I Will Sing of Your Love and Justice

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LAMENTATIONS 1:1-2:22 | PHILEMON 1:1-25 | PSALM 101:1-8 | PROVERBS 26:20

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We enter a new book today titled Lamentations, but it is authored by none other than Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. 

Having delivered and witnessed a series of prophecies against Jerusalem as well as many of her neighbors, Jeremiah is said to have retired to the edge of the city after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC, and there he composed these writings of lament. 

Jeremiah’s capacity for sorrow knows no bounds, and these writings bear witness to this fact. 

Serving as a mouthpiece to his beloved Jerusalem, he says:

14 “My sins have been bound into a yoke;
by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand.

And if you’re wondering about the cause for Jerusalem’s grief, it is noted here.  After the decimation of the city, the destruction of the Temple, and the forceful taking away of the people into captivity, this is the reason for the lament of Jerusalem.  Jeremiah says:

16 “This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed.”

Jeremiah adopts a most contrite tone in beseeching the Almighty in these verses:

20 “See, LORD, how distressed I am!
I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
inside, there is only death.

It is indeed a mirthless recognition of the woe that has befallen the children of Israel, and Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, stands as the symbol of her people’s miseries.  Jeremiah continues his lament:

17 The LORD has done what he planned;
he has fulfilled his word,
which he decreed long ago.
He has overthrown you without pity,
he has let the enemy gloat over you,
he has exalted the horn of your foes.

We turn now to our New Testament reading, and find a brand new book here as well.  This is yet another one of Paul’s letters from prison in Rome, titled The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, or simply Philemon. 

Paul is writing to a friend by the name of Philemon, who must have evidently become a believer in Christ recently, and was most likely attending one of the newly planted churches in Colosse. 

The purpose of the letter is to persuade Philemon to take back his former slave, Onesimus, who had apparently run away from Philemon, his master, and most likely had stolen from him at the time.  Onesiums, however, finds his way to Rome, comes into contact with Paul (who is actually under house-arrest—a form of imprisonment), becomes a changed person, ministers to Paul possibly by way of running errands for him and such, and above all, becomes a follower of Christ.

In time, Paul most likely comes to view Onesimus as a son, and it would have served his purposes well to have retained Onesimus with him, but Paul wishes to do the right thing. 

By sending Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, Paul is sending a clear message to both parties:  to Philemon the message is that Paul does not covet what is not his, but more importantly, there is now no difference between bond and free in the love of Christ, and he therefore exhorts Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother.  To Onesimus, the message is to make amends with his master by way of returning to him, apologizing to him, and returning to him anything that was illicitly taken from him.

Paul says to Philemon

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Paul appeals to Philemon’s sense of Christian brotherliness to take back Onesimus, and offers to pay Onesimus’ debt to Philemon himself. 

He says:  17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Could there be a greater example of caring for another? 

To accept one who has done wrong, to rehabilitate their way of thinking, to have them go back and make amends, and to offer to personally bear the burden of all the expenses incurred in the process—this is the face of true love, and Paul is demonstrating this by way of his letter concerning this matter.

In a day and age where Roman law permitted harsh treatment of runaway slaves, it was a radical thing to suggest that Philemon accept his slave back as a “dear brother,” but that is exactly what Paul is doing. 

In Christ’s love, we are commanded to forgive one another, so as to be forgiven ourselves.  If that is too radical a concept to fathom, I trust this little letter of Paul’s will give us pause for thought, and allow us to consider the importance of putting into practice what we are sometimes quick to preach but slow to follow.

We turn now to our reading of the Psalms, and find David making an affirmation, and asking a question of the Lord that we also might wish to emulate.  David says:

1 I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, LORD, I will sing praise.
2 I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?

Finally, a verse from the book of Proverbs, in which Solomon, wise king of Israel, discourages the act of gossip-mongering.  He says:

20 Without wood a fire goes out;
without a gossip a quarrel dies down.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

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