That said, let’s dig into Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonian church. I’ve found that how I react to different passages in the Bible tells me things about myself, both in general and where I am in my life at that particular reading. What resonates with me, what comforts me? What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me put up my fists inside? What do I have questions about? For me, reading the Bible is often an experience in being forced to get honest with myself before God.
Welcome to a new letter from Paul. He wrote this one to the church at Philippi while he was imprisoned at Rome. As I read through the first chapter, I found myself asking: how am I gonna talk about this one? Paul’s all over the place! One moment he’s expressing his gratitude for the Philippian church, then he’s talking about preaching the gospel to his captors while he’s imprisoned, then he’s talking about how some people are preaching the gospel out of selfish motives but he doesn’t care because people are still hearing the truth about Jesus Christ. And that’s not the half of it–he’s got more to say about suffering and sacrificing and how faith manifests itself in action, to the point where I ask myself, what’s the theme here? Is there a theme? What ties it all together? Then it hits me: the theme is Jesus Christ himself.
I’ve never been in a fistfight. One time I got into a tussle with my brother and shoved him into a pine bush (which I almost immediately regretted), but I’ve never thrown a real, honest-to-goodness, let’s-hurt-someone punch. David, on the other hand, has been in battles. He’s used a sling to kill lions and bears and a huge Philistine warrior; he’s picked up a sword and fought people who want to kill him. Dude wasn’t just a king and a musician, he was also a soldier. So, you know, psalms like Psalm 140 are a little foreign to me.
Once upon a time, a psalmist made a bet to see how many different ways he could say “Praise the name of the Lord.” He lost the bet, though, because he gave up halfway through, and that’s how we got Psalm 113. No, not really, but I have to write an introduction somehow.
Sometimes the psalm summarizes itself for you. Consider the opening lines of today’s psalm: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” (112:1). The rest of the psalm is basically a litany of blessings for the man who fears the Lord. He receives a well-established family tree, material wealth, a good legacy, victory over his adversaries, and more. But let’s zero in on a verse in the middle of the psalm, characterizing this man of many blessings. The man is merciful–and a creditor.
You ever get sick, and then get over the sickness, and get so glad to be over the sickness that the son of the king of Babylon sends you presents and so you show him all your stuff? And then a prophet of the Lord kinda rebukes you and prophesies that Babylon will take all your stuff and some of your sons? And also in this scenario you are the king of Judah. The Bible is nothing if not relatable.
Religion has historically had no single consensus on what to do about alcohol. The Jewish Havdalah tradition that marks the end of each Sabbath involves drinking glasses of overflowing wine together. In a more extreme example, the Greek Cult of Dionysus saw drunkenness as possession by the spirit of the god of wine Dionysus, a means of communion with the divine, and according to some records the Roman Bacchanalia frequently degenerated into drunken orgies. On the flip side, Islamic Sharia law prohibits the consumption of alcohol entirely, based on particular verses of the Quran. In practice, historical Christianity has landed on various positions between these two extremes. But what does Isaiah have to contribute to the Judeo-Christian perspective on The Hard Stuff?