Category Archives: The Last Days

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Most Excellent Way

Discussion Question

How many classic songs can you list that have ‘love’ in the title? There’s ‘Love, love me do’, and ‘She loves me’, both by The Beatles. What else can you come up with in 2 minutes?

Background (Context)

The church in Corinth needed to hear how they were living no differently to the people of this world. Apart from their history with Paul and Apollos and their knowledge of the gospel, it would be difficult to identify this church as a Christian gathering. Divisions, quarrels, immorality, pride, selfishness, impatience, and superiority complexes – these are just the things off the top of my head to list down. They have forgotten how amazing their God is, how amazing grace is and how important the cross of Christ is. In Chapter 12, Paul reminded them that they are all part of the one body because they are all saved the same Spirit who enables them to call Jesus their Lord.

In the church, there are significant gifts such as prophecy and teaching (more on prophecy again in Chapter 14) but Paul takes a moment to talk about something greater than the biggest roles in the church. Notice that Paul began to talk about gifts from the Spirit in Chapter 12 which continues in Chapter 14. But something that is not a gift for just some people is the virtue of love. 1 Corinthians 14:1 will link this thought by saying: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. Love is the characteristic that all gifts need to be expressions of. Prophecy is a great gift but love is the excellent way for it to be shared.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)
  • A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)
  • Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  When Paul has just mentioned ‘eagerly desire the greater gifts’, we firstly wonder what the greater gifts must be! What should we pursue with earnestness? But then he stops to speak about, not the greater gifts, but the most excellent way. Love is not one of the gifts that Paul can ask, do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all have love? The answer to the first two questions is no! But the answer to the last ought to be yes! It is not one of the gifts but the way of Christian maturity. It is a virtuous growth that is expressed across everything that we do. No matter what you are engaged in, 1 Corinthians 13 has instruction on how you must engage in it! See 1 Jn 4:8.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…” Be careful to notice that Paul is not recommending that the tongue of angels is even a thing but that he says that if or even if we did that – but do not have love, it is nothing to be impressed by.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…” We can stop for a second and wonder if there is something to learn about the definition of prophecy here. Paul seems to have used hyperbole when describing ‘speaking in tongues’ and so it seems reasonable to think that we can learn something about prophecy but stop short of thinking that prophecy, by definition, is about understanding all mysteries and all knowledge – something like a fortune teller or a wise wizard. A working definition of prophecy is: speaking the word of God into the current environment. When the scriptures were incomplete (the direct revelation from God – see 2 Peter 1:19-21) prophecy is given for people to write down the word of God for the benefit of many to hear, read, pay attention to. But now that the scriptures are written, we refer to the written scriptures and can speak these words of God, with meaning and understanding into the lives of our hearers. Paul suggests that a prophet has knowledge of things beyond human capacity and that fits with the words of 2 Peter 1. The word of God, the scriptures, are filled with all knowledge and the mystery of God’s will revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. But such profound and ‘out-of-this-world’ knowledge is nothing and makes you nothing if you do not have love.

“…if I have faith that can move mountains…” Can you hear the hyperbole? Can you hear the exaggerated examples? Jesus spoke of the ability to tell a mountain to be moved into the sea or wherever with only the faith the size of a mustard seed (Mt 17:20; 21:21). The bible challenges us to put our trust in the God who made the mountains (Psalm 121:1-2). The message, even from Jesus, is to say that if you trust in God, you must raise your expectations of what is possible. But the thing that stops Christians from becoming superheroes with the abilities of Dr Strange is that our faith directs us to the will of God. When we pray, give me today my daily bread, we have first of all prayed, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Maybe our faith does not more work. Maybe we could experience more if our faith was increased. Or maybe, when we put our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will do more than move mountains for us, he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth! He will raise our mortal bodies from the dead! And he will use our words of faith to bring people from darkness to light and from death to life! And that would be God’s will being done!

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast…” Here we have again some exaggerated suggestions but a new bit of info. In the place of love, we would be doing these things in order to boast. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith acts, giving to the poor and suffering are all under the Christian umbrella of right things (when understood and done right) but none of them are successful or useful when boasting lies behind the motive.

“…I gain nothing…” The absence of love makes a useless action. So, here is the rebuke to the Corinthians: they were boasting for all sorts of reasons. But they possessed nothing because they did it all for their own boasting and pride. Before Paul can talk about the gifts, he needs to rebuke the receivers of the gifts because they are all acting like children who need to grow up and live for others and not for themselves. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is not an advertisement for love but a rebuke against boasting.

A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)

“Love is…”  The list of love attributes that follow fill out the full expressions of love. It is way more than simple desire or passion. To say that “love is love” does not say anything. To say “a bear is a bear” does not help describe what a bear is! Paul puts flesh and descriptions on love to help us see the breadth of it. We will discover that it is BIG! And if the Corinthian church had simply put on love and pursued that, then all of the problems outlined in this letter from Paul would not have existed or would have been solved.

“…patient…” If the church had known patience, they would not have messed up the Lord’s Supper so much. They may have listened patiently to one another instead of taking each other off to court!

“…kind…” If the church had expressed kindness, then they would have avoided the divisions that boasted in one leader over another, would have seen that some of their brothers and sisters were being ruined by the eating of food offered to idols.

“…it does not envy…” Envy is the desire for somebody else to lose. It says, I hope that you fail in your position that I want. It says, I would receive joy in seeing your demise. It says, I should be where you are. Paul spoke in Chapter 4 about his little care for what the Corinthians thought of him since his motives are to act like a servant who is judged by God for what he does. He seeks to pursue works that do not promote envy from anyone.

“…it does not boast…” Then they would not say “I follow Apollos!” See 3:21. No human has any right to boast especially in the church. We are all indebted to Christ so that if anyone were to boast, it ought to be to boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31).

“…it is not proud.” Envy is to wish somebody else’s downfall, boasting is to puff yourself up, and pride is to look down on others. All of these come from a place of insecurity. But when we boast in the Lord and practice thankfulness and praise to him, we exercise these other three out of our bad habits.

“It does not dishonour… not self-seeking… not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs.” Can you picture how these areas may have fixed problems in the Corinthian church? Can you imagine what your life would look like if these four areas were godly? I must say, when our society falls in love with the slogan: love is love and yet displays all the signs of an unloving bunch, we’ve been raised very uneducated by the Word of God.

“Love does not delight in evil…” Remember when Paul pointed out the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife and all were boasting about that?! We may say, again as we look at our culture, that we have delighted recently in some evils. But then we are left with the question, what is evil and what is not. What is good for you may not be good for you. This is where the next statement helps.

“…but rejoices with the truth.” Evil and truth are connected categorically here. Right and wrong have very much to do with truth and lies. To align love with the truth is to align truth with God. Paul pushes us to go beyond ‘aligning with’ the truth and says that love rejoices with the truth. The gospel is truth. The first change that we make when we enter into our relationship of love with God is to confess that we are not lovely. To rejoice in the truth that Jesus is in a different category of humanity and that we need Him. And to rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. To run away from this and promote the soft lie that everybody is basically good is, really, to live with evil.

“It always protects…” This seems fitting that love is protecting. It does not follow that love covers up sin or evil or something like that. God is described in Psalm 121 as our protector who always watches over us. It does not follow that God always keeps us away from suffering and trials. These things are actually good for growth and faith. Love does not require “helicopter” protection. Overseers in the church, for example, don’t need to react every time something uncomfortable is going on. A Growth Group Leader, for example, does not need to correct every little thing that is said in a group nor finish every conversation that the group is having. A protector can appear to be very passive (or am I now getting on a personal soap box?). Love always protects – and a good mature protector will not act out of anxiety for others.

“…always trusts…” I find this one tricky because how can we trust everyone? But perhaps we are not told to trust everyone but to always trust – is there a difference? Perhaps it is fitting that this item is placed straight after protects. The two can work quite well together. Note that trust and faith are pretty synonymous. So love is aligned with faith – not simply faith in God but faith in the work that God is doing in the world and that His work stretches to all of our interactions with people and the events in this world. It seems that our knowledge of the Sovereignty of God helps us to be able to trust, even when things look scary.

“…always hopes, always perseveres.” Verse 7 contains attributes of love that all seem dependant on our knowledge of God. He is the God of tomorrow. He is the source of our hope and perseverance. Without our faith (trust) we have no hope. Without hope there is no motivation to persevere.

Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

“Love never fails.” That is it. When wondering what to do or how to act: choose the path of love as prescribed in Verses 4-7. Love always works because it embraces the work of God which is patient, kind, well tempered and so on. The alternatives to love do fail. Envy, boasting, pride, dishonor/lies, self-seeking, quick tempered and fault finding – these fail to get anybody anywhere good. But Paul has a different angle to give us here. It is not just that love is the better way – it is the forever way.

“…prophecies… will cease… tongues… will be stilled… knowledge… will pass away.” Our time here on planet earth – for all humanity – is a passing thing. A day will come when what we think is important now will be shown to be trivial. The work and building and projects that we invest in so much now will all pass away and be replaced with something so much greater. Paul expands on this in Verses 9-10 – those verses I will not expand on.

“When I was a child…” Paul uses the analogy of growing up to illustrate the difference between what we know now and what we will know in the future. You think of your childhood now and you conclude: I had no clue. And now that you are older, you put aside your limited view of life and embrace adult thinking (some people mourn this because they believe that childhood is an age of innocence and purity but it is more of an age of being protected and dependant).

“For now we see only a reflection…” Paul’s second illustration is to say that this life looks clear and true but there is a greater reality that goes beyond this existence. We talk about God and love Him and rejoice in the truth of the gospel but one day, we shall see God and His kingdom in the clearest vision ever! It’s more dramatic than comparing a black and white silent movie with a 3D cinema experience!

“……then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” What a little gem of a line. It is easy to miss these treasures hidden in the midst of other great truths. Paul is talking about the short life-span of prophecy, tongues and knowledge compared to the eternal and unstopping value of love. As he addresses knowledge, it is not that knowledge will cease, but what we know will be vastly superior to what we know now. So, here are my two take-aways from this. 1) knowledge is about clarity. Even now we must expect that our knowledge of things should grow. We come to faith in Christ and young Christians believe they know everything, but as you mature you realise that knowledge of God is just ever-expanding. A young Growth Group Leader should feel confidence in this because they will not be scared of heresy, but simply a knowledge that we grow in clarity as they mature. 2) We will look forward to knowing God better but God already knows us in full. His knowledge of us is not growing in clarity. He knows you. We often worry about how other people perceive us and whether they understand where we are coming from. Well, God understands where you are coming from. How wonderful is that little jewel of knowledge!

“…faith, hope and love.” When all is said and done, our trust in the Lord is paramount and it feeds our hope which in turn strengthens our perseverance. These three words all speak of our relationship with God which is forever. Faith and hope will be modified in eternity because of the clarity of vision and change of environment but love will be unaltered. Our eternal God who is love has shown us the most excellent way!

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Love never fails. Never expires. Always excellent. The attributes of love are seen in the character of God. If we would learn this, we would cover over a multitude of sins. Thank God that His love has done just that for us in Christ Jesus!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The rebuke of love. Paul’s rebuke to this church is challenged in every way by the description of love. In how many ways has this passage rebuked you? We all fail to love perfectly. That’s why we need the perfect saviour who loved perfectly. Is there one or two aspects that you can identify as urgent areas to repent of? Perhaps it is dishonouring somebody. Perhaps envy or pride. Reflect on what you can do this week to repent and repair a relationship then pray about that.

Topic B: The desire for love. This lesson to love is an ongoing transformation which will never be perfect this side of heaven. It seems wise to take a passage like this and store it permanently so that we can train our hearts to respond in love quicker and quicker over time. So, memorise 1 Corinthians 13. Simple. It’s a small chapter and can be a project that your group begins this week and works on together over time. Why not start with Verses 4-7. Get that in your head. Then add Verses 8-13. Finally, include Verses 1-3.

Topic C: Love speaks less. When we consider the attributes of love in this Chapter, we may begin to see how our tongues are trained. The first thing that acts in many situations is the tongue. Patience? Hold your tongue. Kind? Watch your tongue. Envious, boastful or proud? Convert your tongue to praise and thankfulness. Engaging the brain through prayer and understanding before we speak will save us from much damage. When we continue onto Chapter 14, we discover that we are not told to stop speaking altogether, but to join love and truth together.

2 Samuel 14 – A King’s Plans

Discussion Question

Have you ever been banished from somewhere?

Background (Context)

Previously, we read of David’s sons: the wickedness of Amnon and the revenge from Absalom. One son committed sexual immorality and lust while the other, the eldest, committed murder. Instead of David’s children being wiser than he, they revealed their own kind of wickedness. We also watched as David stood at a distance and failed to get involved. He failed to intervene, or disciple, or discipline, or rebuke. As Chapter 13 closed, we heard of Absalom putting distance between himself and the kingdom as David wept for the loss of his son Amnon. Absalom was banished from the kingdom without the king even ordering it. We continue to see the story unfold as our beloved king is slow to reconcile.

Read 2 Samuel 14

Read 2 Samuel 14 online here

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)
  • Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)

Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)

“Joab son of Zeruiah…” Remember him from earlier chapters? He was David’s nephew (1 Chronicles 2:16) but the chief of the army (2 Samuel 8:16). He seems to be keen for the kingdom of David even if he’s not keen on the kingdom of God. In this chapter we’ll watch as he acts on what he thinks would be best for the kingdom of David.

“…knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom.” This is a tricky verse to digest. See, if David longed for Absalom then why does Joab need to go to such lengths to ‘trick’ David into bringing Absalom back and then, when Absalom returns, the king forbids him to see the king face to face. If David longed for Absalom then it would only take a nudge from Joab to go out and get him. This is a translation issue and 2 Samuel 14:1 should read something like, the king’s heart was against Absalom or the king’s heart was upon Absalom (meaning that he thought on him a lot and could just as easily be a negative thought). The reason for the english translations to go the way they do is because of the confusing 2 Samuel 13:39. That verse is a lot trickier (so says John Woodhouse and Dale Ralph Davis in their commentaries. The relationship between Davie and Absalom makes more sense when we see that David did not long to see him but was very mindful of him.

“So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there.” It is reasonable to imagine that Joab saw the absence of Absalom as a problem for the future of the kingdom. He was the next heir to the throne and so being absent created a weakness in succession. Plus, as we’ll see later in the chapter, Absalom was much liked by the people and so if Absalom remains an outcast (which was really self inflicted) then the kingdom of David has a serious crack in it that needs fixing. So Joab takes charge to trick the king into a decision. He invites a woman from a town about 16km south of Jerusalem. His plan could not be accomplished by anybody but by somebody who could think on their feet, follow the plan and know how to close the deal.

“He said to her, “Pretend…go to the king and speak these words…”” We can recall when Nathan wanted to convict David of sin and needed him to repent. He came to the king with the word of the LORD in his mouth. This woman will go to the king with the ‘words of Joab in her mouth.’ Nathan’s story was quite brief and effective while the plan of Joab’s had three phases involving a dress up performance by the woman. It seems to me like a tip to us that Joab is not doing something that is wise and worthy but something cunning and wise in Joab’s eyes but not perhaps the king’s or God’s. 

“She said, “I am a widow; my husband is dead…two sons…one struck the other and killed him.” Like Nathan’s story about the man who had a precious sheep which paralleled secretly the story of David and Uriah’s wife, this story has been manufactured to parallel the death of Amnon by the hand of his brother. The woman is reciting to the king and to the reader the words that were given to her by Joab. We may also recall the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 which resulted in God protecting the murdering brother. That kind of mercy and protection is what the woman will try to get from the king.

“They would put out the only burning coal I have left…” The story hinges on mercy being extended on compassionate grounds. If the woman loses her guilty son then the family name will come to an end.

“The king said…Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf.” The story has not pulled the king in emotionally and we might hear the king here simpy asking the woman to go and leave it with him. Perhaps he’ll then get someone in charge to go and make it known that this woman and her son should be left alone. End of story. The king can get on with his day and this stranger can leave his room now. But the woman, in her cunningness, wants the king to give her his decision…

“Let my lord the king pardon me and my family, and let the king and his throne be without guilt.” The woman is pushing to get the king’s response right there and then. Remember that it is fake news and she just wants to corner the king into showing mercy in this situation. She may be suggesting that there will be no repercussions coming back to the king with regard to this or she may be suggesting that if he answers now, then he will not be tempted to forget her and not fulfill his word to issue an order.

“As surely as the LORD lives…not one hair of your son’s head will fall to the ground.” The woman has three attempts to get the king to come to a final declaration that the murdering son will be kept safe from all repercussions. He first said something like ‘leave it with me’ (V8). Then he said to the effect of, ‘if you run into problems, let me know about it’ (V10). But finally he declares by an oath to God that the son is safe from punishment. See Numbers 35:12 and 21 on what the ‘avenger of blood’ refers to.

“Let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” I reckon it’s touch and go whether the king’s patience is getting tested by now. The woman was no doubt introduced to the king by Joab and so the king is being gracious with the meeting. Perhaps the king has come to enjoy this interaction.

“Why then have you devised a thing like this…” Not quite the same power as Nathan saying ‘You are the man!’ But the vibe is the same. The king has not brought back his banished son. Absalom was banished by his own means but the fact remains that David has not sought his return.

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” Cool illustration of death. There is a perminance to death like water spilled on the ground. I recall the proverb that a bent metal cannot be straightened (Eccles 1:15; 7:13). Some things can only travel in one direction. Death is a one way street. 

“But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” God could have resorted to the death penalty for all who have fallen short of his glory but he has devised ways for people to return to him. The sacrificial system communicates to the people that with God there is forgiveness. Even Cain was given protection in the world to not face death before his days were numbered. God’s nature is always to have mercy. This woman speaks a truth that is perhaps beyond her own understanding. Verse 14 is highlighted in my bible. We can talk forever about who is right and wrong but it is great to learn the lesson that God seeks restoration. We have no greater vision of this than the cross of Christ. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. Christ came into the world to save sinners.

“…for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil…” For some reason, the woman returns to her story that she is really there to get pardon for her son but used the occasion to push David to restore Absalom also. But she pushes on the king’s ambition to be full of wisdom and discerning between right and wrong, good and evil. This, by the way, is the challenge to all mankind. In the garden we were tested to choose between good and evil. Stupidly we took the fruit thinking that it would teach us the difference between good and evil but it really just gave us the experience of what happens when we choose evil. See also Phil 1:9-11.

“Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?” David has seen through this fiscade now and wants the woman to come out of her disguise so they can talk about the true issue: Absalom.

“…Joab did this to change the present situation.” We get insight into Joab a little here. He is not content with the situation of David’s oldest son living as an outcast to the kingdom. In all of the drama with Amnon and Absalom, we would have loved David to step in and teach Amnon a better way, to send Amnon away for his sin, and so on. The delay in acting has created this situation.

“The king said to Joab…” We see that Joab has been present this whole time. It explains how she was brought to the king’s ear, why he entertained her so long and I can imagine that David looked at Joab when he asked the woman ‘is the hand of Joab in this?’ The woman in the story now disappears and is not mentioned again.

“Joab fell with his face to the ground…the king has granted his servant’s request.” Joab has got what he wanted out of this story – at least he thinks he has. Joab has manipulated David and, instead of being wise coucel and rebuke like Nathan to the king, it was foolish methods and lies in order to coerce the king into doing what seemed wise in Joab’s eyes.

“…he must go to his own house; he must not see my face.” He is allowed back to Jerusalem but he is forbidden from seeing the king’s face. The son of the king remains in a banished state. Joab has not actually got what he wanted. And, we see that David is not actually keen to see Absalom or that he heart longed for him. David is not happy that Absalom killed his brother. There are not good guys and bad guys in the bible. Only those who turn their face to righteousness, failing but trying, and those who do not. People are not two-dimensional. We are all complex and the people in the bible are no different. David and Absalom’s relationship will go through more before the end. But for now, David wants his son to return but not fully. 

Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)

“In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.” There is a change in scene and mood at Verse 25 so that we have a new episode or sequel to the events of Verses 1-24. We are reminded, though, of what the world and Israel look out for – outward beauty, strength, might and accomplishment. The people once loved Saul because he truly looked the part of a mighty king. But God chose David because he looks at the heart of a person. While Absalom is exiled from seeing the king, his reputation is of one that people like to look at!

“…his hair…was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” This is about 2.6kg. The exact weight is probably not the emphasis but the vanity of the man. This description of Absalom’s hair will be more significant in chapter 18 but brings irony to 2 Sam 14:11!

“…His daughter’s name was Tamar…” Informs us of how much Absalom loved his sister who’s reputation had been taken from her.

“Then he said to his servants…” While Absalom was banished from the king’s presence, he did not live in a dungeon. He had servants. Absalom could not see the king and his attempts to see the king’s chief officer were denied. So he forces Joab to come to him by setting fire to Joab’s field. It seems that Joab has been proactive in this chapter to get his way but was blindsided by David sending Absalom to an isolated part of the kingdom and by Absalom setting fire to his field.

“…Why have I come from Geshur?…I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” It seems that Absalom finds himself in a bit of limbo. He’s not free of the king to live wherever he wants (like Geshur) but he is not found guilty of a crime. He demands this nowhere-man kinda life to end. Be set free or be condemned. Joab had failed to get Absalom to the king, but Absalom has demanded an ultimatum and it appears that it has put David in the position of making a decision about his son: will he put him to death or will he release him?

“…Absalom…cam in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king.” Absalom’s only grief with the king has been that Amnon’s crime was not dealt with. Absalom is now ready to receive what the king would have for him. Will the king do as he had said to the ‘fake’ woman? Will any hair on this man’s head fall to the ground over this matter?

“And the king kissed Absalom.” The response of the father to the prodigal son comes to mind: Luke 15:20. But David has not been standing on the verandah waiting for the son to come home. Through Chapters 13 and 14 we have seen that David is not in the driver’s seat. But the resolution has finally been that the matter is over. Absalom is back in the kingdom.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

David’s attention has been on the loss of his son, Amnon. His failure to deal with Amnon’s sin has continued over to his failure to deal with the vengeance of Absalom. So, a man of the sword, Joab, acts like the voice of God to direct David by trickery. Absalom, likewise, reverts to trickery in order to get a hearing from Joab and David. The key to understanding this passage is to hear the words of the woman in Verse 14. God’s ways are to seek restoration of relationship. God’s desire is for the sinner to come home and he devises ways so that this can happen. The prodigal son makes a good New Testament improvement on this story. And the restoration of sinners open to us through Christ is where we see God devising the only way for us to be right with him before it is too late – like water spilled on the ground.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: God has devised a plan so that a person does not remain banished. The cross of Christ means that God has made provision for the forgiveness of sins. John 1:12 (a favourite verse of Leanne’s) teaches us that all who receive Christ and believe in his name, they are given the right to become children of God. Absalom had become an alienated son of the king – unpermitted to see the king’s face again. But, by human means and clumsy trickery, David kissed his son and received him home. Not so with God! We are made sons of the living God by his eternal plan to deliver us from evil. God is not distantly waiting for us to live out our days and then see what happens after that. Hebrews 1:3 says that after he had provided purification for sins, then he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Topic B: We must die. The illustration of water being poured out on the ground that cannot be picked up again – that is a vivid picture of finality. Death is (in the common sense of the word without speaking of clinical deaths) a one way trip. Verse 14 reminds us to work out what needs to be done before that event occurs for us. Psalm 2 says, kiss [the] son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction (Ps 2:12). Ecclesiastes instructs us not to avoid thinking of death, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecc 7:2). And, in passing, Habakuk reminds us that the grave is greedy and death is never satisfied (Habakuk 2:5). We may all have eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11) but death awaits all of us and we must be ready for what comes next.Topic C: We will not be sent to purgatory. Absalom was neither cast out nor drawn near. 2 Samuel 14 pictures this as unsatisfactory. The unethical theology of purgatory looks a little like this. Not good enough for the kingdom but not condemned to hell either. The bible does not teach of any such circumstances. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that we all must face death and then, after that, face judgment. Revelation 20 declares that on judgment day anybody whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (meaning hell). “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7). Many people in this life ignore the warning to make peace with God through Christ and leave their eternity up to chance. There is only one way to be right with God and that is to repent and love the LORD now. After death, it is too late.

Luke 22:24-38

The greatest serves

Discussion Question

What is the most responsibility that you have ever had to carry?

Background

The Passover meal had been arranged and Jesus redefined this grand traditional meal as a remembrance of his death. Judas had consented to betraying Jesus and Jesus announced that his betrayer was seated at the table with them all. The disciples all questioned among themselves which of them was going to betray Jesus.

Read Luke 22:24-38

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Exercising authority in this world (24-25)
  • Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)
  • The promise of trials ahead (31-38)

Exercising authority in this world (24-25)

“A dispute also arose among them…” Luke places this account in a different location to Mark and Matthew (Mark 10:42-45 and Matthew 20:25-28). It is difficult to know for sure why that is and the conclusion can often come down to what the interpreter would like to conclude! Two things can be said for sure: 1) that Jesus really seems to have said words about the nature of authority in this world compared to the kingdom of God and 2) that the gospel writers inserted this lesson from Jesus where they saw them fitting in the narrative. Perhaps Jesus said the same thing twice. But neither is it a new thing for accounts in the bible to care more about the message than they do about the exact chronology of the events. It seems reasonable to argue that there were two events in the account of Jesus’ ministry which suited the lesson from Jesus to be included at that point. Mark and Matthew quoted Jesus at one point but Luke placed those words in response to a different event.

Whatever the case, this dispute gives Jesus an occasion to explain how they are not behaving like children of the Kingdom of God.

“…as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” It doesn’t sound like an adult conversation. As Luke has placed this apparently at the table of the last supper, it just sounds so strikingly wrong! If this conversation flows directly out of Verse 23, however, it may have gone from a denial of betraying Jesus into something like, “I would never do that because I am most loyal to Jesus!” etc. What sounds like an immature and ridiculous conversation could well have flowed out of something smaller.

“…kings of the Gentiles…” Gentiles being non-Jews, ie, kings of the world.

“…call themselves Benefactors.” The simple stated nature of rulers in the world is that they hold authority and yet call themselves a giver of money to others. Even tyrant kings may wear a badge of honour as though they are benefiting the people. There may be a contrast beginning here between rulers who give themselves a good name and the leaders in the kingdom who will have the kingdom confered on them (Verse 29).

Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)

“…greatest… like the youngest…” Jesus turns all hierarchies upside down. What seems to be the order of things in this world must not be the model for how we behave in the kingdom of God. See Mark 9:35

“…who is greater, the one who is at the table…? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus’ point is about humility, not reorganising who is in charge. His point is also directed at the kingdom of God and how that operates. That said, humility in the workforce and the home is a powerful and godly virtue. Jesus has placed his disciples at the table and is serving them. A greater illustration is found in John’s gospel Chapter 13 Verses 12-17 when he washed the disciples feet. That event took place on this same night.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” Given that he has not been arrested yet, Jesus must be referring to the many confrontations that he has had with the teachers of the law. This sentence links to the last in that he has not been a king who lords it over people but one who undergoes trials inflicted on him by those who should be serving him. And although many chose not to follow him and many walked away, these men have stood by him. They have trusted him and persevered. Jesus is about to describe their place in the kingdom of God and it has come after his commendation that they have done well. They have been faithful with little and now they will be promised much.

“And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me…” The Father assigned the kingdom to Jesus and he is now assigning them a kingdom. The next verses will expand on what that means but here let us just acknowledge the doctrine of election. The apostles have not got lucky or paid their way to rule. Jesus has placed them in this place of authority in the kingdom. This promise must first and foremost be to the apostles specifically. Note also that this is a present tense declaration.

“…so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” This is Jesus’ kingdom that he is describing – my table – my kingdom. But the disciples have been chosen and elected to sit and eat and drink at the king’s table. A place of honour. Jesus has reminded us that it is those who are great who sit at tables (Verse 27).

“…and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” See also Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 3:21. Whilst the apostles are given a special place in the kingdom of God – certainly to bear witness of the One sent from heaven whom they saw with their own eyes and walked with him – whilst they do have a special place in the kingdom, it seems that this promise of judging the twelve tribes is not confined to them alone. The promise to eat with Christ and to reign with him is passed on to all who respond to Christ’s calling. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:9-10. The twelve tribes of Israel is to be understood eschatologically (in context of the way things end up). All who put their hope in the Son of God are the true Israel. Romans 9-11 cover this concept that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of promise, not of descent or special treatment of a particular nation. James 1:1 describes the scattered church of Christ as the twelve tribes in the dispersion.

The promise of trials ahead (31-38)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Verses 31 and 32 are amongst my favourites in all the bible. Not merely that it begins with my name repeated for emphasis and so seems quite directed to me! But more than that, this verse and the next describe two amazing truths of the scriptures (and more). Here we see the subordination of Satan to God. Satan is free but on a leash. We see in the book of Job how Satan needs to report back to God and is only allowed to do to Job what God permits. A day will come when Satan will be sent to eternal punishment. But in God’s wisdom he is permitted to tempt and sift people like wheat. The faith of the elect will be tested. Simon and the others, with God’s permission, will be put to the test. Those who stand firm to the end will be victorious. This is called the perseverance of the saints and this is the first truth that helps to put temptation and trials into perspective. James 1:2-4. God is not permitting Satan this job for his own sadistic joy. It is a means to maturity. Satan has asked permission and God has presumably permitted it. Christianity is not a life choice for the faint-hearted. But…

“…I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Such a beautiful word from Jesus to Simon. The Son of God, the King of kings has prayed for this fisherman. Note that Jesus prays to God. Remember the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that although Jesus is God, he also prays to the Father who is God. The content of the prayer is that Simon’s faith may not fail. It is not that Simon will be excused from temptation or even that Simon will remain faultless but that his faith will not fail. Jesus knows that there will be a need for Simon to turn back. And that a repentant Simon is still equipped to strengthen others. Take heart at the comfort of these words. Those who have been elected for salvation (Verse 28), will have their faith tested which ultimately produces perseverance and maturity, and we have the Son of God praying for us (see also John 17) to ensure the preservation of the saints. It is the perseverance of the saints and the preservation of the saints which come out of these verses which I love.

“…I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today…” I have often pondered why Jesus calls this man Simon at one point and Peter at the next. I can’t be sure but I have an inkling that Jesus talks to this man like he has two sides. Simon is the fisherman who is mortal and represents the person vulnerable to temptation. While Peter is the rock who is brave for the kingdom. Jesus tells this brave rock that he will fail before sunrise.

As Jesus knew the plans of Judas, He also sees how the night will unfold for Simon Peter.

“When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything? “Nothing” they answered.” He refers to the time they were all sent out on mission to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-6; 10:4). Back then they were sent with nothing and lacked nothing. It was not a miracle but they were provided for when people from Jewish towns welcomed them in to hear about the kingdom of God. They received some rejection but they returned from the mission praising God for all that they were able to do in Jesus’ name. The season has changed now and working for the kingdom is going to get harder.

“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” People will be turning on the Son of Man and the nature of the mission is about to change. This is a warning passage. Satan has asked to shake them down and the people of their own villages can no longer be relied on for hospitality.

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’, …this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Isaiah 53 was written about Jesus and Jesus knew that. The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest. Jesus teaches them that in the kingdom of God, there will be eating and judging but not in the next chapter. What will come next is persecution on the disciples and the King of the kingdom will be treated like a sinner. This must be fulfilled. Because it has been predetermined by God and He does not lie or change.

“See, Lord, here are two swords”…. “That’s enough!” he replied.” Later, the disciples will ask to use the sword and even strike the servant of the high priest but Jesus will rebuke them and heal the man. There are no accounts of sword wielding in the book of Acts.  The disciples have heard Jesus’ words and missed his point. They were being told a) that they will need to make provisions for themselves from now on and b) that he is about to be numbered with the transgressors! That is a big statement. In fulfilling scripture, Jesus will become the lowest. And their reply is “we have two swords boss!” Jesus reply to them seems to be a dismissal of the whole conversation or even a frustrated termination.

What did we learn?

Greatness in the kingdom of God is not fought for but bestowed on by election from the Son of God. As the King of the kingdom, he will demonstrate completely what the nature of the kingdom is: he will fulfill scripture and take on the position of a sinner. Being part of God’s kingdom is a road of trials and tests, as Jesus has demonstrated to his disciples and now they must walk the road of trials and tests. But Jesus preserves his people through prayer. Discipleship is a road hard to walk along, but we have every spiritual gift given to us and the hope of glory promised.

Now what?

Topic A: Humility as a mark of discipleship. Galatians 5:22-23 and James 3:17 list some of the fruit of the spirit which may well be summarised with the word ‘humility’. Philippians 2:3-11 describe the humility of Christ as the prime example of the humility that we ought to possess and cultivate. The nature of the kingdom of God is to put one another before ourselves. This is a true mark of godliness. How can you monitor your progress in this?

Topic B: Perseverance of the saints. All Christians are saints. When you have truly understood the grace of God in Christ and turned to Him in faith we can rest on the promises of God that a) he has called you into his kingdom and b) he promises to finish the work that he began in you (Ephesians 2:1-10). The journey is rough though. The world, the flesh and the devil will each do their darndest to knock you off the boat. James 1:5 says that if you lack wisdom on how to live in humility (James 3:13) then ask God for this wisdom that only he can give since it does not come from this world.

Topic C: Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that the Scriptures are all we need to find salvation in Christ and grow up mature in him. Jesus taught some disciples in Luke 24:25-27 that the Old Testament scriptures are filled with words concerning Jesus that had to be fulfilled. He is the missing piece that solves the great mystery of God. Ephesians 1:9-10 describe Jesus as the mystery of God finally revealed. We will never grow weary of learning more about him, to get to know him more, to understand him and even to participate in his sufferings so that somehow we shall be welcomed at his table in his kingdom to reign with him (Philippians 3:10-11). What grace that we do not deserve.