6. God regards all who are His creation, even-handedly – and often chooses ‘outsiders’. Upholding this viewpoint, rather than the narrow, human perspective of our rights and entitlements to control and judge others, speaks plainly to us about how we judge others – or choose not to judge others. God’s ways are higher than our ways.
QUESTION We all fall into the trap of favouritism and judging others! What is an area of this attitude that the Holy Spirit is revealing to you?
Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in Gentile districts is impartial in His ministry
Ministry in Tyre and then the Decapolis delivers a Greek woman’s daughter and heals a deaf and dumb man
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep His presence secret.
“Tyre” – there was a Jewish community in the mainly Greek-speaking Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon who Jesus knew, Mark 3:8.
25–26 In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“She begged” – the sense is of asking repeatedly. She was a Gentile, compelled by her extreme need for her daughter, to ask help from a Jewish rabbi.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Children’s bread” – Jesus tests the woman’s faith in an exchange that was probably not as harsh-sounding as it is to us. “The children” are the Jewish people, “bread” is His message and “dogs” Gentiles. However “first” looks “the children” to Gentiles also receiving God’s grace.
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
The Passion Translation renders these verses, “Finally He said to her, ”First let my children be fed and satisfied, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.“ She answered, ”How true that is, Lord. But even puppies under the family table are allowed to eat the little children’s crumbs.“ Then Jesus said to her, ”That’s a good reply!”
29 Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
“Even puppies…are allowed…” – her reply to being compared to an unclean dog is humble but also persistent; the Good News may be for Jews first, Exodus 4:22, but others are included. She comes through the test demonstrating genuine faith.
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
“She went home” – this was a deliverance where there was no contact or even proximity with the suffering person.
For further study,
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place His hand on him.
The Decapolis, east of Galilee, was another Hellenistic, mainly Gentile region, like Tyre and Sidon, where Jews had resettled following the deportations.
33–35 After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
“Put his fingers” – Jesus uses sign language to tell the deaf man what He was doing for his hearing and also speech.
“Took him aside” – Jesus did not want to make the man a spectacle.
36–37 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
“Overwhelmed with amazement” – The crowd were attracted to someone they saw in terms of signs and wonders and possible political liberation. However Jesus needed His disciples and others to understand from the miracles who He was, a Messiah, vulnerable and without political might. He also wanted them to see beyond the healing of people’s physical disabilities, to their own spiritual blindness and deafness – and need.
IN PRACTICE Jesus’ ministry in Tyre was a ministry to Jewish settlers there – He didn’t seek out a Syrian Gentile woman with a pressing family situation and a demon or two to send packing. But He wasn’t about to dismiss her because she was not one of the ‘children’ Hhe was sent to. What a lesson for us! We may have a clear idea of who are ‘our’ sort of people – people we relate to, in our church or belonging to our denomination or whatever. And then there’s someone else who needs prayer, who needs help. Maybe they are Romany, or a DSS family with history or folk from a different culture. What stops us? Bits and pieces of discrimination and judgment clutter our thoughts but Jesus, who had a clear call and clear priorities, didn’t hold back His love. Neither should
QUESTION God is always testing us and taking us a bit outside our comfort zone. You probably have such a story, if you think about it. What did you learn from it?
James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially
God’s love is seen in us to the extent we love others just for who they are, not showing any favouritism.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.
“Favouritism” – Christ lived for 30 years in an undistinguished village and ministered in Galilee and Samaria, regions despised by Israel’s leaders, a strong statement about God’s impartiality.
2–4 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
“Meeting” – literally, ‘gathering’. At this time of
“A good seat… sit on the floor” – most in a synagogue would stand or sit cross-legged on the floor. There would be a few benches around the wall and in front, which the Pharisees considered theirs by entitlement, Mark 12:38–39.
5–7 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?
“Chosen… to inherit the kingdom” – God’s choosing is a combination of His calling and our response, into the sphere of salvation and the realm of Christ’s rule, the present sense of kingdom. God’s kingdom order confronts the world’s sense of priorities, Luke 6:20–23.
“The noble name” – literally, “who slander the noble name spoken over you,” meaning the ownership of Jesus Christ which we declare at conversion and baptism.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.
“Royal law” – or sovereign law i.e. one that is binding, quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Taken with the command to love God, Deut. 6:4–5 it encapsulates all the Law and Prophets as Jesus taught and Paul emphasised, Matt. 22:36–40, Romans 13:8–10.
9–10 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
“If you show” – more accurately, “since you show”, the form of the verb indicating it was
11 For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
“Lawbreaker” – Jewish religious teaching had reduced the law to a long series of injunctions which were held to be of varying importance, rather than a unified way of life of loving God and therefore others. James’ point to his readers is that they could not cherry-pick and claim to live for God.
12–13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives
Someone whose life does not show mercy and is judgmental, has clearly not received God’s mercy. The unredeemed will be judged for eternal hell, while those showing the evidence of God’s nature in new life – James assumes his readers are genuine believers – will be those with the assurance of receiving a different judgment, that of merciful freedom.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
“Claims to have faith” – but if not genuine saving faith is demonic, useless and dead, James 2:19,20,26. Can such ‘faith’, form without substance, save them? The implication is that it cannot. Intellectually accepting certain truths, without the step of trusting Jesus Christ as Saviour, is not the faith that justifies and saves.
15–17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Genuine faith and having God’s Spirit active within us is a spiritual condition that cannot help but produce actions that please God. James is in no way saying that a person is saved by their good works. He has clearly stated that salvation is a gracious gift from God that cannot be earned, James 1:17–18, see also Ephesians 2:8–9. He sets out plainly the danger of a kind of religiosity which is not sincere faith and which cannot save, above vv. 14 and 17, James 2:20, 24, 26 and see Jesus teaching e.g. Matt. 3:7–8, John 8:30–31.
“What good is it?” – this picture of false faith is like the illustration of false love in 1 John 3:17.
IN PRACTICE In a harsh and judgmental world, those who walk with Jesus and His Spirit are called to be different – and also empowered to live differently. Our call is simply to love others with God’s love. That’s more than a nice-sounding phrase. It means choosing not to apply man’s judgmental discriminations. It means accepting people as made in God’s Image. Most will be different. Many will be difficult for us. Their rejection of God may be overt. But God sent Jesus so that they could come back to Him and know Him personally. We are the impartial, non-judgmental guides He has put in place for them, serving under the royal law of love.
QUESTION If we are called to model God’s impartiality to others, what sort of being different would be good?
PRAYER Lord, in our humanness we judge others who are not like us and fall far short of having Your heart for them. Fill us with Your Spirit afresh to love with Your love and leave the judging to You because You are completely fair and impartial. Empower us to be reliable guides to others, showing the Way of Jesus and not our way. 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?
Theme: God’s power is seen in trusting Him faithfully in the face of opposition
Church calendar readings for Sunday, June 3, in Bible order
Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand, or reflect on Sunday’s teaching by looking at the Scriptures again.
1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience
Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition
2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew
1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience
• The Lord finds the person He can trust to hear and act on His message
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
“Not many visions” – with the sense that such as there were, were not widely known. Eli had perhaps forgotten, and Samuel never known, the experience of the Lord speaking.
2-3 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
The lamp… had not… gone out” – the seven-branched lamp had to be filled up with oil at nightfall and kept burning all night, Samuel’s duty for the elderly priest. This suggests a time before dawn.
4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
“Here I am” – Samuel hasn’t heard the Lord speak before, and his response is tested three times. He shows himself to be willing, even at nighttime, and gives the same response of others greatly used by God, Gen 22:1, 11; Exod 3:4; Isa 6:8.
5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
“Did not yet know” – The young boy was an apprentice priest, not a prophet (although that was about to change) and he did not know the Lord’s voice; he did not yet know the Lord in a personal relationship.
8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.
9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Samuel’s station was near the Ark of the Covenant, and if God chose to speak, that is where it would be expected to be heard.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
“The Lord… stood there” – this expression is used in a theophany appearance which is a visible manifestation of God to humans. God is Spirit but on occasion He creates appearance and also audible presence, as here
For further study, see Genesis 18:2, 28:13, Numbers 22:22
11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.
“Ears…tingle” – the language of disaster, later used of the foretold destruction of Jerusalem and Judah handed over by God to the Babylonians.
12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.
13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.
14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”
Eli’s sons’ actions were deliberate and rebellious and in their contempt of God amounted to blasphemy. Inadvertent sins of priests could be atoned for, but the guilt of defiant sin could not be removed, Numbers 15:30 (reflected also in Hebrews 10:26). Eli was responsible for their upbringing.
15-16 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.”
18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in his eyes.”
Eli had already received this word of judgment in detail from the unnamed ‘man of God’, 1 Sam. 2:27-36, which confirmed that the young Samuel had in fact heard from God.
19-20 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.
“Dan to Beersheba” – far north to far south.
Our situation is very much better than in Old Testament times. God has always spoken to His people, but back then it was only the righteous kings, priests and prophets who knew the Holy Spirit, and then not always. Samuel was chosen at a young age to be a leader of his people through hearing and being obedient to God.
If we have come into a relationship with Jesus, and particularly if we have made a regular practice of asking for the infilling of His Spirit, we can hear Him, often through His word. We have to quiet our own thoughts and other noise first.
Samuel heard God call him in the sanctuary in the quiet of night. How would you make it easy for God to speak to you?
Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition
• Following a miracle on the Sabbath there are plots to kill Jesus
2:23-24 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
“His disciples… began to pick…” The disciples, not Jesus. Harvesting (with a sickle) was one of 39 things prohibited on the Sabbath, but picking grains, Deut. 23:24-25, was allowed. Israel’s land was to be seen as the Lord’s.
25-26 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27-28 Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus is saying that He is Lord of the Sabbath – and possibly also, that it a matter for individual conscience.
3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there.
2-3 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
“Looking for a reason to accuse” – Jesus has already exposed the religiosity of the Pharisees and they react as those who feel threatened.
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
“They remained silent… stubborn hearts” – see similar synagogue confrontation recorded in Luke 13:10-17. Note that both this story and the grainfield one follow on in Mark from the ‘new wine needing new wineskins’ teaching, Mark 2:21-22. When the kingdom of God comes near, people are healed but religious inflexibility kicks back.
6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
For further study, see 11:18, 12:12, 14:1-2 and 10-11 in this gospel.
Here we have two views of what is good and proper on the Sabbath sharply contrasted. The disciples were simply doing what everyone was allowed to do, and the man with the disability had a legitimate need, but the problem for some was the Sabbath day and how it should be observed.
This highlights the tension which always arises when the rules of the religious framework, and the reality of what God is doing in His kingdom order, collide.
This passage needs to be read with the two preceding verses, Mark 2:21-22, included. Then we can begin to see the inflexible ‘religious spirit’ that can criticise a healing miracle because it occurs on a particular day, for what it is. If the Lord of the Sabbath also worked the miracle of restoring a disabled arm, on the Sabbath, surely that says something about how to keep a good sabbath! And there is teaching here to consider about how we position religious correctness with discerning the new wine of how God is moving His salvation into people’s lives.
What does this teaching about the Sabbath say to us, in a fast changing world?
= = = = = = =
2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew
• God’s power and human vulnerability go together, Paul explains
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
“Preach… not ourselves” – A mark of false teachers, then as now, is the need to prove themselves. Paul didn’t need to, and consistently presented a Jesus-centred message, Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 2:6, as one serving the churches and not as a spiritual overlord, 2 Cor. 1:24. To confess Jesus as our Lord is to say to other Christians that we are their servants, in the Lord’s service.
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
“Treasure in jars of clay” – the light that comes from knowing Jesus and seeing God’s glory in Him is rich treasure to share with others, but it is packaged in ordinary, rather unattractive containers (that’s us), which show by contrast the priceless nature of the gospel.
8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
“Hard pressed” – Paul backs this up with examples in 2 Cor. 11:23-33.
10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
“Carry… the death” – this is sharing in the painful mission of Jesus, Colossians 1:24, which is an honour.
11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
“Death is at work in us” – the way of bringing life and eternal life to others, was death for Jesus and Christian ministry and mission is Jesus-like. Paul reflects that bringing the life of Jesus and His Spirit puts him often at risk of death.
Not many of us have Paul’s kind of call or the readiness of those early believers to lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel. But do we subconsciously expect the Christian life to be a favoured and protected one?
For the born-again believer, both of these strands play out together. There is favour and God’s provision, not to mention knowing that we are loved and being sustained by the joy of the Lord that is our strength. But once we decide that Jesus Christ is our Lord and make that part of our life message, then we become targets for the enemy of our souls. There is spiritual attack, often from unexpected quarters, and persecution. The people we look to as giants of the faith all got pelted, with accusations and insults and in former days, more physical missiles.
Having any kind of authentic faith that can be seen by others puts us on a mission, and mission brings challenges. They are often ‘breaking experiences’ for us and our pride, but at the same time ‘breaking out’ experiences for others who see more clearly what Jesus has put in us.
When you are treated harshly in connection with who you are as someone who has made Jesus Lord of your life, is it fair? And why is that not the right question?
THURSDAY, APRIL 19
Peter and John have been brought before the court whose main prosecutors are those that condemned Jesus to death.
5-6 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family.
The Sanhedrin was the Jewish senate and its membership of 70 comprised the Saduccee temple hierarchy of the high priest dynasty, lay people of power and influence, and mainly Pharisee teachers of the law. Annas called himself high priest even though he had been deposed by the Romans more than 15 years earlier. Luke is at pains to show us that despite a wide representation, the power was in the hands of one aristocratic Sadduccee family, the same that had arraigned Jesus. In this context, Peter the fisherman’s defence is especially bold.
7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Peter and John were arrested because they were preaching and teaching about the Resurrection in the Temple precincts, Acts 4:1-3, Solomon’s colonnade where Jesus Himself had taught, John 10:23-24. The presence of the formerly disabled man as a witness (v.10), had rather overtaken the original reason. The Sadduccees were particularly angered because they did not believe in resurrection, which they did not consider to be found in Genesis to Deuteronomy, the only part of the Scriptures they recognised as authoritative. They were the focus of the early opposition to Christianity.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!
Peter addresses the two main groups, the minority Sadduccee priestly rulers, and the elders who included the teachers of the law and were the majority Pharisees.
Jesus had foretold exactly this kind of charge and the enabling of the Holy Spirit to answer in court, Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15.
9 “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed…
“Healed” – the same word as is used for “saved” in v.12. We use different words, including ‘delivered’, for what is God’s salvation received in different ways.
10 “…then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
Peter states formally and using the full name, that it is by the name of Jesus the witness is standing there healed.
“By the Name” – an allusion of God revealing Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:15 and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20:7. It is a provocative reminder that Jesus, the Messiah, is God – the One who the rulers especially, crucified and God raised from the dead.
11 “Jesus is
‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
A quotation from Psalm 118:22 which Jesus applied to Himself as Messiah, Luke 20:17, and which featured in the apostolic body of teaching, 1 Peter 2:7, together with other ‘stone sayings’ e.g. ‘living stones’.
12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Jesus is the One and the only One empowered by God to grant salvation to others. This is expressed elsewhere in the N.T. e.g. John 14:6, Hebrews 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:5. Understanding God to have exalted Jesus to His right hand, this position was unique and could not be shared.
This is an early-early-church model for three challenges that Christians meet today.
Firstly, the challenge of what to do when you see someone, not necessarily a person of any faith, who has a need, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you so you start to ‘see’ what God purposes. And it involves you! Bear in mind that Peter and John and the others would have seen this man lying by the Beautiful Gate and asking for money, every day. On this occasion, Peter sensed it was a ‘now’ time, and faith was rising in him for what he needed to do.
Secondly, the challenge of speaking out God’s purpose in faith. Peter may have prayed for this man’s needs to be met many times. No doubt others asked God to heal him. But now Peter was prompted to declare, rather than ask, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”, Acts 3:6-7. It’s not a formula. The challenge is to hear what the Lord is saying to say and do, and then do exactly that.
Thirdly, doing what the Lord says to do will bring opposition from religious people who would rather you did what they said to do, or what the order of the day says to do. Peter followed up this astounding miracle with a message to the people around, giving the glory fairly and squarely to Jesus who, he explained, had been put to death and then raised by God, as had been long foretold. In effect he said, “Jesus is alive! Here is the evidence”. So he and John were arrested and brought before the court the next day, trusting in Jesus’ promise that on arrest they would be given the words to say.
God wants to extend his kingdom rule and good order, and His means for doing it is us, in obedience and trust. It can be a bumpy road – the shadow of death even – but He enters into this with us, with His goodness and mercy. That’s the kingdom of God.
For reflection and discussion
Should you be ready to minister in the name of Jesus, or should you leave that sort of thing to a ‘professional’?