Psalm 69:13–21; Proverbs 19; 2 Corinthians 2:14–3:11

Psalm 69:13–21: The psalmist’s prayer for rescue is a magnificent example of the structure and tone of a prayer of supplication. It opens in deep respect: “But I–may my prayer to You,/ O Lord, come in a favorable hour.” (14a). Nevertheless, our psalmist does not beat around the reverential bush, but comes directly to the point: “God as befits Your great kindness,/ answer me with Your steadfast rescue.” Sometimes, I think we pray hesitantly, almost afraid to bring up the purpose of our prayer.

The power of the water imagery in the next verses is so strong that we almost feel that the psalmist is drowning not just metaphorically, but physically, as well: “Save me from the mire, that I not drown./ Let me be saved from my foes and from the watery depths./ Let  the water’s current not sweep me away/ and let not the deep swallow me.” (15,16) We can almost hear him gasping for air.

Then again, a direct request for an answer: “Answer me, Lord, for Your kindness is good,/ in Your great compassion turn to me.” (17) This prayer has a simple but powerful structure: Come directly to the point in addressing the need for rescue; describe what we are seeking; then ask directly for an answer.  In fact, the psalmist asks God to answer speedily–“And hide not Your face from Your servant,/ for I am in straits. Hurry. Answer me.” (19)–where I tend to be vague when I say things like, “Your will be done,” which is a polite way of saying, “Take your time, God.”  This psalm makes it clear there is nothing wrong with praying with urgency and asking specifically for God to answer–quickly.

Proverbs 19: Proverbs continue to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun regarding human thoughts or behavior. “One’s own folly leads to ruin,/ yet the heart rages against the Lord.” (3) is a good example. We make a bad decision and experience its negative consequences and then promptly blame God (or other people) for what went wrong.

He describes our attraction to wealthy people: “Wealth brings many friends,/ but the poor are left friendless.” (4). The reason for this is clear: “Many seek the favor of the generous,/ and everyone is a friend to a giver of gifts.” (6). Just ask any lottery winner about the truth of this statement.  

And there’s good advice about relationships: “Those with good sense are slow to anger,/ and it is their glory to overlook an offense.” (11). Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” is simply a compact way of making the same point. 

I had never thought about it this way, but “House and wealth are inherited from parents,/ but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (14) This is a reminder of where our priorities must be: not in amassing wealth, but in building a relationship with our spouse, who indeed is “of the Lord.” When those priorities are reversed, then only strife  results. Rather, I need to turn to Susan every day and remember that she came to me as a gift from God. (And I hope she will do the same for me.) That perspective will deepen and solidify our relationship even more.

2 Corinthians 2:14–3:11: There are many preachers–especially on TV–who would do well to read 2:17, where Paul reminds all who would preach, that “we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.” If this were practiced more widely, those outside the church would have far weaker grounds on which to accuse Christians of hypocrisy.

Paul elaborates on this theme, noting that “ Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (3:5). Too many who proclaim the word come to believe in their own competence. And in that false belief, forget that God “as made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (6) In other words, too great a focus on the  “letters”–what is written–rather then the Holy Spirit deadens the message of the Good News.

This seems an appropriate verse to raise before those who become obsessed by the Bible itself, seeing the Christian faith strictly in terms of sola Scriptura and rattling on about inerrancy. Paul is telling us that too great a focus on the “letters” is to exclude the Spirit. Paul is not saying that we ignore the “letters,” for that would simply be broadcasting ignorance. But the priority must always be communicating the Holy Spirit, not head knowledge.

Paul makes this priority clear with the example of the “glory” that came with “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets” (3:7), “how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?” (3:8). In other words, we have a “greater glory”–the Good News– to communicate. Let’s not lose that glory in too great a focus on the “letters” themselves.

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