When the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant in I Samuel 5-6, disaster and misfortune follows it as they move it from one location until another, until the nation concludes they must return the Ark to its proper owners. It takes seven months for them to reach this conclusion, and death, rats, tumors, and boils follow the Ark this whole time. Why does it take them so long to decide they are finished enduring these hardships? Is it pride; stubbornness; rebellion? There is no knowing, but chances are that pride had something to do with it.
When we look into our own lives, we can recognize things that are harmful to us spiritually. We can identify things we hold onto regardless of the negative influence they have on our lives. It can take a long time to get these harmful influences out of our lives. Sometimes, we are no better than these Philistines – holding fast to something that is harming us more and more despite the damage.
Self Destructive Stubbornness
I Samuel 18 contains some of the first hints of Saul’s decline as king. He had made mistakes before this chapter, but this chapter shows a shift in Saul’s character, consumed with jealousy and bitterness. This animosity grows to the point of tearing apart his family and leaving his nation vulnerable. This hatred becomes a monster in his life, occupying his time and energy, and he allows it to grow in its destructive power rather than eliminating it from his life.
We know the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 where Abel offers God a more excellent sacrifice. In verse 5, Cain festers in anger; he allows bitterness to rot within him. God questions Cain in verse 6 regarding his bitterness and warns against the dangers of allowing these feelings to grow. He tells Cain it is within his power to rule over his rage and rid it from his life. Instead, Cain stoops to murder to fulfill his anger.
Turning Instead to Grace
The Philistines, Saul, and Cain contain three parallel events that illustrate individuals that hold onto something to their own destruction. In contrast, in II Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul speaks of an elusive thorn of the flesh. We do not know what this thorn is, whether it is a physical ailment, pangs of conscience, reminders of severed friendships; but we do know it wears on the apostle and gives him pain. He repeatedly pleads for its removal, but God responds that His power is completed in Paul’s struggle.
In times of anxiety or strain, we often draw closer to God and seek His power in our lives. Unlike Saul‘s and Cain’s circumstances, this is beyond Paul’s control, but, unlike those examples, Paul endures. Furthermore, God expresses the completion of His grace in the face of this trial. Time and again, we can see God’s grace alive in the life of Paul as well as in our own.
As a final example, we have Peter denying the Lord three times in Matthew 26:69-75. He weeps bitterly when he realizes what he has done, but Jesus has grace on Peter in John 21:15-19, and Peter does not allow this regret to eat him up. I Corinthians 15:3 records that Jesus appears to Peter even before this event. He is one of the first to Lord seeks out. What did that conversation look like? Why would Jesus seek Peter so quickly? Regardless, we know the man Peter grows into despite the pain his denial might have caused, and this is possible for Him because of Jesus’ grace.
There might be things in our lives we consider thorns. There may be things that hurt us spiritually and drag us away from God. Like Peter and Paul, though, we can press on to our goal, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the hope laid before us. We can be perfected in God’s love and grace if we are willing to put our pasts behind us and seek a future in Him.
lesson by Tim Smelser