Today’s Bible Reading: Lamentations 1-2:22; Philemon 1:1-25; Psalm 101:1-8; Proverbs 26:20
Today we start the book of Lamentations which is a poetic collection of ‘laments’ about the fall of Jerusalem. This once great city had been destroyed because of her many sins (Lamentations 1:6-8). As if being conquered wasn’t enough, there was mental anguish as well as the people remembered just how wonderful Jerusalem once was. The saying is true: “we don’t know what we’ve got until its gone”.
The people of Jerusalem had it all. But they were living for the moment, seeking immediate gratifications without giving any thought to their future (Lamentations 1:9). They thought the good times would never end. They were wrong.
The wealthy person (or country) is popular as long as his money lasts. But as soon as he falls on hard-times, his fair-weather friends flee. Jerusalem found no one to care that she was decimated (Lamentations 1:12). There was no loyalty between nations.
I can’t help but read these verses and think of the United States. We are a country that does not consider the future consequences of our present actions. We borrow tremendous amounts of money with no plan to repay. We declare sinful behaviors to be acceptable without realizing what this will lead to. Can we be so haughty as to think we will escape God’s discipline?
If God was willing to destroy His very own city and Temple (Lamentations 2:1) how much more will He be willing to destroy us? We are a country obsessed with “rights” but despite what we think we have no “right” to exist. Only God decides what nations continue and which ones don’t. We are not too strong to be defeated.
Notice that Israel was defeated because God removed His protection from her (Lamentations 2:3). Make no mistake… the only reason good things happen in this world is because God prevents much (but not all) evil from taking place. This is why hell will be so bad. God will not be there to protect people from each other. Everyone there will be on their own. Everyone there will have to learn to defend themselves from the evil that is in their fellow human beings (and fallen angels). The only way to do that will be to do evil in return. Therefore the evil will never cease and will forever increase.
Today we read the one-chapter letter from Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a fellow-believer who had a slave, Onesimus, who had escaped and fled to Rome. Somehow (by God’s hand I’m sure) Onesimus ended up meeting Paul who lead Onesimus to Christ (Philemon 10). Now Paul urges Philemon to take Onesimus back without retribution.
In those days slaves could be crucified for a much lessor offense than running away. Paul appeals to Philemon not to exercise his rights under Roman law with regard to Onesimus.
God used this entire situation for good. Onesimus became a believer by meeting Paul and will now be in heaven (Philemon 16). Paul implores Philemon to consider this when taking Onesimus back. Even though he (Philemon) had experienced a loss, he really had experienced a gain – the gain of a brother in Christ. Onesimus’ salvation trumped Philemon’s “rights”.
The law was on Philemon’s side. But God wasn’t interested in Philemon taking up his legal rights. God was interested in changing Philemon’s heart. And that is what this appeal from Paul is all about. Major social changes are not accomplished by passing laws. Doing this only creates more controversy and animosity.
Permanent social changes happens when people’s hearts are softened. When the United States passed civil rights legislation it did not end racism immediately. In fact, one could argue that it only made the struggle more intense. It wasn’t until the hearts of people were changed that racism went away.
Perhaps Philemon had been mistreating Onesimus. This would have been against God’s law. Onesimus had been changed into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). God wanted to change Philemon through this incident as well.
Notice how Paul takes on any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon (Philemon 18). This is the exact same thing Jesus did for us. Jesus had no debt to pay, yet He took on the debt that every human being who ever lived owes because of our sin. He took the punishment we deserve by going to hell for 3 days in our place.
Psalm 101 is a great psalm of dedication of one’s life to God, even if it isn’t realistic. Every believer has made these types of promises to God at one time or another (perhaps at many times). But our inherent sin will always prevent us from living this out for very long.
Notice though that David (the author) promises to live a life of integrity in his own home (Psalm 101:2). Our home is our private residence. No other human beings can see what we do there so we can be tempted to do things we wouldn’t want others to know about. But God sees everything. We may keep secrets from our friends and family but not from God. Living a public life of integrity begins with living a private life of integrity first.
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