Psalm 56:9–13; Job 36:27–37:24; 1 Corinthians 9:12b–27

Psalm 56:9–13: Our psalmist moves from supplication to praise in the assurance that “Then shall my enemies turn back on the day I call/ This I know that God is for me.” (10) For me, there is real resonance in both language and meaning in the simple phrase of monosyllabic words, “This I know, that God is for me.” Surely, this verse was in Paul’s mind when he posed his rhetorical question in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who is against us?”

From assurance again there is logical movement to praise as he repeats the refrain of verse 5: “In God, Whose word I praise,/ in the Lord Whose word I praise,” And from praise again to trust that banishes fear: “In God I trust, I shall not fear.” (12)

And if God is for us, the psalmist asks, “What can man do to me?” (13) Surely there are Christian martyrs down through the ages to these very days that have uttered this psalm as they died for Jesus Christ.

Finally, gratitude piled upon upon gratitude: “For You saved me from death,/ yes my foot from slipping,/ to walk in God’s presence/ in the light of life.” We can ask–and be granted–nothing greater than this. And for us, all this through the salvific power of Jesus Christ.

Job 36:27–37:24: Elihu reflects on the unfathomable power of God: “Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,/ the thunderings of his pavilion?” (36:29) But then he conflates nature’s power with Go’d anger at sin: “Its crashing tells about him;/ he is jealous with anger against iniquity.” (33). That God expresses his anger through nature is a widespread belief even today when we ask questions like, “Why did God do this?”

Elihu’s theology may be suspect but there’s no question there’s real power in his poetry as he describes God’s speech in the thunder and his power in lightning:

“At this also my heart trembles,
    and leaps out of its place.
Listen, listen to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it loose,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.” (37:1-3)

For Elihu, God is actively at work in nature, be it snow (6), wind (9), ice (10), clouds (11). And whatever God does, it is completely bound to his emotion and judgement: “Whether for correction, or for his land,/ or for love, he causes it to happen.” (13) Of course the psalms are packed with verses describing how God speaks and acts through nature and Paul certainly picks up that theme at Romans 1:20: “ Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

So, Elihu tells Job, “ stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” (14) God is inscrutable and unknowable: “The Almighty—we cannot find him;/ he is great in power and justice,” (23). So, Elihu advises Job that our role as creatures is to fear God, not to try to figure God out: “Therefore mortals fear him;/he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (24). And Elihu certainly has a point. But that does not stop Job–and us–from trying.

1 Corinthians 9:12b–27: Paul continues his discourse n the appropriateness of being paid for his services, arguing that “those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar.” (13) But he points out, (somewhat defensively, IMHO), that “I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case,” (15)  suggesting that the psychic and spiritual reward of preaching the Gospel is preferable to mere remuneration: “What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” (18)

Then he reveals his preaching strategy: to identify with the group to whom he is ministering: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.” (20a) And to Gentiles, “outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.” (21) In short, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (22). And he does “it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (23)

So what are we as lay people to make of this? The issue for us in not being paid, but of identifying with the group to whom we are ministering, in effect becoming one of them. The tragedy of 19th century missionary efforts is that the white men (and they were almost all white men) came in to Africa with a sense of cultural superiority, that Western mores and ways were better. Paul’s sense of identifying and being was ignored.

So, we come to the homeless and the ill and dying with humility not with “fixes.” For it is only in an honest one-to-one relationship that the Gospel will shine through us, not from us. That is how Paul shared its blessings–and so should we.

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