Devotional on Proverbs

2006 – La Jolla, CA

Religious debates
Proverbs 27: You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.
I’ve visited several internet forums and have seen this proverb quoted once in a while. Sometimes it’s used in an appropriate way and other times it is just an excuse for arguing. Having been raised in the church I’ve seen people banging one another on the head with their Bibles enough to know that all religious debate is not “sharpening.” In fact, bludgeoning someone with Scripture probably is somewhat dulling. Often on the internet, debate consists of two stubborn people posturing and talking past one another. Of course, such arguments aren’t limited to the internet. For sharpening to take place the participants have to be willing to actually engage one another: “I already know what I think, but I want to understand what you think.” A real key here is the “friend” factor. I know that the word “friend” is missing from the original language, but I do think that the concept is assumed. A stranger only wants to win the debate. However, a friend cares more about me than he cares about proving himself right. It’s only in that kind of relationship that this proverb works. As I deal with some issue with a person who I know cares about me personally, I’m “sharpened.” Who knows, maybe he’s sharpened too.
Take Away: Friendship, mutual respect, open-mindedness – these are keys to having a “sharpening” disagreement.

Devotional on Job

2019 – Lake Ontario – Wilson, NY

I wonder which Internet forum Job visited?
Job 15: If you were truly wise, would you sound so much like a windbag?
Eliphaz’s second speech is pretty much a repeat of what’s already been said: people who ignore God’s rules have nothing but trouble. It’s his response to Job’s prayer of complaint that’s interesting to me. Job says that life is unfair and he wonders if there’s something beyond this life where wrongs are made right. As it is, he says, life for both good and bad people has way too much pain and sorrow. Eliphaz hates what Job’s saying so he calls him a “windbag,” and his words just so much “hot air.” I doubt that Job is all that interested in hearing what Eliphaz has to say after that! This isn’t exactly a deep, thoughtful response, but I can’t help but hear some exchanges between Christians in this. Job has raised some valid points, but instead of responding to them, even in disagreement, Eliphaz insults him and then repeats what he’s already said on the topic. That sounds very much like the exchanges I’ve seen on the Internet. In person, we’re usually a bit more polite, but the end result is the same. How do I respond when a fellow Christian brings up a point and comes to a conclusion that I hate? Do I respond by insulting him and repeating what I’ve already said? Do I attempt to understand why he believes as he does? Eliphaz never imagined an Internet forum, but his style is alive and flourishing today.
Take Away: Learning to really listen to people with whom we disagree is an important part of our spiritual journey.

Devotional on 2 Timothy

Mature enough to walk away

2Timothy 2: Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights.

Timothy, a young pastor, is urged by his mentor, Paul, to pursue maturity, focusing on things like righteousness, faith, love, peace, and prayer. He’s told to avoid “inane discussions” because they lead only to fighting. Obviously, Paul’s not talking about having serious discussions in which people have genuine disagreements and are seeking to understand one another’s positions. Still, the principle here is a good one. Believers need to avoid bickering with one another. The longer it goes on the more the two sides get entrenched. Ultimately, there’s a fracture in their relationship in which one side or both gets hurt. Others, sometimes the most innocent people of all, are drawn in and wounded even more seriously by the immature attitudes shown by people who they love, respect, and need. So, how can this mess be avoided? It’s easy, really. “Refuse to get involved.” Some things are worth the trouble and are, in fact, rather important. Most things aren’t. Paul wants Timothy to focus on the good stuff and walk away from the bad stuff. I’ll like my church better if I do that. In fact, I’ll probably like myself better too.

Take Away: Give your energies to that that really matters, file the other stuff in the “not-that-big-a-deal” file.

Devotional on Philippians

Can’t we all just get along?

Philippians 4: I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up.

Everything we know about Euodia and Syntyche is found in this passage; there’s not much. Two women have some differences, about what, we don’t know. These women have partnered with Paul in proclaiming the Good News. They’re faithful laborers in the vineyard of the Lord and their names are in the book of life. Paul urges a third party to get involved, helping them work through their differences. That’s about it. Paul doesn’t take sides and he declares both of these women as “okay” in both his eyes and in the eyes of the Lord. So, what do we have here? First, there’s the reminder that even the best of God’s people can sometimes fail to get along. God’s people, even the saved and sanctified ones, don’t always agree and sometimes their disagreements can be intense. Second, when we do disagree we’re to do all we can to work through it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one person yields to the other, although it may mean exactly that. At some point, two Christians need to say, “We’ve got to work through this, otherwise, we’ll be diminished for it and Christ’s kingdom will suffer.” Third, sometimes it takes a third party, a mutual friend, respected by both to get the ball rolling. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t want to be Syzgus here. His name means “yokefellow,” thus, “co-worker.” What man wants to get between two women who need to “iron out their differences and make up”? The answer is: the kind of man who’s a real friend of, and is respected by, both women. Paul gives this good man the assignment of bringing these two together to work things out, not because their salvation’s in jeopardy, but because the journey is better together than it is apart, and, because when we’re real “yokefellows” we can accomplish more for God.

Take Away: If there’s an unresolved issue between you and a fellow Christian, don’t pass “go” and “don’t collect $200” until you’ve gone to them and worked it out.