Averted

I. Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the life of David in 2 Samuel, and today we’re in 2 Samuel 20. This lesson was challenging to me at first. I reached out to Chris and a pastor here at Second for help, but what God would say to us wasn’t entirely clear to me.

II. Disgruntled Joab

So first let’s look at our scripture today and gain an understanding of what’s happening. Our cast for today’s episode consists primarily of Sheba, Amasa, Joab and David. We’ve met David and Joab in our previous studies, but two of these names are new.

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Joab was a remarkable nephew of David, a son of David’s sister Zeruiah. Zeruiah had 3 sons who each have a role in today’s scripture. The oldest is Abishai, then comes Joab, and the youngest was Asahel.

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We first met Joab when Ishbosheth, “Man of Shame,” had assumed the throne, propped up by Abner, even though both of them knew that David had been selected by God to be the king of Israel. At a showdown between David’s army and Ishbosheth’s army, Abner tried to flee, but Joab’s youngest brother Asahel chased him down. At the last second, Abner turned and thrust his spear into Asahel, instantly killing him. Joab has just lost his youngest brother.

In a short while, a truce is called, and Abner agrees as part of this truce to serve David. When Abner walks into the city gates to assume his role under David, however, Joab assassinates him, revenge for killing his younger brother.

Sure, Joab was in charge of David’s army, and helped David win many battles, but David was afraid of him. Far too often, Joab served the king in his Joab’s way, took matters into his own hands, and was ruthless about his revenge. In 2 Samuel 3:39, David says,

“I am the chosen king, but Joab and Abishai have more power than I do. So God will have to pay them back for the evil thing they did.”

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A few weeks ago, we studied about the insurrection of Absalom. He’s the arrogant but pretty son of David with a great head of hair. Joab was still David’s commander at this time. David had asked Joab to put down the revolution of Absalom, but be gentle with Absalom himself. After all, Absalom was still David’s son. Joab wasn’t gentle, though; when Absalom got his hair caught in the branches, Joab went to see him and threw three spears into body of Absalom to kill him.

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David was unhappy with Joab’s actions, and when he went to talk to Joab about it, Joab rebuked David for mourning over his son. After all, his son had tried to overthrow David. Chris did a masterful job last week talking about David’s flaws and Chris’s failure to get straight A’s in French, and how David’s army absolutely slaughtered Absalom’s army. It’s like Joab was saying, “David! Man-up and stop grieving. You won the battle! Yeah, I killed your son, get over it already.”

Eventually, David had to remove Joab from his position as the commander of Israel’s army. He had to – Joab would win battles, sure, but he outright assassinated Abner and then killed David’s son who was hanging helpless from a tree. David chose another nephew, Amasa, son of a different sister of David’s, to lead his army. Amasa and Joab were cousins to each other.

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This didn’t sit well with Joab. Besides being rivals and cousins, Amasa had led Absalom’s army when Absalom had tried to overthrow David. Joab considered Amasa a traitor, while David considered Amasa as far easier to work with than Joab had been.

III. The Failed Revolution of Sheba

Anyway, David had successfully put down the insurrection of Absalom with Joab’s help, but lost his son Absalom when Joab killed him. Joab gets pushed out of his role as commander of the Israeli army, now headed by Joab’s cousin Amasa, who Joab hates. Y’all got all that, who hates who?

And David’s troubles aren’t over. Absalom had almost succeeded in his revolt, but a man named Sheba, a distant relative of Saul, sees an opportunity. Which brings us to our scripture today in 2 Samuel 20:1-2,

Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,
“We have no share in David,
no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, Israel!”

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So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. But the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

If it isn’t one revolution, it’s another. Sheba manages to incite a great many people to follow him, though David still successfully rules Judah and Jerusalem. David then calls to his commander – no, not Joab, that other commander, Amasa, and told him to gather the troops in verse 4,

Then the king said to Amasa, “Summon the men of Judah to come to me within three days, and be here yourself.”

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Amasa might have been in charge, but that doesn’t mean he was any good at his job. Verse 5 says,

But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.

I image David sitting at the window, checking his watch, and saying, “Where *is* that Amasa? He should have been here by now. We have an insurrection to go to that starts at 7.”

After 3 days, David tells Joab’s older brother – not Joab, but the Joab’s remaining brother Abishai– to take whatever troops are left and go after Sheba. No telling where Amasa is with the main regiment of troops. Verse 6-7,

David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bikri will do us more harm than Absalom did. Take your master’s men and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities and escape from us.” So Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. They marched out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.

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So along the way, Abishai and Joab head after Sheba, when they run into Amasa. Amasa had apparently found some rocks to stand around, I don’t really know what he was doing there, and Joab sees his opportunity to do evil:

While they were at the great rock in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Joab was wearing his military tunic, and strapped over it at his waist was a belt with a dagger in its sheath. As he stepped forward, it dropped out of its sheath.
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died.

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Joab and Abishai started out on their original mission, which was to pursue Amasa, but there’s a problem: there’s a dead body in the middle of the road:

Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri.
One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!” Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the road, and the man saw that all the troops came to a halt there. When he realized that everyone who came up to Amasa stopped, he dragged him from the road into a field and threw a garment over him. After Amasa had been removed from the road, everyone went on with Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.

Does this seem callous to any of you? It does to me. But wait, the callousness is not yet over. Joab and Abishai arrive at a little town called Abel Beth Maaka. There’s a city wall, protecting the city, and Joab builds a ramp and starts battering the wall down. A woman inside the walls comes out and says, “Who’s making all the racket? You kids better stop with all that noise! You kids get off my lawn!” Here’s the verses, 2 Samuel 20:14-19,

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Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maakah and through the entire region of the Bikrites, who gathered together and followed him. All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah. They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” He went toward her, and she asked, “Are you Joab?”
“I am,” he answered.
She said, “Listen to what your servant has to say.”
“I’m listening,” he said.
She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?”

Joab responds, “Who, me?” I just want to kill Sheba.

The wise woman answers, “Oh, is that all you want? Well, we can cut off his head and toss it over the wall for you, if you’d like.”

Joab replies, “That’ll be fine, have a nice day.” You might think I’m making this exchange up, but that’s the way I read it.

“Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bikri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.”
The woman said to Joab, “His head will be thrown to you from the wall.”
Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.

So what’s the moral of the story?

I confess, I read this section several times, studied, prayed… I asked advice from a pastor here who told me not to lose my head about it. Really.

There are no good guys in this story, no moral high ground. To me just a bunch of people doing their own thing, not trusting in the Lord, reaping the repercussions of their decision. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.” Maybe that’s what’s going on.

IV. The Sword Will Never Leave David’s House

Or on the other hand, step back and look at the big picture. We have to go all the way back 2 Samuel 12. Chris did an excellent lesson on confession and transgressions and Psalm 32 and a study of David’s infidelity with Bathsheba, as well as forgiveness and the promise of eternal salvation if we are faithful and confess our sins. And Theresa taught us about grief and one of the phrases in her handout struck me, it said,

When we do not obey God, grief with guilt and consequences will be the canvas where the episodes of our life will be played out.

Even though David is not a big part of today’s scripture, we are seeing that in force in today’s scripture. When David had Uriah the Hittite murdered, Nathan’s prophecy to David was in 2 Samuel 12:9-10, the Lord said,

Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

The sword will never depart from your house. David was guilty of a great many things, and when Nathan confronted David about it, David confessed that he had sinned. I think that’s one of the many reasons David was a man after God’s own heart – David’s first response wasn’t, “but he deserved it” or “I deserve this,” but “I have sinned.”

And the Lord is quick to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t erase the repercussions. Christians cannot rob a bank and expect they will avoid jail time. Christians cannot drink to excess and expect that they will avoid cirrhosis of the liver. All sins have consequences, even seemingly minor ones such as gossip. Has anybody here ever gossiped? And that’s not everyone, at least that’s not what I heard.

I was thinking about these after meeting a couple on the beach recently. My wife, being a people person, does an excellent job of starting a conversation and turning it to theological questions. We were just walking by and I don’t remember why we stopped to talk. The couple apparently had been having a discussion about religion. She was Catholic and telling the man that he had to go to church to go to heaven, and going to church with her was probably necessary if they were going to continue dating. He was working on probably his 3rd or 4th beer of the morning, saying that Jesus loved everybody and so he was going to heaven even if he didn’t go to church. True story.
And then somehow we got involved. I just wanted to pick up seashells and dip my toes in the sand.

I don’t remember the nuances of the conversation. I’m pretty sure I took the position that there was some truth in what each of them were saying. For her benefit, I told her that only by placing her faith in Jesus as her Messiah would she be saved, that church attendance had nothing to do with salvation. Nor were there any works necessary to minimize purgatory, that Jesus told the thief on the cross that today he would be with Jesus in heaven, not stop in Purgatory on the way.

For his benefit, I told him how Jesus said many would say to him, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus would reply, “Away from me, I never knew you.” And this is where the discussion got odd. He told me of course he knew Jesus, so Jesus must know him.

So I explained that Jesus meant something deeper than a passing acquaintance, that you had to place your trust in him. And he replied that’s exactly what he was doing, he just didn’t need to go to church or read the bible to make that happen.

So then I explained from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that our earthly works that did not further God’s kingdom would be burned, but the man would himself would be saved, he’d have that singed smell like a leftover campfire, and that our works that furthered the kingdom of God would be turned into crowns that we would then throw at the feet of Jesus.

He asked, well, what if he didn’t get a crown? I replied, well I suppose you’d at the back of the crowd, empty handed, wishing you had a crown to worship Jesus with.
He said, “I’d still be saved, though, right? I just wouldn’t have a crown?” And I said, “Yeah, probably, something like that.” He took another sip of beer and said, “I’m ok with that.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with that. My unexpressed opinion was that one could not possibly love Jesus without a desire to get to know Him better, but I realized how much of my life had been spent in just that state, trusting in Jesus, too lazy to get to know Him better.

One thing we did not discuss, though, ties into our scripture, how the sword will never leave the house of David. Or what I consider a related scripture, Exodus 34:7 (and multiple other places in scripture),

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Sins just don’t affect us. They affect those around us, they affect our children, they affect our children’s children. I was asked recently why God punishes our children for things we do, but that’s not really a good question. God doesn’t punish our children, and God makes this clear in scripture like Ezekiel 18:20,

“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

We are all responsible for our own sins, whose wages are death. But that doesn’t mean that others aren’t affected. It’s especially visible when a pastor sins – after all, pastors are people, and all have sinned. I used to read bible studies and listen to podcasts from the Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington. The church had grown to over 12,000 people attending weekly and was considered a role model for evangelism and emerging churches.

But then the pastor published a book, and then used church money to buy all the copies of the book so the book would skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Pastors and congregation objected, considered it unethical, and the resulting notoriety had people looking into the actual book itself which turned out to have large sections plagiarized from other pastors. When confronted, the Mars Hill pastor went on the offensive and bullied his staff that disagreed with him. Within a year, the church – a megachurch – had disbanded and is no more. One man’s sin of pride had repercussions that affected thousands.

But God’s not punishing the congregation, no. But they are impacted by another’s sin.
Same thing in the house of David. David’s heart may have been for God, but he had plenty of actions that brought calamity upon his house. Sons that rebelled, sons that tried to overthrow him. David’s inconsistent role model set a poor example that brought collateral damage on his household, and the sword never left the house of David.
Joab probably looked at the life of David and saw an adulterer and a murderer who got away with his crimes. As a result, Joab probably saw nothing wrong with murdering David’s son Absalom, and then murdering his cousin Amasa, all to regain his position as commander of the Israeli army. And why not? David had Uriah murdered, didn’t he?

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V. Conclusion

I read no scripture when studying for this lesson that Joab had a strong faith in God, or any faith at all for that matter. He was a power hungry egomaniac with murderous intentions. He was certainly impacted by the sins of David, but David, despite his many flaws, loved the Lord. As a result of his love for the Lord, his eternal destination was secure. It was his temporal, earthy life that was so tumultuous. The sword never left his house, and family and friends alike were killed.

Our sins have repercussions. We are forgiven, for sure. When we enter the kingdom of heaven, God promises to separate us from our sins as far as the east is from the west. They are buried in the sea and forgotten.

But friends and family, children and grandchildren, are certainly left to deal what we leave behind, just as we are dealing with the sins of our parents and grandparents. None of us are perfect.

A quick look now at Romans 6:23,

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Have you ever noticed that we earn death, but eternal life is a gift? Our father in heaven loves us despite our many flaws and sins and freed us from the penalty of sin.

Praise be to our Father in heaven for the gift of life we do not deserve, and freedom from the death we do deserve.

To God be the glory. Amen.

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Deposed

I. Introduction

We’re studying the life of David as told through the book of 2 Samuel, and when we get to today’s chapter 15, things are a mess in the kingdom.

Of course, God knows everything, and he told the people of Israel the kingdom would be a mess. Way back in 1 Samuel 8, when the prophet Samuel was still alive, the people asked for a king. The motivation of the people? 1 Samuel 5b,

“now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

All the other cool nations have a king, we want one, too. Samuel tried to talk them out of it with sound doctrine: Samuel said you already have a king, the Lord God. But the people continued to protest. Samuel warned the people the king would draft their husbands into the army and take a tenth of everything they owned. And also warned the people in 1 Samuel 8:18,

“When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Slide3Well, that day has come, and kingdom is a mess, and the people finally have their prayers answered, like it or not.

II. The Sword Will Never Depart

While King David may have been a brilliant warrior and a man after God’s own heart, David’s family life was a mess. David had many wives and concubines and at least 19 sons and 1 daughter that I could find in the scriptures. This set up a power struggle within David’s family since only 1 son could inherit the throne when David passed on.

Early on as a king, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, and worse, then tries to cover it up by having her husband Uriah murdered. When the prophet Nathan confronts David, David repents of his sin. And like each one of us, when we repent of our sins to the Lord, the Lord is just and merciful and forgives us of those sins. However, the Lord also tells us that in this life, we are responsible for the sins we commit, and we bear the consequences of those sins. Somebody that robs a bank, for instance, may come to Christ while in prison. But that doesn’t mean his jailers are going to open the doors and set him free. His freedom from his sin comes in the next life, and he may freely lay that burden down at the feet of Jesus. Here are the verses on forgiveness and consequences addressed to David in 2 Samuel 12:10-14. The Lord said to David through the prophet Nathan –

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Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

Slide6.JPGOur scripture today centers on the 3rd son of David, named Absalom. Ironically, Absalom’s name comes from the Hebrew meaning “father of peace,” and Absalom most definitely didn’t live up to his name. Absalom instead was central to the prophecy that the sword would never depart from the house of David.

The trouble started a few chapters back, when another son Amnon violated his half-sister Tamar as Theresa taught us last week on a wonderful lesson about grieving and the consequences of sin. Absalom, furious about this violation to his sister, waited two years and then setup an ambush to kill Amnon, then Absalom flees to Geshur and goes into hiding for three years.

David is, of course furious at Absalom, but eventually David’s heart begins to thaw. Absalom may have killed David’s son Amnon, but Absalom, too, is David’s son. David has Absalom brought back to Jerusalem, but it still takes another two years before David is willing to look at Absalom face to face.

III. Absalom the Demagogue

But Absalom aspired to ascend to the throne. He’s the oldest surviving son and heir to the throne, but Absalom is impatient and full of pride. One bible study commentary called Absalom a “demagogue.” Now, I confess my vocabulary limitations here. I don’t know how many stories or newspaper articles that called somebody a demagogue, and I guess I’ve always been too lazy to look up the definition. Well, no more. According to Random House Unabridged Dictionary,

Demagogue, noun, [dem-uh-gog, -gawg]
a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.

Slide7Or as another put it,

One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.Slide8

David might have been a mighty warrior, but Absalom was pretty. He’s described in 2 Samuel 14:25-26,

In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.

Two hundred sheckels is about 5 pounds of hair. I tried to find a picture of what 5 pounds of hair looks like for an illustration, and the closest I could find was this –

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Source.

This is only 3.5 pounds of hair, so Absalom had even more. And Absalom spent his days campaigning for the hearts of the people. Look at 2 Samuel 15:1-6,

In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.

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So Absalom would greet the people and tell them that of course they are right, and whatever dispute they have should be settled in their favor. It’s flattery and pandering, but people are so swayed when they hear the words they want to hear. Reminds of me 2 Timothy 4:3,

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

And when anybody bowed down to Absalom as though he were a king, he’d take their hand and kiss them. And the people loved him for it.

IV. Absalom the King

Absalom did this for four years, about as long as the typical presidential election cycle, winning the hearts and minds of the people and undermining David’s rule by implying David wasn’t doing a good job. And after four years, Absalom made his move to overthrow David. 2 Samuel 15:7-10,

At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’”
The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.
Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’”

Slide13And so the coup, the overthrown of King David by his own son Absalom begins. I note here that Absalom is using a religious pretext to begin the revolution. As far as David knew, this was going to be a religious feast in Hebron, but Absalom used religion as a cover for his sins.

As soon as Absalom was ready, the trumpets sound and the messengers quickly spread the word: “Absalom is king and reigns in Hebron!” The war has begun. Knowing that the first move in overthrowing the kingdom is to kill the old king, David moves quickly in verse 14,

Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

Slide14David brings his personal bodyguards, and abdicates the throne. David is protecting the inhabitants because he knows that Absalom will kill everybody in resistance. Who will fight for David? The hearts of Israel were with that pretty demagogue from Hebron, Absalom.

But David has a miraculous army provided to him. David has visitors from out of town, 600 Gittites led by Ittai. David tells Ittai, sorry about the mess but you know how children are, why, just look at this place, and I’m sorry it’s time for you to go in 2 Samuel 15:19-21,

The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”
But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

Slide15I find this interesting, David is the true king of Israel, but rejected by his people. The Gittites are gentiles, people outside Israel, that rally to the king with devotion. Like Jesus, rejected by His own as the true king of Israel. And like the Gittites, we are the gentiles that form the church that follow Him. Ittai of the Gittites expresses a commitment that should be a model for all Christians. “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

David goes to the Mount of Olives and weeps for Absalom, his son. All those years of his son being in exile, and the beginnings of a reconciliation, but not once did Absalom ever ask for forgiveness of his sins for killing his brother Amnon. Instead, using religion as an excuse, Absalom plotted the overthrown of his father and now occupies Jerusalem. By fleeing the city, David has spared Jerusalem a bloodbath, but now David is in danger. What is the future of the kingdom of Israel and God’ covenant with David?

V. The Fall of Absalom

But despite David’s failings, the Lord was with him. Absalom was full of pride and ambition, and we all know that prides goes before the fall. Absalom assembles an army to destroy David, but David has his army of gentiles led by his captain, Joab. David still loves his son, despite his son’s evil ambitions, and tells his captain Joab in 2 Samuel 18:5,

The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.”

Slide16The pain that David must have been going through, overthrown by his murderous son, yet… it’s still his son.

Scripture says David’s army marched out to the forest of Ephraim to meet Absalom’s army. It was a rout. David’s men slaughtered 20,000 of Absalom’s men, and Absalom, well, scripture tells this best, 2 Samuel 18:9-11,14.

Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”
Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree.

Slide17Absalom’s pride did him in, hung by his own hair. The battle was over, and when David hears that Absalom is dead, 2 Samuel 18:33,

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

VI. A Father’s Love

Was David’s affection misplaced? Absalom was wicked, unrepentant, prideful, a manipulator, a demagogue, and a control freak. And that was on his good days. In many ways, this is the exact opposite of the parable of the prodigal son. The son demanded his inheritance and then spent it all, and with his tail between his legs, took himself back home, hoping to be a servant in his father’s house. To his surprise, his father rand out to greet him with open arms and held a banquet for his son.

Absalom never put his tail between his legs to come home. All accounts seem to indicate he was unrepentant to the end and died by his own pride.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s our destiny without our savior. We are wicked, unrepentant, prideful, a manipulator, a demagogue and a control freak, destined to be undone by our own pride. Romans 3:23 says,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

And yet, for all our sinful pride, our Father in heaven loves us. Romans 5:8 says,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Slide21Understanding who we are in Christ also means understanding who we are without Christ. Without Christ, we are like Mephiboseth, lame in both feet and living in poverty and shame. Without Christ, we are enemies of God. Without Christ, we choose a destination of destruction.

VII. Conclusion

David, despite his many flaws, loved his son no matter the cost.

The very thing that David was willing to do – but could not do – was to save his son Absalom. Absalom chose his own way, a way of destruction not only to him but to thousands around him. But what David could not do, God has done for us through His son.

Even if David has his prayers answered, to die for Absalom, it would not have benefited Absalom. But God can do what we cannot, and God sent His only son to pay for our pride, our vanity, our demagoguery.

Psalm 103:13 –

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
Our father in heaven loves us with a love beyond our understanding.

Slide23To God be the glory. Amen.

Valued

I.    Introduction

We are continuing our study of 2 Samuel, and we’re up to chapter 9. Let’s recap some history to remember where we are. God, through the prophet Samuel, had selected David to be the future king of Israel. The previous king Saul was a mixed bag of nuts, sometimes trying to love David, most of the time trying to kill him, so David spent much of his early years hiding in the desert.

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David’s best friend was Jonathan, the son of King Saul. King Saul perished in a fight at Mount Gilboa against the Philistines, and King Saul’s son Jonathan also perished in that battle. David soon became king over Israel after a few skirmishes with Abner and Ishbosheth.

II.    Jonathan

You probably have a friend. I would hope so. Some of you with active Facebook accounts might have over 2000 friends. But you probably only have 1, maybe 2 or 3 people you consider to be close friends. A friend that’s been there through the best times, but also the worst. A friend you’ve had an awful fight with and yet stayed friends.

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Some people can make new friends at the drop of a hat. Me, I don’t know how to do that. At work, when I’m assigned to a new project, it’s almost like going to work for a new company. Most of the people on the team have never met each other.

It takes me about 6 months to feel like I’m integrated, part of the team, and able to relax my guard, show a little humor, make some work friends. You may have noticed it here in this class, when you first started attending and met me for the first time, thinking I’m way too stiff and formal. Give it 6 months. Then instead of stiff and formal, you’ll realize I’m goofy.

My 2 closest friends I’ve had for a long time. I met Sean in high school, went to Texas A&M with him and after some separation due to travel, we both ended up back in the Houston area. We’ve had a couple of issues that drove a wedge between us temporarily, but only temporarily. As soon as he realizes I was right all along, we get along.

And Dean I met at my first real job while I was still in college. We’ve both grown in faith over the years. Funny how we went from bar-hopping together to doing bible studies together.

The point is, I’ve known Sean for 42 years, and Dean for 36 years. I will never ever have a chance to make a friend and keep them for 40 years, so I’m keeping the ones I have.

David and Jonathan were best of friends from the time David, as a young boy, slew Goliath. Jonathan realized that David’s faith and courage were the same characteristics Jonathan admired, and both trusted in the Lord. And Jonathan was the son of King Saul, heir to the thrown by birthright! And yet Jonathan recognized God’s favor on David as the future king. Many times, Jonathan interceded to save David from Saul’s anger. How easy it would have been for Jonathan to step aside, let Saul kill David, and then inherit the throne! But Jonathan knew the will of the Lord was for David to be king, and spent his life seeking the Lord’s will.

No doubt, when Jonathan perished with his father Saul at the hands of the Philistines, David grieved for his best friend.

III.    David’s Compassion for Jonathan

Years go by, Jonathan thinking about his old friend, when he begins to wonder if there’s anybody left on that side of the family. He knows Saul and all Saul’s sons have perished, but maybe there’s still some family member still alive. He ponders in 2 Samuel 9:1,

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Slide6Turns out that Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth. Why don’t we give our children classical names like Mephibosheth anymore?

This wasn’t his original name, though. 1 Chronicles 8:34 says the son of Jonathan’s name was “Merib-Ba’al.” Remember our lesson about Saul’s youngest son Ishbosheth and how his original name was Esh-ba’al? The name “ba’al” had at one time been a generic term for “god” but eventually the formal name Ba’al was used for the pagan god Ba’al who the Philistines renamed Beelzebub. Esh-ba’al meant “man of the Lord,” but Israel no longer wanted to utter the name of Ba’al, they changed Es-ba’al to Ish-bosheth which translated as “man of shame.” Hardly an improvement, I know.

Same sort of thing is going on with Merib-ba’al which originally mean “fights for the Lord.” Since they no longer wanted to utter the name of a pagan god, they changed his name to “Mephibosheth” which means “Son of Shame.” Still not an improvement, in my opinion.

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Anyway, Mephibosheth started life off under a great deal of hardship. Back when King Saul and Jonathan died, well, let’s look at 2 Samuel 4:4,

Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.

Slide9A tough life indeed. Once part of a royal family, son of Prince Jonathan, heir to the King of Israel, now Mephibosheth is disabled, living in poverty. Probably still living in hiding, in fear that King David might try to wipe out what’s left of Saul’s family to protect the throne.

IV.    David Seeks Mephibosheth

But David, as we’ve heard, was a man after God’s own heart. In 2 Samuel 9, David is not remembering the times Saul tried to kill him. He’s remember how the son of Saul, Jonathan, tried to save him. And he asks,

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

A former servant of Saul tells David that there is one person left, a grandson of Saul’s, son of Jonathan, named Mephibosheth, living in poverty, lame and unable to walk. David sends for him to be brought to the king.

I wonder what Mephibosheth was thinking at this point. Certainly nothing good, to be summoned before the king. Mephibosheth had spent his whole life in fear of being killed, in poverty, unable to walk, and now suddenly King David himself sends for him.

V.    Greeting the King

In 2 Samuel 9:6-8, here is how the two greet each other:

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

That’s not a sneeze, by the way, “Mephibosheth!”

“At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Mephibosheth was in no position to demand anything. Compared to David, Mephibosheth considered himself the worth of a “dead dog.” And David owed Mephibosheth nothing, he was the king over all Israel.

In fact, if we understand the times of David and Mephibosheth, it was common for the new king to kill the family of the old king. Mephibosheth was in line for the throne of the old King Saul; perhaps Mephibosheth feared that King David would have him run through with a sword, just to end the dynasty of King Saul.

But David didn’t follow tradition. David didn’t follow culture. David listened to the Lord.

All the blessings Mephibosheth were received were a gift. Mephibosheth wasn’t a great warrior, wasn’t a rich man, wasn’t anything of significance. And yet, the king bestowed blessings unmerited on him. In this Old Testament history lesson, David demonstrates the compassion of Christ. And before accepting Christ, all of us are Mephibosheth, hungry, lame, and in need of a savior.

VI.    Lovingkindness

When David considered the family of Jonathan, here is the verse from 2 Samuel 9:1 again –

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I want to spend some additional time on the word kindness to show the motivation of David. The word used for “kindness” here is the Hebrew word “checed” or some spellings are “hesed,” and it’s usually translated at “lovingkindness,” sort of an archaic term. More modern translations seem to favor the word “love” or “mercy” which is less precise.

Slide13I also learned while studying for this lesson that “checed” is related to the Hebrew word “chasidah” which is their word for the white stork. Ever wonder where we get those fables about storks bringing babies? The Hebrews noted how well the chasidah cared for it’s young, and named it after “checed,” or lovingkindness.

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The Hebrew word “checed” refers to both love combined with action and also an implication the love is part of a promise or covenant to fulfill. In other words, love in action because it’s the right thing to do. It’s used 248 times in the Old Testament, with over half of them in the book of Palms.

In the book of Genesis, you might remember Joseph being tossed in a well by his brothers, rescued by a caravan, taken to Egypt where he rises in power and responsibility in Pharaoh’s service. Eventually Joseph’s father Jacob and Joseph’s brother come to Egypt because of a famine and lived in Egypt with Joseph.

When Joseph’s father’s life is coming to an end, he wants to be buried in Israel, not Egypt. God had promised Abraham that land, and Jacob wants to be buried there. In Genesis 47:29-30, Jacob says,

When the time drew near for Israel (Jacob) to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

Slide15The word “kindness” here is the same word word “checed”. It’s love in action, to do something extraordinary because it’s the right thing to do.

We’re more familiar with the Greek word “agape” when it comes to love, but agape is different. Agape is self-sacrificing love for the benefit of another. Checed implies something more, fulfilling a covenant agreement and putting love in action.

It’s one of the many reasons our God is worthy of worship. He fulfills His promises. God has entered into a New Covenant with us, bound by the blood of Christ, to provide eternal forgiveness and salvation. We can trust in Him because God considers this “checed,” fulfillment of a covenant love by putting it into action. It is this “checed,” this unconditional lovingkindness to His people that distinguish our God from every other world religion and cult. Our Father fulfills His every promise.

VII.    The Gifts of the King

So David ponders in 2 Samuel 9:1,

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness [checed] for Jonathan’s sake?”

David had promised his lifelong friend Jonathan they would look after each other all of their days. David felt “checed” lovingkindness and an obligation toward Jonathan and whatever remained of his family. And when he finds that Jonathan’s son is alive, David adopts Mephiboseth as his own. David fulfills his promise with lovingkindness, love in action. And what does Mephiboseth receive? 2 Samuel 9:7,

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

David provides everything Mephiboseth could dream of. It’s as if he’s been adopted by David, to sit at David’s table. Mephiboseth did nothing to deserve this, it’s entirely a gift from David to fulfil his checed.

Our heavenly Father does the same for us. The gifts from our Father in Heaven are many, here are 11 of them –

1. The gift of a Savior, Matthew 1:21 –

“And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

2. The gift of God’s love, Jeremiah 31:3 –

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

3. The gift of God’s grace, Ephesians 2:8-9 –

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

4. The gift of God’s peace, John 14:27 –

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

5. The gift of God’s Holy Spirit, Acts 1:8 –

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…”

6. The gift of a new life, 2 Corinthians 5:17 –

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

7. The gift of freedom from bondage and sin, Romans 8:1-2 –

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

8. The gift of supernatural strength, Philippians 4:13 –

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

9. The gift of purpose, Jeremiah 29:11 –

“For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

10. The gift of prayer and direct access to God, 1 John 5:14-15 –

“And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

11. The gift of hope, Romans 15:13 –

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And through the checed, the covenant love through Christ Jesus, these gifts are irrevocable. They have been given to us for eternity, Romans 8:29 –

for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

And what did we do to deserve to sit at the Lord’s table? Nothing. Just accept the invitation.

VIII.    Conclusion

Like Mephiboseth, we are lame. We have nothing of our own to offer the Lord, nothing except the spiritual gifts that the Lord gave us so that we may give back. How wonderful that God has done it all for us, given us a place at His table, and had adopted us forever as His adopted children.

We spoke today about friendship – a lifelong eternal friendship with Jesus. We spoke about unmerited favor from the Lord and the good gifts He gives His children. And we spoke about checed, a lovingkindness provided by our Father in heaven that is irrevocable, lovingkindness that we can depend on because God never fails.

2 Corinthians 9:15,

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”

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To God be the glory. Amen.

Messy People

I.      Introduction

Sometimes I read the bible and the message is so easy.  Just one God, honor your Ma and Pa, don’t take things that ain’t yours, that sort of thing.  Other times, the message is obscure and difficult to plow through.  Ever sat down to read the bible and read it cover to cover?  How many of us got stuck in the begats, as in “Adam begat Seth, Seth begat Enos, and Kenan and Mahaleel and hundreds of other unpronounceable names?”

Today’s study sort of starts that way, the message in the Word seemed esoteric, and I’m not even sure what “esoteric” means.   For instance, here’s our first study verse for today in 2 Samuel 3:8 –

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman.

My first thought when I read this was, “what?”  But the key to understanding scripture is context, or as a pastor I heard put it, “location, location, location.”  I think we need some background before we can begin to understand this verse.

II.      Background of Messy People: David

So just in this first verse, I see at least 4 people discussed by name.  There’s Abner, Ish-bosheth, Saul, and David.  There’s also a woman mentioned, as well as brothers and friends of Saul.  I read ahead over the next several scripture verses – sometimes I do that when I’m studying – and there are several more people that will be mentioned later.  There’s another woman named Michal, a man named Paltiel the son of Laish.  And there’s at least two names that aren’t mentioned, Jonathan and Joab, that influence the events in today’s scripture. 

Slide2

Of all the names listed, David is probably the most familiar.  He’s also one of the most complicated.  David was a horrible failure and David was a wonderful success.  David committed murder in his later years and had an affair with Bathsheba.  And yet, David was described as a man after God’s own heart.  Sometimes when I read stories on David, I wonder what I’m missing. 

Slide3

But I think a key to understanding David is to recognize the sinner in all of us.  Are we a people after God’s own heart?  We might look at our own lives and say, well, no, It doesn’t look like I’m not a man after God’s own heart.  Look at all the things I’ve done that are bad.  If they could see who I really am, they would know me for what I am.  A sinner.  Just like David.

But God teaches us that what is important is not so much what we do, but what’s inside.  Back in 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel was seeking a king over Israel.  The Lord sent him to Bethlehem because the Lord had selected a son of Jesse to be king.  When Samuel got there, he saw Jesse’s son Eliab who apparently looked like Thor and said, “whoa…

“Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord answered in verse 7,

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Slide4And there’s the answer.  David’s heart, despite his sinful nature, was always pointed at the Lord.  When confronted about his sin, David didn’t just confess his sins, he repented and went to the Lord for forgiveness.  When faced with overwhelming odds like when he faced Goliath the giant, David trusted in the Lord.  David meditated on God’s word and wrote over half of the Psalms.

       III.      Background of Messy People: Saul

So the Lord chose David to be king of Israel, but like I said, people are messy.  There was already a king in Israel, his name was Saul.  Saul also demonstrated successes and failures like David, but there was a big difference.  Even when Saul knew what the Lord’s will was, he often would do something else.  Including trying to kill David because of Saul’s jealousy. 

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Saul had 4 sons and 2 daughters.  Of the sons, Jonathan was the oldest; then came Abinadab, Malchishua and Ish-bosheth.  There’s some confusion that in 2 Samuel 21:11, 7 sons of Samuel are put to death, but those include grandchildren because at least one of them was a son of Jonathan.  And the two daughters, Merab and Michal.

Slide7

Saul’s jealousy was complicated; he seemed to alternate between loving David as a son and trying to kill David as an enemy.  David was close to Saul’s family; David’s best friend as a child was Jonathan, and Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David.  In 1 Samuel 18:17, Saul promised to give his oldest daughter Merab to David as a prize for killing Saul’s enemies.  But Saul double crossed David and gave Merab to some other man. 

Slide12

But since Saul was jealous of David and knowing David was in love with the younger daughter Michal, Saul promised David he could have Michal if David attacked the Philistines.  Saul was hoping David would be killed in the attack, but David won, so Saul had to give Michal to David for his wife.

Slide15

Saul tried to kill David outright at this point, but David’s wife Michal helped David escape.  That apparently made Saul mad, David not dying like he was supposed to, escaping with the help of his daughter.  Saul declares the marriage null and void, then Saul then gave Michal to different man, and Michal was married to Paltiel, son of Laish.

Slide19

Despite Saul trying to kill him, David didn’t retaliate against Saul.  If David was aware of the New Testament (which he wasn’t), he might have considered this verse, Romans 13:1-2,

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

David may have been selected by God to be king, but David respected the office of King Saul.  David spent years hiding in deserts and caves while Saul hunted him.  One of my favorite stories about David is in 1 Samuel 24.  Saul is hunting David, and had to stop and tinkle.  So he went into a cave, but David was already hiding there.    While Saul is tinkling in a corner, David sneaks up and cuts a corner off of Saul’s robe to prove that David could have killed Saul but didn’t.  What I find funny about that story is that David feels guilty about it.  He should have never cut a piece of garment off of the king’s robe, that’s just wrong, even if the king is trying to kill him.

David had another chance to kill Saul in 1 Samuel 26.  Saul is hunting David, again, but Saul gets tired, so that night Saul lays down to sleep, but he has a bodyguard, Saul’s cousin Abner.  David sneaks into Saul’s camp, finds Saul sleeping next to a spear.  He could have easily killed Saul with Saul’s own spear, but instead David takes the spear, runs over to the next hill and taunts the bodyguard.  “Hey Abner!  Is that how you guard your king?  I could have killed him, but instead, I have his spear!  Neener neener neener!”

This goes on for many years, Saul hunting David and David hiding, but Saul has another set of enemies, the Philistines, and there’s a big battle brewing between Saul and the Philistines at Mount Gilboa.  Saul of course seeks spiritual advice, but Saul believes the Lord has stopped talking to Saul, probably because Saul is trying to kill the Lord’s anointed king, David.  So Saul consults a witch instead.  I’m going to suggest that if for some reason you cannot hear the Lord speaking to you, then spend time in the Word until you do.  Don’t consult a witch, ok?  In fact, let’s take a quick look at 1 Chronicles 10:13-14,

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

Slide24So, don’t consult a witch, ok? 

 IV.      Background of Messy People: Abner and Ish-Bosheth

So Saul is dead, and David is finally king, right?  I told you people are messy.  Abner, Saul’s cousin and bodyguard, is very well-connected.  David becomes king over the tribe of Judah, but Abner takes Saul’s remaining son Ish-bosheth, and makes Ish-bosheth king.  Abner is able to get the other 11 tribes to unite around Ish-bosheth.  And I wish Ish-bosheth had an easier name to pronounce because saying Ish-bosheth several times in a row is a real tongue-twister.

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Actually, Ish-bosheth does have another name.   When Ish-bosheth was born, his name was Eshba’al which means “Man of the Lord.”)  Here’s a rabbit hole we’re going to follow for just a wee little bit: the definition of “ba’al” means “lord,” or alternatively “master” or “husband.”  The word had been around in early Hebrew as a generic term, but in later years the Canaanites started using “Ba’al” as the proper name of their pagan god.  The Philistines eventually started worshipping Ba’al but changed his name to Beelzebub.  In later Old Testament scripture, “Beelzebub” became known as a major demon, and Christians know the name Beelzebub as another name for the prince of demons.  In the year 1818, Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy wrote a book called “Dictionnaire Infernal” or a book on demonology who described Beelzebub as having the ability to fly.  He then became known as “The Lord of the Flyers,” or later, “The Lord of the Flies.”

Slide28

Anyway, yuck.  That’s enough of that rabbit trail.  Back to Eshba’al, Saul’s remaining son established by Abner as king over 11 tribes of Israel, the Northern Kingdom couldn’t bear to call him Eshba’al because it sounded like a profanity, being ruled by man of demons.  So they changed his name to Ish-bosheth which translates as “man of shame.”  Not exactly a flattering name, “man of shame,” but better than sharing the name of a demon.

Anyway, Ish-bosheth was sort of a puppet king over 11 tribes of Israel, controlled by Abner, and between them continued to wage war against David, the king of Judah.

I think they got tired of fighting so often.  In 2 Samuel 2, Abner’s men meet David’s men, led by David’s captain named Joab, at the pool of Gibeon, and they decide rather than everybody fight, each side would select 12 people to fight each other.  It says in 2 Samuel 2:16,

Each one of them seized his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together.

It sounds to me like everybody died, but commentaries say that David’s captain Joab won the battle.  Abner and his men run away, and David’s men start to chase.  Joab has a brother named Asahel who spots Abner and chases him, but when he catches up to Abner, Abner abruptly stops and kills Asahel with a spear.  Joab is inconsolable and vows to kill Abner some day, but for now, Abner escapes back to safety.  These two sides fight for the next 2 years with David’s army generally winning and Abner’s side generally losing.

So Abner gets back to Ish-bosheth, and Ish-bosheth makes an accusation.  The old dead king Saul, Ish-bosheth’s father, had a concubine named Rizpah.  Apparently Rizpah belongs to Ish-bosheth now, but Ish-bosheth accuses Abner of having an affair with Rizpah.  All of this background information just to bring us to the first scripture we’re supposed to study today, 2 Samuel 3:8 which we looked at earlier:

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman.

Slide2Ah, now I have a better understanding of what’s going on.  Location, location, location.  Abner has spent his life playing political games, first with Saul and then propping up Ish-bosheth as the so-called king.  And this is how Ish-bosheth repays him, by accusing Abner of having an affair with Rizpah the concubine?  Abner is furious. 

I re-read this scripture several times and couldn’t help but notice Abner said he was innocent of the charges.  He’s just mad that he’s been accused.  In fact, Abner is so mad, he tells Ish-bosheth that he’s going to give the 11 tribes of Israel to David so David can finally be the king over all Israel, just like the Lord said he would. 

And Ish-bosheth is too scared to say anything.  What could he say?  Abner had all the power, Ish-bosheth was just a puppet.

             V.      Background of Messy People: David and Michal

So Abner goes to David and tells David, “hey, let’s stop fighting.  You agree not to kill me, and I’ll agree to give you the rest of Israel.”  David goes, “hmmm…. Let me think.”

And David agrees, on one additional condition.  Remember Michal?  Saul’s youngest daughter than Saul gave to David for his wife, then took Michal away and gave to another man named Paltiel?  David wants her back.  Abner can come work for David, and all David wants is all of Israel and his wife Michal back.

Slide37

Abner agrees.  I mean, it’s not like Abner is giving away anything of his own, right?  David sends a message to Ish-bosheth, and without Abner telling him what to do, Ish-bosheth doesn’t know what else to do.  Of course David can have Michal.  I mean, it’s not like Ish-bosheth is giving away anything of his own, right?  2 Samuel 3:15-16,

Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.  But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned.

Aww. People can be pretty messy.  David might have loved Michal, but Michal had a new husband, and Paltiel loved her very much and followed her like a lovesick puppy until Abner stopped him and told Paltiel to go back home.

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All David’s conditions are met, Abner has surrendered, David has Michal back as his wife, and our study scripture for today ends in 2 Samuel 3:20-21a,

Then Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him.  Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.”

And David finally becomes king of all Israel, fulfilling the Lord’s selection as king.  I thought this was kind of a weird spot to end or story today, though.  Most soap operas continue week after week after week, but we get about 30 minutes, and we have a lot of unanswered questions.  Did they all live happily ever after?

          VI.      They All Lived Happily Ever After.  Not.

Short answer:  No.  Not really.

Michal was not happy to be returned to David.  In the years they were apart, David wasn’t exactly pining away for her.  During the years they were separated, David took a 2nd wife and then a 3rd, each time making political marriages to secure money and supplies.  While David was living in the dessert, Michal’s affection for David began to fade.  When Abner sent for he and gave her back to David, Michal pleaded to stay with Paltiel, the lovesick puppy. 

By all accounts, Michal and David never regained intimacy; the scripture says that Michal remained childless.  The last time we hear about Michal is after she and David fight when the Ark of the Covenant is brought back into Jerusalem, and scripture doesn’t mention her again.

Abner probably had aspirations of becoming a powerful figure under David, but those aspirations were unfulfilled.  Joab, David’s captain, had been away during this time, but when he returns and finds Abner at the city gate immediately kills Abner in revenge for killing Joab’s brother Asahel.

Joab stayed in Israel for many many years, serving King David, until later in David’s life.  David’s son Solomon is set to inherit the title of King from his father David, but Joab offers his allegiance to David’s oldest son Adonijah and eventually flees, assassinated years later and buried somewhere in the wilderness.

Ish-bosheth was assassinated shortly by two of his own army captains shortly after Abner gave away Israel to David.  David honored Ish-bosheth as a king and had him buried in Abner’s grave.

       VII.      Conclusion

There are lots of little lessons in todays scripture.  Perhaps you saw something in one of those characters that resonated with you.  Broken dreams of love.  Aspirations of power to rule.  Revenge against those who hurt you.  I wanted to focus just on the history today, just to lay a groundwork of how messy people can be. 

Probably what I found so compelling is that everybody was messy, everybody had problems, everybody made mistakes.  And yet, our of all thes dysfunctional people, David was considered a man after God’s own heart. 

And it occurred to me that a good summary could probably be the same thing the Lord told the prophet Samuel when David was selected over his older brother Eliab.  People look at what we say and what we do.  The Lord look at our heart.  It doesn’t matter if we succeed or fail, the Lord loves us for who He created.

David did indeed become king of all Israel.  David begat Solomon, and then a great many begats occurred in Matthew chapter 1 until approximately 1000 years later, our Lord Jesus Christ was born to show us how non-messy people are supposed to live.  And He has invited us to invite Him in, so that we are not defined by our own failures, but by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who lives within us.

I don’t know if I’m as messy as David or Abner or Michal.  I know I make my own messy mistakes.  But praise be to Jesus that I’m not defined by what I made, but by what He made.

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David was a man after God’s own heart, and received an earthly crown.  If we seek Jesus, we too receive a crown.  Scripture mentions the joy of receiving these crowns, the Crown of Righteousness, the Crown of Victory, the Crown of Life, the Crown of Glory, the Crown of Rejoicing.  In the times yet to come, the book of Revelation tells us we joyfully throw these crowns at the feet of Jesus when we all get to heaven.

When we all get to heaven

What a day of rejoicing that will be

When we all see Jesus

We’ll sing and shout the victory

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Finding Strength

             I.      Introduction

We continue this week in our study of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, and this week we will focus on 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 –

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The first word is “therefore,” and I’ve heard it said that when you see “therefore,” you must ask yourself what it’s there for.  Paul is referring to his amazing experiences, both before and after Christ.

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I think we can all agree that Paul was such an influential Christian.  The letters he wrote contained amazing insights, Paul met Jesus personally on the road to Damascus.  He performed signs, wonders and miracles, and we know that because in verse 12, Paul says he demonstrated signs, wonders and miracles.  And if Paul is speaking about himself in verses 2 onward, Paul visited heaven itself and was witness to a great many more things he cannot express to us.

In fact, here’s a picture of Paul.  See that halo around his head?  You don’t get those by being a pretty good person.  Those were only given out as prizes at the Best Christian competitions in the Middle Ages.

 

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But seriously, Paul says in our first verse today that he received a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited.  What was this thorn?

          II.      The Thorn in the Flesh

There are many theories about this thorn.  Medieval theologians believed it represented Paul’s earthly lusts.  Still others have theorized that Paul had a speech impediment.  One theory I find plausible is a pain in the eye, an eye inflammation.  Paul was literally blinded on the road to Damascus.  You can find support for this position in Paul’s letter to the Galatians; in Galatians 4:13-15 Paul writes

As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.

And signs the letter in Galatians 6:11,

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Did Paul have difficulty in his vision?  It’s possible.  It’s also possible, though not likely, it was an actual thorn.  I know a bible study teacher in Sugar Land that was hospitalized about two months ago with sporotrichosis, it’s an infection in the skin caused by a puncture by a rose thorn.  This infection can spread to joints, the lungs, the lymph nodes, even the brain.  The teacher I know was hospitalized 3 days because of a thorn.

Still others hypothesize Paul’s metaphorical thorn in his side was certain people causing him grief.  There is good rationale for this hypothesis.  Did you know that “thorn in your side” has biblical origins?  In Numbers 33:55 and Judges 2:3 (King James version) the Lord says,

Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

This phrase is used to describe adversaries but never used to describe illness or pain.  Paul had issues with people causing him troubles, especially Alexander the coppersmith, who Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:14 caused Paul “a great deal of harm.”  Paul may have been referring to Paul’s opponents who confused the message and opposed Paul’s efforts to spread the good news.

So what was this thorn?  We will never know this side of heaven.  Whatever this thorn was, Paul goes on to describe this thorn as a “messenger of Satan.”  Whether physical, emotional, social, spiritual, it’s clear that Paul’s thorn is from the devil with evil intent, and despite Paul praying to the Lord three times to remove it, the Lord allows it to remain in Paul’s life.

       III.      Purpose of the Thorn

The Lord answers prayers, does He not?  If we’re doing good things for the Lord or for the church like Paul was doing, that’s the definition of being in God’s will and so the Lord should always answer prayers, shouldn’t He?  Shouldn’t the Lord do what we tell Him to do?

There’s a whole lot of pride in a statement like that.  God doesn’t bend to our will, oh no.  God is sovereign and perfect and He is executing His plan, not ours.

Paul had a great many reasons to be full of pride.  Before Paul became a Christian, he was an amazing Jew both by birth and by works.  He lists many of them in Philippians 3:4b-6,

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:  circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

And then Paul had one of the most amazing testimonies a Christian could have, beginning with meeting Christ Himself on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:3-5,

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

 

Paul had a direct word from God at least 6 more time mentioned in scripture, in Jerusalem (twice, Acts 22:17-21, Acts 23:11), At Troas (Acts 16:8-10), in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11), and on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:22-25), and Paul’s vision of Paradise here in our book today, 2 Corinthians 12 verses 1-6.Slide9

Paul had a lot of reasons to feel like he was an important person, an important Christian.  And the early, church, too, had every reason to look at Paul as an awesome person.  He was awesome, and everybody should know it.  Right?

But Paul received a “messenger from Satan,” this thorn in the flesh.  This messenger, this thorn, “buffeted” Paul, it beat him up.  No doubt this thorn from Satan was intended to hurt Paul and derail his mission, to keep people from hearing the good news. 

Why did Paul receive this messenger from Satan?  To bring him humility.  It says in 2 Corinthians 12:7,

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself!

Paul says that without the thorn, he’d exalt himself.  He’d praise himself.  Look at me, look at what great work I’m doing for the Lord.  But the thorn kept him grounded in the Lord’s will.  Paul isn’t awesome after all.  He can’t remove a simple thorn.

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Pride exalts us.  Pride tells us that we don’t need God, we can do anything under our own power.  And when we do things under our own power, we pat ourselves on the back and say, “job well done.”  The glory that belongs to the Lord, well, we decided we’re going to keep it for ourselves.  We deserve it.

But God won’t use people full of pride.  God wants people that will humble themselves unto the Lord.  Paul’s thorn reminded Paul that Paul wasn’t God.  Paul was just… Paul.  With a thorn.

          IV.      Paul’s Reaction to the Thorn

Our scripture says in 2 Corinthians 12:8,

Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.

Raise your hand if God has answered every prayer you’ve had with a “yes.”

God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we want.  In fact, in many cases, I know why God doesn’t answer me, it’s because I’m praying for God to change somebody else.  I’m fine, they’re the problem.

Some problems in our life are our own doing, but many times these problems in our life are often mischief or evil from the devil.  1 Peter 5:8 says,

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

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The devil is not omnipotent, he is not all-powerful, he cannot win any battle with God.  But God allows Satan to mess with us, to interfere with us, to become a thorn in our side.  Why?  Often, just as with the case with Paul, it’s to keep us humble and reminded that our power is small, and God is big.  If we want to fight the devil on our own terms, we will lose.  We let God fight the devil through us, God will win every time. 

The rest of this verse says the same thing, that we need humility if we are going to let God fight these battles through us,

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

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We cannot do it on our own, but we forget so easily.  When things go right, we say, “look at me, look how great I’m doing!”  It’s when things go wrong that we say, “Lord, I need you.”

Azalea shared her testimony a few weeks back about being a diamond in God’s eyes, amazing testimony.  But I was thinking about the last lesson I taught about being clay in the potter’s hands.  How do I reconcile being a diamond and being a big blob of clay?  In one of the many ways God performs miracles in our life, we must be humble enough to let God shape and form us into a diamond.  If we resist, well, we can remain clay if we want.  God will give us our desire.

Paul says he prayed three times for the Lord to remove the thorn.  Do you know who else prayed three times for the Lord to do something?  Matthew 26:36 –

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Three times Jesus prayed to the Lord to take away the cup from Him.  But Jesus also prayed in verse 39,

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.

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God’s will is sovereign, God’s will be done.  When we pray, both Jesus and Paul prayed persistently, earnestly, specifically for something.   

             V.      Paul’s Reaction to the Lord’s Answer

And did the Lord answer Paul’s prayer?  Of course the Lord answered.  But like Jesus, Paul didn’t get the answer he wanted.   God’s answer to Paul was not, “here, let me help you with that thorn.”  God’s answer was in 2 Corinthians 12:9a,

My grace is sufficient for you.

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What can the world throw at us that God cannot overcome?  We complain about the problems in this world, but God has an answer.  He has a better place for us.  He sent His own son to die for everything we’ve ever done wrong or ever thought about doing wrong so that we may dwell forever in the house of the Lord.  We don’t have to earn it; God’s grace is freely available to those who believe.

What, then, is a thorn to us?  2 Corinthians 4:17,

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

A thorn is nothing compared to the grace of God.  God’s grace is sufficient.  God sacrificed everything He is because he loves us. 

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God’s answer to Paul was also,

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.

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God is there for us when we need Him.  But too often we think we don’t need Him.  We can do it on our own. 

I know I’m guilty sometimes of “saving” God as a last resort.  I can do this on my own, I don’t need to bother God about it. And when things go right, hey, I did it myself.  I didn’t need God after all. 

It’s when I can’t do it on my own that God demonstrates His power.  As a result, I find myself praying more and more, not just about the big things but about the little things.  And every time God answers, I can offer thanks and remember, “Every good gift comes from the Lord.” 

Paul prayed three times and didn’t get what he prayed for.   But He received something better.  2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 –

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul rejoiced.  When Paul is committed to rejoicing in the Lord, he can expect trials, tribulations, difficult times.  Many of those times challenge our understanding of God’s work in our life, and we want to respond in anger or sadness.  But Paul says if we can rejoice in unanswered prayers, then we are trusting that the Lord knows best for us. 

Everyone of us has gone through a trial, most of us more than one.  I shared part of my testimony a few months back about how on my own power I failed in marriage and in my weakness finally bowed my knee to God and told Him I was ready to follow Him instead of trying to drag Him around like a merit badge or “shown and tell”.  I was ready to honor Him and follow Him, and I needed His help to learn how to do that.  And that I saw miracle after miracle as God moved me overseas, taught me about the love of Christ, moved me back, and then restored my marriage.  I’ve thought often about unanswered prayers during that time, thinking at the time that if my prayers would have been answered, I’d have been a lot happier.

Or so I thought at the time.  Doing things God’s way brought more challenges, pain, tears.  But it also brought me far closer to Him as I learned to depend on Him instead of myself.  To do things God’s way instead of trying to fit God into a box I built for Him.  And during this journey, found more joy than I could imagine, bringing me closer to Him.

I know you’ve been through challenges.  Lost parents, children, siblings.  Lost a job, lost health.  And if you’re like me, you’ve found that depending on God because we realize we are weak has brought you even closer.

Knowing all that, make that same prayer again.  Pray for God to show us our weaknesses.  They say the hardest thing to pray for is patience because God will answer that prayer.  God will give you a reason to need patience.   But I say that prayer is easy compared to the lesson we learned today.  Pray for weakness.  Pray for God to bring us to our knees and show us His power in our lives.  When we are weak, then the we are strong with the power of Christ within us.  We can rejoice in our trials and tribulations because we know that God is at work in our lives.

          VI.      Conclusion

Our human nature urges us to show the world around us how strong we are, how fast we are, how smart we are, how rich we are.  It’s all about us and our human pride.

But pride in our own strength is ridiculous.  We aren’t strong.  We can’t move a mountain, we can’t calm a storm.  We can’t remove a thorn.  In our Christian spiritual walk, it’s a paradox that we do not get stronger.  We get weaker so that Christ may be demonstrated.  The more we rely on the Lord’s power instead of our own, the more we bring glory to the Lord instead of to us. 

Let’s look at our verses one last time:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  • Verse 7: Protect me from my pride
  • Verse 8: Remind me to pray persistently
  • Verse 9a: Remind me of the grace You provide.  If your grace can save me from Hell, it can surely delivery me from temporary pain.
  • Verse 9b: Remind me that your power is perfected in my weakness.
  • Verse 10: Remind me of the proper perspective of Your strength and power.  Please Lord, teach me to be weak so that your power is demonstrated, for your power is unmatched.  When I am weak, then I am strong in you.

What are you struggling with?  What is your greatest challenge?  Are you trying to solve it under your own power?  Maybe it’s time to stop, breathe, and confess to the Lord that there is no power like His power. 

It’s time to stop telling God how big the storm is.  It’s time to start telling the storm how big our God is.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

In the Hands of the Potter

             I.      Introduction

We are continuing our study of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, and today’s scripture is 2 Corinthians 4.  It’s a simple topic.  It’s instructions on how to live our lives as Christians.  When I studied for this lesson, I began by thinking how entirely unworthy I am to give a lesson on how to live a life as a Christian.  Some of my sins I’ve shared with all of you, others are between me and God.  All of which makes me entirely unfit to give advice to other Christians.

My prayer to God when preparing for this lesson was, “please God, find something within me that you can use.  I surrender to you because I know I cannot do it on my own.”  And that might have been the whole lesson for today, “Find something within me that you can use.”

What was the purpose of the trials in my life, or the life of any Christian?  Isn’t the life of the Christian filled with love and happiness and the abundant life?  If God is good to His children, then why do we lose our jobs, lose our health, lose a loved one?  What is God doing with us, and how are we supposed to respond?

Since our scripture today begins with verse 1,

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

I decided not to lose heart.  Continue with the ministry God has given me.   I know it’s a stretch, but that’s how I understood this verse.  I run into trouble when I study when I think the lesson has anything to do with me.  Sure, I bring in experiences and abilities that God has given me, but it’s not about my experiences or abilities, any more than if Chris taught this lesson it would be about Chris.  Or if Theresa taught, the lesson is about Theresa.  We’re in bible study, not Michael study.  Verse 5-6 of our lesson,

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  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.

Slide4This is the purpose of our existence in this world.  Let the world see Christ within us.  Let me get out of the way and let the love of Christ be known.  Or as John the Baptist put it in the book of John, verse 3:30 –

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

Slide5So who am I to teach about Jesus?  Nobody.  Jesus is everything.  But God created me to have worth to Him and bring glory to God, and I’m thankful He has given me work to do.  Not that the work saves me or makes me a better Christian, but shines the light of Christ so that others may be drawn to Jesus.

          II.      Genesis 2:7: The Breath of Life

God created each and every one of us for a purpose, given each one of us spiritual gifts to use, and we are all here this morning because each of us has heard that voice and we are coming here to know God better.  God has been making people for His purpose since the beginning of time, starting in Genesis 2:7,

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.

Slide6God created man from dust of the ground.  Like the way a potter will begin making a vessel by beginning with dirt and water mixed together to form clay. 

After the potter has the clay he needs, the clay is ready to give instructions to the potter.  Or is that just me, trying to tell the potter what he is trying to make? 

Many of our struggles in life are the result of trying to tell the potter what to do.  I want God to make me something I’m not instead of me accepting who God made and using the tools He gave me.  I want God to listen to me, I know how to run my own life.  I know what’s best for me.  Don’t I?

Do you know how God answers me when I argue with Him over what’s best for me?  Jeremiah 18:5-6,

Then the word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

The almighty Lord is omniscient, omnipresent, and all powerful.  His will be done.  But he has the patience and the love to let us struggle until we realize it on our own.  And my struggle continues until I surrender, as it says in Isaiah 64:8 –

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

When we examine ourselves and our own personal struggles, who are we trying to be?  The potter, or the clay?  Is Gold molding me, or am I trying to mold Him?

       III.      Jars of Clay

I read an article by a professional ceramic artist with a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art on the making of a ceramic vessel to understand the metaphor of being a “jar of clay,” and it was illuminating.  I want to share with you the process –

A.    Wedging

Slide9A ceramic artist, a potter, starts with a large block of clay and to cut a piece the right size and begin “wedging” it.  The unformed, unworked block of clay is full of lumps and air pockets and one cannot simple spin it into a beautiful work of art.  Wedging involves kneading the clay like dough, softening the lumps and letting the air bubbles work themselves out of the clay.  Before the clay can be placed on that spinning wheel, this wedging takes time, otherwise the clay is structurally unsound and full of imperfections.

You probably see where I’m going with this.  New Christians, selected by God, are first wedged by God.  On our own, our characters are shaped by our upbringing, our good and bad decisions and experiences.  God selects us as lumps of clay, just as we are, decisions and experiences and abilities and all, to be used for His purpose, but before He can begin to use us, he wedges us, kneading out the major imperfections and pockets of resistance.

It’s not punishment.  It’s not punishment any more than wedging the clay is somehow punishing the clay.  It’s just that we are being prepared for His use.  Remember when John the Baptist baptized Jesus?  Here is Matthew 3:16 – 17 –

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Do you think God the Father loved Jesus?  Read that last sentence again.  God loved Jesus and was well pleased with Him.  But you know what the very next verse says?  Matthew 4:1 –

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Every Christian is wedged and prepared for God’s purposes. 

B.    Centering

After the clay is wedged, plop, it’s thrown into the center of the potter’s wheel and the potter spins it in a process known as “centering.”  The potter adds water to the clay so that it glides easily through his fingers.  The spinning force tries to throw the clay off the spinning wheel, and the potter pushes the clay firmly back toward the center.  It’s important to get the clay perfect centered; this sets the foundation for all the remaining work on the clay.  If the clay isn’t centered, the vessel will be lopsided, or worse, topple completely.

Slide12Just like the clay, if we want to be used by God, we will allow Him to push us, center us in His will as we learn about God and build a foundation of knowledge.  When we are off-center, we can feel it, we feel lopsided and out of kilter, like things are going out of control.  That’s when we learn to be still and know that He is God.

C.     Creating the Form

Once centered, the potter decides the basic form.  For a vase, the potter pushes and pulls in just the right way to open the vessel up.  Both hands are constantly on the vessel, and opening up the center and pulling the walls up by constantly adding water. 

Slide13Like a vase, God begins to pull and push us with His tender hands constantly on us, shaping us to be the beautiful work He created.  He opens us up, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and pulls up the walls so our shape reaches up toward our maker.

Does the vase argue?  Of course it does.  “I don’t want to be a vase.  I want to be a bicycle.  No wait, I want to be a unicorn.  I want to be unique so people will notice me.  I want a big house and a loving family and lots of money and a great job that pays me too much and has 50 weeks of vacation every year.  And a boat.  I want to be a boat.”

Slide14God says, I designed you to be a vase.  Perhaps ordinary looking by human standards, but beautiful in my eyes.  I want you to hold flowers and bring smiles and love and joy to others around you.  And you won’t be able to show off my handiwork in you if you’re … a boat.”

Of course we argue.  He’s molding us, we’re fighting back.  He wants us to surrender our pride and give Him glory for being the Lord.  And if we continue resisting?  God gives us what we ask.  The potter steps back and lets us attempt it without Him.

We try to make a boat or a unicorn or a bicycle out of our clay using our own will and ability.  We are completely unqualified to be anything other than the vase God has designed us to be, but we try on our own.  Sometimes we ask for help from others – hey Tony, how can I become a unicorn?

One of two things happen.  We can look at the mess we created and say, “Lord, I’ve messed up.  I want what you want.  Use me for your glory.”  And God begins to shape us, again, into the vase he designed us to be.  Or we can turn our back on God, and say God doesn’t exist, or God doesn’t love me, or I don’t ever see God at work in my life.

C.S. Lewis put it this way in his book, The Great Divorce, when he describes Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis says,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

Slide15Those that seek God’s will return to the pottery wheel and again ask the potter to continue the work He began in them.

Here’s a short video called 4 Steps of the Potter to help visualize the making of a unique piece of pottery:

D.    Drying

But wait, there’s still more.

Slide17Once the form has been created, the potter sets it aside to dry.  During this period, some fine details are added, like adding a handle.  And the potter is patient and follows His perfect timing.  If the potter waits too long, it is impossible to add details such as the handle.  And if the potter is impatient and moves to the baking stage, then moisture will expand and crumble the vessel.  Sometimes the vessel will explode, and any other created vessels nearby will also be damaged.

God’s timing is always perfect.  Sometimes He says, “No.”  Other times He says, “Yes.”  And sometimes, “Not yet.”  God knows when we are ready for Him to continue His work in us.

E.     Baking

The potter then takes the dried vessel and puts it in an oven to bake.  The clay is soft when it is put in the oven but tough and hard when it’s taken out.  They say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Sometimes the trials of life seem to bring intense heat upon us, but there is a purpose to these trials.  We are stronger than before we experienced the heat.

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F.     Glazing

But though the baking process has made the vessel stronger, it is still not finished.  There is a glaze or paint to be applied with care and the true purpose of the vessel starts to become apparent.  Without the glaze, the vessel won’t hold water, it’ll seep through the porous sides and bottom.  To reach it’s potential, it’s time to put it through fire. 

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G.    Firing

Wait, didn’t we already go through the heat?  Weren’t we already baked and dried to make us stronger? 

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Our growth, our sanctification, our spiritual walk becomes stronger through the trials of life.  If we attempt to get through it on our own, we don’t fulfill our potential and God’s plan.  If we rely on God, if we put our faith and trust in Him, we are stronger still. 

This is a lifelong process.   Each time the heat is turned up, we learn, we grow, we depend on God and we bring glory to Him for what He is doing.  And I know in my own life, each time I’ve been through a time where I felt overwhelmed and in over my head and I’ve trusted in God to get me through it, I’ve grown closer to God.  My foundation is more firm, my faith is more firm, I see God’s work in my life like I never saw before the trial.  I am so much closer to the God who loves me.

And knowing all that… can I then pray for God to put me through another trial?  To apply the intense heat yet again and put me through the fire?  I know it’s for my benefit and it’ll grow my faith even more than the last time.  Can I pray for more trials to come to me?

James 1:2-4 puts it this way,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

God has a plan for each and everyone of us.  Sometimes it’s hard to see that purpose, we are so focused on being a unicorn that we don’t even notice God’s work in us.  But when we center ourselves and go through fire for God’s purposes, we begin to fulfill the plans He has for us. 

          IV.      Death in Us to Show Life to Others

Let’s go back to our scripture for today.  We earlier read 2 Corinthians 4:5-6,

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  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.

This is the vessel God has created, to show Jesus Christ within us, for us to get out of the way of the message and stop trying to do things on our own power and our own will.  2 Corinthians 4 goes on in verse 7-9 –

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Slide23God kneads us like bread, centers us, shapes us, bakes us, glazes us, and puts us through fire, and the crazy thing is that it’s not even for our own benefit.  It is to show that joy in the Lord and the gift of salvation is greater than anything the world can throw at us.  And our joy through the fire is to demonstrate the love of Christ to others so that they, too, may taste the joy of salvation.  Our trials, our spiritual walk, our lives in this world has a purpose.  It is to show Christ within us to a lost and dying world, that they may know joy and peace and life eternal.

Our vessels are made of clay.  From dust they were created and to dust they shall return.  But our treasure within this jar of clay is the life of Jesus within us.  Death will come to each one of us; we all have an expiration date.  Our purpose to is to show that though death may overtake our earthly bodies, eternal life is available to all who accept the gift that Christ so freely offered to us while we were still sinners.

            V.      Conclusion

There is nothing more important than sharing the Word of God.  Everything God puts us through in this life is to make us stronger and draw us closer to Him so that when the lost look at us, they see Christ at work in our lives.  Here’s a short video of our study scripture 2 Corinthians 4 verses 1 through 15 taken from The Contemporary English version.  God has shaped us for His good pleasure to demonstrate His love to others:

Ephesians 2:10,

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

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To God be the glory.  Amen.

Serving God’s People

I. Introduction

I remember as a kid playing games upstairs in the hallway with my sister and brother. Sometimes we played Chinese Checkers, Monopoly, Hot Wheels, occasionally we would work on jigsaw puzzles. Or we might just play Solitaire with a deck of cards.
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We didn’t always get all the pieces back in the box. Hot Wheels cars or section of the racetrack would go missing, some marbles from the Chinese Checkers. It was ok, though, we could still play.

But other games, not so much. I remember how frustrating it was to work on a jigsaw puzzle for hours and then get stuck, looking for a particular piece that was missing. Eventually, we’d have to just give up. We’d push all the pieces back in the box, probably dropping another piece or two under the table, and then put the box back on the shelf.
We’d never work on that puzzle again. Why we didn’t throw it out, I don’t know.  Probably the same logic all of us use when looking at 3-day old leftovers in the fridge. It looks ok, but I’m not going to eat it. Better to leave it in the fridge a few more days until it definitely goes bad, then throw it out.
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And playing Solitaire without a full deck – and I’m talking about the deck of cards, not my brother or sister playing without a full deck. Or me. Hard to play to play Solitaire when you only have 50 or 51 cards.

You know what’s interesting about playing Solitaire with only 51 cards? It doesn’t really matter which card is missing, whether it’s the 8 of spades or the jack of diamonds. The game is crippled and unwinnable without all the cards. Every card is important.

II. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Many Spiritual Gifts but One Spirit

Our study today is from 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts, so let’s open our bibles and we’ll begin with 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 –

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

I found it interesting the full Trinity is listed here. The same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. Each one of us is unique. Some are more unique than others. We are all very different, from our experiences, our desires, our abilities. But the source of all spiritual gifts is from God. The energy to use the gift is from God. Even where we live, work, worship and apply our spiritual gifts is from God.

Biblical scholars posit that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to help direct their spiritual gifts. The Corinthians apparently were using their gifts for their own benefit and to try build themselves up, perhaps saying that one person’s gift was more important than another’s, sort of like the 9 of clubs saying that it’s more important than the 8 of hearts. But Paul says here that the purpose of the gift given to each believer is for the common good. You can tell it’s a spiritual gift if it benefits others, not yourself. The gift each person is given is for the common good of God’s people.

Does everybody have a spiritual gift?

When I was a younger Christian and first heard about spiritual gifts, I thought it sounded like a good idea. Maybe they sold them in the gift shop. Or maybe spiritual gifts were something only spiritual people had. And being a young Christian, I just didn’t have any. Or if I did, maybe this was my spiritual gift:

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I don’t think “pew sitting” is a spiritual gift. Maybe I didn’t have a spiritual gift.
But 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Not to some people. Not even to most people. But to each one. Including me. Including you.

Corinthians 7:7 puts it this way,
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But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The NASB version translates this as “his own gift;” the King James translates it as “his proper gift from God.” The Greek word used is “idios” (ἴδιος) and implies that the gift has been “fitted” to you. Like going to DSW to buy shoes. One person may be buying hiking boots in size 10, and another person is getting running shoes in size 8. They are fit for the purpose, unique to you and the purpose God has.

III. 1 Corinthians 12: The Various Gifts

What are these gifts? Let’s continue with verses 8-10,

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

This isn’t the entire list; Paul only listed some of the spiritual gifts here. If we look further down the page in verse 28,

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Is that all? No, Paul also wrote about gifts in Romans 12:6-8,

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some study guides also list some gifts described in Ephesians 4:11:apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but those seem to be describing church leadership positions more than gifts. But in any case, in none of these verses does Paul say this is an exhaustive list of the spiritual gifts, and differing biblical studies may list anywhere from 16 to 26 spiritual gifts.

I debated about whether to get into the gifts themselves. Maybe I’ll just talk about the most important ones. But if we get anything out of this lesson today, I think it’s that each one of us is uniquely valuable with unique gifts given to us for the purpose of building the church up. I couldn’t even decide how to limit the discussion of gifts; could I prioritize them? And that means I’m not understanding my own lessons, like somehow that 7 of spades is more important to the church than the 9 of diamonds. Every gift is important, duh. And no gift is more important than another.

So I selected the gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, bearing in mind that there may be other gifts that may be used for building up the church that are not specifically spelled out in scripture. And also I want to stress that a gift is not the same thing as a talent. One can have a talent for singing, for instance. But singing can be exhibited in a way that can does not bring glory to God. But this is a fairly complete list and as we go through these, see if they stir up a passion within you.

The ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 include word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Slide12• Word of Wisdom. This is described as a “word” of wisdom so it is likely Paul was describing a speaking gift. Biblical wisdom is available to all believers and is different than human wisdom – you probable remember Proverbs 3:5,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

If you lack biblical wisdom, just ask. James 1:5 says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So when Paul says “Word of Wisdom,” Paul probably means someone gifted in understanding and speaking forth biblical truth in such a way to apply it to life situations.

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• Word of knowledge. Also a speaking gift, this gift involves understanding truth with insight from the Holy Spirit, who understands biblical text and can explain it to others. At my wife’s church is a pastor that can explain the book of Daniel using the book of Revelation in a way that makes me go “wow, so that’s what that meant.” I believe he has the gift of the word of knowledge.

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• Faith. Don’t all believers have faith? Of course they do, or they wouldn’t be believers. In fact, some of these gifts are shared by all believers to some extent. But some seem to be ably to rely on faith, depend on faith, exhibit faith with a strong, unshakeable confidence that God will answer. Remember the movie, “War Room?” Miss Clara has just heard that God has answered a prayer, and this was her reaction:

That is somebody with the gift of faith.

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• Healing. God still performs miracles, especially in healing. In the first century, the apostles healed the lame and raised the dead as evidence their message was from God. Most biblical scholars put this gift in a special category of gifts called the sign gifts, available only to those that preached the word in the first century and had direct contact with Jesus. When people are miraculously healed today, God now does it directly and miraculously and not through men, otherwise the hospitals would be full of these gifted people raising people from the dead. Another of the “sign” gifts is –

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• Miracle powers. This involved performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God. Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Phillip all exhibited this gift in the book of Acts.

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• Prophecy. This doesn’t mean telling the future; the Greek word is “prophēteia” (προφητεία) and means to talk with “divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.” The gift of prophecy is the gift of preaching the Word of God. In many ways, Dr. Young prophecies when he speaks from the pulpit. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 4:11 –

“Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”

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• Distinguishing between spirits. This same gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29,
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.

This gift is dedicated to spiritual discernment in the truth because many false prophets twist and distort the truth. Those with the gift of discernment can help separate truth from error, as it is said in 1 John 4:1,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

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• Speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. This gift has differing opinions, some saying that it is a speaking gift of earthly languages like those mentioned on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, and others say it is an “ecstatic” or “heavenly” language like those taught in the Pentecostal churches. It is a legitimate gift of the spirit, but speaking in tongues comes with a lot of guidelines described in 1 Corinthians 14. Many misinterpret the gift of tongues as a sign of salvation or of a special closeness to God, which it is not.

Romans 12:6-8 has another list of gifts from Paul –

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some of these duplicate those we just reviewed, but there are some new ones listed –

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• Service. This is a general term for all ministry within the church. Those wonderful classmates of ours that write us cards and letters during Wednesday night outreach or handle our class administration every week or write our weekly newsletter or arrange lunches or welcome new visitors or direct our class or lead us in prayer or any other effort that provides help to one another in the church.

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• Teaching. This one isn’t important, let’s skip it. Ok, no seriously, this gift is much like prophecy that Dr. Young has, and certainly one who prophesies probably also has the gift of teaching. But while prophesying involves proclaiming God’s revelation, teaching is the systemic and regular instruction in God’s Word, any place where God’s Word is taught. I certainly don’t claim any special revelation, and I am not a preacher, but with the good Lord’s guidance, perhaps I can faithfully share what God says in His Word. The Great Commission tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” For all of us whenever we tell someone about Jesus, we owe it to them to give a faithful and truthful message about the good news.

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• Exhortation. This is from the Thesaurus version of the bible. Most people would use “encouragement.” This gift enables one to advise, plead, warn, strengthen, comfort one another. I think the talent of singing, when used in worship, usually is part of the gift of exhortation, to encourage others. The Christian walk is not always a walk of roses and sunshine. We go through thorny patches, we go through storms. And we need those in our lives with the gift of encouragement to stay faithful, trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy. I thank the good Lord for those that have an uplifting word of encouragement during difficult times. Sometimes the gift of encouragement can strengthen a weak believer into resisting sin. In Hebrews 10:24-25, the gift of encouragement is described like this –

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Should the gift of encouragement be used sparingly or only in emergencies? Hebrews 3:13 says,

Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”

So only encourage people today.

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• Giving. Like most of the other gifts, we are all to give generously to one another. Luke 3:8,11 says,

Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.

But some have the gift of giving that gives sacrificially. And one with this gift gives *of* himself, not *for* himself. Most that have this gift never receive recognition because they feel all the recognition should go to the Lord. And while giving can refer to money, it can also refer to time and effort. Any time somebody gives up something sacrificially to a brother or sister in Christ to bring glory to the Lord, they are exhibiting the gift of giving.

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• Leading. This is also sometimes called “administration” and the Greek word used means “to guide” and refers to someone who pilots or guides a ship. Here’s a favorite poem of mine about leadership, I saw it years ago on a business trip, it’s called “The Leader,” by Roger McGough:

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

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The funny thing about those with the gift of leadership is that most of them didn’t ask to lead. They just led. They saw something that had to be done, and they made it happen. They made it happen now, they made it happen as soon as they saw the need.

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• Mercy. Demonstrating sympathy, genuinely caring about the needs of others to strengthen and encourage them. They may visit hospitals or jails or the homeless or the poor or the handicapped, those with this gift find joy in ministering to others who need help.

IV. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27, We Are All the Body of Christ

In the rest of today’s scripture, Paul describes how all these gifts fit together. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27 says,

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

And the 10 of spades cannot say to the 9 of hearts, “I don’t need you.” No gift is greater than another; the director and the pastor and the janitor and the secretary and the trombone player all work together to bring glory to God. Whatever gift you have, use it. The more you use it, the more God will give you opportunities to use it. It’s like learning to play the piano. You may have the gift, but you have to practice.

V. Conclusion

Of course you have a spiritual gift that can be used for the common good of the body of Christ. It’s like a muscle, and some muscles atrophy and shrivel if they are not used. But if you exercise your spiritual gift for the glory of God, you will find that God provides more and more opportunities as your spiritual muscle grows stronger.  Together, the muscles and the eyes and the hands and every part of the body grow stronger when we all practice our spiritual gifts. What is your gift?

Bree shared this link a few months back; it’s a questionnaire that you answer that will help you figure out your spiritual gift. Everyone has one; find yours and share it with us because the rest of the body needs you.

Spiritual Gift Test

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To God be the glory. Amen.