Psalm 71:18b–24; Proverbs 25; 2 Corinthians 7:1–13a

Originally published 6/03/2017. Revised and updated 6/03/2019.

Psalm 71:18b–24: Our psalmist, even though he is in his dotage, has asked God for strength to continue to praise him until
Till I who will b tell of Your mighty arm to the next generation,
to all who will come, Your power,
and Your bounty, O God to the heights,
as You have done great things,
O God who is like You? (18b, 19)

This reminds us of our responsibility to youth in the church. We cannot be so focused on our “adult” activities that we ignore the next generation who will become the church of the future. Alas, too many churches these days are increasingly occupied mostly by white hairs, a stark reminder of the consequences of neglecting to see our children as the cornerstone of the church yet to come, and to minister to them.

At this point, our psalmist reaches almost ecstatic heights as he praises God who has both blessed and comforted:
You will multiply my greatness
and turn round and comfort me. (21)

Worship with lots of music becomes the central focus of his life:
And so I shall acclaim You with the lute.
—Your truth, my God.
Let me hymn You with the lyre,
Israel’s Holy One.
My lips will sing glad song when I hymn to You,
and my being that You ransomed.
My tongue, too, all day long

will murmur Your bounty. (22, 23)

These verses suggest that when we truly worship God we are suffused in joy. When I complain about worship, especially the music, it’s a sure sign that I have failed in praising God and have instead focused only on my own desires.

Since this is a psalm  of supplication it ends on a note of the psalmist worshiping while his putative enemies are disgraced:
For they are shamed, for they are disgraced,
those who sought my harm. (24)

Proverbs 25: We’ve asserted earlier that the book of Proverbs appears to be a compilation of pithy wisdom sayings made by a number of authors collected into a single book and ascribed to Solomon. However, for the first time in 24 chapters we are told that “These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.” (1) This lends a sense of authenticity that over the course of his reign, Solomon did indeed say what follows. And what is written here is far more poetic than earlier chapters.

Solomon opens with an observation about the qualities and work of a king:
It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.
Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth,
    so the mind of kings is unsearchable. (2,3)

In other words, the king’s mind is greater than all his subjects. This doubtless influenced to the Medieval belief that the king was the direct emissary of God.

We’ve encountered many of the themes in this chapter before, but not in such a poetic setting. For example, the advantage of holding one’s tongue and thinking before speaking lest we be left looking stupid is posed far more elegantly than in earlier chapters:
What your eyes have seen
 do not hastily bring into court;
for what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame? (7b, 8)

As always, speaking and listening is at the forefront, but here the advice is wrapped in gorgeous similes:
A word fitly spoken
    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise rebuke to a listening ear. (11,12)

Solomon gives practical advice about the benefits of generosity. There can be negative consequences when we hoard something we have found:
If you have found honey, eat only enough for you,
    or else, having too much, you will vomit it. (14)

And there’s some pretty practical advice about not wearing out your welcome in a neighborly relationship:
Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house,
    otherwise the neighbor will become weary of you and hate you. (17)

This verse must be the inspiration for the custom on our street in Massachusetts that visitors coming to a neighbor’ house rarely go beyond the front porch.

Perhaps the most famous couplet in the chapter is the one that I believe leads directly to  Jesus’ point about loving one’s enemies:
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
    and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
  for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

    and the Lord will reward you. (21, 22)

When we do the unexpectedly kind thing to a person whom we dislike—even whom we hate—that person is likely to become more aware of their own hatred—the psychological hot coals of realization and even shame are symbolically heaped on his head.

2 Corinthians 7:1–13a: Paul keeps circling back to asserting his innocence in his relationship with the church at Corinth. (The accusations in the letter he received certainly must have wounded him deeply.) Here, he is asking for forgiveness and acceptance: “Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.” (2) In fact, I think he goes a bit overboard in his rather defensive flattery of the Corinthian church: “I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.” (4) “Overjoyed in all our affliction” just seems a bit over the top to me.

These feelings apparently arise from Titus’s visit, who meets up with Paul in Macedonia where “we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within.” (5) But Titus’s good news about the church at Corinth changes all that “as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (7) So, even though things may have been bad at Corinth, that was a shining light compared to the mess in Macedonia.

The quality that gives Paul the greatest joy is, “not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.” (9)

The phrase, ‘godly grief’ is interesting as Paul contrasts it with the relatively empty exercise of ‘worldly grief’. When we grieve as Christians, Paul tells us, it “produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” (10) I think we have some examples of the insincerity and shallowness of  ‘worldly grief’ when celebrities and politicians say, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” which always lets the ‘worldly griever’ off the hook of personal responsibility.

Godly grief, on the other hand, is all about the “earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” (11) In other words, we are truly sorry before God through the Holy Spirit. Paul can easily discern the difference between the two types of grief. And so should we.

 

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