Read: 1 Samuel 18:6-13; Ephesians 4:17-32
This week, we experienced quite a storm. It hailed for around an hour. Thankfully, the hail wasn't large, but I was thinking as we listened to it as it pounded down, seemingly endlessly, that the flowers would likely be crushed. Especially the lilies and roses. Happily, so far, the flowers appear to have survived their late spring trauma. The roses still have buds which look relatively unscathed, and the lilies continue to stand upright.
There is, however, one rosebush that didn't live through the winter, even though, hoping against hope, I didn't give up on it until this week. When my husband took the rose cones from the plants earlier in the spring, they were all looking fairly healthy, except Lily Pons. This variety produces white roses with yellow centers, and although the flowers are a bit delicate, they are very pretty. Sadly, the bush didn't appear to have wintered well. Ever the optimist, I was sure the plant needed only a bit of love, trimming back of the dead branches and timely rain and sunshine. Then Voila. It would prosper.
For several weeks, my husband told me that the bush was beyond help, and I finally gave up hope that it would come back from the bottom. It was time for it to be dug up and thrown away. For all of these weeks, the plant had been protected in a rose cage and it had received water and attention, but enough was enough. Now, instead of barrenness and a lack of beauty, there is a bush awash with lovely, fragrant yellow roses. A reminder that before beauty can be seen, often what is unproductive must be uprooted.
In today's passage from 1 Samuel 18:6-13 we see this truth fleshed out in the account of Saul's dealings with David. Let's glimpse Israel's first king's life a bit in order to observe what happens when ugliness is allowed to flourish unchecked. It started out well for David and Saul. David killed the blasphemy spewing Goliath, who had been taunting Israel and the Living God, 1 Samuel 17. As a result of his bravery, Saul wanted David to be in his service. Well and good. David and Saul went out against the Philistines. All was well. God gave Israel's fighting men victories. Once again, that was good. Then it happened. Saul's opinion of David did a 180 because of the words he heard and the way he interpreted them. It was not as if the women were berating Saul. No, they were merely telling of both David's and the king's exploits. It was a time of victory and celebration, and the people were glad. They sang a victory song, but Saul heard their words of affirmation toward David as a slight against himself. Bad thoughts and attitudes took root.
Things began to spin out of control after that. Saul looked at David with suspicion, believing wrongly that David was after his throne. The paranoid king even threw a spear at David, and after that, Saul sent David away. On several occasions, that are related later on in 1 Samuel, Saul relentlessly pursued David. His goal was murder, and it all began when Saul didn't deal with his wrong thinking. He never uprooted the evil that grew out of those wrong thoughts; instead, he watered and nurtured it.
How different it could have been. Yes, in 1 Samuel 16, God had anointed David to be king. That was God's choice because of the rebellion of Saul and his poor choices, 1 Samuel 15:22. Even so, what if Saul hadn't nurtured his wrong thinking about David and had instead listened to what was true about the son of Jesse who never wanted to harm Saul or take the throne by force or deceit from him.Instead of years of wickedness and unfruitfulness, Saul's life, if he had repented, could have produced actions worthy of a king. Sadly, his life ended with Saul's continuing to make wrong choices, 1 Samuel 29.
How different life can be for those of us who belong to the Savior. In Ephesians 4:17-32, we see how. A fruitful, rather than barren life depends on uprooting the old ways of living and planting in their place, the new Holy Spirit directed and empowered choices. Paul tells us that, enabled by Jesus, we can choose to live differently than we formerly did. I love the practicality of the apostle's words.
1. Ephesians 4:25-We can uproot lying and instead, speak truthfully. Why do this?
Paul reminds us that we belong to one another. We are members of the same family, and Jesus is our head. Therefore, not speaking in a false way to or against one another is the loving thing to do.
2. Ephesians 4:26-27-We can uproot the kind of anger that leads to sin. We surely have seen what this looks like all around us. How many times have we flipped on the TV only to hear stories that chronicled how someone harbored a grudge for years? The result? A vengeful act that had been planned and carried out even though no one saw it coming? No wonder we are reminded to uproot anger before it festers and infects our attitudes and motives. No wonder we are also reminded in these two verses that anger that isn't handled correctly can open the door for the devil's work. We saw that in Saul's actions.
3. Ephesians 4:28-We can uproot stealing and replace it with honest work. This verse speaks specifically of taking money or goods, but what about stealing the honor that should go to someone else rather than ourselves? How easy it is to receive praise that rightfully belongs to another. Instead, God's beauty is shown when we reflect honor back to the one who deserves it rather than stealing it for ourselves.
4. Ephesians 4:29-We can uproot corrupt talk and replace it with helpful words. This might be the most challenging of Paul's admonitions because there are so many opportunities to talk. No wonder Proverbs says that our words can produce either life or death, Proverbs 18:21, and James warns us that our words have the potential to damage like a fire set ablaze by the devil, James 3:6. Yet, if we uproot the wrong kind of words and replace them with words of God's wisdom, they will be refreshing like the tree of life, Proverbs 15:4. When we speak these kinds of words, rather than the ungracious ones, we will not grieve the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 4:30.
5. Ephesians 4:31-32-We can uproot bitterness malice, wrath, anger, clamor and slander and replace them with kindness and forgiveness. We can be the ones to break the chain of bitterness by doing a small kindness or simply deciding not to hold an offense against someone, Proverbs 19:11.
Charles Bracelen Flood, in his book ‘Lee: The Last Years’ relates a small incident that shows what this letting go of an offense could look like. After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a woman who wanted him to see what remained of a grand tree in front of her home. Its limbs and trunk had been badly damaged by union artillery fire. She hoped for Lee's sympathy or condemnation of the North. Instead of that, Lee gently told her to cut it down and forget about it. What good advice. Taking away that visible reminder could help her with whatever struggles she was having and allow her to heal.
Lord, Help us to uproot what is fruitless and barren so Your beauty can shine through.