Psalm 62; Proverbs 3:21–4:27; 1 Corinthians 12:27–13:7

Originally published 5/11/2017. Revised and updated 5/10/2019.

Psalm 62: There’s an excellent contemporary song, whose first line—”Only in God is my heart at rest”—is the first line of this psalm. Alter translates it somewhat differently, but I think it is a powerful opening stanza for any prayer in any circumstance:
Only in God is my being quiet.
From Him my rescue.
Only he is my rock and my rescue,
my stronghold—I shall not stumble. (2, 3)

What is not in the song are the verses that follow where our poet speaks to what I take to be a conspiracy plotting against David in whose voice the psalm is written:
How long will you demolish a man—
commit murder, each one of you—
like a leaning wall,
a shaky fence?
Only from his high place they schemed to shake him,
They took pleasure in lies.“(4, 5a)

Perhaps worse than the conspiracy itself is that the conspirators were conniving hypocrites—another proof that human nature has not changed one whit in three millennia:
With their mouths they blessed
and inwardly cursed. (5b)

Realizing the enormity of the evil around him, our poet’s David repeats the refrain of the opening, reassuring himself, “Only in God be quiet, my being,/ from Him is my hope.” (7) But then David remembers that God is not solely for him. Rather, God is for all people, and it is God to whom we bring our worries and our confessions:
Trust in Him at all times, O people.
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our shelter. (9)

Moreover, he continues, do not be deceived by those who are out to get you, even if in the short run the apparent reward is personal gain:
Do not trust in oppression
and of theft have no illusions.
Though it bear the fruit of wealth,
“set not your heart upon it.” (11)

This is our poet’s crucial insight and totally applicable to today. How we love to be distracted from God by the promise of wealth or power. Yet in the long run, all that comes to nothing. The alternative—turning to God— is far superior:
One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that strength is but God’s,
and Yours, Master, is kindness. (12)

God is indeed the source of our strength and he is a bottomless well of kindness. Would that I come to that well of goodness more frequently than I do. For it is there that I am both protected and nourished.

Proverbs 3:21–4:27: Speaking of security, our Solomonic author seems to out a little more faith into wisdom—albeit coming from God—than in trusting God directly. Nevertheless, this God-given wisdom protects us:
Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
    or of the storm that strikes the wicked;
for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught. (3:25, 26)

A whole list of “Do nots” follows, focusing on relationships with others, including keeping one’s word (28); not harming or conspiring against one’s neighbor (29); not quarreling (30); or being envious of rapacious wickedness (30). In a precursor to the Sermon on the Mount, our author reminds us that God favors righteous humility:
The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the abode of the righteous.
Toward the scorners he is scornful,

    but to the humble he shows favor. (3:33, 34)

Chapter 4 focuses on parental advice that has echoed down the ages but now in our post_CHristian culture seems to have faded from view in the name of gender equality:
Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain  insight;
for I give you good precepts:
    do not forsake my teaching.” (4:1,2)

After advising his children to “Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away / from the words of my mouth,” (4:5) our author reminds his children to avoid the same kind of wicked company that today’s psalm above warns against:
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on. (4:14, 15)

This is pretty much what our psalmist is saying. But unlike our psalmist, who sees trust in God as the key to protection, here the instructions are much more didactic—and dare I say, less inspiring. Nevertheless, it’s important advice that remains completely relevant today:
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you. (4:23-25)

As we see in so many Psalms, the emphasis here on being careful in our speech because words can be powerful weapons that create havoc and perhaps even worse, undermine trust. And there’s no question that a “straight gaze” ahead to a God-given goal is far superior than the mindless distractions that, as far as this author is concerned (with reason!), lead to no good end.

My best friend in high school, alas, allowed himself to be distracted by drugs at UC Berkeley and essentially ruined a life that held enormous promise. We may think this advice to follow the straight path is hokey, but it is grounded in great truth, and leads to a far richer, far better life.

1 Corinthians 12:27–13:7: Paul closes his argument about spiritual gifts by pointing out that it is God who has brought different people with different gifts into the church: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.” (12:28) In short, your gifts are God-given, people. Use them and be neither disparaging nor envious of the gifts of others.

Then Paul tells the Corinthians, “I will show you a still more excellent way,” (12:31) which is at the very foundation of how we exercise those gifts. That of course is love, as we come to what I believe is the most well-known and the most-quoted piece of Pauline writing: his famous discourse on love.

Love trumps all else: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (13:1) Absent love, Paul tells us, we are nothing even if our life is full of deep understanding of mysteries and packed with good deeds. If the wisdom of the book of Proverbs is dispensed without a foundation of true, abiding love for one another, there is only noise.

Rather, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13:4-7)

This passage has been ripped out of its context so many times—especially at weddings—that people tend to think Paul is talking about romantic love. He is not. This is where English falls short of Greek that had different words for different types of love. Paul is describing a far, far deeper love—a mature agape love that is at the very foundation of meaningful human relationships—and of the love that is the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul is talking especially about the love that must be present in each person in the body of Christ, the church. Alas, this is where it seems too often to be missing most of all.

The unspoken question hangs in the air: Do I have a love that will endure the irritations an small injustices that are so often on display at church? Even more importantly, am I a source of irritation and injustice with other Christians such that I have negated the power of agape love with my own self-centeredness?

 

Speak Your Mind

*