1 CORINTHIANS 1
Corinth in AD 55 was a thriving city, the main commercial centre of Greece and a port with two separate harbours, on opposite oceans. Rather than sail all around Southern Greece, smaller ships would be hauled full loaded across a stone road from one harbour to the other. Corinth was therefore a wealthy cosmopolitan city, known for philosophy, immorality (even the Temple of Aphrodite was served by 1,000 sacred prostitutes!) and false religion. The young church that lived in that city had many temptations and its members were either being rescued from a corrupt lifestyle or subtly sliding back to one. The church was very gifted and sharp-thinking, but also immature, unspiritual, sexually lax, and having the natural Greek tendency to separate the physical world from the spiritual, with different ‘rules’ being applied to each. Paul’s letter is partly to counter these tendencies and partly to answer many of the questions that its leaders and members had already asked him.
Paul gets straight down to the issues: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”” (1 Cor 1:10-12)
A church that is divided is a church without power. Members were choosing between leaders where there was no choice to be made. In choosing to align with a particular man, they were in fact downplaying their relationship with Christ himself. The answer should have been that we can learn from Paul and Apollos and Peter – in the ways that they serve Christ – if Christ himself is the true object of our service and worship. Like many contentious issues in Christian doctrine, the solution is often ‘Both… And’ rather than ‘Either… Or’.
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”.
The method that God chose to save the world was offensive to Jews and foolish to Gentiles. It didn’t matter, though, since: “…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. Let’s not give ourselves credit for being wise enough to put our faith in Jesus – it is because of God that we are in Christ, the scripture says. We were never going to be wise enough to work the doctrine of ‘salvation by faith alone’ out for ourselves. So if we are intending to boast, let’s at least give all the credit to God!
1 CHRONICLES 17 and 18
The Ark had been safely returned to Jerusalem without anyone else dying and David was now established fully as king over all Israel. He had had a cedar palace built and moved in with his wives, concubines, children, and servants. Everything was wonderful! And then, David was troubled: “My house is better than God’s house”, he thought to himself, “That cannot be right!”. He shared it with Nathan, one of his new appointments as prophet to the King. Nathan, new to the role and eager to please, knew what David was getting at and assumed that such a great man as David must be thinking along the right lines… but he was wrong!
It is easy to think that a very wise and famous believer is almost infallible; we go to hear an international Christian speaker and swallow his message ‘undiluted’. But no-one is perfect; no-one hears from God totally clearly and without error or distortion. Even the great apostle Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 13): “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part”. We do far better to test what we hear preached, taught, or prophesied, just as the noble Bereans did in Acts 17:11, checking through the scriptures to satisfy themselves that any new teaching was compatible with the revealed Word of God.
David asked Nathan because he wanted to know what God was saying – rather than just Nathan’s opinion. David, a man after God’s heart, demonstrated this characteristic by seeking the Lord’s will on every occasion, big or small, and by then following that heavenly command to the letter. That is why David was such a successful king. Failure to seek the will of the Spirit of God is one of the main reasons that we stumble in life, and in our spiritual journey. If only we would consult the Lord day-to-day, and hour-to-hour! It informs us and it honours him.
Suitably rebuked by the Lord, Nathan finally hears his true will and conveys that to David: God does not want or need a house built for Him, but he will build a house-hold for the king. God promised that, just as he had raised David from the job of a lowly shepherd, so he would continue to exalt him and make him one of the greatest shepherd-kings ever! David’s offspring would benefit from the blessing that was David’s reward, and God himself would be a father to David’s children. Fatherhood includes “Punishing the son with the rod of correction” – a literal physical punishment that all children need from time to time, when administered fairly and lovingly by a man with a servant heart. The book of Proverbs is full of the benefits of disciplining children properly, of including corporal punishment sparingly, and of not being afraid to make yourself unpopular with your children in order to raise them to be loving, upright and godly citizens.
Having heard the revelation, David prayed it all back to the Lord. Much prophecy is implicitly conditional and needs its conditions obeyed and its promises prayed in order to be fulfilled. So David thanks God for being so gracious to him in the past and asks for the complete fulfilment of God’s promises in the future. That is the way to deal with prophecy!
1 Chronicles 17 is nearly a mirror image of 2 Samuel 7, with some subtle differences (which matter). David is painted as a man of war, in contrast to Solomon, the man of peace. Chronicles attempts to draw the parallel between these two and Moses and Joshua. The references to “punishing Solomon with the rod” or “floggings” are omitted, since Solomon is regarded as a Messianic figure. Also, God refers to Israel as “My House and My Kingdom”, rather than “Your house and your kingdom”.
Just because David was a man after God’s heart did not prevent him from being utterly ruthless in battle. He first came to Israel’s attention by killing Goliath, and he now maintained his reputation by delivering crushing defeats on all his enemies. Even the way he dealt with his defeated enemies was merciless – taking the Roman concept of ‘Decimation’ and racking up the severity level by nearly seven. (See 2 Samuel 8:2.) He slaughtered the Philistines, the Moabites, various groups of Arameans, and Edomites. God had commanded that any Israelite king must not acquire great numbers of horses (Deuteronomy 17:16), so David had them hamstrung instead.
If all this shows David’s ruthless sense of justice and his great power against the evil forces, then it shows that the man after God’s heart must be like God himself in this regard. We are fond of proclaiming the love, the mercy, and the grace of the Lord, but we must not overlook that he is the God of Justice, of righteousness, and of majesty too. He does punish his enemies and reject those who reject him. His mercy is incomprehensible unless it is seen through the lens of his justice.
A great leader needs great men around him, and David filled the key roles of Army Commander, Recorder (or maybe Chief Administrator), the Joint High Priests, Secretary, and chief officials. Many leaders are insecure and will only appoint people under them who are unthreatening ‘yes men’; it is far better to appoint people who are better than you (in your view) as long as they are willing to acknowledge your authority and to serve your vision.
David had a spirit of generosity and actively sought out those he could bless. He felt an obligation to the household of Saul and remembered his friendship and his covenant with Jonathan. So he found a surviving son of Jonathan – crippled in both feet – and raised him up to the status of honoured guest for life. Mephibosheth was a man of great honour and graciously received David’s ongoing hospitality and income for life. He would feature a little later on as a true and loyal supporter of the King, even when David was a refugee in his own kingdom and out of favour with the people. True friends stay loyal and uphold you when you are not ‘flavour of the month’, so choose them wisely!
The 1 Chronicles 18 passage is very similar but written for slightly different reasons. It misses out the whole of 2 Samuel 9 (Mephibosheth), since the House of Saul was no longer relevant, and also the harsh treatment of the Moabites in 2 Samuel 8:2. It also designates David’s sons as chief officials, rather than as priests. They may well have had a dual role in any case.