December 5: Do No Harm
Jeremiah 7:30–9:26; Colossians 3:18–4:18; Proverbs 13:1–25
Love can hurt. Many well-intentioned people have done more harm than good while attempting to care for others. This is especially the case in cross-cultural situations, as well-meaning people attempt to introduce change without understanding the local culture. But it can even be true in our homes.
Paul’s words in Col 3:18–4:1 have been misused countless times by those seeking to gain or maintain power. Yet when we examine the passage closely, we find that Paul’s main goal is to teach the church in Colossae to help without hurting as he works toward seeing cultural norms in the light of the gospel.
When Paul talks about wives “submitting” to their husbands, he frames it in light of the phrase, “husbands love your wives” (Col 3:18–19). The submission he speaks of is not about giving up will or freedom; Paul is acknowledging the cultural and economic realities of the time and encouraging the Church to operate within those norms. In Graeco-Roman culture, the idea of married women having their own livelihoods—and thus holding complete autonomy in decision-making—was incomprehensible. Women couldn’t own property or vote. Paul acknowledges that Christ’s work in making all people equal will radically reframe culture (Gal 3:23–4:7), yet in Col 3:18–4:1, he’s concerned that if the Church introduces radical changes, it will gain a negative reputation in Graeco-Roman culture. He wants the Christian work in culture to help, not harm.
It’s for this same reason that Paul includes a provision for masters and slaves; however, as with men and women, he reframes the cultural norms to the extent possible: Masters are to grant their slaves “justice and fairness” (Col 4:1). Paul would have likely been alone in calling people to this standard. As his decision to subtly ask Philemon to free Onesimus shows, Paul likely wished to completely overturn slavery, but he also understood that doing so would take time (see especially Phlm 15–16). Paul’s charges to slaves and masters in Col 3:22–4:1 are meant to help until a more complete reform could take place.
Paul sees the Church as first setting basic examples, then progressing to a more radical framework as culture itself is changed by Christianity. In Paul’s lifetime, a radical reworking was not feasible—it would have resulted in culture completely rejecting Christ, and thus ended the very work He was trying to make happen. Therefore, Paul creates provisions to help people during the process of the change.Love must work to change things that need to change. But ultimately, love must always avoid harm.
What is God calling you to change? How can you do so without harming others?
JOHN D. BARRY
- For the children of Judah have one evil in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their abominations in the house, whereupon my Name is called to pollute it. And they have built the high place of Tophet, which is in the valley of Ben-Hinnom to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I commanded them not, neither came it in mine heart. Therefore behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no more place. And the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth, and none shall fray them away. Then I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate. At that time, saith the Lord, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of their Princes, and the bones of the Priests, and the bones of the Prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem out of their graves. And they shall spread have loved, and whom they have served, and whom they have followed, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered nor be buried, but shall be as dung upon the earth. And death shall be desired rather than life of all the residue that remaineth of this wicked family, which remain in all the places where I have scattered them, saith the Lord of hosts. Thou shalt say unto them also, Thus saith the Lord, Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away and not turn again? Wherefore is this people of Jerusalem turned back by a perpetual rebellion? they gave themselves to deceit, and would not return. I hearkened and heard, but none spake aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? everyone turned to their race, as the horse rusheth into the battle. Even the stork in the air knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle, and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming, but my people knoweth not the judgment of the Lord. How do ye say, We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it, the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed: they are afraid and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them? Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall possess them: for everyone from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, and from the Prophet even unto the Priest, everyone dealeth falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people with sweet words, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not ashamed, neither could they have any shame: therefore shall they fall among the slain: when I shall visit them, they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade, and the things that I have given them shall depart from them. Why do we stay? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the strong cities, and let us be quiet there: for the Lord our God hath put us to silence, and given us water with gall to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord. We looked for peace, but no good came, and for a time of health, and behold troubles. The neighing of his horses was heard from Dan, the whole land trembled at the noise of the neighing of his strong horses: fo they are come, and have devoured the land with all that is in it, the city, and those that dwell therein. For behold, I will send serpents, and cockatrices among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall sting you, saith the Lord. I would have comforted myself against sorrow, but mine heart is heavy in me. Behold, the voice of the cry of the daughter of my daughter for fear of them of a far country, Is not the Lord in Zion is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with the vanities of a strange god? The harvest is past, the Summer is ended, and we are not holpen. I am sore vexed for the hurt of the daughter of my people, I am heavy, and astonishment hath taken me. Is there no balm at Gilead? is there no Physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? Oh, that mine head were full of water, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a cottage of wayfaring en, that I might leave my people, and go from them: for they be all adulterers, and an assembly of rebels. And they bend their tongues like their bows for lies: but they have no courage for the truth upon the earth, for they proceed from evil to worse, and they have not known me, saith the Lord. Let everyone take heed of his neighbor, and trust you not in any brother: for every brother will use deceit, and every friend will deal deceitfully. And everyone will deceive his friend, and will not speak the truth: for they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and take great pains to do wickedly. Thine habitation is in the midst of deceivers: because of their deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them: for what should I else do for the daughter of my people? Their tongue is as an arrow shot out, and speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart he layeth wat for him. Shall I not visit them for these things, saith the Lord? or shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? Upon the mountains will I take up a weeping and a lamentation, and upon the fair places of the wilderness a mourning, because they are burnt up, so that none can pass through them, neither can men hear the voice of the flock: both the fowl of the air, and the beast are fled away and gone. And I will make Jerusalem an heap, and a den of dragons, and I will make the cities of Judah waste without an inhabitant. Who is wise to understand this? and to whom the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, even he shall declare it. Why doth the land perish, and is burnt up like a wilderness, that none passeth through? And the Lord saith, because they have forsaken my Law, which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voce, neither walked thereafter. But have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart, and after Baal, which their fathers taught them. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will feed this people with wormwood, and give them waters of gall to rink: I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send a sword after them, till I have consumed them. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Take heed, and call for the mourning women, that they may come, and send for skillful women, tha they may come, And let them make haste, and let them take up a lamentation for us, that our eyes may cast out tears, and our eyelids gush out of water. For a lamentable noise is heard out of Zion, How are we destroyed, and utterly confounded, for we have forsaken the land, and our dwellings have cast us out. Therefore hear the word of the Lord, O ye women, and let your ears regard the words of his mouth, and teach your daughters to mourn, and everyone her neighbor to lament. For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to destroy the children without, and the young men in the streets. Speak, Thus saith the Lord, The carcasses of men shall lie, even as the dung upon the field, and as the handful after the mower, and none shall gather them. Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise men glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man glory in his strength, neither the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me: for I am the Lord, which show mercy, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. Behold, the days come saith the Lord, that I will visit all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. Egypt and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that utmost corners of them that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart. Jeremiah 7:30–9:26
- Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as it is comely in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter unto them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for that is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, be obedient unto them that are your masters according to the flesh, in all things, not with eye service as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men. Knowing that the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong, shall receive for the wrong that he hath done: an there is no respect of persons. Ye masters, do unto your servants, that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a master in heaven. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving, Praying also for us, that God may open unto us the door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ: wherefore I am also in bonds, That I may utter it, as it becometh me to speak. Walk wisely toward them that are without, and redeem the season. Let your speech be gracious aways, and powered with salt, that ye may know how to answer every man. Tychicus our beloved brother and faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, shall declare unto you my whole state: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose that he might know your state, and might comfort your hearts, With Onesimus a faithful and a beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall show you of all things here. Aristarchus my prison fellow saluteth you, and Marcus, Barnabas’s cousin (touching whom ye received commandments: If he come unto you, receive him.) And Jesus which is called Justus, which are of the circumcision. These only are my work-fellows unto the kingdom of God, which have been unto my consolation. Epaphras the servant of Christ, which is one of you, saluteth you, and always striveth for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect, and full in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and for them of Laodicea, and them of Herapolis, Luke the beloved physician greeteth you, and Demas. Salute the brethren which are of Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the Church which is in his house. And when this Epistle is read of you, cause that it be read in the Church which is in his house. And when this Epistle is read of ou, cause tha tit be read in the Church of the Laodiceans also, and that ye likewise read the Epistle written from Laodicea, And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry, that thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it. The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you, Amen. Colossians 3:18–4:18
- A wise son will obey the instruction of his father: but a scorner will hear no rebuke. A man shall eat good things by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the trespasser shall suffer violence. He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life: buthe that openeth his lips, destruction shall be to him. The sluggard lusteth, but his soul hath nought: but the soul of the diligent shall have plenty. A righteous man hateth lying words: but the wicked causeth slander and shame. Righteousness preserveth the upright of life: but wickedness overthroweth the sinner. There is that maketh himself rich, and hath nothing, and that maketh himself poor, having great riches. A man will give his riches for the ransom of his life: but the poor cannot hear the reproach. The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the candle of the wicked shall be put out. Only by pride doth man make contention: but with the well-advised is wisdom. The riches of vanity shall diminish: but he that gathereth with the hand, shall increase them. The hope that is deferred, is the fainting of the heart, but when the desire cometh, it is as a tree of life. He that despiseth the word, he shall be destroyed, but he that feareth the commandment, he shall be rewarded. The instruction of a wise man is as the wellspring of life, to turn away from the snares of death. Good understanding maketh acceptable: but the way of the disobedient is hatred. Every wise man will work by knowledge: but a fool will spread abroad folly. A wicked messenger falleth into evil: but a faithful ambassador is preservation. Poverty and shame is to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth correction, shall be honored. A desire accomplished, delighteth the soul: but it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil. He that walketh with the wise shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be afflicted. Affliction followeth sinners: but unto the righteous, God will recompense good. The good man shall give inheritance unto his children’s children: and the riches of the sinner is laid up for the just. Much food is in the field of the poor, but the field is destroyed without discretion. He that spareth the rod, hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betime. The righteous eateth to the contentation of his mind: but the belly of the wicked shall want. Proverbs 13:1–25