1 CORINTHIANS 16
This chapter of 1 Corinthians is right back down to earth – and it starts with money! Generous giving frees us all from greed and materialism. The Early Church gathered usually on the ‘First Day of the Week’ – i.e. on a Sunday – to break bread, to study, to share the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to worship (see Acts 20:7). It was convenient for Paul on these occasions – and now for us – to invite the disciples to worship God also with their finances! Applying those same principles, when we meet together, we should plan ahead to set aside a proportion of our income and then give it to those we trust in our church leadership, or to those delegated by the leaders. The bulk of Paul’s collection money went towards meeting the needs of other Christians.
Paul honours the household of Stephanas – since they have been so faithful in serving God’s people – and urges other believers to submit to these servants! If you want to get to the top – as Jesus said – learn to serve everyone!
Aquila and Priscilla – refugees from Italy who had become key players in the planting of God’s church in Ephesus – had created a “church in their home”. We now realise that church meetings come in all sizes, and it is most effective to adopt a ‘both / and’ approach to our gatherings. Meetings in the home (or even online) are small, easily manageable, inexpensive, and intimate – enabling those involved to disciple one another and to be accountable, with deep involvement in one another’s lives. Meeting together regularly – perhaps on Sundays – in congregation-sized gatherings adds a further dimension to our interactions, which facilitates economies of scale, a stronger sense of corporate belonging and usually a greater sense of the presence of God. From time to time, there are further benefits to us from joining up with other churches regionally in large-scale celebration events, which allows for bigger teaching and worship opportunities along with the chance to enjoy powerful ministry gifts from wider afield. Of course, the bigger the gathering, the more focussed it has to be on ministry ‘from the front’, and the less opportunity it allows for full-church ‘body ministry’. So we need all sizes of meeting to achieve a ‘balanced diet’.
2 CHRONICLES 24 and 25
Sometimes if you want a job done, you just have to get on and organise it yourself. And if you have been King of Judah since you were seven years old, you could be forgiven for getting a bit impatient over the lack of progress in your lifetime! Joash was the new king, taking over after the six tyrannical years under Athaliah, the previous Queen Mother, and being guided diligently and impartially, by Jehoiada the priest, into closely following the ways of the Lord. Joash had decided to restore the temple and needed money to pay the workman, therefore he asked the Levites to collect it and use it for the reconstruction work. However, for some reason, they all prevaricated and so the work didn’t really get going at all. Eventually, Joash himself had a large secure chest converted into a giant moneybox (i.e. it was easy to put it in but hard to get it out). The people were commanded to bring their due taxes (as initiated by Moses) and put them into the chest, which was then emptied by one representative of the priesthood and one from the palace. After that the work progressed spectacularly fast.
It may seem strange and unnecessary to you that God’s people should be spoken to directly by those in government over them to persuade them to do what they should have been doing anyway. Giving money seems, to some Christians, a very private (almost ‘sacred’) thing, never to be mentioned aloud. These Christians would have therefore been very uncomfortable in Jesus’ day, since he spoke a great deal about money; they would also have felt ‘imposed upon’ in Joash’s era. Perhaps we need to kill this myth that money and giving are somehow ‘so’ secret, and instead reinstate the New Testament philosophies of generosity, transparency and free-will giving. It is sad to say that many bible-believing Christians of today have used financial recessions as an excuse to cut back on their giving to their local church (to be used in the way that the leadership sees fit) and to hide behind a veil of confidentiality and secrecy to save face. But the Lord sees! And He cannot be mocked. If you have set yourself the task of giving faithfully – and maybe working up to and beyond a ‘ten percent’ level, then don’t turn back from the task in hand.
After his friend and spiritual mentor, Jehoiada, died, Joash rather ‘went off the rails’ spiritually. He forsook the Lord and slid back to the old Baal worship, rejecting and persecuting the Lord’s prophets who spoke the word to him. When someone who mentors us no longer has the same influence, for whatever reason, this is the acid test of how effective their discipleship was. When the disciple has to stand on their own two feet, will they then stay loyal to their mentor and his teachings, or will they forget the grace that has been given them and reject the years of good guidance? God punished Joash with death by the hands of his officials – something that Solomon’s aides would never have dreamed of doing!
Meanwhile, Jehoahaz son of Jehu had become king in Israel, and he began as badly as Jeroboam and Ahab had ended their reigns. But, like Ahab, he repented and sought God’s favour – God just cannot resist repentance, no matter how long you have been in rebellion – and God rescued both the king and the nation. Jehoahaz’s son, Jehoash, succeeded his father as king; he was just as bad as any other recent king too! Just before Elisha’s death from a serious illness (notice that even prophets of God can became ill), Elisha delivered his final prophetic statements about the Northern Kingdom, illustrated by the shooting and striking of arrows. Even after his death, Elisha’s bones held potent life-giving power, raising another dead man to life just by contact with Elisha’s skeleton. We today might not have quite this effect upon the next generation, but we too can leave a life-giving legacy behind, so that after our death, others may come to live forever in a different way!
Unusually, a good king follows a bad king in Judah. Amaziah succeeded his father, Joash. We recall from yesterday’s reading that Joash had started off well, under the discipleship of Jehoiada, but had ‘gone bad’ later in his life. Amaziah his son had been blessed by some godly parenting early in his childhood and youth and he had retained these principles of faith and character when he grew older. The first few years of a child’s life are absolutely critical in the formation of godly character – and it is the parents’ number one task to fashion this in their children at an early age. It is impossible to start too young and it is very easy to leave it too late! “Bring up a child in the way he/she should go…”.
Amaziah mustered a large army and reinforced it by hiring a hundred thousand mercenaries from Northern Israel. Later, as he was preparing to attack the men of Mount Seir, a prophet challenged him not to rely on these extra men, but to put his full trust in the Lord. He obeyed, despite having paid a huge sum of money, and he sent the mercenaries home. The battle turned out to be a great victory for Amaziah, vindicating the prophetic word and the king’s faith in God.
The weird thing that followed was that Amaziah started to worship the captured idol-gods of the peoples of Seir, bowing down to them instead of to the Lord. The pithy question from the next prophet summed up God’s exasperation with Amaziah: “Why do you consult this people’s gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?” (2 Chronicles 25:15). The king refused to listen, let alone to repent. Instead he attacked Jehoash, the incumbent King of Israel and was brutally defeated, Jerusalem partially destroyed, and great plunder taken from Judah back to Israel. Eventually, some of his own people tracked the fleeing Amaziah down and killed him. His son, Azariah became king at the age of sixteen.
These simple accounts of obedience or disobedience to the Lord, of trust in human power and resources, or trust in the Lord’s provision and protection, are the abiding themes of the books of Kings and Chronicles. The bias of these kings and their people towards foreign gods, carved images and demonic and crudely sexualised practices was the main reason that eventually the Lord swept them all from his land – Israel first, and then Judah. They had become no better than the nations that they themselves had displaced as the original act of God’s justice in the land. The nation became like the idols they sought to worship: they became ‘nothings’!