It’s party time. It’s the time of the year when neighbors, companies, churches, and friends gather to “celebrate the season.” Yesterday a friend remarked that her company has Christmas parties at the same time they are closing out the last quarter’s work for the year. I remember that feeling—when I was trying to finish grading papers for student-teachers before the end of the year. One theme I hear, from both working and retired adults, is the desire for peace. But the peace that comes as a result of finishing a task, for work or parties, is not the peace of Christ. We are designed by God to be relational creatures, so our greatest peace is in our relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, church members, fellow volunteers, and community residents. Who we are with others is either the most satisfying or the most disappointing aspect of life. Having people who support, encourage, and strengthen our devotion to Christ is more important than we may realize. All of God’s work in Scripture involves groups of people. All the leaders in the Old Testament—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, were significant because of their work on behalf of God for Israel. The apostles, disciples, women, and followers of Jesus Christ grew the kingdom of God through their work together. So why do we think that substantial Christian spiritual growth happens as individuals? Thomas Brooks writes, “…self is a great hindrance to divine things; therefore the prophets and apostles were usually carried out of themselves, when they had the clearest, choicest, highest, and most glorious visions. Self-seeking so blinds the soul, that it cannot see a beauty in Christ, nor an excellency in holiness; it distempers the palate, that a man cannot taste sweetness in the word of God, nor in the ways of God, nor in the society of the people of God…There is nothing that speaks a man to be more empty and void of God, Christ, and grace, than self-seeking…There is not a greater hindrance to all the duties of piety than self-seeking. Oh! This is that which keeps many a soul from looking after God and the precious things of eternity…Self-seeking is that which puts many a man upon neglecting and slighting the things of his peace.” (1) I can personally testify that it is both easy and dangerous to be self-seeking in our spiritual growth.
What Scripture led me to the idea or corporate peace? It is not a gospel passage that focuses on Christ rather than me, which we would expect. Like Philippians 2:1-4, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” What a great passage to counteract the Christmas madness! But it is an Old Testament passage that brought me to consider our corporate dedication to Christ—2 Chronicles 14:2-7. “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace. And he said to Judah, ‘Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.’ So they built and prospered.” King Asa’s knowledge of the Lord, his obedience, and conformity to God’s will was a good restart for Israel. Perhaps this Christmas, we might apply Asa’s conduct to ourselves by renewing our devotion to the Lord and using our peace to strengthen our corporate commitment to Christ.
Asa took down the idols and altars and pillars honoring them; commanded Israel to seek and obey God; and removed all the high places out of Judah’s cities. As a result of the peace God provided, Asa built up fortified cities for future wars and commanded Israel to prepare by building cities, saying twice that they should do so because they sought God and he gave them peace. Judah prospered. In summary, Asa broke, cut down, and removed idols before building up Judah’s defenses. “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord.” It is God’s desire that we tear down idols, not just in our own minds and hearts, but corporately, to have peace with God as a body. How did Asa and Israel, and the writer of 2 Chronicles know that God was the reason for their peace? Is he not the first cause of all events and circumstances? Whatever instruments the Lord used, he brought Israel peace. The Ten Commandments, forbidding idolatry was a good gift from Yahweh to his people. The King started with great devotion to God by leading Israel to worship him alone through his example and rule. “Interpreters agree that the Mosaic laws, rightly understood, still give Christians wisdom about the kind of conduct that pleases or displeases God.” (2) “Asa aimed at pleasing God and studied to approve himself to him. Happy are those that walk by this rule, not to do that which is right in their own eyes, or in the eye of the world, but which is so in God’s sight. We find by experience that it is good to seek the Lord; it gives us rest; while we pursue the world, we meet with nothing but vexation.” (3)
Asa started his work of spiritual renovation, led Israel to participate, and then continued the practice. It was not enough for him to begin; the work needed to continue. Unfortunately, his efforts later waned, and Ethiopia invaded Judah. Taking the liberty of making another spiritual application, we have here an encouragement to keep up our communal spiritual invigoration and a warning that if we stop, we will be overtaken by the world and its influences, as Israel was. The work of Christ is that which is accomplished together by having hearts united to build the kingdom. It’s mystery is accomplished by the work of God’s Spirit, built on our faithful conformity to the Lord’s Word and will. Paul refers to and describes this mystery in his epistles as “…hearts…encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He desires this heart-unity for the Colossians as a body, including himself. “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 2:2-5) (See also Ephesians 3:1-9; Colossians 1:26-27; 4:3.) We do not honor God with our independence but with our humble, biblical interdependence. And when we obtain shared peace, we, like Asa, can build up our defenses again the enemies of the world, Satan, and even our ungodly desires and temptations.
Today, at a secular meeting, a friend told me that she knows how much I love Jesus, as she does. I was delighted by her initiation of a spiritual conversation in our happy, chatty group when most conversations were about family and travel plans over the holidays. She encouraged me so much, and I hope to pass on the encouragement to you. God has given many of us peace, so we have no excuse to neglect building up our defenses against Christ’s enemies. Let’s agree to tear down the idols that challenge Jesus—materialism, sentimentality, Santa, food—whatever threatens our gospel peace—together. “Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” (Exodus 34:12-14) Lord, help us who belong to Christ to boldly honor you together this Christmas.
(1) Brooks, Thomas. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (p. 106). Kindle Edition.
(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Exodus 20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(3) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 2 Chronicles 14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/2chronicles-14.html
December 13, 2019