Thought for Evensong – Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 26th July 2020

Psalms 41 and 42; 1 Samuel 11: 14 – 12: 25 and Philippians 1: 1 -30

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. Psalm 42: 11

Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. 1 Samuel 12: 24 and 25

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1: 9 – 11

Since last Sunday we have moved on several chapters in 1 Samuel. Many years have elapsed and Samuel is old and grey. The people have cried out wanting a king, despite God’s intentions so far being for the nation to be a theocracy, with a priest or prophet like Samuel as mouthpiece or intermediary. This cry seems to be from a sense of insecurity and lack of maturity of faith. Somehow to them, a physical king would make them like other nations, notwithstanding their successful history when they heeded God’s word. Saul is eventually made king, mostly it seems because of his physical prowess, not because of outstanding godliness. Our reading is taken up by Samuel repeating the long history of rebellion, periodic attacks from enemy nations and reminders of the way in which God was long suffering and steadfast despite this pattern of neglect of their unique relationship with God.

There is an interesting parallel between the lack of confidence in the Israelites wanting a king, and our reading from Philippians 1. Paul is absent from them and they clearly desire his presence. Life for them would be less challenging if they had Paul with them to sort out their problems, rather than having to discover their own answers. This is an enforced absence because Paul is in prison, either in Rome or more likely Ephesus. He is writing to encourage them to continue in the faith and grow in maturity. The verses quoted above (9 – 11) show Paul’s concern for them in his prayer that they might acquire the spiritual knowledge and insight to help them to maturity. He is urging them to ‘work out their own salvation’ (which he speaks of in chapter 2: 12), in the sense that they need to discover for themselves that righteous mode of life and relationship that would prepare them for the day when Jesus Christ returns. 

Towards the end of the chapter (verse 27), Paul returns from speaking of his prison experience and the dilemma in his heart about longing to be with Jesus competing with his desire to be with the Philippian Christians, to instructing them about how they should live:

  • Standing firm in one Spirit – essential they are united in their faith 
  • Striving side by side for the gospel – not idle, but working hard to win new converts to Christ
  • Not being intimidated by their opponents – the evidence of perseverance and victory is a sign of the destruction that will come to those who oppose the gospel.

Why is all this happening? The answer appears at the end of verse 28. They don’t actually need Paul with them because it is God’s doing. This was the lesson the Israelites could not seem to learn and why they thought they needed a physical king or leader: God is sovereign and omnipotent, and it is by his Holy Spirit that we are given the unity, energy and courage to hold firm to the gospel.

Whatever our spiritual opponents throw in our way, so long as we remain faithful and with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will overcome. Paul counts it a privilege to suffer for his Lord, which comes in the same package as the privilege of believing. Next Sunday we will be looking at Philippians 2, which will give us still more encouragement!

Kevin Boak

Lay Reader

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