Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 16, 2016
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God* that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Much of the book of Deuteronomy can be summed up with the ideas of obedience begets blessing while disobedience brings about suffering and rejection.
“…life and prosperity, death and adversity.” The Jewish Study Bible comments, “If ‘life’ meant only biological life, there would be no choice. The choice is rather between life in the covenant and life not in the covenant. From this viewpoint, biological existence, and even prosperity, if not in the covenant, constitutes death.”
In covenant documents such as this, “love” does not mean an emotion, but rather loyalty and fealty to the covenant and the person (Yahweh) with whom the covenant is made.
“…I declare to you that day you shall parish…” – These verses of doom can certainly be read as punishments that God would mete out on those who abandon God’s ways. They could also be read a fair warning of the negative consequences of one’s betrayal of God’s love. Death happens not because God punishes those who break the covenant by killing them, but rather, true life is only possible in covenant relationship with God.
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
This first psalm in the psalter introduces the book perfectly. The faithful and unfaithful are defined. Blessings and curses are defined. Life of the faithful is portrayedwith the image of the tree, following the image of Israel as God’s fig tree found throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
Note in verse 2, “the law of the Lord” is English for Torah and specifically means Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,*
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister,* to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 When I remember you* in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we* may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.* 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful* both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, 16no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
This is the shortest book in the Bible, a single letter written by the apostle, Paul, in his own hand, that is, without dictation, to Philemon. Philemon has a church that meets in his home. Like many in that day and age, Philemon had slaves, at least one of whom ended up with Paul.
Paul was imprisoned for “disturbing the peace” when preaching about Jesus in Antioch and upsetting the silver smiths. Those smiths made their livings selling statuettes of the goddess Artimis, whose chief temple was in Antioch. Paul preached that all gods and goddesses were false and a waste of time except God: father, son, and Holy Spirit. Statuette sales were threatened and the silver smiths rioted and Paul was thrown in jail. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he appealed to higher courts and was held both under house arrest and in palace prisons for the remainder of his life. It is from prison that he wrote most of his letters to churches.
Somehow, while imprisoned, Onesimus, slave of Philemon, comes to Paul and tends to him while in prison/house arrest. Paul develops fatherly affection for Onesimus and decides to write Philemon a letter on Onesimus’ behalf. The letter is one of both persuasion and coercion seemingly to obtain freedom and dignity for Onesimus.
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
How difficult it is for us to understand why Jesus, who is love, would tell his disciples that they must hate their immediate families in order to follow him. How could Jesus possibly instruct us to hate anyone?!
Context and the culture of the day are very important when understanding this text. Jesus has been dining with Pharisees who have completely disrespected him. His response to them was to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven, where the humble are exalted and the exalted are humbled.
The above text is part of this teaching and should be understood in that context. Jesus is teaching that those things or relationships which afford us status or honor are to be set aside in order to humble ourselves before Jesus, our savior. When we cling to family name, parents’ reputation, inheritance or fortune for our success in life, then we cannot humbles ourselves before Christ.
Jesus further explains this with the examples of the king with his army and the one who builds a tower. In both cases, Jesus is teaching about evaluating one’s assets before beginning something new. In that same way, Jesus teaches that as we evaluate our assets, they are worthless in the face of Jesus. Instead of clinging to them, we are to recognize them for what they are, not means of salvation, but gifts from God to be used for service to others.