22nd July 2011

From Nasty To Nice

Her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.”
1 Samuel 1:6 (NIV UK)

A polygamist came to counsel with me some years ago in Africa.

He was having a problem with his wives. They were arguing about money and how much time he spent with them respectively. I was not sure how to advise him. As it transpired he worked out what to do by himself. He housed each of his wives in separate villages so he could have “peace of mind”, he said. It was his version of “divide and conquer”!

Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Penninah. He should have known better than to favour one over the other. Hannah was barren, and in the culture of the time that was grounds for divorce. Elkanah, however, loved Hannah and he did not put her away. Did he take another wife because Hannah did not provide him with children? Whatever the reason for having two wives, Elkanah made the mistake of giving his preferred wife extra meat and supplies. Penninah, the second wife, became jealous and would taunt Hannah, as we read above.

Do you ever irritate people because you feel spiteful? Chances are that everyone of us is guilty of that from time to time. Are you deliberately nasty to your rival at work? Or to the teacher’s favourite? Or to your disagreeable partner? Or to your sports opponent? Or to your forgetful parents? Or to your children who don’t do what you think they should do?  Or to someone of another faith or race?

The Bible has a lot to say about such behaviour. It warns against harbouring bitterness against others. Don’t have spiteful tongues, hearts or minds and in that way hate your neighbour. “Whoever shows contempt for his neighbour lacks sense” (Proverbs 11:12). Psalm 10 tells us that the wicked “hunts down the weak” and his or her “mouth is full of curses and lies” (verses 2,7). Paul echoes these sentiments when he explains that those who turn away from God are “full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14).

Penninah did not have the benefit of those scriptures. Nor did she have the indwelling of the Spirit. The apostle Paul reminds believers to be nice to others. He tells us through his letter to Christians at Ephesus, “not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”. That would include provoking others out of spite.

Rather, Paul continues, “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:30-32).

Father, please help your Spirit transform me so that I am not bitter inside, and not nasty and spiteful towards others. Help me to show your kindness and compassion at all times. In Jesus’ name.

Study by James Henderson

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