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