Psalm 68:7–18; Proverbs 15; 1 Corinthians 16:12–24

Psalm 68:7–18: This section of this thanksgiving psalm depicts God as warrior coming out to do battle: “God, when You sallied forth before Your people,/ when You strode through the desert.”(8) And he makes his presence known through the more dramatic aspects of nature–earthquake and heavy rain: “The earth shook,/ the heavens, too, poured  down before God.” (9)

God is a restorative God: “Your estate that had languished You made firm.” The psalm continues with an interweaving of God’s impact on nature with cleansing the land of its enemies. “The kings of armies run away” (13) before God and “When Shaddai scattered the kings there,/ it snowed on Zalmon.” (15) The clear meaning for me here is that God is invested in the affairs of mankind (as driving out enemies) as much as he is the driving force behind nature’s bounty (as symbolized by the rain).

These images add important dimensionality to our contemporary image of God as mostly avuncular relative in the wider culture and as loving father for us Christians. These images are also appropriate but this psalm reminds us that God is the all-powerful Creator of  the universe and our Protector in time of trouble.

Proverbs 15: The inventory of oppositional proverbs (the righteous vs. the foolish) continues, opening with one of the most famous proverbs of all: “A soft answer turns away wrath,/ but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15), which of course Jesus extended to the idea of turning the other cheek–not because we’re supposed to be Christian wimps, but because it is the more difficult act.  Thinking before speaking, especially in anger, is the crucial skill: “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,/ but those who are slow to anger calm contention.” (18) and again, “The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer,/ but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.” (28)

The second verse of this chapter seems to anticipate our modern chattering culture of cable news shows and increasingly empty words uttered by politicians: “The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (2) The writer enforces his point by repeating himself a few verses later: “The lips of the wise spread knowledge;/ not so the minds of fools.” (7) Now there’s a scary place: “the minds of fools.” Alas, there seems to be very little wisdom among the noise of incessant foolish statements and opinions, including those in the highest positions of power.

And lest we miss his point, again at verse 14: “The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,/ but the mouths of fools feed on folly.” Here we see that we have a responsibility to seek out knowledge, which is the path to wisdom. Something to think about the next time we re-post some inaccurate or unthinking post on Facebook.

So, as tempted as we are to speak in the heat of anger, the theme of this chapter makes it abundantly clear that we are to pause and reflect even when we have been attacked. This is hard to do–as our writer well knew.

1 Corinthians 16:12–24: Paul’s almost off-hand remark at verse 12 tells us a lot about Apollos–and Paul: “Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but he was not at all willing to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity.” Apollos is unwilling to “come now.” There must be anger there. Is Apollos upset with the Corinthians? Or is he upset with Paul?  I suspect the latter.  I’m guessing that the force of Paul’s personality was such that when he “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth, Apolllos felt he was being browbeaten by Paul–and resisted Paul’s urging.

Yet at the same time, Paul’s generous spirit comes through in his confident assertion, “He will come when he has the opportunity.” Apollos was still a brother in Christ to Paul and Paul knew the Holy Spirit would eventually move Apollos to come to Corinth. Unfortunately, the NT is silent on whether or not that actually happened.

Paul’s last paragraphs are generous encomia for the workers at Corinth, especially Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, who have come to visit Paul (in Rome, I presume.) Paul may have been tough and his personality abrasive to many. But above all he was in love with Jesus Christ and his ineffable optimism and love for his brothers and sisters in Christ radiates through his strong words that close this epistle: “Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.” A lesson for us: that love for Christ which we reflect to others reigns above all else.

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