By Dan Vaida
The main theme that stuck-out for me in today’s scripture readings is the showcasing of what a true and living faith looks like. A stark contrast is presented to us between how Saul and the apostles of Jesus react to adversity. It is these reactions I’d like to discuss today, since they demonstrate to us with such clarity how misplaced worship is a symptom of rank unbelief.
The refrain found in Psalm 57 is important in identifying what true faith looks like:
“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.” We find it both in the middle of the Psalm, and right at the very end.
David pours out all of his complaints before God. His anguish in light of his troubles and obstacles is very real: “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts,” “They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down,” etc. What’s remarkable about David’s reaction is the shifting of the focus away from him to God’s own exaltation (“be exalted, O God”). In other words, his comfort and solace are found in God’s own glorification, and not in his present circumstances. One would think that David’s appeal would be for God to merely deliver him from his present trials. However, the foundation of David’s hope is found in God Himself; not just in what God can do for him.
King Saul, in chapter 18 of 1 Samuel demonstrates how easy it is to go down the other route. After David’s slaying of Goliath, he is met with shouts of praises and adulation as both him and Saul return back from battle: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” The exaltation that David receives from the people of Israel (Saul’s rightful subjects) outweighs that of the king himself. As a result of this, Saul descends into jealousy and insecurity that leads to his eventual downfall.
In Acts 13-14 the exact opposite example is taking place. The Apostles are not merely wrestling with their own egos, but have to face real danger and rejection by their own people. As Paul and Barnabas continued proclaiming the Gospel in the synagogues of Antioch, the Jewish leaders of the city “stirred up persecution… and drove them out of their district.” After escaping to Iconium, the same exact fate awaited them there, with the added bonus of also being stoned! The reaction that the Apostles had could not be more different to that of Saul’s. They did not only “continue to preach the Gospel” despite everything, they were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Since the Apostles drew their entire purpose from God Himself, no persecution or unpleasant circumstance managed to rob them of their joy. However dire the situation, they simply “shook off the dust from their feet”—as per Jesus’ own instruction— and continued to serve Him. The object of their worship was directly relevant to how they lived their lives. When we elevate anything in this world above God Himself, we set ourselves up for disappointment, or, as in Saul’s case, for condemnation. May the Glory of God be the sole foundation of our hope and joy; now and always. Amen.
I’m a recent Northeastern graduate with an MS in International Affairs. Still unhappy about leaving Boston, and am praying earnestly that I get to move back in the Fall. Enjoying summer in the meantime…Despite all the Pennsylvania thunderstorms.