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The Leaven of the Third Person Defense

by UNC Contributor
Photo by Tommaso Urli on Unsplash
 

At Unleavened Bread we focus a lot on what the apostle Paul had to say about spiritual leaven.

“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).

Facing the truth about ourselves can be touchy. But learning the lesson of King David can work much for us. It is the leaven of failing to see when it is you are the cause of your problem, not others. The lesson unfolds by contrasting two names powerfully linked with David. One is Goliath; the other is Bathsheba.

They could hardly be more different. Goliath, a three-metre mean bully, and Bathsheba, a beautiful, soft woman. As different as these two are in character, appearance and spirit, there’s a similarity in their relation to David. Both bring him into testing, to a “look-in-the-mirror” encounter about his heart.

Both enter David’s life at opposite ends. The giant when David was young, unknown and untested; and the woman when he is old, married and hardened through life’s trials. With Goliath David is a man of prayer, more impressed with God than with a giant. With Bathsheba, he is spiritually vulnerable with idle time on his hands. “It was spring when kings go to battle, but David remained at Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1).

With Bathsheba we aren’t prepared for this sort of story. What began as a lustful whim develops into a sordid sex-murder crime. He “abuses” his power (2 Samuel 11:3-6, 12). The verses emphasize sent his servants, sent for Bathsheba, then took her. Then enters Joab with the murder of Uriah. Here we find that Bathsheba’s allure along with Joab’s sly mind totally blinds David’s perception of things. Especially about himself.

Now to a question: how does God get you to see that you are often your own problem? It’s fair to ask at Unleavened Bread, “Are you seeing within yourself what God wants you to see?” Now enters the prophet Nathan sent by God (2 Samuel 12:1). He has a story to narrate which, interestingly, doesn’t indicate that David is actually the subject. Had he been reflective and sensitive enough to his spiritual condition, perhaps David might have seen the trap before he fell into it. As a prophet, Nathan was required to confront sin, even in the King. This took courage, skill & tact to make David aware of his wrong actions. Perhaps they sat at morning coffee while Nathan began to report an injustice. As the story unfolds David is unaware he is listening to a sermon. (Can we soberly reflect: How many sermons have I sat through and made no connection with myself?) But back to the unfolding trap set by God.

David is emotionally drawn into the story of the poor man and his pet lamb and the callous behavior of the rich landowner. His anger greatly aroused, as King and a judge he pronounces a death sentence and fourfold restitution. He claims the man had no pity (verse 7). Yet where was the pity shown Uriah? This judgment out of his own mouth would haunt him and his family for a long time (verses 10-14). He ended up losing four sons!

David listened to an inspired preacher who spoke in the third person and got worked up about someone else’s flaw. He seethed with indignation out of pity for the poor man and a pet lamb. Pitying and judging are religious sentiments than can be indulged in endlessly, making us feel superior to everyone else. David, pitying and judging, became more righteous by the minute and was absorbed in a huge blur of moral sentimentality. David had become so insensitive to his own sin that he didn’t connect he was the villain in Nathan’s story.

Then the sudden moral moment of personal truth: YOU are the one! This is what preachers are ordained to do, to somehow by God’s Spirit and help get around the THIRD PERSON defense and compel a FIRST PERSON recognition. Might this have influenced Paul a millennia later in saying: “You therefore who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” And by paraphrase, “You who say don’t steal; commit adultery; abhor idols; boast in the law” are you guilty yourself? (Romans 2:21-23).

But then we have the forever-exemplary converted response of David, “I have sinned” (verse 13). He now realizes his position before God as one caught in sin. Perhaps he writes Psalm 51 after this. There is an enormous amount of self-deception in sin. The Christian walk is to recognize it within yourself. The qualities we condemn in others can often also be our own character flaws. It is so easy to criticize but tough to take it in return. Nathan’s story entraps David. He doesn’t admit his problem until told, “YOU are the one.” At this point he doesn’t try and justify himself, deny or deflect attention from his problem. He accepts the rebuke from this other human being, the prophet speaking for God.

An important lesson in this is that when being told something about yourself you have to accept the authority of the one telling you, or you will miss the message. In the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah there is much refusal of correction from God’s prophets. Acceptance and change was rare. As potential rulers for the Kingdom, how well do we accept “rebuke?” By resisting we may be missing a lot of what God might be trying to show. The message from God for David was delivered through the “preaching” message of a prophet.

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