Psalm 69:1–13; Proverbs 18; 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:13

Psalm 69:1–13: This psalm of supplications opens with the arresting metaphor of a drowning man slipping on slimy rocks and being carried away:
Rescue me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I have sunk in the slime of the deep,
and there is no place to stand.
I have entered the watery depths,
and the current has swept me away.” (2,3)

Despite his calls for help, his hope that God will hear him and rescue him seems lost:
I am exhausted form my calling out.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes fail
from hoping for my God.” (4)

He finds himself in this desperate situation due to the number and nature of the evil actions of his many enemies. He has apparently been wrongfully accused of theft as he responds to their accusations with bitter sarcasm:
More numerous than the hairs of my head
are y unprovoked foes.
My destroyers grow strong,
my lying foes.
What I have not stolen
should I then give back?” (5a)

These lines perfectly express our feelings of bitter frustration when someone has accused us of an act we did not commit and we are unable to convince them of our innocence.

Perhaps even worse for our psalmist is the feeling that as a God-follower his present situation is shaming other followers. His desperation that others not be shamed by his actions or words is emphasized in his repetition of his plea:
Let those who hope for You not be shamed through me.
Master, O Lord of armies.
Let those who seek You be not disgraced through me,
God of Israel.” (7)

In point of fact, our poet asserts, it is his faithfulness to God that has led him to this present pass. There is a certain Jobian quality here about how faith has led to disaster.
Because for You I have borne reproach,
disgrace has covered my face.

For the zeal of Your house has consumed me.
the reproach of Your reproachers has fallen on me.” (8, 10)

Even his efforts to atone for his sins have been futile and have led to nothing but public disgrace:
And in fasting I wept for my being—
it became a reproach for me.

I was the talk of those who sit at the gate,
the drunkard’s taunting song.” (11, 13)

At this point we sense that this psalm could well be the prayer of a burnt-out pastor or other Christian leader. He has been so consumed by working God that he has ignored or even abandoned important human relationships. Worse, the bitter fruit of his efforts is that others accuse him of wrongdoing. And with this double burden he finds himself in the ironic position that in working too hard for God he has feels abandoned even by God himself. I have to believe there are pastors out there who completely identify with this psalm.

Proverbs 18: Our author must have been writing these proverbs on index cards all his life because there seems to be no end to them. Highlights that strike me follow.

Echoing the feelings of our psalmist above,
When wickedness comes, so does contempt,
    and with shame comes reproach.” (3)

As usual, there is the thread of proverbs dealing with the consequences of speech (and in our era, posting on social media) contrasting foolish speech with wise words:
The words of the mouth are deep waters,
    but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” (4)

The lips of fools bring them strife,
    and their mouths invite a beating.” (6)

Farther down there is a truth we would do well to remember whenever we open our mouths:
The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (21)

Our author is telling us in no uncertain terms that what we say (or post) has serious consequences for good or for bad. But for me personally, the verse that truly hits home is:
To answer before listening—
    that is folly and shame.” (13)

Too often, I’m thinking about the next thing to say rather than listening to what the other person (usually Susan!) is saying to me. I also cut people off while they are still speaking and finish their sentence,  never mind actually listening to them.

Then, in a typical non-sequitur, we encounter a verse that beautifully describes how depression can be worse than ay physical ailment:
The human spirit can endure in sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (14)

Our author also documents the psychological reality that we tend to believe what we hear until we hear the other side of the argument—and then we believe that. I’m becoming convinced that the author of Proverbs was also a lawyer who had to deal with juries:
In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
    until someone comes forward and cross-examines.” (17)

An finally a harsh truth that seems increasingly to characterize our culture, especially the current political scene:
The poor plead for mercy,
    but the rich answer harshly.” (23)

Would our culture had more grace. But that of course requires grace-filled people…

2 Corinthians 1:23–2:13: Paul continues his explanation of why he never returned to Corinth: “I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.” (1:23) He notes that he wrote them a letter (presumably 1 Corinthians) rather than confront them face to face. Paul almost apologizes for the harshness of his previous letter: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2:4)

My distinct sense is that Paul did not return because he knew that the spiritual chaos he would encounter at the Corinthian church could cause him to do or say things he might later regret.

However, apparently there is someone at the Corinth who has committed a fairly grievous sin for which the congregation has severely chastised him. Paul asks that they now relent: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient.” (2:6)

Rather than punishment, Paul asks them to exercise forgiveness and provide comfort: “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” (2:7, 8) As always for Paul, love is always at the bottom of good act.

What a great reminder this passage is for us in the church. I know I have personally been happy to see others punished for their cruelty to others. But here Paul is telling us that the necessity of forgiveness must always overcome our feelings of moral superiority.

At the heart of this transformation form punishment to grace lies forgiveness: “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.” (2:10) Paul also advises us that the church faces a great enemy in Satan and that forgiveness is essential “in order that Satan might not outwit us.” (2:11a) He adds, “For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2:11b) That’s a good warning for us who tend to poo-poo the influence of evil on the church. The reality of course is hat people in the church—even those we trust—are perfectly capable of being agents for evil.

Paul now changes the subject and relates how he went to Troas because he “found that the Lord had opened a door for me.” (2:12) But even though there’s an open door, success is not guaranteed. Paul discerns this and moves on to Macedonia from Troas because “I still had no peace of mind, [and] because I did not find my brother Titus there.” (2:13)

Paul apparently knew what Jesus has said about shaking the dust from one’s feet and moving on when it seems the Holy Spirit is not operating at a certain place. Of course most of us tend to hang around too long because we’re comfortable. Remaining comfortable was certainly not in Paul’s character!

 

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