An outline of the passage:

The King returns to the kingdom:

V9-15: strife in Israel, but they ask David back

V16-23: Shimei (who had previously cursed him) meets him, grovelling – and is spared

V24-30: Mephibosheth (who had been slandered by Ziba) meets him, explaining – and is believed and semi-restored to his land

V31-39: Barzillai meets him kindly – and is offered anything

V40-43: David comes back – more strife in Israel

In many ways great things are happening – now God’s chosen king is getting back into the promised land, to reign there again, and the people are united about having him back, even if they are falling out with each other a bit. So good things are happening for the kingdom and work of God on earth.

Yet, when you look carefully, though God is truly at work, there are all sorts of unideal, imperfect and sinful things going on at the same time. Shimei is very hypocritical and political in his adherence to David – and should David in fact have spared him and promised no punishment? Mephibosheth is clearly honest and had been robbed of his inheritance by Ziba, yet David only restored half his land to him, probably a political and pragmatic move to keep the powerful Ziba and his troops on side. And the bitterness between Israel (the 10 Northern tribes) and Judah does not bode will – there is in fact a fresh rebellion in the following chapter that grows out of this dissension.

God grows his kingdom by means of the good, the bad and the indifferent – good and bad people, good and bad events.

Think of how this was even so at the cross of Jesus – he is the righteous Son of God, laying down his life in love, but just about everyone else in the situation is failing, many of them in terrible ways (Judas betraying, Peter abandoning, the leaders in Jerusalem plotting and unjustly condemning out of envy and hatred, the Roman authorities being moral cowards and violent). In the midst of this sin and imperfection, God is dealing with people wisely, powerfully and very graciously – identifying with our sin, and in the end taking it on himself to deal with it, and not expecting us to reach his standard before he comes into our lives and employs us in the outworking of his wonderful saving plan.

1. This is very encouraging. We don’t have to be perfect or even nearly perfect before God will use us or use our church. One hears of churches that want ministers and don’t call anyone to be theirs for year after year because they have perfectionist standards and huge lists of boxes that need ticking. One comes across Christians sometimes who think: God cannot bless my church because it doesn’t pray enough or witness enough or have enough hospitality or the right music or….. And one comes across Christians – perhaps you are like this yourself, I have been and still sometimes slither into a bit of it – who feel that God cannot fully be for them or fully delight in them or really smile on their service for God because they are not quite right. A story is told of a woman whose father, when she was a child, rejected a shirt of his that she had dried on a rusty lawnmower, with the best of motives; and she projected such severity onto God and felt he could never be fully for her or fully delight in what she did for God. No! The Lord is gracious. As John Calvin put it long ago:

The second part [of Christian freedom], dependent on the first, is that consciences observe the law, not as if constrained by the necessity of the law, but that freed from the law’s yoke they willingly obey God’s will. (para 4)  … Those bound by the yoke of the law are like servants assigned certain tasks for each day by their masters. These servants think they have accomplished nothing, and dare not appear before their masters unless they have fulfilled the exact measure of their tasks.  But sons, who are more generously and candidly treated by their fathers, do not hesitate to offer them incomplete and half-done and even defective works, trusting that their obedience and readiness of mind will be accepted by their fathers, even though they have not quite achieved what their fathers intended.  Such children ought we to be, firmly trusting that our services will be approved by our most merciful Father, however small, rude, and imperfect these may be.” (para 5 of Calvin, Institutes 3:19, McNeill and Battles edition)

2. Secondly it rebukes our perfectionism – give it up! In terms of God smiling on you and using you and what you do and using your church before it’s perfect, give it up; and give it up in other matters too – don’t drive friends or family half crazy by making them walk miles or pay for Ubers to get one perfect scone or cup of tea or pint of beer!

3. If you don’t actually know Jesus as Saviour in your heart and life yet, realise that he has invited you warmly to come now to him as you are; and if you are willing to come on his terms (so, after coming you will belong to him and go his way and change, with his help), you can call on him today and ask forgiveness and invite him into your life, and he will come in! As the old song had it:

Just as I am, without one plea

But that thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou biddst me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come.