Christ's Love For God's Folk
Don't you just love church?
Aren't Christian brothers and sisters the most delightful, excellent folk? It is hard to describe the joy harmonious fellowship with godly people brings! Those providential meetings with unknown believers on vacation; long conversations into the evening at a conference or convention; the smiling face, each Sabbath, of some of the best people who you know; a time of sweet psalm-singing when your heartbeat seems as one; knit together in love through God's grace in the heart; there's nothing on earth like gathering with God's well-functioning family!
Do brothers ever get on your nerves?
Perhaps that is why it's so painful when church fellowship misfires - when instead of bringing joy believers just add to stress and sorrow. An ill-judged statement, a selfish thoughtless action, an unfounded suspicion, an unwarranted accusation, or trivial difference in opinion - these are the raw materials that supply Satan with ammunition, and give the Devil occasion to sow mischievous seeds of division between good and godly folk. You've been spared great heartbreak if you've never witnessed schism, or seen a church divided or at loggerheads with those who love the Lord!
A psalm delights in saints!
When suspicions are arising and patience has worn thin, we are wise to remind ourselves of a statement in Psalm 16. This Miktam of David, v1, seems to have arisen in a situation of tension, in which the nation was split. Among the Covenant People there was an influential but compromised group whose priorities lay elsewhere and who ran after other gods. This was not the company that King David would seek out. He resolved in His heart, v4b, "their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their name upon my lips." We detect the spiritual gravity which pulled the King towards believers, in v3: "As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight."
Holed-up in a Hideout
We see this love for the saints at many points in David's career. Having been warned by Jonathan that Saul wanted to take his life, David first fled to Nob, next sought refuge in Gath, and finally found himself holed-up in a rocky cave in Adullam. Not many were noble or influential, the rich and famous were absent. No doubt in this rag-tag bunch there were some unsavoury types who were spoiling for a fight. We would overstate the case by ignoring the normal and mundane sort of 'regular-kind-of-guys' among his closest family and friends. Yet this was the group in which David found his bearings and for which he had a heart. The Holy Spirit takes up the account in 22.1-2:
"David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him, about four hundred men."
It is this 'band of brothers', with counsel prayerfully sought from God, who would form the military unit that would fight a Philistine army. David was ready to risk his own life and out of love for the saints to deliver the city of Keilah, 1 Samuel 23.1-5. Subsequent to this, there is an almost (if it were not so tragic) comical scene in the Wilderness of Maon - Saul like a bloodhound chasing but never catching David, on the near side of the hill, delivered from his clutches by the LORD, as he skirts the safe slopes on the far side of the mountain, 1 Samuel 23.26.
Resolute in the Rebellion
Don't forgot, aswell, the people who stood firm, at the later time of rebellion, that humiliating episode when son Absalom thrust his father out, and made a B-line for the throne. The record of this godly 'gathering of the clans' is set out so movingly in 2 Samuel 15.13-37. As soon as he learns from a messenger that Israel's heart has given allegiance to his son, and gives the command to rise and flee, what cheering words of comfort proceed from the parted lips of one united mouth of saints:
"And the king's servants said to the king 'Behold your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides'. So the king went out, and all his household after him ...and all his servants passed by, and all the Cherithites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath" with Ittai out in front, just recently signed up, and a foreigner to boot.
"Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite 'Why do you also go with us. Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday and shall I make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the LORD show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.'"
What was Ittai's response? "But Ittai answered the king 'As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord and king shall be, whether for death or life, there also will your servant be!'" Doesn't Ittai remind you of Ruth with his excellent delightful clinging to David as the former bound herself to Naomi and her God? He also reminds us of Peter with his most excellent delightful confession 'Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life!'
Ittai is swiftly followed by Abiathar, Zadok and all the Ark-bearing Levites, who the king commands to return city-ward to wait further instructions from the LORD, 2 Samuel 23.24-28. Bereft of Ahithophel's counsel, Arkite Hushai takes his place, among the priestly remnant, to frustrate advice of David's former trusted friend. From a human or historical standpoint this exiled fellowship of saints looks like a very sorry sight, yet it is with such excellent ones, the monarch finds his home, and in whom king David takes delight.
"But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went" 2 Samuel 23.30-31.
Comfort in Cross-Country
When they finally ford the Jordan, this fellowship of saints, brings refreshment to his heart, 2 Samuel 17.27-29. Can you envisage exhausted, hanging heads, lifted by the news of friends, and the wide-eyed smiles and embraces, at the arrival of lunch on the frontline?
"When David came to Mahanaim, Shobbi the son of Nahash ...Machir the son of Ammiel ...and Barzillai the Gileadite ...brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said 'The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.'"
Among this 'band of brothers' I'm sure there were many irritating personalities and not a few frustrating friends. Yet in this time of stress petty annoyances disappeared. Their delightful excellent traits of a gracious godly disposition came out in their true colours as they fought for their lives and leader and the advancement of God's Kingdom. Trials and troubles for faith have the knack of concentrating minds, and enabling us to unite around Covenant committment. How vital we keep focus when there is friction in the flock.
Saints delight the Saviour
We'll learn at a later point, however historical or typical David's statement, that the apostles regarded this Psalm as a predictive prophecy of Christ, in Acts 2.25-31. It comes as no surprise then to find this same delight in King Jesus, the ultimate Messianic Son of David, who spent almost every waking hour of his three-year ministry in the company of His disciples. These most excellent saints, by grace through faith, stuck with Christ through thick and thin. Luke 22.28-30 reminds us:
"You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
We can see where David got his heart for the saints - through faith in Christ, from union with His mind! Not the religious leaders, power brokers, national rulers, or social elite were his people of his delight and choice - but those frustrating, patience-stretching, hot-headed, sabre-rattling, stubborn, self-serving, dull-minded, big-hearted, slow-learning fishermen, taxman, and other thick-accented Galileans who lacked formal tertiary-level education. With them he taught the crowds, through them he fed the multitudes, among them he ate and drank, beside them he walked roads, and round them he held retreat. Often mistaken, frequently misguided, occasionally hindrances - the loving Redeemer and Shepherd of God's flock, poured every drop of his energy, and almost the entirety of his earthly ministry, by the grace of His Word and Spirit, into recreating, remoulding and retraining, these deeply flawed candidates of mercy, into most delightful, excellent saints.
Degrees of Delight
As we reflect on David's life as a dim resonance of Christ's heart, on a sliding scale of 0-10, where would we locate our love for the Lord's own, 10 being perfect delight in excellent saints? Do we let personality pettiness rob us of riches of Christian fellowship? Is this were we find soul mates when our world turns upside-down? Are we fountains of refreshment when salvation-siblings pant and thirst? Will the mind of Christ's delight help us overlook their faults? Do we pray for our Lord's patience when they lose the spiritual bearings and hinder and obstruct? Do we write them off as hopeless when they just can't see the truth? If you're through with local saints does it not wave a red flag and set alarm bells off? Is recent preference for the ungodly company a sign that you've grown cold? If your delight is dried-up or experiencing death-throws will you tap in to Christ's heart - do you need to repent for giving Satan a foothold and seek pardoning, covering, blood to remove this offence from the sight of your Lord who takes delight in excellent saints?
Excellence from Eternity
Has love for the saints not always been the devoted gravity of Christ's heart? From before the world was made, when God's electing choice was fixed, it was the one-day-to-be excellent saints in whom the Logos found delight! Was it not for this very reason the Eternal Word became incarnate, to rescue hopeless, rebel, saints in whom He took delight? It could almost be Christ's missionary manifesto that took Him to Golgotha - He suffered death on the Cross to express divine love for excellent saints as particular guilty objects gathered on His Great High Priestly breast! Is it not still for this reason, that on the basis of His blood, He pleads his merit for His own, and sends out His Spirit into the world to convict, convert, comfort and conform to His image of holy love and delight in excellent saints?
Thick and Thin
You, no doubt, have many fair-weather friends. As Job rapidly discovered, and as Jesus was left deserted, there are few that will remain faithful when your mouth or chips are down. Who do you think will visit you as part of their selfless service to Christ when you are sick, depressed or terminal? What category of person will put you on their prayerlist, and offer up secret unknown petitions, for years on end, and at particular moments of necessity or crisis? Will it be worldly, ungodly, neighbours or colleagues who will stand with you side-by-side to preach in open-airs, or in the dock when falsely accused? Is it the trendy young people and students who will distribute Gospel literature or accompany you round doors in an effort to speak Christ?
Demonstration of Delight
From personal experience I can testify to the kindness, compassion and affection of most excellent saints in whom God takes delight. It was nearly two decades ago when our twin boys Paul and Andrew arrived. Without belaboring the point, though genetically identical, the latter little one was discovered in utero to have a life-threatening condition, exomphalous major - subsequently to this the neonatologists and surgeons discovered that Junior also only had one lung. By the grace of God, and the common grace skills given to his surgeon Mr Victor Boston, he just about made it through the choppy waters of years 1-3 on earth. He was intermittently on and off ventilation for the duration of that time. At his lowest point we were summoned to Intensive care to say 'goodbyes' in the wee small hours to little Andy. Throughout this period we were showered in love, surrounded by care, sustained in prayer, supplied by meals - for a whole year or more we did not have to prepare a single dish, but found food left on the doorstep by many Christian friends and neighbours from various denominations. The glory goes to God who worked excellence in His saints. I find it hard to imagine how we could ever not but take delight in his most excellent of saints!
Grow delightful Grace
What reason or resource, then, do we lack in pursuit of 'saints delight?' Seek grace to overlook the bad! Pray for help to think the best! Grow up in this grace of devoted delight in godly folk. May God grant us eyes to see His own excellence in saints.