November 11, 2015

The Source of Contention

1 Kings 14:1–15:24, Mark 9:2–37, Proverbs 3:23–35

In frustration, a mother says, “Why do you brats always have to fight with each other? Go and play nice.” Her “why” concerning the reasons for contention is the livelihood of psychologists and counselors, but has anyone figured it out?

In the days of the divided kingdom in Israel, Jeroboam governed Israel and Rehoboam governed Judah. Neither one of them obeyed God. When Jeroboam’s child was sick, a prophet told him that God said: “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over my people Israel and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, and yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes, but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam . . . .  Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.” (Note that God took this child because He was protecting him from the evil to come.)

Jeroboam wasn’t the only guilty one. All of Judah under Solomon’s son Rehoboam, was provoking God too. They built high places and pillars with idols “on every high hill and under every green tree” and doing all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before them. (1 Kings 14:7–24) Then verse 30 says, “And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.”

Jeroboam reigned twenty-two years, died and Nadab his son reigned in his place. Rehoboam died and Abijam his son reigned in his place. And there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. Finally, Asa came on the scene and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done,” yet there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.

Remember Cain and Abel? In the very beginning, one brother killed another; they could not ‘play nice’ either. Contention is as old as mankind and as deeply ingrained as DNA.

Solomon wrote: “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.” (Proverbs 3:30–32) This wise king was aware of contention also. He experienced it  just as the others, and he knew better, as most of us do, but still could not avoid contention.

In the NT narration for today, Jesus and his disciples journeyed to Capernaum and when they arrived, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they didn’t answer, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. So Jesus he sat down and called the twelve to Him saying, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Then He put a child in the midst of them, took the child in His arms, and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:33–37)

In this, Jesus gets to the bottom line. Contention happens because human beings want to have their own way. None of us are willing to give up ‘my rights’ to serve others. As Isaiah says, we ‘go our own way’ and this is the essence of sin. ‘I want what I want when I want it,’ which sounds very much like the immaturity of all but the smallest of children.

Without Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, I cannot be like that little child, nor am I willing to be last, or a servant. It is only when I abide in Christ and live in His grace and blessing that I can stop contending with others and be content with my lot in life. He enables me to trust Him to take care of me even when others threaten my well-being, and even when I am reluctant to give up my own way. Without Him, I’m more like the brat who cannot play nice.

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