2 Samuel 23-24, 1 Corinthians 14
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV
As David neared the end of his life, it appears that he was somewhat reflective, and felt compelled to do something to evaluate the success of his reign. He was a warrior and as such, part of his perceived worth would have been based on the numbers of his victories and the size of his army. So David determined to conduct a census in order to ascertain just how large his fighting force really way. It appears that the sin David committed in doing so was in placing his trust in his army rather than God. Actually, the passage doesn't tell us exactly what David had done to deserve the anger and punishment of God, but it is clear that he had sinned. Perhaps part of David's sin was that he had become focused on his own reputation rather than God's. It is interesting that the previous chapter speaks of “the mighty men whom David had” (2 Samuel 23:8 ESV). These mighty warriors were part of David's inner circle. They were valiant fighting men who had accomplished great deeds on behalf of David. But the passage makes it clear that their exploits were actually the result of God's actions. “And the Lord brought about a great victory that day” (2 Samuel 23:10 ESV). “And the Lord worked a great victory” (2 Samuel 23:12 ESV). It would have been easy for David to lose sight of the fact that his reputation, reign, and apparent success as a king were all the result of God's divine influence over his life. Numbering his troops could have given David a false sense of self-accomplishment and independence. It seems from the passage, that David was driven by a self-obsession that focused more on himself than on God or the people over whom he reigned.
What does this passage reveal about God?
When God determined to punish David for his sin, he gave the king three options from which to choose. He placed David in a very difficult position, forcing him to decide between three equally unattractive forms of punishment: Famine, the sword or pestilence. It would appear that whichever one David chose, the end result would be similar in its outcome. While the famine would last three years, it would take longer for its full impact to be felt on the lives of the people. The sword and pestilence, while shorter in time, would be swifter in their devastating influence on the lives of the people. No matter which one David chose, there was going to be innocent people who died as a result. David's selfish sin was going to have a significant impact on the lives of others. Unable to choose, David told God, “I am in great distress, Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:14 ESV). In essence, David chose NOT to accept the sword as an option, but rather asked that God would choose between the other two. David was willing to accept the punishment of the Lord and count on Him showing mercy. So God chose to bring pestllence for three days, resulting in the deaths of 70,000 men. While we may struggle with the events recorded in this passage, we must understand that God acted righteously and justly. His actions were well within His rights as God. Sin had been committed, and the degree of the punishment reflects just how great David's sin really was.
What does this passage reveal about man?
In chapter 23, we read the last words of David. It is interesting to note what he said. “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes the grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3-4 ESV). A king who rules justly, in the fear of God, has a positive, healthy influence on the lives of those over whom he reigns. It would appear that David's decision to take the census was done without any fear of God. He didn't think about what he was doing. He was too focused on his own life and interested in his own reputation.
Over in 1 Corinthians 14, we see an apparently different scenario at play. Paul is writing to the Corinthian believers about spiritual gifts and their role within the body of Christ. It would appear that the Corinthians were struggling with pride and jealousy over the allocation and use of the spiritual gifts. Evidently, there was some belief that the gift of tongues was superior to any of the other gifts. It was more flamboyant and extraordinary. Perhaps they believed that those who practiced this particular gift were somehow linked in significant to the apostles because that is the gift they exhibited at Pentecost. But Paul repeatedly warns the Corinthian believers to remember the whole point behind all the gifts: the building up of the body of Christ. He tells them to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV). He warns them that, while speaking in tongues, they may experience some personal satisfaction and benefit, “but the other person is not being built up” (1 Corinthians 14:17 ESV). Paul makes it clear: “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV). This is a continuation of his theme in chapter 13. The point behind all of the gifts was mutual edification motivated by selfless love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV). The gift of tongues, practiced without love, was worthless and completely non-beneficial. God was the originator of the gifts and He handed them out according to His divine will and wisdom. They were intended to build up, not divide. They were to be selfless, not selfish. Like David, the Corinthians had taken their eyes off of God and placed them firmly on themselves. They had turned the spiritual gifts into a competition.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I love the line Paul writes to the believers there in Corinth: “Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind” (1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT). Don't act like children, selfishly focusing on your own desires. Don't make it all about you. Think like adults, remembering that God gave you your gift for the good of the body, not just for your own personal pleasure or to satisfy your ego. It's interesting to note that in his opening to this letter, Paul writes the Corinthians and reminds them, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). The church in Corinth had every spiritual gift represented. God had given them exactly what they needed to build up the body of Christ. But they were jockeying for position, fighting over the gifts and selfishly attempting to one-up each other by comparing and contrasting the significance and value of their particular gifting. And in doing so, they were missing out on the whole purpose behind the gifts: to build up the church. Had David kept his focus on God, he would have spent less time worrying about his own significance and reputation. Had he remembered and lived by the words he wrote, he would have ruled justly, in the fear of God, having a positive impact on the lives of his people. But instead, his self-centered actions brought death. It's interesting to note that the Corinthians, in attempting to practice the very gifts God had given them, were having a negative influence on not only the local fellowship they were called to build up, but on the lost community around them. Nothing harms the name of Christ more than believers who can't get along. Nothing damages our witness as believers like infighting, pride and jealousy. But if our focus is on building up the body of Christ, and our motivation is mutual love, the church prospers and the lost are attracted like moths to a flame.
Father, may our churches be increasingly more recognized as places where the building up of the body is more important than the building up of our own reputations. Forgive us for making more of ourselves than we make of You or of the well-being of Your people. Open our eyes so that we might see You more clearly. Help us to love You more by loving others more than we love ourselves or our own reputations. Amen