Saturday 20th August 2022

1 CORINTHIANS 14

If the message of 1 Cor 12 is that the Body of Christ has unity and power through diversity, and the message of 1 Cor 13 majors on the method and motivation of manifesting the gifts, then today’s chapter is about administering these powerful gifts.

Paul explains in more depth how to use certain of the gifts: powerful prophecy and intriguing tongues.  Don’t be reticent about desiring these great guns of spiritual power!  Dive in!  Tongues are not prophecies in disguise whose message is uncovered by some hidden code; this gift is, for a start, a person speaking to God (v2) – therefore the interpretation will come across as a conversation from us to Him.  Prophecies, of course, are in the opposite direction (v3). 

The second thing about tongues is that they come in two styles: the public meeting style and the private prayer style.  The public style is of no benefit to anyone other than the speaker – since no-one has a clue what it means (1 Corinthians 13:1 tells us that it might be a human foreign language or an angelic one).  The way to get benefit from public tongues is to have them interpreted by someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation.  Then everyone will comprehend exactly what you are saying, when you are praising God or praying to him in the strange language.

The private tongues are a different matter: these are for every believer – in my view – to pray to God in a way that transcends their normal vernacular prayer life.  It is also very faith-building.  (See Jude 20.)  Paul was perhaps the mightiest Christian believer in terms of faith and miracles, along with a great grasp of the scriptures.  His secret: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”.  (14:18).  But he did this in private, without interpretation, between just him and God.  You pray for all kinds of things that your mind would not even contemplate; and you are praying in the perfect will of God, since the Spirit is directing your prayers.  Find some spaces in your own lives (e.g. driving to work) where you can pray uninterrupted in tongues for a half hour or so.

Prophecy is emphatically for building up the church and its members.  It includes speaking words of strengthening, encouraging and comfort.  If a prophecy is none of these, then it should at least be questioned.  In any case, it must be tested by several others who are prophetically sensitive, to avoid errors or wishful thinking on the part of the prophet.  It is not infallible (see 13:9) and usually a mix of God’s word and man’s hopes; the longer is goes on, the more ‘dilute’ it generally is!

The gift of tongues is also a fulfilment of Isaiah 28:11-12, as a sign of God’s judgment upon faithless Israel since the nation would not listen to the Lord’s plain speech to them.  That is what 14:22 means when it says that “…tongues are a sign for unbelievers”.  Prophecy, on the other hand is a direct fulfilment of Joel 2:28-29 and so a sign for believers (look it up).  In terms of effectiveness, the ‘Sign for Unbelievers’ does not actually change anyone’s hearts, whereas prophecy usually does (see 14:24-25).

All of these gifts, especially the ‘speaking’ gifts such as tongues and prophecy, must be delivered in an orderly fashion, governed by the church leadership.  In Corinth, it was clear that things tended to get ‘out of hand’, whereas in a lot of UK churches, we would be really delighted if there was any chance of a disorderly riot of spiritual manifestation! 

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the whole purpose of these gifts is to build up one another and so to grow the church of Christ.  There is also no indication of the size of the gathering of people, which means that it can occur in large ‘celebration’ meetings or small ‘home church’ gatherings equally well.  These are gifts we need to practise as much as receive, so that we can export them from our meetings into the streets, where they are likely to be even more powerful.  (See Ezekiel 47:1-9 for an indication of that last sentence.)

2 CHRONICLES 10, 11 and 12

Today’s reading covers the same events as in 1 Kings 12, 13 and 14, but the ‘Chronicler’ who wrote 2 Chronicles has a different emphasis from the writer of 1 Kings.  The Chronicler (as I shall call him) wants to write a history of the dynasty of King David and the role of the Temple in Jerusalem.  It is a priestly angle on national events that emphasises purity and the rapid response of the Lord to obedience and disobedience, to humility and to pride.  Much of the history of the Northern Kingdom is missing from Chronicles, compared to 1 Kings, except where it affects Judah from now on.  The Chronicler wants to trace God’s faithfulness to his original promise to David – that of an unbroken line of descent on the throne of Israel.  In fact, as we see later, even the term ‘Israel’ was redefined to mean only those who remained faithful to the Lord.

As we saw in the parallel passages of 1 Kings, Rehoboam responded to the Northern Tribes unfavourably and unwisely; his peers – to whom he listened, rather than to the elders – were ‘drunk’ on their new-found positions of power and influence as the king’s friends and advisors, and they decided to make the most of their authority.  It is tempting to some people in powerful positions to become bullies, to feed their pride in their positions of authority, and to convince themselves that they are in these positions by virtue of their own abilities and worthiness.  Sadly, Rehoboam allowed his own sense of pride to join in with this approach; he wanted everyone to know that he was greater than the great Solomon, his father.  The result, according to the Chronicler, is found in 2 Chronicles 10:19: “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”  Chronicles is almost certainly a book written after the return from exile (between 450 and 400 BC) and so this statement is true of the ongoing relationship between Israel and Judah – reaching even into New Testament hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans.  (I Kings was probably a pre-exile writing, between 100 and 150 years earlier.)

Rehoboam did do the sensible thing and seek the Lord before attacking the Northern rebels; this was just as well, since he would have certainly lost any battle, given that God had promised the Northern Kingdom to Jeroboam as long as he remained faithful to God.  The result of Rehoboam’s obedience – instantly rewarded by God – was that he become more prosperous and stronger, securing all Judah and Benjamin as his kingdom.  Furthermore, those faithful priests and Levites who had been living throughout the entire land of Israel sided with him and relocated themselves to be nearer Jerusalem – since they were disgusted by the idolatry and false worship that Jeroboam had begun to institute up north.  Other godly people from all the tribes did the same.  For three years, all went very well for Rehoboam.  (2 Chronicles 11:5-23 is unique to the Chronicler’s account and not found in 1 Kings.)

Further blessing on Rehoboam’s obedience came from successful marriages and plentiful numbers of children.  His favourite wife – a true love match! – was Maakah, who was one of Absalom’s daughters (or possibly a granddaughter) and was almost certainly a very beautiful woman – given the good looks that Absalom’s family line seemed to be blessed with.  Unsurprisingly, Rehoboam decided to make the firstborn son of Maakah his heir.  The boy’s name was Abijah, not to be confused with Jeroboam’s firstborn son, Abijah!  (Clearly a trendy name in the Jerusalem Times Newspaper’s ‘Most Popular Names’ list!)  Rehoboam dispersed all his other sons to useful jobs at the far corners of his empire, to avoid the sibling rivalry problems that had beset his grandfather, David.  He also gave them plenty of money and plenty of wives – which kept them both busy and content!

Complacency comes with contentment, and Rehoboam fell into temptations.  2 Chronicles 12:1 tells us that “After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord”.  It is a frustrating trait of human nature that, as soon as we stop seeing the need for God’s help on a daily basis, we stop trusting in him for practical assistance and guidance.  We view the Lord as a means to our own happiness and security and not as the God and Saviour who deserves our time, our worship, and our allegiance.  Perhaps that is why some of us are going through tough times at present: God needs our attention on him in order to keep us faithful to him.  It would be much easier for us if we chose to give him our attention anyway!

The other significant phrase in this verse is “…all Israel with him”.  The Chronicler has now ‘written off’ the unfaithful Northern peoples and uses the term ‘Israel’ to mean only those who remained faithful in Judah and Benjamin’s territory.  In effect, ‘Israel’ has been redefined.  In the New Testament, Paul did this yet again: “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6-).  See also John 8:44;  Romans 11:5,7,26; and Galatians 6:16. 

Quickly the retribution from the Lord comes Rehoboam’s way: the king of Egypt invades and starts to enslave those in the Southern Kingdom – the fact of it being a punishment is confirmed by the prophet Shemaiah (2 Chronicles 12:5).   Then, good news: Rehoboam and the people humble themselves towards the Lord and repent; as a result, God spares them from destruction but decrees that their slavery will continue for a while longer – just so that they realise what a good deal they had when they only had to serve the Lord alone.

Rehoboam’s reign of seventeen years (4 years shorter than Jeroboam’s in the north) finally ended, and he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.  However, his epitaph was not flattering: “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14); in this regard he was very different from his grandfather, David, who was a man after God’s own heart!  Let’s learn from the grandfather and not the grandson.  Let’s learn daily to seek the Lord for ourselves!

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