Psalm 73:13–20; Proverbs 29; 2 Corinthians 9:10–10:6

Psalm 73:13–20: Up to this point the verses of this despairing psalm have lamented the the power and words of the wicked [“They put their mouth up to the heavens,/ and their tongue goes over the earth.” (9)] and their apparent success in seducing the population [Thus the people turn back to them,/and they lap up their words” (10)]. They sound like politicians who become wealthy along the way: “Look, such are the wicked,/ the ever complacent ones pile up wealth.” (12)

The wicked have basically taken over and it appears that God has allowed this, so much so that the psalmist believes that his faithful righteousness before God has been pointless: “But in vain have I kept my heart pure/ and in innocence washed my palms.” (13) But he know that if he had started to “talk like them” (15) and if “I thought to know these things,/ it was a torment in my eyes.” (16) Our poet remains steadfast, finally realizing  that the wicked will indeed get theirs in the end: “Yes, you set them on slippery ground,/ brought them down to destruction.” (18) And their downfall will be rapid: “How they came to ruin in a moment,/ swept away, taken in terrors!” (19)

These verses are worth reflecting on when we contemplate the apparent decline of morality in the culture. It seems as if God has deserted the world, allowing the ascendance of the hedonistic, self-centered, self-righteous attitude of those who see belief in God as being not only unnecessary, but deleterious, even evil. As witness the recent furor over gay marriage as those who don’t accept it as a civil right are castigated and accused of committing the greatest cultural sin of all: discrimination. American culture has listened to them and “lapped up their words.”

But this psalm offers hope that God is watching. And that above all, that our responsibility is to remain faithful despite what the larger culture might be saying and doing.

Proverbs 29: Apropos the theme of today’s psalm, our writer observes, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice;/ when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (2) Perhaps not in the short term, but certainly in the long run, and we can always hope that “Evildoers are snared by their own sin,/ but the righteous shout for joy and are glad.” (6)

If there is one consistent ethical thread throughout the entirety of the Old Testament it is God’s concern for the poor, and here our writer observes, “The righteous care about justice for the poor,/ but the wicked have no such concern.” (7) and “If a king judges the poor with fairness,/ his throne will be established forever.” (14) If God and kings care for the poor, our personal responsibility is equally clear. 

The writer sums up in one verse what the psalmist has begun to realize about the culture he lives in: “When the wicked thrive, so does sin,/ but the righteous will see their downfall.” (16)  And the source of the downfall is readily identifiable: Pride brings a person low,/ but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” (23) The key here for us is to remember that the writer is talking not just about other people but about us. I can’t control the pride of others, but I can certainly control mine.

2 Corinthians 9:10–10:6: At the end of chapter 9, Paul expresses his gratitude for the generosity he believes the Corinthians will shortly exercise: “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (9:12). Paul makes the crucial point that generosity is not only good in and of itself, but that it makes connections with others: “others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you…” (9:13,14a)

The source of this generosity is not from within ourselves, but it comes form God: “because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (14b) This is something t remember when we give. We give not out of ourselves because that leads to pride, but we give because we have received God’s grace ourselves.

In an apparent reference to the letter Paul has received from Corinth (and which, sadly, we do not have) he suggests he’s been “timid” when in person at Corinth but “but “bold” toward you when away”–a clear sign that he’s received strong objections in what he wrote in his first letter to Corinth.

Worse than merely being”bold,” someone has accused Paul of living “by the standards of this world.” (10:2). But this accusation hardly intimidates him. Rather, he shoots back: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” (3) and then the statement that he can call upon devastating heavenly power: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (4) By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul can “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (5a) Not only demolish, but take those very arguments and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (5b)

Paul understands the real power of the Holy Spirit and “the knowledge of God,” something I tend to skip right over. Boldness is something we Christians tend to forget, I think, in the face of opposition since–to use today’s phrase– it will inevitably result in being accused of being “intolerant.” Especially in Paul’s implicit threat at the end of this passage, where he asserts “we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” (6) He is certainly drawing on the power of his Apostolic authority here. And whoever complained of Paul’s boldness in his first letter will discover that Paul has not only not backed down, he’s upped the stakes.

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