I CORINTHIANS 4
Think back to our study of Joshua and Judges year before last, and you will recall that the children of Israel were united under Joshua's leadership. The young nation under his guidance received the blessings of being God's chosen people and took the land of Canaan just as God had promised them. After his death the young nation never quite gelled as one people. There was jealousy and tension between the tribes over the choice lands and the peoples to be conquered. Leaders or judges arose who rallied and led a tribe or two against a common enemy, but the unity was not there. Tribal loyalty was more important than national unity.
After three or four hundred years of this, the people complain to God that they want one king to rule over them all, to unite them and stop the invasions of warring neighboring people. God gives them Saul from the tribe of Benjamin as a king. Saul does a fair job as a military leader and of uniting the people of Israel as a country.
David, from the tribe of Judah, was the next king. Under his reign the kingdom of Israel grew in strength and size. David moved the center of government and religion from the North, to Jerusalem in his tribal land of Judah in the South.
David's son Solomon is the next king, who is granted the privilege of building the temple of worship in Jerusalem. Solomon becomes renown for his great wisdom and rises to unprecedented heights of personal prosperity and security. He has taxed his people heavily to maintain that prosperity and security and doesn't recognize the signs of moral weakness and political conflict that both he and his people will suffer for.
King David and King Solomon managed to keep the kingdom of Israel united, but the tensions between the north and the south were never resolved. The jealousy and animosity was even greater after the movement south of the central government and place of worship.
This sets the stage for I Kings 12. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, is to be crowned king after his father's death and chooses to have his coronation in the North at Shechem instead of in the capitol city of Jerusalem in the South, probably in an attempt to appease the Northern Tribes. There, Jeroboam leads a delegation of Israelites to ask King Rehoboam to ease the burden of heavy taxes put on them by his father Solomon. Rehoboam doesn't give them an answer right away. He first consults (for advice) the mature elders who had served his father Solomon. They reply in I Kings 12:7, "If today you will be a SERVANT to these people and SERVE THEM and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servant."
Rehoboam also asked his young friends, whom he had grown up with, how to answer Jeroboam and the assembly who had asked for lower taxes. You probably know the story of how Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and chose to answer the assembly with the immature, younger friends' advice which was: "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions." At that, the Israelites rebelled. King Rehoboam escaped back to Jerusalem and ruled over the tribe of Judah, but the Northern Tribes chose Jeroboam to be their new king.
The fragile kingdom of Israel was no more. The division is permanent and the fall is great. They divided over who was going to serve whom and over leadership. It was divided, never to regain its former splendor and reputation as being a nation under the protection of one Almighty God. Civil conflict will last for years, as will wars with foreign enemies, who are quick to notice the vulnerability of this once-unified, but now broken, people. The Northern Tribes will soon be carried off into Syrian captivity after giving into idolatry. The southern kingdom of Judah will remain somewhat faithful to God for a while, but will eventually turn its face to idolatry and fall to Babylonian captivity.
Rehoboam's reply was an answer of greed, harshness and selfishness that resulted in a divided kingdom. He apparently could not understand the concept of a KING being a people's SERVANT as the elders had advised. Perhaps his father Solomon in all his wisdom had forgotten that concept and certainly failed to teach that to his son Rehoboam. They had fallen victim to worldly wisdom which said, "The citizens of a country are to SERVE THE KING! How dare these elders advise this new crowned king to serve his people! Can a government survive without more taxes? How will the military be financed? How can the pomp and majesty of a kingly court continue without funds? The image of prosperity and POWER must be maintained to discourage enemies. Isn't that service enough to the people? Don't they know that the king is burdened with great responsibilities? To build and maintain a reputation of strength and glory is the extent of a king's service to the people."
Worldly wisdom. It's fleeting. What is perceived as wise one day may be what is perceived as foolish the next. What a contrast between the beginning of Rehoboam's reign and his father Solomon's reign. Rehoboam asked his subjects for more taxes.
God gave Solomon the choice of asking for anything. In I Kings 3:9 Solomon asks of God, "Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong." Wisdom begins when we ask God to be our supply. He chose to ask for wisdom. Notice the phraseology Solomon uses. "Give YOUR SERVANT a discerning heart to govern YOUR PEOPLE..." Solomon understood his service to God, and the people benefitted, and he became wealthy and had a long life. He understood that these people were God's people, not his to use as he desired. He understood the need to serve God's people with wisdom.
One king understood the importance of HIS service, the other demanded service be given to HIM. Service is a key to living a Christian life. We are told in Philippians 2 that we are to have a Christ-like mind. Christ, our KING, took the form of a servant. Serving others is a distinguishing mark of Christians in the world.
When our medical mission team goes to Guyana, the Hindus and Muslims are extremely curious about Christianity. They are used to serving themselves. That is very evident when they push and shove in line. They wonder, "What is it about Christians that would cause these Americans to leave the USA and come to our poor country?" They want to know why Christians would give of their time and a vast sum of money to bring medicines and doctors to their village. They wonder if they actually have any self worth that would cause these Christians to come and serve them? When the local church members work along side of our team, they see the beauty of the Gospel in actual service. You can actually see the mystery of the Gospel turning their whole value system upside down. (Actually it turns it right-side up.) Puzzlement and wonder is written on their faces with every question they ask, with every Christian concept they grasp. Their feeling of worth is generally low anyway. When they become the center of attention from just a handful of American Christians serving them, they are ready to listen and learn.
Christianity is unique, because our KING is unique. Jesus described leadership from a new perspective. Instead of using people, we are to serve them. Jesus redefined leadership in Matthew 20:27, "Whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
We serve our KING best by serving others. When we serve others, we become the leader. When we submit to Christ as our KING, we accept the responsibility of leading others to Christ. We lead by our example. It should be an example worth imitating. We lead not by force and threats and worldly wisdom, but by humble service.
We are well equipped to serve our KING in service to others.
We are created with eyes. A soldier is effective when he can see and identify his designated target. As soldiers to our King we have targets also. Sometimes that target is a soul in pain or need. Sometimes that target is the devil himself. I think the Corinthians had trouble seeing and identifying the devil's ugly head. He is a master of camouflage. Most of all, we should set our eyes focused on our King. He is who we should see.
God created us with ears. In order for a soldier in an army to know what to do, he has to listen to his sergeant, who listens to the captain, who listens to the major, who listens to the colonel, who listens to the general, who listens to the commander-in-chief. Soldiers of Christ are to listen to God through His word and to listen to others to help bear their burdens. This is what we listen to.
We are created with a tongue. A general gives out orders. He can command an attack. A soldier relays information back to his commander. Christ's soldiers are to use our tongues to glorify God, edify one another, and to tell the good news of His Kingdom. When do our tongues serve? In ceaseless prayer. In teaching. Ready to answer.
God created us with feet for maneuverability. Just as a nation's army goes out on maneuvers to serve its nation, we as God's army are to go out in service to Him. We are to go give a cup of water, medical care, a coat. This is where we go to serve our King.
God created us with hands for work. An army needs guns and bombs in their hands to produce their desired effect. Our kingdom needs food in our hands for the hungry, bandages for the wounded, material to clothe the cold, and paper, sticks, sequins, felt and glue to fashion a Vacation Bible School craft for thirty children a day. This doing for others produces the effect that our King desires. This is how and why our King says He wants us to serve.
A nation's army must be united and work in tandem to serve the king. When the enemy is attacking is not the time to be considering promotions or what the rest of the world may be thinking. It is time to work in harmony to defeat the enemy. The enemy is always attacking God's army. There is no time to look at the desires of the world, for the eyes are on the target.
For united Christians, there is no time for exalting a few, for the ears are tuned in to God's word and the needy. When Christians are united in service to the KING, there is no time for bickering, for the tongue is praising, edifying or sharing. There is no time for tearing down, for the hands are busy doing constructive things. There is no time to stand still and let the devil catch up, for the feet are on the march in His service with what the world needs.
We've been given a commission in the Lord's army that requires unity and service. This is the crux of I Corinthians 4. There is no question of whom we will serve and who will be the leader. We will not let our guard down and take our eyes off of our KING, allowing the devil to penetrate the ranks with discord and worldly wisdom, because our KING is our EXAMPLE. He is the greatest SERVANT of all.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR