‘Bill, will you take Bertha to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?’
‘Bertha, will you take Bill to be your husband? Will you love him, comfort him, honour and protect him, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?’
I guess no-one says those words on their wedding day without being deeply aware of their natural inconsistency and unfaithfulness.
And the same is true of our most important relationship in life – our relationship with God. By coming into this world as a man, and dying for our forgiveness on the cross and rising again from the dead, the Lord Jesus has basically said to us, ‘I will – I will have you back; I will be your God.’ And if you’re a believer, you’ve basically said to him, ‘I will have you as my Lord.’ And yet we’re unfaithful to him every day. ‘Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?’ asks the Lord Jesus in Luke 6 (v46). And that shames me every time I read it. And the more you go on in the Christian life, the more deeply aware you become of your natural inconsistency and unfaithfulness to the Lord. And you may wonder sometimes how - or even whether - you’ll still be going as a Christian 5, 10, 50 years down the tracks.
Well this morning’s part of the Bible speaks to that insecurity. It speaks to the issue of what will keep us faithful to the Lord, by showing us both what threatens faithfulness but also what sustains it.
So would you turn in the Bibles to 1 Kings 11, as we start a new sermon series in this part of the Bible.
Which begs the question: where are we in the Bible? We’re in the Old Testament (OT) – the part of the Bible about events before Jesus. So have a look at this picture:
The line across the page is a time-line. We live at the right hand end after the first coming of Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead to be King over everything. Now, if you go back to the very left hand end of that time-line you get to the time when God entered into relationship with a group of people called ‘Israel’. He rescued them from Egypt, took them to Mount Sinai where he basically proposed marriage to them. He said, ‘I will be your God.’ And they said, ‘We will be your people.’ And that that was the LORD’s ‘covenant’ with Israel – a covenant simply being a relationship based on promises, eg, marriage. From there, the LORD took them into the promised land and let them have a king - in theory, to lead them in living for God. And at that point, the LORD made another covenant with King David, which is second from the left in the picture. And this is what God promised David:
12 “When your [ie, David’s] days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you… and I will establish his kingdom…” (2 Samuel 7.12)
You find that promise in the book of 2 Samuel, which is the one before 1 Kings. And 1 Kings starts with David’s death, and Solomon succeeding him as king. And 1 Kings 1-10 (which we preached on this time last year) is a story of peace and prosperity, and an apparently very successful reign. So that 1 Kings 11 comes like a slap in the face. Look at 1 Kings 11.1:
1 King Solomon, however…
And chapter 11 is the terrible ‘however’, the terrible ‘but’ that has to be written over the reign of Solomon, because for all his apparent success, he was deeply unfaithful to the LORD. I’ve got two headings:
1. The warning of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, and
2. The response of the LORD’s faithfulness
Firstly, THE WARNING OF SOLOMON’S UNFAITHFULNESS (vv1-8)
1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.
7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. (vv1-8)
Just keep a finger in chapter 11 and turn back to chapter 3.1:
1 Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.
You see, marry Pharaoh’s daughter and Pharaoh can’t very well then invade you. It was a political marriage. And I guess Solomon said to himself, ‘It won’t influence me spiritually. I can compartmentalise this compromise.’ But go back to chapter 11, years later, v1:
1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter [and, v4:] 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God… (vv1, 4)
So like v2 says, the LORD had told them, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” But on this issue, Solomon felt wiser than God. He thought he could compromise in one area and still be faithful to the LORD. Whereas in fact, to compromise in any area is by definition unfaithfulness: ‘‘Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?’ asks Jesus.
Now there are all sorts of ways to sow a seed of compromise that grows down the tracks. For Solomon it was that marriage decision. For some it could be a career decision – a point where you fudge a moral issue (eg, in business or medicine) which grows into more fudging as the years go by. Or a decision that puts money rather than God first. And so on.
But this chapter is a particular wake-up call to the influence of a marriage partner. Someone has written, ‘In marriage, you allow another person closer than anyone else to shape the person you are.’ And that’s why in the OT, like v2 says, the LORD told his people to marry only another of his people – so they’d be pulling together in living for him rather than pulling apart – one living for the LORD, another living in the opposite direction, for one of these false gods. And that principle continues through into the New Testament (NT). It’s why in the NT, the Lord tells Christians to marry only another Christian. You find that in 1 Corinthians 7.39, where the apostle Paul writes this:
39A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7.39)
And that applies to all Christians who are still free to marry, not just to widows (whom Paul was addressing in the original situation he was writing to). Ie, if you call Jesus ‘Lord’, then his will for you is that your marriage partner must also belong to him. And that’s not for our restriction but for our good. Because the Lord wants us to have marriages in which two are pulling together in living for him - and encouraging one another to do so, and nurturing their children together to do so.
Let me say something straight away to those who I know will have found that hard to hear. I’m very aware that there are Christians in our church family whose husbands or wives are not Christians. For some, it’s because they were both non-Christians when they married, and one, praise God, has since come to faith. For others, it’s because one was already a Christian when they married - but hadn’t heard any Bible teaching on this, or was totally unclear about their faith. For others, it’s because although they were already Christians and knew this, they still went ahead and married someone who wasn’t a Christian. For others, it’s because although when they married, each thought the other was a Christian, one has since gone back on the profession of faith they made earlier in life.
Now if any of those is your situation, can I say: it is God’s will for you now to be married to the person you married. You’re not somehow ‘outside God’s will’. If you were already a Christian and knew that the step of marrying a non-Christian wasn’t right, you need to admit that to yourself and to God - and to know that there’s forgiveness for that wrong step just as there is for every wrong step. But you needn’t doubt that the marriage to which that wrong step led is right and good in the Lord’s eyes and that he wants you to live out your marriage.
But if you’re in any of those situations, it is harder, because you don’t have a husband or wife who’s encouraging you to live for the Lord; sometimes, sadly, they may actively discourage you. Which means, brothers and sisters, the rest of us need to be an especially good support to our brothers and sisters in these situations. We need to pray for them and their husband or wife; we need to encourage them; and we need to think how we can help their witness – because most often it’s someone else who’s far better placed to make an invitation or say something Christian to the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian.
But what about the rest of us? The application to the unmarried Christian is: marry only another Christian; someone with whom you can pull together for the Lord Jesus for the rest of your life. And the application to married Christians is: do everything you can to encourage the faith of your husband or wife. Because nothing will help your faithfulness to the Lord more than their faithfulness to the Lord.
That’s the warning of Solomon’s unfaithfulness. He thought he could compromise in one area and still be faithful to the LORD. Ie, he thought he could call God ‘Lord’ of his life while keeping at least one area of his life back from God’s Lordship. So let me pause and give us a moment to think: have I made, or am I contemplating, a compromise like that? Is there one area of disobedience that I’m rationalizing as OK?
We’ve seen something of what can threaten our faithfulness. Now let’s turn to what can sustain it. So,
Second, THE RESPONSE OF THE LORD’S FAITHFULNESS (vv9-43)
9 The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD's command. (vv9-10)
Back in the book of Exodus, the LORD had said this:
‘Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous is a jealous God.’ (Exodus 34.14)
So the anger of v9 is the anger of jealousy - the right and proper jealousy of a husband or wife for their partner’s faithfulness. Because the LORD had committed himself, marriage-style, to his people, including Solomon – he’d basically said, ‘I’ll be a husband to you; I’ll provide everything you need.’ And spiritually speaking, Solomon had gone off and had an affair. Instead of trusting the LORD to provide his security, he’d trusted politics, and looked to Pharaoh and therefore married his daughter and ultimately taken up with his gods. As someone has put it, ‘Behind every act of disobedience lies an act of distrust. We turn to sin and substitutes for God because we fail to trust the one, true God to satisfy us and meet our needs.’
So the LORD is rightly angry. But despite all the unfaithfulness at our end of the relationship, he never stops being faithful - because it’s his very nature to be faithful. So let’s look at the Lord’s response of faithfulness. And there are two side to it. One side of that is that he’s faithful to his promise of judgement.
Look again at that promise to King David in 2 Samuel 7:
12 “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you… and I will establish his kingdom… 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men…” (2 Samuel 7.12-14)
That’s a promise that God will judge, or discipline, unfaithfulness. And he keeps that promise in 1 Kings 11. Read on to v11:
11 So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” (v11)
And the rest of chapter 11 describes that judgement or discipline. There’s not time to read it all, but look down to v14:
14 Then the LORD raised up against Solomon an adversary, Hadad the Edomite…
That takes you down to v23, where we read:
23 And God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon… [skip to v25:] 25 Rezon was Israel's adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad…. (vv23, 25)
So the LORD disciplines Solomon by allowing political enemies to rise against him. And that discipline isn’t arbitrary. Like any good parental discipline, it’s perfectly tailored to what Solomon got wrong. Because what he got wrong was trusting politics rather than the LORD for his security. So the LORD gives him insecurity to show him that politics can’t deliver. And the lesson there is that that’s often the way with God’s discipline: we turn to sin and substitutes for God, and the Lord allows us to reap negative consequences from those very things in order to teach us that those things can’t deliver what we hoped they would, and that it was foolish to look to them in the first place. Then look on to v26:
26 Also, Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king… (v26)
And in vv26-39, God explains that he’s going to use this guy Jeroboam to do what he said back in v11 – namely, ‘tear the kingdom away from Solomon.’ (We’ll hear more about him next week.)
And the lesson here is that a leader of God’s people can be as successful in many ways as Solomon. But the number one qualification for being a leader of God’s people is that you are leading the way in godliness - in trusting and in obeying the Lord. So to the many leaders of ministries in JPC here, myself first and foremost, can I say: if we are not leading the way in godliness, if we are compromised like Solomon, then either we need to repent of our compromise, or we need to repent of being leaders and step out of ministry until we’ve resolved the spiritual issues in our lives. Because the only other alternative is that in some way or other, God will have to take away our ministry and humble us in the kind of public way in which he humbled Solomon.
Now that may sound harsh. But God’s discipline is part of his faithfulness to us, his love for us. When we sin and turn to substitutes for him, God doesn’t just carelessly shrug his shoulders and let us go our own foolish way. Like a father – in fact the best of fathers – he disciplines us. He may allow hard things to happen to us, he may take away certain things from us. But his aim is the ultimately faithful one of weaning us off sin and the substitutes that we turn to, and teaching us that he alone is God and can satisfy us and meet our needs. That’s why Solomon, in his Proverbs, said this:
11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3.11-12)
I heard a Christian give her testimony earlier this year. She’d drifted badly from the Lord and come back to him after a deeply unhappy few years. And she said this. She said, ‘It’s far better that God allowed me to get that low, to bring me back to himself, than that I’d drifted away from him for good.’ She’d understood that the Lord’s discipline, far from being a sign he didn’t love her, was a sign that he did.
So, the Lord is faithful to his promise of judgement. Then finally, the Lord is faithful to his promise of commitment. Look one last time at that promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. Half way through v14, God speaking to David about his successors:
When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7.14-16)
So there’s also a promise of commitment – that despite human sin there will be a King and a kingdom forever. So now look at 1 Kings 11.11 again:
11 So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude… I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you… 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen." [ie, because of my promise of commitment.] (vv11-13)
Now if you read the rest of 1 & 2 Kings, you find that David’s successors led the people increasingly away from the LORD. And I’ve tried to show that in the picture we began with by that downwards arrow that finally led to the judgement of the exile. So by the end of 2 Kings, Israel is in exile and there’s no King and no kingdom. So what about that promise of a King and a kingdom forever?
The answer is that it couldn’t be fulfilled by a merely human king – who is by definition sinful and therefore part of the human problem. It could only be fulfilled by a King who was God and man, and in fact it was fulfilled, right hand side of the picture, when God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and seated him on the throne of heaven as King forever:
So there is a King forever. But how can there be human members of his kingdom forever? How can God commit himself permanently to sinful human beings like us? How can God ultimately keep these two promises – to judge sin, and yet be committed to sinners? The answer is: the cross, where Jesus died to take on himself the judgement for all our unfaithfulness, so that he can - and does - commit himself to being faithful to us, forgiving us whenever we need it this side of heaven, rather than giving up on us.
We began with the issue of how we who are so naturally unfaithful can be faithful the Lord. And the answer is that we can only be faithful to him because he is first faithful to us. He is first faithful to us in taking us on, forgiving our entire past’s sins, and committing himself to forgiving us whenever we need it in the future, this side of heaven. He is first faithful to us, in the new covenant time in which we live, in putting his Spirit in our hearts and changing them – moving them away from a love for sin to a love for him. He is first faithful to us in continuing that parental discipline we’ve seen in Solomon’s life – weaning us off sin by teaching us through its consequences. And he is first faithful to us in being committed, eventually, to raising us from the dead, as Jesus was raised from the dead, into a sin-free existence where our nature is finally fully faithful like his.
And it’s the very act of trusting his faithfulness to us that creates and sustains our faithfulness to him.