Sat, 27 December 2008
Chapter 13 of the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians begins with Paul's address to those who speak in tongues. Unless love is the controlling virtue in one's life, a spectacular faith, a powerful prophetic message or even the gift of tongues are of no value (cf. v. 1-3). He infers that love and the peace of Christ are to ever remain the arbiters among disputing peoples.
Characterizing love, he notes how it is "patient and kind," neither jealous or boastful; nor arrogant or rude; and never insisting on its own way (cf. v. 4-6). Further, love "does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things [without ever being wishy-washy], hopes all things, endures all things. [Divine] Love never ends" (v. 7-8). Paul knows that divine love does not come naturally to humans; rather, it is always a gift of purely supernatural grace.
He writes, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (v. 10-12). Our American connotation of "love" pales in comparison to the love expressed through deeds of self-sacrifice that Paul speaks of in this chapter.
He again addresses the gifts of tongues in Chapter 14. He places the gift of prophesy as more valuable than the gift of tongues, except in instances where the tongue is interpreted, because prophesies edify the whole church (cf. v. 5). If all spiritual gifts are given for the common good, he observes that those who speak in tongues should speak in intelligible tongues and pray for their tongue's interpretation (cf. v. 7-10). Note that the interpretation of tongues does not mean a translation, for interpretations always convey a spiritual message beyond the jots and tittles of any message. When in church, Paul would rather "speak five words with [his] mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (v. 19).
He heightens his tone by urging the Corinthians to maturity and wisdom (cf. v. 20). To understand the larger context of his powerful statement in verse 22, "Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers," one must thoroughly digest Isaiah 28. He concludes the chapter by masterfully instructing his wayward church on the proper use of tongues, prophesy and silence in their worship and communal life.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 4 Moments Musicaux Op. 84 - Animato ma non troppo, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 20 December 2008
Paul addresses spiritual gifts in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians. He knows the Church does not realize their low level of spiritual maturity; but their arrogant, impatient and factious ways indict them. So misguided is this Church that they act against the teachings of both Paul and the Council of Jerusalem. This chapter showcases him again pleading with the people like they are close family members.
He knows that the Corinthians have a good foundation of catechesis, but that many are either practicing dead-letter religion or are misappropriating their gifts. He addresses this by reiterating that all who are of Christ receive spiritual gifts and they must be exercised for the common good. A variety of gifts among individuals in a community provide the essential elements of Christian life. He lists numerous gifts, but "all [...] are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who appropriations to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (v 11-12). Paul's language makes one question whether this factious Church was marginalizing individuals who had particular spiritual gifts as less important than those with other gifts. He stresses the equality of the people of God, for "the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable" (v. 22). Because the members of the Corinthian Church are one body, Paul chastises them for their disunity and urges them to love one another.
A loving, family life is so characteristic of genuine Christian life, as expressed in the thirteenth chapter. Sadly, this type of love is so uncharacteristic of modern Catholicism in America. Paul exhorts the Corinthian Church to this love and what love is and what it is not (cf. v. 4-8). He also makes it clear that they must all love more genuinely.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 3 Moments Musicaux Op. 7 - Tranquillo e semplice, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Mon, 15 December 2008
The character of Paul's language changes distinctly in Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians as he attempts to reassert his role as an apostle. Some among the brethren of Corinth felt apostles would not need to work to support themselves, and viewed his working to support his ministry as a demerit on his authority. He responds by saying "I [am an apostle] to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (v 2). He continues by asserting the rights of an apostle through a series of rhetorical questions.
Using sound rabbinical arguments, he asserts that God allows the workers to partake of the fruit of their labor (Cf. v. 8-12). These statements are not Paul's attempt to amass material gains, but assert his authority as an apostle. As he continues, his temper begins to reveal itself in the verbiage (Cf. v 14). He hits on the cornerstone of his argument when he states "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" and "What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel" (v 16, 18). Always trying to save as many souls as possible he reflects how he "became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (v 23). He closes the chapter with a lively exhortation that the Corinthians strive for holiness through self-restraint and exertion like an athlete strives for victory (Cf. v 24-27).
Returning to his previous language-style in Chapter 10, he uses the example of their Jewish forefathers to instruct the troubled church. After illustrating the sacramental gifts that the Israelites received from God he warns the people not to partake unworthily or without gratitude, lest they die like many of the Israelites. He ever attempting to bring the conceited Corinthians to greater holiness, he provides hope against temptation by stating "God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (v 13).
Returning to his railing against idolatry, he asks "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" so that he may come to his eucharistic theology "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (v 16). This is to establish that one cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, and that meat sacrificed to idols is inherently demonic.
He instructs the Judaizers by saying "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful" (v 23). He also allows that "if one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question" except it becomes clear that this meat was sacrificed to an idol (v 27).
Finally, in the beginning of Chapter 11, Paul addresses the issue of women's head coverings.
Music: Sergei Rachmaninoff's 6 Moments Musicaux Op. 16 - Adagio sostenuto from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Tue, 9 December 2008
The beginning of an extremely challenging portion of Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 8 edges towards discussing liberty and constraints. Chapters 8-11 showcase Paul's pastoral nature, for rather than writing a polemic list of do's and don't's to a church of diverse believers with questionable devotion, he has devised an all-embracing construct for Christian life, worship and the spiritual realm. The implications of these chapters are more radical than the sexual ideals put forth in chapters 6-7.
The issues of enforcing ecclesial norms plagued the Corinthian Church just as it plagues the Catholic Church in America. One central issue emerges: eating meat sacrificed to idols. Rather than burn or discard meat used for ritual purposes, pagan temples and local markets sold vast supplies of cheap, edible meat. It was common in Corinthian culture for one to eat his meal right at the temple, and the vast quantity of meat made these temples a sort of banquet hall for trade guilds; in either case these affairs were tainted with pagan idolatry.
Paul prepares the groundwork for his argument by beginning chapter 8 very carefully; writing across the Aegean Sea to a church with which he has a deep spiritual bond, he is like a careful parent not trying to lose control of rebellious teenagers. As an Old Testament scholar, he knows the need to eradicate idolatry among God's people. Certain Corinthian Christians had long argued it was licit to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since they knew there was only one true God, but the early Church's harsh treatment of those who burned incense to the Roman gods provides a proper precedent against such a practice. Nevertheless, the Corinthian Church was in turmoil over this issue, dividing families and splitting the church.
For a bit of history, the Christian faith came to Corinth after the Council of Jerusalem which insisted that uncircumcised Gentiles refrain from eating meat with blood in it or that had been strangled, avoiding all things associated with idols and all forms of sexual immorality. Blood was so stringently avoided primarily because of God's commandment to Noah and his sons, not Israelites, of whom we are all descendants. Now, the Corinthians bristle at Paul's authority and perceived "legalism" in regards to meat sacrificed to idols.
He offers a valuable lesson, "'all of us possess knowledge'. 'Knowledge [without love] puffs up, but love builds up'" (8:1). After discussing love and knowledge, he concedes that "although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords' -- yet, for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (v 5-6). He follows with "not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol" (v 7). The mature Christians must bear patiently with their co-religionists who do not possess the knowledge in verses 5 and 6; the alternative is to sin against Christ (Cf. v. 12). He then finishes the chapter by edging up to a prohibition on eating meat sacrificed to idols which he will state definitively in chapter 10.
As an aside, when Paul says "all things are lawful," he is not being an antinomian [law-abolisher], but instead referring to those who have the full life of Christ and never act except in accord God's perfect will. This statement is also an attempt to warm those who respond negatively to legalism to his pastoring.
Music: La Cornara from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 29 November 2008
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul addresses another set of issues that rend unity among the Corinthian Church. Brothers are regularly asking secular magistrates to settle their disputes (cf. v. 1-2). The actions of these neophytes show they place self-assertion before the virtues of Christian sacrifice, prudence and charity. Paul informs them that choosing to stand before worldly authorities to settle these matters is a clear sign of their spiritual decay (cf. v. 4-6).
These brothers "wrong and defraud" their "own brethren" and are deceiving themselves (v. 8). He warns them that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom" of God and that "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [the original Greek here lists two separate terms to include homosexual offenders and those who freely allow themselves to be homosexually offended], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 9-11). Paul knows that some of the Corinthians were previously chained to the sins listed above, and urges them to remember that they have been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (v. 11).
"'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything [...] the body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.'" When Paul says this, he makes a masterful distinction between function and purpose. Any function of the body – which will be resurrected on the last day – must never lead one to forget that their bodies are "members of Christ" (v. 15). Violations of one's body are offenses against that body and the person and purpose of Christ. If the purpose of human sexuality is that "the two shall become one flesh," then the function of uniting with a prostitute is an extreme aberration (cf. v. 16). There can be nothing immoral within Christians because they are, at the core, of Christ's body.
In Chapter 7, Paul answers the questions posed him by the Corinthian Church. He begins "It is well for a man not to touch a woman" (v. 1). Knowing that men are weak and tempted to immorality, he writes that "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" when necessary (v. 2).
Neither commanding nor legislating the conjugal union between marital couples, he seeks to alleviate selfishness and other problems relating to intimacy (v. 3-5). He wishes "that all were as I myself am [celibate]. But each has his own special gift from God" (v. 7). He establishes that divorce and remarriage should not be commonplace among the Christian Church (v. 8 ff.).
He uses Jewish regulatory language to describe the ramifications of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (v 10 ff.). He writes, "the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy" (v. 14). Note that the "consecration" he speaks of here does not refer to a salvific grace, but instead to that grace which allows such a couple to live under the same roof and raise legitimate children who are able to be baptized.
Paul writes, "if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace," but he does not here advise the believer to remarriage (v. 15). Generally, he instructs the people to avail themselves of every opportunities live the fullest Christian life possible without compelling slaves, married men and others to unnecessarily disrupt their state in life (v. 20 ff.).
He then offers advice similar to that given in Matthew 19, where Jesus advises those who are able to become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom to do so. He explicates Christ's message in greater detail, saying "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin [...] Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that" (v. 27-28).
His urge that "those who have wives live as though they had none," is not a call for universal celibacy within marriage, but instead a warning against living a married life as an ordinary man, but as a fully integrated Christian (v. 29).
A man with a family has more responsibilities than the unmarried man, and meeting the demands of the kingdom may be more difficult. Paul stresses that he wishes "not to lay any restraint upon [the Corinthians], but to promote good order and to secure [their] undivided devotion to the Lord" (v 35). He concludes "he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (v. 38).
Music: Gagliarda Terza from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 22 November 2008
1 Corinthians 5 reveals a distinct shift in the epistle, for here Paul begins to address the scandal of a Corinthian Christian living with his father's wife (v 1). Such an action is forbidden in Torah, prohibited in Roman law, and is in clear contradistinction with the call of Christ; it should have long been addressed by the Corinthian leaders, and Paul upbraids these leaders for their negligence. It is clear that this immoral person is adamantly persisting in his sin and shows no sign of leaving the church.
To this, Paul demands, "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" with all his apostolic authority, for "though absent in body I am present in spirit [when you are assembled together], and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing ... with the power of the Lord Jesus you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (v 2-3, 5). Thus a total excommunication removes him completely from the protective umbrella of God's Church until he bears the fruit of genuine repentance. One should note that men can regularly repent from sexual sin through grace; Paul's terrifying excommunication is a deliberate attempt to dissuade these sins.
Throughout the entire scandal, the Corinthians have been boasting of their spiritual acumen (cf v 6). He reminds them that as "a little leaven leavens the whole lump," unfettered evil quickly spreads throughout the Church. Referencing the festival of deliverance, the Passover, he writes "let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v 8).
Paul knows that greed, robbery and idolatry are in the world, but demands that Christians not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of egregious immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler (slanderer), drunkard or robber (v 11). His attempt is to raise the standards of holiness for Christians, never to execute vindication or to mete out punishment on non-Christians for immorality. When he says they are "not even to eat with such a one," he challenges the Corinthian Church to address grave sin for the good of the whole body, even if doing so painfully breaks the norms of social etiquette. Rather than tolerate evils that will poison the flock, Christians must "Drive out the wicked person from among you" (v 12). One will best do this through frequent examination of conscience and by speaking the truth in love.
Music: Avanti Il Quarto Brando from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 15 November 2008
Paul's indictment of the Corinthian Church reaches new depths in 1 Cor 3:17 as he warns against troublemakers within the Church, "And if anyone destroys God's temple [the Body of Christ], God will destroy him." He continues, "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'the Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile'" (v 18-19). Paul then upbraids the Corinthians for not acting as those who are Christ's possession (cf v 22-22).
A strong leader, Paul then asks the people to examine his conduct for blame or error, professing a clean conscience (cf 4:3-5a). Knowing that it is the Lord alone who will judge, he stresses that the Christian must never pass final judgment on another in his own heart. Note, however, that the Paul's Epistles frequently call on the Christian to judge between right deeds and wrong deeds.
In response to the boastful ways of the Corinthians, he asks "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (v 7). After being blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavens, they are acting like sniveling misers. He calls them to be what they really are, "a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men" (v 9).
Paul teaches that Christians are "fools for Christ's sake" and thereby possess true wisdom (v 10, cf 3:18). Citing the good example of the Apostolic band, he states "we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world ... I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children ... For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (v 12-16).
Paul so steadfastly lives in Christ and Him crucified that he is able to overturn all pride, arrogance, factionalism. He warns the Corinthians he "will come to [them] soon" to pastor those who speak with arrogance and remind them that "the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (v 18-19). He forcefully concludes the fourth chapter by asking "What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (v 21).
Music: La Maltese from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 8 November 2008
Christianity must ever remain mission-minded, seeking to save souls, lest it lose its saltiness. Clear standards and expectations of progress are necessary and reasonable in order to achieve practical gains. Spreading the Gospel must always come before seeking self-fulfillment and, non-coincidentally, those who lovingly spread the Gospel will experience the most fulfillment.
All Christians must beware not to squander the gifts they have received or neglect the responsibilities that come with their faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is God's gift to the believer and He provides additional gifts in order that one might cooperate with Him, repent, genuinely love Him and evangelize.
The Corinthian Church contains individuals at various stages of immaturity, whereas a vibrant Christian community contains a mixture of mature veterans and immature new-comers. After accepting the gift of salvation and numerous spiritual charisms, Paul upbraids the Corinthians for letting let the cares of the world distract them from living a mission-minded faith. Additionally, they have not put to death the desires of their fleshly minds and act like busybodies who point fingers at others but never examine their own lives. Paul knows that these men are not wholly un-spiritual, but are spiritual men acting upon the desires of their flesh. In contrast, a genuine Christian spirituality is a life lived in regular experience with the Holy Spirit.
He writes, "But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (1 Cor 3:1-3) Wrapping themselves in their human leaders Paul and Apollos, they withhold honor due only to God who alone provides the Christian's growth (cf v 4). Paul understands that he is but a humble servant who thankfully responds well to God's grace by grace. Mindful that no one can earn his salvation, he knows laborers for the Kingdom will receive wages according to their works (cf v 8).
Jesus Christ Himself is the only foundation upon which the Church can be built (cf v 13, Eph 4, 1 Pet). To the extend they do this, the work of the Christian will be made manifest on the Day of Judgment (cf v 14-15). The man whose work is unworthy and is "burned up" will "suffer loss, though he himself will be saved" after a period of purgation (v 15). All Christians must see themselves as they truly are and fess up to their sins, whether this revelation occur in this world or in purgatory.
Music: La Zabarella from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 1 November 2008
After a difficult mission in Athens, Paul comes to the Corinthians not with a lofty intellectual message, but having "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Despite suffering from "weakness and in much fear and trembling," he successfully ministered to the Corinthians in "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (v 3, 4). His intent was "that [their] faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (v 5).
Paul brings wisdom to those mature Corinthians, but this wisdom is a "secret and hidden wisdom of God" that "none of the rules of this age" could understand (v 6, 7).
Referencing Isaiah, Paul states "no eyes has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (v 9-10). God's ways are unsearchable, except to that man to whom "God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (v 10).
Speaking of his own ministry, he states "we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (v 12-13).
He contrasts the "unspiritual," natural man with the spiritual man, the latter of which "judges [discerns] all things, but is himself to be judged [discerned] by no one" (cf. 14, 15). In other words, the unspiritual man cannot understand the reasoning of the spiritual man. For no one can know the mind of the Lord unless He gives his sons "the mind of Christ" (cf. v 16).
Paul addresses the men of Corinth as "men of the flesh, as babes in Christ," feeding them with "milk, not solid food" (3:1-2). He writes, "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (v 3).
Modern Christians do well to discern the extent that they behave like ordinary men and discarding jealously and selfishness for the mind of Christ. Without a genuine spirituality, Christians will not be ready for solid food, but will remain among those of the flesh.
Sorry for the audio quality this week, this was digitized off of a cassette tape. Everything will be back to normal in the next episode.
Music: La Moneverda from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 25 October 2008
A Christian must strive to achieve worthy goals and remain "mission-minded" if he is to live fully for the Kingdom. Whenever a Christian approaches the First Epistle to the Corinthians as merely a devotional book, like some sort of spiritual fodder, he will miss the entire point. St. Paul was always strategic in his plans and actions in order to hasten the mission; similarly, modern Christians are called to act with prayer, forethought and sound execution.
Always working from bases in urban centers, Paul would begin his ministry with the Jews, toiling to establish a base of followers from their ranks and those of the "God-fearers," religious Gentiles in close association with the Jews. Paul efficiently evangelized these God-fearers, offering them a monotheistic religion that did not require circumcision.
Paul never remained long in any one urban center, for his aggressive, often polemic, ministry made him many enemies. After rejection from one community, he would immediately create a new base in another city. He would then labor to coach his disciples in close discourse and worked day and night, meeting the people where they were; further, he often worked a trade to support himself simultaneously to carrying out his apostolic ministry.
As soon as Paul established a sustainable base in one community, he hastened to a new urban center to repeat the process. God appointed him to preach the gospel, a mission he ceaselessly carried out. Within one generation, his ministry of church-planting and letter-writing established a foundation in the Greco-Roman world that affected all subsequent Christian history. Paul's carefully-planned strategy of evangelization clearly contrasts the disorganized and way many modern Christians seek to spread faith. If Christians steadfastly imitate his worthy example their ministries will bear some of the same fruit. Music: La Savorgnana from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
(Sorry for the audio quality this week, this was digitized off of a cassette tape.)