March 27, 2015

To the victor goes the spoils?

Numbers 31:1–54, 1 Corinthians 14:1–25, Psalm 26:1-12

In one OT battle, the Israel army killed all the men but not the women. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.” (Numbers 31:15–16)

It is hard for me to understand the OT battles unless I remember the plan of God to redeem and restore a people for Himself, and from those people produce a Savior who would redeem and restore all who put their faith in Him. In the big picture, those who opposed Israel (and God) had to be destroyed.

Not only that, the people of God were often forbidden to take plunder from those they conquered. Plunder like gold, or horses, or any finery could distract them from true worship and pull them into idolatry. However, in this OT battle, this army also took plunder when this was not allowed. Their actions and Moses’ rebuke got me thinking about plunder.

When Jesus forgave my sin and redeemed me, I came into the kingdom with all sorts of stuff. Most of it was sinful or my attitude toward it was sinful. For instance, my desire to be a great artist went against the will of God for me, not that artistic work is wrong, but my attitude was to glorify me, not God. After the spiritual war to win me from sin and Satan, this plunder had to be destroyed. Again, it was not the art or the skill but the attitude. If it stayed in my life, it would pull me away from true worship into idolatry.

Today’s NT reading is about the things we tend to want as plunder too, this time not before salvation but after becoming a Christian. The example is those gifts God gives. He allows us to have them, but He has rules for what we do with them.

In this case, His gifts are the ability to speak God’s words (prophesy) and the ability to speak in an unknown language. Paul tells Christians what they should desire between the two options . . .

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:1–4)

I read this several times before getting it. Paul says love comes first, then desire prophesy as the more important gift. It is more important because I would used speaking in tongues for myself and my relationship with God. It does not help anyone else (unless there is an interpreter). However, prophesy is for others, to build them up, to encourage and comfort the whole church. That means that even after becoming a child of God, my sinful heart can take the gifts He gives me and use them for myself, but if my life is governed by love, that will not happen.

The word ‘plunder’ comes to mind again. The dictionary associates it with taking things that do not belong to me, taking them to use for myself. This is not what God has in mind when He graciously gives gifts to Him people. I am not to harbor any of it for myself, whether it is something I brought into the kingdom, or something God gave me after He brought me here.

Paul had the right idea about his example of speaking. He said, “Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Corinthians 14:19–20) Maturity is measured by loving others and doing things for them, not for me only. God doesn’t want me to be selfish.

The psalmist didn’t want to be a selfish person either. He called out to God saying, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26:1–3)

Some of my spiritual battles result in victory, but then there is the plunder. What do I do with the selfish temptations that come after I win a battle against selfish temptations? The desire to be a person of integrity means resisting the desire to glory in what I did and instead glorifying God – who is the real source of victory. Apart from Jesus Christ, I can do nothing, nor can I keep any of it for myself.

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