Day 217

Perfected in Weakness

Wisdom Psalm 91:1-8
New Testament 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5
Old Testament 1 Chronicles 19:1-22:1

Introduction

I kept getting these phone calls. They came mostly from church leaders. They were from many different parts of the church. They were always long telephone conversations. They all wanted to know: ‘How come you get so many people from outside of the church on the course?’ ‘What exactly is Alpha?’ ‘How do you run it?’

I thought perhaps the best solution was to get them together in one place and tell them all at the same time. As a result, we put on our first Alpha Conference in May 1993. To our astonishment a thousand church leaders turned up. I was relatively new to Christian ministry and was extremely daunted at the thought of a thousand church leaders, most of whom were far more experienced in ministry than I was.

The words of the apostle Paul, in today’s New Testament passage, seemed to sum up exactly how I felt. I read them to the delegates at the start of the conference:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)

I thought once I had explained what Alpha was to this group of church leaders, I would never have to explain it to anyone again. But in fact, by the end of the conference we had been invited to do many more conferences. Over the years we have done hundreds of conferences. At every Alpha Conference I start by reading 1 Corinthians 2:1–5. It is always what I feel; I always feel nervous. There is always an element of ‘weakness and fear, and... much trembling’. But I thank God that it does not depend on wise and persuasive words but on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. And God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

There is a good side to ‘weakness’, ‘fear’ and ‘trembling’. There is also a bad side. In the passages for today we see both the good and the bad sides of weakness, fear and trembling.

Wisdom

Psalm 91:1-8

Psalm 91

1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

3 Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

Commentary

Fear and faith

‘Fear nothing’ (v.5, MSG) writes the psalmist. He gives the remedy for ‘fear’ in the bad sense of the word. He writes, ‘You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday’ (vv.5–6).

The remedy for fear is a close relationship with the Lord – to dwell ‘in the shelter of the Most High’ and ‘rest in the shadow of the Almighty’ (v.1). The opposite of fear is trust in God (v.2).

There is a strong connection between what you think and what you say. What you think will come out in your words. But also, your words can affect your thinking. What you say to God can change your thinking. The psalmist tells us to speak aloud about God’s goodness: ‘Say this, “God you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!”’ (v.2, MSG).

He promises to rescue you ‘from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm’ (vv.3–4, MSG).

Fear can destroy your enjoyment of the present. God raised Jesus from the dead. In doing so, he freed you from the fear of death and all the fears that go with it. ‘Under his wings you find refuge’ (v.4). You do not need to be afraid about the future and you can enjoy the present without fear.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that I can dwell in your shelter and rest in your shadow. I say to you today: you are ‘my refuge and my fortress’ (v.2). I will trust in you.

New Testament

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

        “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
        the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

2And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Commentary

Power in weakness

‘I was scared to death,’ writes the apostle Paul (2:3, MSG). He felt totally inadequate for the task that God had called him to, ‘But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it’ (v.4, MSG).

Moral weakness and cowardice are not virtues. However, as we see in this passage, there is a good side to weakness, fear and trembling.

God turns things upside down. The cross turned things upside down: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1:18).

Jesus died as a state criminal. He died on a Roman instrument of torture – a death reserved for the most degraded and despised in Roman society. The cross did not become the symbol of Christianity for a hundred years. Crucifixion was about weakness, humiliation and defeat.

At this time, Corinth was the intellectual centre of the world. It was the place of debaters, travelling teachers, lecturers and philosophers. The mind and the intellect were highly rated.

The gospel message that we proclaim seems utterly foolish to many highly intelligent people: that Jesus dying on a cross two thousand years ago can totally transform your life seems ‘foolishness’ to the intelligentsia and is a ‘stumbling-block’ (v.23), even to many religious people.

Nevertheless, this simple message saves those who believe: ‘For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ (vv.21,25).

As we look around we can see that it is still true today that not many of those in the church are ‘the brightest and the best’. Not many are ‘influential’. And not many are ‘from high-society families’ (v.26, MSG). But it is still true today that God ‘chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise’. He ‘chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’ (v.27).

Do not be ashamed of speaking a very simple message, which seems foolishness to so many people. There is no need to try and dress it up with ‘eloquence or superior wisdom’ (2:1). Focus on the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (v.2). As Eugene Peterson translates, ‘I deliberately kept it plain and simple; first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified’ (v.2, MSG).

It is normal to experience ‘weakness and fear, and... much trembling’ (v.3). What matters is not whether you use ‘wise and persuasive words’ but the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (v.4). And his power is made perfect in our weakness. It is often only when we feel weak that we are willing to rely completely on God. Paul was utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to speak through him. However inadequate you feel, if you ask for the Holy Spirit to speak through you, he will.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the message of Jesus and him crucified, which is the power of God. Thank you that I do not need eloquence or superior wisdom. Although I speak in weakness, fear, and trembling, I pray that you accompany the preaching of that message with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

Old Testament

1 Chronicles 19:1-22:1

David Defeats the Ammonites

19In the course of time, Nahash king of the Ammonites died, and his son succeeded him as king. 2 David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s envoys came to Hanun in the land of the Ammonites to express sympathy to him, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his envoys come to you only to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved them, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

5 When someone came and told David about the men, he sent messengers to meet them, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.”

6 When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, Hanun and the Ammonites sent a thousand talents of silver to hire chariots and charioteers from Aram Naharaim, Aram Maakah and Zobah. 7 They hired thirty-two thousand chariots and charioteers, as well as the king of Maakah with his troops, who came and camped near Medeba, while the Ammonites were mustered from their towns and moved out for battle.

8 On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. 9 The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance to their city, while the kings who had come were by themselves in the open country.

10 Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 11 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother, and they were deployed against the Ammonites. 12 Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to rescue me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will rescue you. 13 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

14 Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. 15 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they too fled before his brother Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab went back to Jerusalem.

16 After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they sent messengers and had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River, with Shophak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.

17 When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel and crossed the Jordan; he advanced against them and formed his battle lines opposite them. David formed his lines to meet the Arameans in battle, and they fought against him. 18 But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven thousand of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also killed Shophak the commander of their army.

19 When the vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with David and became subject to him.

So the Arameans were not willing to help the Ammonites anymore.

The Capture of Rabbah

20In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, but David remained in Jerusalem. Joab attacked Rabbah and left it in ruins. 2 David took the crown from the head of their king—its weight was found to be a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones—and it was placed on David’s head. He took a great quantity of plunder from the city 3 and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then David and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.

War With the Philistines

4 In the course of time, war broke out with the Philistines, at Gezer. At that time Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Sippai, one of the descendants of the Rephaites, and the Philistines were subjugated.

5 In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

6 In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. 7 When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him.

8 These were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.

David Counts the Fighting Men

21Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”

3 But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”

4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. 7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

9 The Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”

11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord —days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”

14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.

17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.”

David Builds an Altar

18 Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.

20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground.

22 David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.”

23 Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”

24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.

27 Then the Lord spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. 29 The tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

22Then David said, “The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”

Commentary

Fear and trembling

‘Fear and trembling’ before God is not always wrong. Indeed, it is sometimes appropriate.

The chronicler makes it clear, in a way that the earlier account did not, that it was ‘Satan’ who ‘incited David to take a census’ (21:1). Joab tried to persuade David not to do this (v.3). But David overruled him. ‘And God was displeased with this (reliance on human resources)’ (v.7, AMP).

It is not quite clear why this was such a great sin, but it obviously was as David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing’ (v.8).

With what appears to be fear and trembling he says, ‘I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great’ (v.13).

When he comes to offer a sacrifice to God he says, ‘I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing’ (v.24). He called on the Lord and the Lord answered him ‘with fire from heaven’ (v.26).

Prayer

Lord, I come to you today in weakness and with much trembling and ask that your power will be made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Pippa adds

1 Corinthians 1:27

‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’

I definitely fall into the category of weak and foolish. Thank you, Lord, for choosing me!

Verse of the Day

Psalm 91:3-4, MSG

‘His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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