These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“… the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart;” (13: 14) RSV
David had a heart that pleased God. He may have been a rogue in several ways e.g. an adulterer, a murdered and a poor father! but he had a big heart, loved the Lord, was courageous, and attempted great things for God. It does seem that God (and Jesus) is more impressed by faith and love than by holiness. Now don’t get me wrong. God is not mocked and cannot stand sin. He hates divorce and he hates injustice. But most of all he hates unbelief and small-mindedness.
David was chosen because he was ‘childlike’. He was not tall like his predecessor, Saul. But he was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome” (1 Samuel 16:12). A few verses earlier it says that the Lord looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. It’s the heart that God is interested in. David’s heart shone through his eyes. Do we love, do we feel compassion, do we get angry over injustice? God wants to give us a new heart (see Explore More).
David’s kingship was, however, one of war. Fights have to be fought. There will always be wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6). And Christian kings may have to initiate or take part in them. They will however never bring in the Kingdom of Heaven, but they are part of God’s plan for restricting and restraining evil (Romans 13:4).
But because David was a military king he was not the right man to build the Temple. There are different rulers for different times, different horses for different courses. David established the kingdom of Israel 3000 years ago, and did so through force of arms. But it was his son, Solomon, who was to build the centre of religion, the Temple.
What sort of leadership are you called to? Let us accept the way God has made us and accept the purpose for which he has made us; we cannot do everything, but we should do something.
Father, thank you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. May I accept myself (except for my sinful heart) and live to the full the life you have given me. Amen.
“… he has also rejected you from being king” (v. 23) RSV
The Lord raises up and the Lord brings down. As Paul says, “… there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1). God chose and anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. He was a promising choice; he was head and shoulders taller than other men (1 Samuel 9:2). “The spirit of the Lord (came) mightily upon (him)” (1 Samuel 10:6), and he received “another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9).
In other words, despite his bashful and insecure nature (e.g. hiding in the baggage – 1 Samuel 10:22) he was fully equipped by God to do the job. The sad thing is that most of the time he fell back into his old nature and ruled from weakness and fearfulness. This made him overbearing and erratic. Eventually his self-serving rule was summed up by his mentor, Samuel, “… you have rejected the word of the Lord,” (v.23).
God may exalt a person, but if that person forsakes God’s reign in his or her life, then in due course God will reject them from their ministry. And so it was in the case of Saul, “… he (God) has rejected you from being king” (v.23). God’s rejection may come in many and various ways, but in Saul’s case he took his own life (1 Samuel 31:4).
While Saul was alive David remained as far as possible loyal. Even when faced twice! (Samuel 24:3-4 and 26:8) with an apparently god-given opportunities to kill him, and yet he said: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he i the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6).
David, who was to be Saul’s successor, was concerned that he also might be rejected from his kingship. Sometimes he had good reason to think that! But he prayed: “Take not your Holy Spirit from your servant” (Psalm 51:11).
In other words the anointing with oil to be king might be removed together with his kingship. We must learn not to live by our old, weak human nature, but to live by the new heart God gives us, and by the power of his Holy Spirit. Then we shall fulfil our ministry and please him.
Forgive me Lord when I act out of my sinful, weak and selfish human nature. Renew a right spirit within me and strengthen me to live, and lead your way. Amen.
Who was the king of kings? Was it Pharaoh? He was the mighty force at the time. He had absolute power and was revered as a god. Slaves built him cities and pyramids. He could have anyone executed instantly at his word. He had a mighty army that could crush any other country that dared to threaten.
And yet was he ultimately in control? Each time that Moses performed one of the signs (e.g. turning the waters of the Nile to blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, etc), it is recorded that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (Exodus 8:15, 8:19, 9:7). But in due course you may note it was the Lord God who “hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9:12, 9:34-35, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8).
Despots, dictators and autocratic kings may believe that they and their power, even their ‘divine right of kings’, gives them total control. They forget that there is a God in heaven who is king over all. Pharaoh could not resist the power of Moses with his words and his mighty signs. Pharaoh may have thought that his heart and his will were his own, but he was wrong.
That is why it records that God said of Pharaoh: “… for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16).
We need to be encouraged that though unjust and oppressive regimes may exist for a while, in due course God will bring them down. Until he does, there seems little else the crushed people can do except to cry out to the Lord for vengeance and salvation.
Lord God, sovereign over all things and all rulers, bring down all oppressors and strengthen the oppressed. Thank you where you have given good government. Amen.
Through the following weeks we will be considering different kings and rulers who have adopted very different styles of leadership. From them we can learn good and bad leadership. We can also learn how to behave when we are under good or bad leaders.
Today we see the leader of leaders, Jesus Christ. He is the archetypal leader: “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (v.15). As Graham Kendrick’s song goes: “He is the servant king.” He does not lord it over others. He does not dominate by force, but leads by example. Though he is sovereign he does not use force, but wins by love.
When he stood on trial before Pilate he said, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world my servants would fight …” (John 18:36). Jesus was not saying that his kingship had nothing to do with this world! He was saying that his source of power and authority was not provided by this world e.g. swords and spears. His weapons were (as Paul would say) spiritual, not carnal (see 2 Cor. 10:4). Jesus ruled and rulers by Prayer, by the Word and by the Spirit. By these means he wins people’s hearts and minds. They are captivated by love, not by fear and coercion.
He instructed his disciples that their leadership should be like his, not like worldly rulers. He said, “… whoever would be great among you must be your servant … for the son of man came to serve, and to give his life …” (Mark 10:44-45).
Whatever position of leadership we are in, whether in our family or at work or in our church, we need to follow in the steps of our Lord and Master. We are always in it for the good of those ‘under’ us, and not for our own benefit. Of course there are privileges that go with leadership, but our motivation is costly service for the good of others.
Thank you Lord, for your humble service and sacrifice. I pray for my attitude to others, and I pray for those in leadership in our church and government. Amen.
So often the demands of our God might at first seem a bit of a bind. We would rather do something else. However, as ever, to follow the rules of life is not only a blessing to others, but it is also a blessing to ourselves. God is no man’s debtor; we cannot out-give God.
Abraham had been waiting for 24 years to have a son and heir. He was now desperately old and so was his wife, Sarah. When he was sitting under an oak tree three unknown visitors arrived. Abraham’s immediate reaction was to press them to stay and to offer hospitality. The results of this were that he and his wife received a prophetic word assuring them that within a year they would be parents!
Similarly, when the two who were returning to Emmaus after the crucifixion were met by a stranger, they entered into deep and fascinating conversation. When they arrived at their home the stranger made as if to go on, but they pressed him to stay (Luke 24:28-29). As a result of this they saw him break bread and their eyes were opened to behold the risen Christ. What a blessing!
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews also gives one of the benefits of loving our neighbour (especially strangers and needy people). He writes: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). He may well have been referring to the visitation of the three emissaries sent by God to Abraham (vv.1,2).
If we do not love our neighbour as Jesus loved us, then our heart shrinks and we start to live only for ourselves and our family. But as we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves, who knows what benefits will follow or what doors may open? So let us widen our boundaries and expand our loving.
Thank you Lord for my neighbour. May I love each one, just as you love me, for your name’s sake. Amen.
1 What benefit did Rahab the harlot receive for hiding the spies?
If forgiveness (see last week) is one of the hallmarks of good neighbourliness, hospitality is the other. How do we show people the love of God? We welcome them into our homes and (probably) feed them. God welcomes us into his household and he spreads before us a heavenly banquet.
Many people are hospitable and give feasts, but that is not necessarily reflective of God’s hospitality. For instance, Dives (the rich man) gave feasts every day (Luke 16:19), and in today’s reading Jesus was dining “at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees” (Luke 14:1). However, Jesus castigated him for inviting only his friends and honoured guests (v.12).
God’s hospitality is given to the unloved and the unlovely, to the poor and outcast (v.13). Jesus said elsewhere: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Now this kind of hospitality or outreach may not seem very attractive. We tend to feel the Church needs the rich and the talented, so that we become strong and effective in reaching out. But God has always chosen the despised in this world. As Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
Hospitality is sharing what we have with others, it may be board and lodging, a cup of coffee, time to chat, or a word of guidance. But one way or another it takes the other person seriously and pours out loving kindness in their direction. We can all do it; we are all called to do it. We are not meant to keep God’s love for those who already have it; it is “for its non-members” (Archbishop Temple).
Give me a generous heart, O Lord, and a care for the lost and lonely in this world. Amen.
One of the most priceless gifts we can give to a friend, or even an enemy, is forgiveness. The word ‘forgiveness’ has ’give’ at the heart of it. Indeed the ‘for(e)’ part of it means ‘before’. In other words the word means ‘giving beforehand’. The offender cannot give anything to us until we have first given forgiveness to him. This act cannot be earned, it arises from our mercy and generosity of spirit. They say ‘sorry’ and we say ‘I forgive you’.
This is the way to bring reconciliation. There was a film many years ago that included the catch phrase “Love is not having to say you’re sorry.” I think this is an error. To brush things under the carpet is not to deal with them satisfactorily. The offence has to be acknowledged and the forgiveness clearly given.
Forgiveness should be our heart’s disposition even before any repentance has been expressed by the other person. Remember how Jesus said as he was being nailed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); well, that was forgiving before they asked.
But to forgive before the other person acknowledges their guilt and repents cannot restore relationship, although of course it will do us good by keeping our heart soft and pliable. Reconciliation can only take place when both parties desire it. Even then forgiveness is costly. We have to absorb the pain, offence or whatever has been done against us. Again, we follow our Master when we do this, for he absorbed the cost of our rejection and rebellion and it cost him his life!
He also forgives us again and again. His hope in us is undiminished. That is why he told Peter (and of course it applies equally to us) that we are to forgive each time it is genuinely sought. ‘Seventy times seven’ (v.22) can only mean times without number. Do we love our neighbour?
Lord, you have forgiven me so often, time without number. Help me to have that same attitude in my relationships. Amen.
“let us not love in word … but in deed” (v.18) RSV
Words are comparatively un-costly to utter. It is too easy to offer platitudes or good advice. It is something very different to get involved, to get our hands dirty and to put our hands in our own pockets. Our reading starkly condemns anyone who does not give practical help when they have the wherewithal to do so.
John tells us that however much we think we love God, we manifestly cannot do so if our hearts are hard and uncompassionate when face to face with need. Yes, we may agree. But what do we do when confronted with too much need; we haven’t got the wherewithal to meet all the need so how do we know which to respond to and which to ignore?
I believe the answer remains theoretical until we start to help. The main thing is to start to help one person, and then take it from there. Even Jesus did not meet the needs of everyone in Israel, but only those who came to him. Even then he might leave the crowd and go off alone to pray.
What we have to beware of is failing to respond at all to any need. James gives a similar warning when he writes: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-17). If we are tempted only to say, “I will pray for you”, when in fact we could do something practical to help, then we fall into this very trap.
It matters not whether people are being good neighbours to us, as it is our privilege and our duty as followers of Jesus to take the initiative and be good neighbours to them. As we pray for someone or listen to their need, let us try to hear if there is something we should be doing to help them. God has done so much for us, what can we do for him?
Thank you Lord for those who have helped me, especially for your care for me. May I too learn to love others in a real and practical way. Amen.
1 Who would not offer something that cost him nothing?
“Love your enemies and pray for (them)” (v.44) RSV
The Sermon on the Mount makes very uncomfortable reading. In this week’s portion we read of Jesus quoting what was being taught in his day: “Hate your enemy” (v.43). The religion of his time was based on justice and fair play, otherwise known as “an eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38). This had been a vast improvement over the days before Moses, when retaliation could far exceed the original crime. It was more like, a life for a tooth! Moses was therefore improving the situation by inculcating fairness and parity.
Jesus was now raising the benchmark again. No longer was justice the way people should live, but instead there should be mercy. This was the way God treated humans. If we were dependant on his justice then we would all be lost. But because of his love, mercy and grace we are forgiven and restored. “Whilst we were yet sinners (i.e. enemies of God) Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words we did not deserve it; it was the grace of God.
Since God has so loved us, we are now required to do the same. It is comparatively easy to love someone who loves us; it is far harder to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.44). Yes, our loving God is requiring us to love all people – not all people in general, but each person in particular!
This love is sadly not natural to most of us. There comes a point, sooner or later, when our love runs out. This is why we first need to have experiences and receive the love of God. Was it not Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, who was told, “She loves much because she has been forgiven much (Luke 7:47)? When we know that we are loved (despite not deserving it) then we will find the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit is “love” (Galatians 5:22). Only God can teach us to love the unlovely from our hearts.
Lord, I want to be more like Jesus. Fill me with your abounding love, that I may show that love to others. Amen.
“Who is my neighbour?” (v.29) asked the lawyer. His original question had been how to be sure he was going to inherit eternal life. Jesus recited the two great commandments (the first from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18). The lawyer was anxious that he would be able to fulfil these two prerequisites (love the Lord and love your neighbour) for entrance into heaven.
He therefore wanted to verify that his understanding of the Jewish law was correct. His neighbour was surely limited to fellow Jews. Did not the Law command that one should hate one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43)? But Jesus was going to have none of it. His story of the Good Samaritan revealed that not only was anyone in need who came across our path our neighbour, but that the greater question was, are we being a good neighbour?
The story illustrated that the Priest and the Levite were too fearful or too busy to be moved by compassion. They both noticed the need of the beaten up man. The “man” (v.30), incidentally, was of no particular ethnicity or creed; he was simply a helpless victim. The story goes on to show that a Samaritan (neither Jew nor Gentile, but a half-caste) showed more natural compassion than God’s ‘chosen people’.
Jesus seemed less concerned with which group people belonged to, than whether the love of God was evidenced in their lives. It should have been taken for granted that God’s special and chosen people should have been the best exemplars of God’s love. Sadly then, as now, that is so often not the case.
The definition of ‘our neighbour’ from the story is someone whom we come across who is in need and whom we can help. This doesn’t include everybody who is in need, but it brings it down to the particular person whom God puts under our nose.
Lord, may I embrace each opportunity to show your love to those who need what I can give. Amen.
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v.31) RSV
The two commandments that Jesus gave to sum up the Old Testament law were: a) to love God with our whole being, and b) to love our neighbour as our self. We cannot of course fulfil the second, unless we fulfil the first. And we cannot fulfil the first, if we are not fulfilling the second!
In other words, we do not have the love of God with which to love our neighbour, unless we are loved by and love God. As we walk with our God so we are able to fulfil the commandment to love our neighbour: his love is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).
Conversely, if we think we love God and yet are not loving our neighbour, then we are deceiving ourselves (1 John 3:17). The way that we show that we genuinely love God is by loving our neighbour “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
We cannot give if we have not received. We cannot give what we do not have. If we do not love ourselves then we cannot love others. Maybe we have never been loved. How then can we fulfil this great command? The answer lies in the love of God. Once we start to understand how much he loves us, and that he accepts us as we are, then we shall find that same love starting to work through us to others.
This is why Jesus gave us a “new commandment” (John 13:34). This new commandment deepened the original commandment (Leviticus 19:18) that he had quoted. Now the requirement is: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This love, in the words of Ignatius, is “to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”
Let us resolve to love God, not only face to face, but by loving others, for he loves them too.
Teach me, O Lord, to love others, whoever they are, with the love with which you love me. Amen.
“I have fought the good fight … I have kept the faith.” (v. 7) RSV
Paul was never less than 100% in whatever he did. As a Pharisee he was more zealous than any of his peers, and as a Christian he put most to shame in his missionary zeal. That is why when in prison and believing that his execution must be near he was able to say, “I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” No doubt he had many regrets and sins, but he knew the Lord had forgiven them.
He was consequently able to look forward with eager longing to his reward. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness … “ (v.8). This reward is not for him only but “also for all who have loved his appearing.” (v.8).
When we reach old age, and perhaps are weak or infirm, we can feel that we are a burden on others and a fairly useless addition to this world. If we have a faith we may long to die and go to be with the Lord which, as St Paul said, is “far better” (Philippians 1:23). But we are in our mortal coil and must continue to rejoice every day. Our very weakness may be an opportunity for others to serve. Our agedness is not our fault. If we can’t hear, can’t remember and repeat ourselves, it is not our fault. It may be extremely humbling, but we must not let it become humiliating.
King David must have been tempted to despise himself when in old age, the beautiful ‘hot water bottle’, Abishag, failed to arouse him (1 Kings 1:3-4). But David could look back over a life of many achievements. His Lord would not abandon him. And then there was Peter. He was told by Jesus that in his old age, “another will gird you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Each of the 7 ages has its joys and difficulties. Nevertheless, the Lord is constant and he always teaches us to rejoice.
Lord, grant me to be content, even in old age. Amen.