Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become an offence to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.1 Samuel 13:3-4
There are many commendable aspects of Jonathan’s character portrayed for us throughout 1 Samuel, but one less commendable attribute was his tendency to be self-sufficient, over-confident, and a bit hot-headed and impulsive. He came by some of this quite ‘honestly’ through the gene bank inherited from his father, Saul. And, sadly, today’s incident led ultimately to his father’s downfall.
Taking on the Philistines in the circumstances was not one of his best thought-out ideas! It reminds me of Jesus’ warning about the need to first ‘count the cost’ in his story about the king who foolishly leads his out-numbered forces into an impossible situation (Luke 14:31-32)! One of the helpful features of how our Creator has organised ‘genetics’ is that we can be aware of ‘danger zones’ inherent in our behaviour, and, hopefully, take the necessary precautions.
Following Jesus is becoming more of a battle today in the face of militant atheism and the march of organised cultural Marxism in our society – but we need to choose our battles carefully, and prayerfully. We need to learn to be patient, to ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (James 1:19). Let us learn from Jonathan’s experience not to be impetuous or precipitous or unwise in our actions in the Lord’s service.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edificationRomans 14:17-19
It is interesting that the three words Paul chooses to define ‘the kingdom of God’ in the context of his discussion in Romans 14 are ‘righteousness’, ‘peace’ and ‘joy’. ‘Righteousness’ is to do with our own personal relationship and walk with God. He is righteous and holy and pure and just and I should strive to reflect these attributes in my own life. None of these qualities occurs naturally in my sinful heart, but God has clothed me with the righteousness of Christ (justified me) so that the Holy Spirit might work on my heart to make me more like Jesus (sanctifying me).
Part of my striving for righteousness means that I adopt certain scruples in order that I might not compromise with the world, ‘rules for living’ that are helpful to me in the process of sanctification as a citizen of the Kingdom of God displaying ‘righteousness in the Holy Spirit’.
But the real burden of Romans 14 is the other two characteristics I need to ‘make every effort‘ to own and display: ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’. I was saved as an individual, but I am to serve as a member of the whole Body of Christ. I have a responsibility towards the other members of this Body who are on their own journey of sanctification, with their own important scruples to help them in this journey.
When I discover, as I constantly do, that their scruples are different from mine, I must be careful not to stand in judgement of them. I must be true to my scruples and they must be true to theirs, but God alone is the Judge of each of us. Living as a citizen of his Kingdom is not a matter of rules but of relationships – my relationship with him (righteousness) and my relationship with other citizens (peace and joy).
Invariably, this latter will have a profound effect on how I view and display the former. I must be at peace with my brother, rejoicing in his citizenship and building him up in his faith; I must certainly not be an obstacle to his growth in Christ his Master (13).
I have made all this sound simple, but it isn’t. Mostly, it is ‘walking on eggshells’. Lord, please help those of us who like to specialise in ‘righteousness’, to learn well the hard lesson of ‘peace and joy’; and please help those of us who prefer to err on the side of ‘peace and joy’ to learn well the equally hard lesson of ‘righteousness’.
The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord. O wall of the Daughter of Zion, let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest. Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.Lamentations 2:18-19
The Apostle John was given a vision, recorded for us in the book of Revelation, of the events that will occur as the Church looks forward to the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power. In the two millennia that have passed since then, Biblical scholars (and others less ‘scholarly’!) have come up with many fascinating interpretations of this vision as it applies to concrete events in real-time history.
Whatever view we might take of these efforts, one thing is certain: there WILL be times of great suffering and persecution preceding Christ’s Return, so it is helpful for us to reflect on the Lamentations of Jeremiah over the destruction of the City of Zion and the Temple in 596-586 BC.
It is good for us to remember that, no matter what happens, our Sovereign God is in full control and is, as he was then, using every circumstance to work out his loving purposes. As we face opposition today, are we ‘crying out in the night’ and ‘pouring out our hearts like water in the presence of the Lord’? Are we ‘lifting up our hands to him for the lives of our children’?
And are we doing this with even greater earnestness and confidence than Jeremiah in the light of the victory the Lord Jesus Christ has already won for us through his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven? We read in Revelation 6:8, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” But let us remember that COVID can be seen as an acronym for ‘Christ Offers Victory In Death’!