The enemy within the kingdom

Psalm 55         2 Corinthians 11 & 1 Corinthians 3

‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.’ Matthew 7.15-20 ESV

For the Christian one of the most emotional and spiritually painful times can be when division occurs within the church or the ‘Kingdom of God’. Psalm 55 has much to say on this topic. Typically, division arises around personalities but it can also occur because of differences over aspects of theology or the way the church expresses itself. Where it does happen things other than the glory of Christ have risen to the dominant place in peoples’ minds. In David’s time the kingdom of God was a nation ruled by a king under God and division was rebellion against the king.

Frequently when David orders his thoughts and communion with God into a psalm he carefully constructs poetry according to ancient Hebrew literary conventions. Here it appears emotion has taken over and the psalm jumps around as he pours his heart out before God which in itself captures the level of upset he feels. ‘Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.’ vv 1,2,5 David, as king, lived in a time when each year brought round the season for war. He was not afraid of conflict with other nations and he had repeated evidence of God’s faithfulness to him in such situations. What was different this time was the enemy was once the closest of friends, one of his own. ‘But it is you, a man like myself, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among worshipers.’ vv 13,15 We do not know who this enemy is, perhaps the closest match to the description is Absalom although whilst the psalm identifies him as a close friend it does not call him a son. Absalom was however a very smooth talker whilst plotting to forcibly overthrow his father, v23 Conspiracy was rife in the walled capital of Jerusalem with, ‘Destructive forces at work in the city; threats and lies never leaving its streets’. v 11 Arrogance has replaced a fear of God and the enemy defies the covenant God has made. v 20 It could be said that similar things can occur within a church when division strikes and historically it accurately describes the church when politics and religion have become so closely entwined they could not be separated.

David’s initial reaction is to flee, leave behind the boiling city and find solace in the wilderness. ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert’. vv 6,7 David prays that confusion will fall upon his enemies, bringing to mind the tower of Babel and in various ways he calls for God’s judgement on them. The psalm ends with a lesson to himself. ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken … but as for me, I trust in you’. vv 22,23b

The Corinthian church, as an expression of the kingdom of God, early in its life experienced division of two types. Firstly, by dividing itself according to the teacher people favoured instead of faithfulness to the gospel, or as Paul expresses it, the wisdom of God as opposed to the wisdom of this world. 1 Corinthians 3 Then in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul severely warns against teachers who change the gospel for personal gain. He calls them, ‘deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11.13 Psalm 55 provides a helpful analysis of the fruit of such teaching and Jesus words in Matthew 7 tells us to look beyond ‘smooth talking’ to the fruit of their words and life.

How are we able to check that we are living a gospel centred life?

Jesus Paid It All – Kim Walker-Smith

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