Isaiah 59:9-19 – (Un)Truth in the Public Square

Because of all this, justice is far from us,
    and righteousness beyond our reach.
We expect light, and there is darkness;
    we await a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom.
We grope along the wall like the blind;
    like those without eyes we grope.
We stumble at noonday as if it were twilight,
    and among the strong as if we were dying.
All of us growl like bears,
    and like doves we moan.
We expect justice, but there is none;
    we await salvation, but it is far from us.
Our rebellions are numerous in your presence;
    our sins testify against us.
Our rebellions are with us;
    we’re aware of our guilt:
    defying and denying the Lord,
    turning away from our God,
    planning oppression and revolt,
    muttering lying words conceived in our minds.
Justice is pushed aside;
    righteousness stands far off,
    because truth has stumbled in the public square,
    and honesty can’t enter.
Truth is missing;
    anyone turning from evil is plundered.

The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice.
Seeing that there was no one,
    and astonished that no one would intervene,
    God’s arm brought victory,
    upheld by righteousness,
    putting on righteousness as armor
    and a helmet of salvation on his head,
    putting on garments of vengeance,
    and wrapping himself in a cloak of zeal.
God will repay according to their actions:
    wrath to his foes, retribution to enemies,
    retribution to the coastlands,
    so those in the west will fear the Lord’s name,
    and those in the east will fear God’s glory.
It will come like a rushing river
    that the Lord’s wind drives on. (Common English Bible)

It is telling that when the word “politics” is used today, we immediately think of other words like, “polarized” “rancorous” and “corrupt.” The word “statecraft,” that is, the positive use of politics as a vocation in serving the common good of all persons, seems now like some anachronistic concept of the past.

Isaiah the prophet may have spoken over two millennia ago, yet his words are eerily relevant today, when he said, “Truth has stumbled in the public square.”

Politics, today as in Isaiah’s day, has become less about unselfish public servants promoting the welfare of citizens, and more about winning elections and possessing power. 

A party spirit rules the day, where, in the Unites States, Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever with less and less ability to truly listen to one another in order to advance genuine justice, ethical righteousness, and social peace within both the nation and the world.

We, as citizens of both our local regions and of the world, must avoid getting sucked into the vortex of acrimonious speech and hate-filled rhetoric. 

Christians, especially those who desire to live and love like Jesus, need to be at the forefront of forsaking the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another; of envying power in order to satisfy personal agendas; and, of believing that malicious talk is justified if it accomplishes my wants and needs. 

We are not to keep looking for politicians, and everyone else whom we disagree with, to change. Rather, we ourselves are to practice repentance and allow the grace of God to transform and renew us. 

If what we speak in the public square is selfish and deceitful, we have no further to look than within, when it comes to turning from evil. A slow, careful, and serious reading of the prophet Isaiah is quite necessary. If it does not lead to repentance, we only have God’s displeasure to anticipate.

So, instead of continually insisting that others change or move over, let’s focus on us and seek the following:

  • Seek our better angels of humility, tolerance, and patience to guide our public discourse.
  • Open our eyes to see the image of God in others who are different from us and who see the world differently than we do.
  • Embrace civility and basic human respect for all persons, no matter who they are, as our presuppositions to all conversations.
  • Develop good listening skills so that we aren’t misinterpreting and misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.
  • Be willing, within our own communities of faith, to participate and worship together as the one people of God, without assigning other identities to each other which are not helpful.
  • Enlarge our hearts so that we are big enough people to hold the differing perspectives and politics of others without demonizing them.
  • Default to grace when we aren’t sure what to do say or do.

The Lord will not contend forever with injustice and unrighteousness in the world’s politics, including the extremely local politics of church, family, and neighborhood. Divine intervention cuts both ways, bringing deliverance and freedom, as well as judgment and retribution.

Let us, then, be found to be truthful and honest in all our words and ways; encouraging and helpful in all our public service; and seeking the peace of everyone in our own relational orbits.

Great God of truth and justice, you have every right to judge the world. Yet, instead of destroying the earth, you sent your Son to redeem lost humanity to yourself. May I, along with every creature you have made, come to our senses and speak truth with grace and act with integrity so that there is again righteousness throughout the land. Amen.

Ephesians 5:21–6:9 – Submit to One Another

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (New International Version)

Submission – the word itself may stir a less than positive reaction within us.

For many people, submission implies someone else is going to have authority over me – and they might not like that. To submit to another person smacks of being forced into something we don’t want, like some mixed-martial-arts submission hold where the other person taps out.

It doesn’t help when many people have past experiences in which individuals in authority neither liked them nor treated them with respect. Their visceral reaction to the word “submit” is very raw and real.

Biblically, within the first pages of Genesis, the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted not only in a separation between God and people, but also between man and woman. The Fall had terrible consequences for them. The entire world now lives under a curse. Relations between the sexes, because of the Fall and the curse, are twisted.

To the woman, God said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, NIV)

The phrase “your desire will be for your husband” is a Hebrew idiom (a metaphorical phrase with a special meaning). This refers to women’s urge for independence from men. 

“He will rule over you” is also a Hebrew idiom, referring to man putting woman “under his thumb” (an American idiom). 

Women, in their fallen state, work to be independent from men. They diligently try and function without them. 

Men, in their fallen state, bring a “heavy hand” (another American idiom) to women by insisting on always “calling the shots” (yet another idiom) and dismissing females as if what she has to say or think doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t “carry much weight” (idiom again!) as a man’s words do.

The way gender relations, in the Christian tradition, are supposed to happen is based in who God is:

  • The Son (Jesus) submits to the Father by placing himself under authority. The Father, in turn, lifts up the Son to share in reigning with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The Church submits to Christ, and Christ, in turn, lifts up the Church so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The wife submits to husband, and he, in turn, lifts her up so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.

This is mutual submission – and not a matter of the boss and the bossed.

To submit simply means we willingly place ourselves under authority – the choice is with us. Forced submission is slavery and oppression – not true submission.  

To function without submitting to one another brings disorder and chaos, keeping the curse going into generation after generation. Christians, however, are to reverse the curse.

“God has bound us together in such a way that none of us should reject submission. Where love reigns, this spirit of service is mutual….  Since there is nothing more opposed to the human spirit than the desire to submit to others, Paul calls us to it by reminding us of the reverence we owe to Christ. He is the only one who can tame our rebellious spirit and subdue our pride, so that we are willing to serve our neighbors.”

John Calvin

It is important to understand how the grammar of today’s New Testament lesson is set up, because if we don’t get this, we will not practice submission well.

The main verb of the section is “be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). There are five participles which explain how the action of the main verb is to be done. Submitting is one of those participles. Submitting to one another is everyone’s responsibility.

Submission is a spiritual practice. The following people and relationships are mentioned (Note: these were intended by the Apostle Paul to be a representative list, not an exhaustive list):

  • Wives to husbands (respect)
  • Husbands to wives (sacrificial love) The head and body metaphor is meant to convey intimacy, union, and relationship, not any kind of silliness in husbands doing all the brain work and making all the decisions. Spouses are two people in one, just as the Father and Son are two in one. You cannot have two independent persons doing their own thing, any more than a head and body can operate independently.
  • Children to parents (obedience)
  • Parents to children (compassionate and empathic spiritual support)
  • Slaves to masters (obedience)
  • Masters to slaves (fair and equitable treatment)

Scripturally, we do a disservice if we only focus on how husbands, children, and slaves must submit, because we are all to submit to one another, including husbands, parents, and masters. 

Christians bring order out of chaos when there is submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of today’s text typically result in one group of people trying to force authority on another group. Proper understandings will always result in practicing humble and compassionate service to each other.

Submitting to one another means we must cooperate with one another instead of competing against each other. For example, women are to respect men by not acting as autonomous persons who have no need of those stupid men. And men are to not abuse women by ignoring and dismissing them as inferior emotional beings. Instead, both sexes will volitionally choose to submit to each other and act in accord, comity, and harmony.

All believers are to function together as God’s co-heirs and God’s co-rulers in and over God’s creation. This is the good order to which God has called us, and it is a high calling for which we need the filling of God’s Spirit to help us.

Lord Jesus, we bow down and humbly bring to you our gift of submission. Thank you for submitting to the Father until the end, achieving salvation for us. Teach us the meaning of meekness, and may our wills submit to your will. Graciously remove our disobedience and pride and shape us to your will. Guide us on the road of resigning our wills to yours. Mold our souls into total divine submission. Help us to walk in the path of righteous submission to each other, hand in hand. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we will completely embody a submissive and teachable spirit. Amen.

1 Corinthians 14:20-25 – Becoming Spiritually Mature

To be perfectly frank, I’m getting exasperated with your infantile thinking. How long before you grow up and use your head—your adult head? It’s all right to have a childlike unfamiliarity with evil; a simple no is all that’s needed there. But there’s far more to saying yes to something. Only mature and well-exercised intelligence can save you from falling into gullibility. It’s written in Scripture that God said,

In strange tongues
    and from the mouths of strangers
I will preach to this people,
    but they’ll neither listen nor believe.

So where does it get you, all this speaking in tongues no one understands? It doesn’t help believers, and it only gives unbelievers something to gawk at. Plain truth-speaking, on the other hand, goes straight to the heart of believers and doesn’t get in the way of unbelievers. If you come together as a congregation and some unbelieving outsiders walk in on you as you’re all praying in tongues, unintelligible to each other and to them, won’t they assume you’ve taken leave of your senses and get out of there as fast as they can? But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you. (MSG)

Throughout the history of Christianity there have been faithful saints committed to the cause of Christ, and there also has been professing believers who are inconsistent and irresponsible in their observance of faith. In other words, the church always has been a mix of spiritually mature and immature people.

The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Church at Corinth precisely because there was a large chunk of people who were just flat out childish. He wanted them to grow up. We anticipate babies are going to cry, poop, sleep, and have others caring for their basic needs. When adults act like babies, it is unacceptable and, well, offensive. We expect better. We need them to pull their weight and be responsible.

Paul addressed the Corinthian’s lack of unity, paucity of wisdom, too much worldliness, inattention to each other, abuse of freedom, and impropriety in worship. To correct this, he pointed them squarely toward love, the one permanent attribute that binds all things together. (1 Corinthians 13)

So, when it came to worshiping together, the church needed a more mature way of handling their meetings. The last thing they needed was worship which made no sense to most people. “I would rather speak five intelligible words that makes sense than ten thousand words in a language other people don’t know,” Paul said. (1 Corinthians 14:19, CEV)

Ministry is to be done guided by love and concern for another’s well-being. Spiritual gifts are not given for one’s own benefit but are provided for the encouragement and edification of others. The exercise of speaking plain truth with exorbitant love to each other does this; and it influences outsiders looking on from the margins. Sensitivity to the needs of those foreign to the church was a premium concern for Paul.

However, there is more to the outsider than simply observing what Christians are doing – the other will speak into the life of the believer. This, of course, ought to surprise no one. After all, God can speak through whomever or whatever, including people from all kinds of ethnic groups (Acts 2:1-12) and even a donkey (Numbers 22:28).

The New Testament lesson for today concerns respecting persons both within the church and outside. For fellow believers, we are to continually speak and act in ways which build up the entire Body of Christ. And, for those who are alien to the church, we are to pay attention to them and have a healthy repartee with them which acknowledges their inherent worth as fellow persons created in the image of God.

Churches and faith communities tend to be full of “insiders.” If they fail to listen to the “outsiders” then ultimately a similar situation to the Corinthian Church will occur. No one group of people have all the answers, so we all need to take a posture of humility and listening with genuine attention and loving focus. This honors the other and demonstrates basic kindness and respect.

Christian maturity is realized when spiritual growth is sustained over time and produces the fruit of wisdom and love. Wherever you find a group of folks who listen well, are attentive to those on the outside, and have an orientation to serving others in a spirit of love and grace, there you will find the Holy Spirit energizing and empowering people toward good deeds on behalf of both church and world.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Psalm 111

            The combination of a microwave society and the constant need to be entertained has resulted in a profound lack of wisdom in our culture.  Whether it is politics or theology, at work or at home, everywhere we gravitate toward finding quick solutions given to us in engaging ways.  But biblical wisdom operates a different way.  It is must grow slowly and mature over an extended period of time.  It all begins with a basic reverence of God.  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To him belongs eternal praise.”
 
            Taking the time and the focus to marinade our lives in the praise and adoration of God, even when we do not feel like it, is necessary to living wisely.  Foolishness is in direct proportion to a lack of reverence and awe of God.  Conversely, the attention and recognition of God in glorifying him begins a slow process of lifetime learning that inevitably leads to the humility of wisdom.  Wisdom in the Bible is the ability to live well and flourish as a person by applying God’s revelation to the real concrete situations of life.  That cannot be done apart from praise to the LORD.
 
            In what ways can you praise God today?  What situations are you facing that need biblical wisdom?  Are you following the revealed commands of God in Scripture?  Will you be patient to allow God to help you with your troubles?  Where is Jesus influencing your daily decisions? 
            All wise God, I praise your holy name.  Teach me your ways so that I will know how to live wisely in all kinds of situations to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.