Psalm 66:8–15; Proverbs 11; 1 Corinthians 15:17–28

 Originally published 5/18/2017. Revised and updated 5/17/2019.

Psalm 66:8–15: This middle stanza is a fervent prayer combining thanksgiving and supplication, as it recounts God’s former interventions with Israel. It begins conventionally with a call to worship and a reminder of how God has kept the psalmist (if not all of Israel) on a straight path:
Bless, O peoples, our God,
and make heard the sound of His praise,
Who has kept us in life,
and let not our foot stumble. (8, 9)

Our psalmist then recalls from history how God has kept them on that straight path via various trials and tribulations he sent their way:
For You tested us, God,
You refined us as silver refined.
You trapped us in a net,
placed heavy cords around our loins.
You let people ride over us. (10-12a)

This is a good reminder that life is never smooth and easy—even for people of faith. New Christians, who believe they’re suddenly entitled to a “free pass” from obstacles and tough times, are simply deluding themselves. In fact, in this post-Christian world we now find ourselves in, living an honest Christian life may even be tougher than for those who have no faith at all.

But without fail God always brings us to the other side of tribulation—and in that promise lies our great hope:
We came into fire and water—
and You brought us out to great ease. (12b)

The psalm’s point of  view suddenly shifts from third to first person as our psalmist describes how he will fulfill his promise to thank God at the temple for bringing him through all the trials he has endured:
I shall come to Your house with burnt-offerings
I shall pay to You my vows
that my lips uttered,
that my mouth spoke in my straits. (13, 14)

The question here is, do I remember to pray a prayer of thanksgiving when God has carried me through tough times—which since I’m sitting here writing this morning, he most assuredly has?

Proverbs 11: Well, our author, speaking in Solomon’s voice, certainly has no shortage of practical tips to live by. Each tip in this chapter has exactly the same two-line structure. The first line is a proposition; the second is a contrasting truth. Some propositions are positive, others are in the negative. Unfortunately, the verses seem to written in no discernible order. For example, the first verse is about how God is pleased when the merchant uses accurate weights. The verse that follows is a philosophical statement—and actually, one of my favorites:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
    but wisdom is with the humble. (2)

While the wicked will inevitably receive their just desserts:
The integrity of the upright guides them,
    but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (3)

And a few verses later, the same idea:
Be assured, the wicked will not go unpunished,
    but those who are righteous will escape.” (21)

Pride is the beginning of downfall—or as my dad always said, “the chickens always come home to roost.”

Other sayings in the chapter have become cliches because cliches are based on fundamental—even obvious—truths about human nature. But that does make them any less useful to review. Examples:
The righteous are delivered from trouble,
    and the wicked get into it instead.” (8)

and…

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
    and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.” (10)

As we might expect, the issue of the consequences of speech (and today, Facebook posts and tweets) is front and center. And unfortunately, is on full display in the White House:
Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
    but an intelligent person remains silent.
A gossip goes about telling secrets,
    but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.  (12, 13)

And he reminds us of the sweet fruits of generosity. (These are good verses for a stewardship sermon…):
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer;
    others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
A generous person will be enriched,
    and one who gives water will get water. (24, 25)

Our author’s penultimate aphorism states  a general truth that is certainly appropriate to our time:
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
    but violence takes lives away. (30)

But alas, our world seems steeped in violence and we too often await justice delayed. One only hopes the final verse of this chapter proves true sooner rather than later:
If the righteous are repaid on earth,
    how much more the wicked and the sinner! (31)

1 Corinthians 15:17–28: Paul’s essay on the resurrection of the dead begins clearly enough. Jesus’ resurrection is essential to our salvation: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (17)

Christ’s resurrection is the “first fruits,” i.e., the very first time in history that a human was resurrected with a new, glorified body that resembles, but is not the same as, our own bodies. Christ is the “first fruit” example  of the resurrection that awaits all of us at the end of history, whether we are dead or alive. Paul is at his logical best: Just as Adam’s original sin is responsible for our mortality, Christ’s resurrection is responsible for our immortality: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (22) Christ’s resurrection came first, and then Paul tells us that this same resurrection into new bodies will happen “at his [second] coming those who belong to Christ.” (23)

This would have been a good place for Paul to stop. But Paul, being Paul, goes on to talk about the end of history and what happens—causing these verses to become the subject of numerous books and sermons that purport to understand exactly what Paul is describing. It’s all pretty murky to me.

For example, what does Paul mean by “Then comes the end, when he [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he [Christ] has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (24)  Perhaps he is referring to Christ’s millennial reign that is described in more detail in the book of Revelation. Or perhaps, Paul was convinced that Christ was returning in his own lifetime and would overthrow the Roman government. However, upon reflection, this latter idea would be the kind of treasonous thinking that Paul went to great pains to avoid elsewhere.  One statement is clear, though: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (26) Which presumably occurs at the end of history.

But then I think Paul complicates things by trying to explain that Christ is subject to God when he quotes Scripture, “For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (27a) Which the requires him to point out that Christ isn’t actually included in the “all things:” “it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him.” (27b) I think the opening verses of John’s gospel are clearer on this matter. However, we need to remember that Paul wrote several decades before the author of the gospel did.

His conclusion, such as it is, simply says that in the end, Christ will step down and God will  be in charge of all things when history ends. Which, when I think about the Trinity, where God and Christ and the Holy Spirit are mysteriously conjoined, causes my head to explode.

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