Wednesday, December 6, 2017

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

You can read the text here.

Paul now moves on to other issues that he has to address, starting with the shock and outrage he has over the situation where a man in the congregation was having a sexual relationship with his step-mother.[1] This was just not permissible, not in secular society and certainly not in the church. The only appropriate response by the Corinthians would have been public mourning either to shame the man into leaving voluntarily (if he was not willing to repent) or as a precursor to his removal.[2] In spite of all of this the Corinthians were still proud.

Not willing to waste any more time, empowered and present by the shared Spirit, Paul issues the verdict in the name of the Lord Jesus - guilty! The Corinthians just need to ratify his decision and turn the man over to Satan by excluding him from the church so that he might learn from his mistakes and change his life resulting in his salvation.

It is not just for the man's sake that this must happen. His sinful presence is infecting the rest of the church and making it, as a whole, unfit. The whole church could perish if it does not cast him out.[3]  Purity of the whole body is required. Jesus died as the Passover lamb to free them from the bondage of sin and purify the community. They need to remain pure as the festival of the Lamb is still ongoing.

Paul now needs to clarify something. Apparently he had addressed this issue with them in an earlier letter.[4] It seems likely that the Corinthians had misunderstood a comment he made about not consorting with immoral people to include non-Christians. It seems they may have disagreed and disregarded his opinion. Paul clarifies that that was not his intention. This standard only applies to those who claim to follow Jesus. God is the judge of those outside the church, while Paul (and the Corinthians) can judge those inside. If they insist on living a sinful pattern of life then they are to be excluded from corporate fellowship and worship, regardless of their standing in the community.[5]

[1] Several comments are in order here. First, there may not have been a huge age gap or any age gap at all given how young women married. Second, it is hard to determine if marriage is in view here or some sort of extra-marital intercourse. The man's father is almost certainly dead and it is likely that the man is of high status and is doing this for financial reasons (keeping inheritance in the family). See both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner on these points. On the last point, as well as the marriage question, Ciampa and Rosner are a bit cautious, though they are open to it.

[2] If he was of high means the Corinthians may have resisted throwing him out of the church as he may have been patronizing other members of the congregation. Thiselton helpfully draws out the public nature of mourning in the ancient world.

[3] This is really quite radical to modern sensibilities.

[4] This helps explain his consternation.

[5] Exclusion from corporate fellowship was a big deal in the ancient world, especially if this was a man of higher status than most others in the church. Lessers did not generally shame their superiors. Whether or not this command also applies to private fellowship is unclear - see Ciampa and Rosner.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Judgment is Coming

James 2:1-13

My brothers and sisters,[a] do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?[b] For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”[c] have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.[d] Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Luke 6:20-26

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[d] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Luke 4:18-19

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[g] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[h] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Sleep now in the Fire - Rage Against the Machine

The world is my expense
The cost of my desire
Jesus blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
So raise your fists and march around
Don't dare take what you need
I'll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed
Crawl with me into tomorrow
Or I'll drag you to your grave
I'm deep inside your children
They'll betray you in my name

Sleep now in the fire

Sleep now in the fire

The lie is my expense
The scope with my desire
The party blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
I am the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields overseer
The agents of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire

Sleep now in the fire

Sleep now in the fire

For it's the end of history
It's caged and frozen still
There is no other pill to take
So swallow the one
That makes you ill
The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields' overseer
The agents of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

1 Corinthians 4:6-21

You can read the text here.

Paul's opening volley concerning status seeking comes to a close in this section, focusing on the issue of judgment again. He knows that Paul and Apollos will be judged by God for the quality of their ministry, as will the Corinthian leaders. That is why Paul will not go on beyond "what has been written," the foolish message of God's wisdom promised in the Old Testament and revealed in the cross.[1] Human judgment is meaningless in the grand scheme of things and Paul is trying to lead by example so the Corinthians will stop posturing. After all, the status that really matters they possess as a gift from God, by his grace.[2]

Now, in biting irony, Paul accuses the Corinthians of inflated self-worth and posturing. If only they were as great as they projected themselves as, for then Paul and Apollos would certainly be great along with them! In fact the opposite is true in the eyes of the world. Paul and Apollos are as lowly as the worst criminal about to fight to the death in the arena. The Corinthians are of high status (so they say and think) but the ones they follow are despised by the world. Following these teachers will only ruin their chances of status, not help it![3] But that is the way of the cross, the pattern their Lord set.

Paul isn't trying to shame them. He knows they love him and this is a harsh rebuke; he is trying to shake them to bring them to their senses. Paul knows the path to the only status that matters, he urges the Corinthians to follow his example (which includes suffering and lowliness by the world's standard). Timothy's job is to help them on that journey by teaching and visibly displaying the Pauline lifestyle that is practiced in the church everywhere. They want Paul to visit badly, and he will, but he does not want to have to come and discipline them, he wants a pleasant visit. But if he has to he will challenge those who divide the church and have an inflated self-worth. Do they really have the spiritual power they claim?

[1] 'what is written' most likely refers to Scriptural citations from earlier in the letter which focus on the God's wisdom in opposition to human wisdom. So both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner.

[2] In Barclay's taxonomy this would be an emphasis on grace being unconditioned (note I said unconditioned not unconditional).

[3] Except of course for the status that matters, being a co-heir with Christ.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Barth on the Mystery of the Word of God

It is for this reason and in this sense that we finally speak of the Word of God as the mystery of God. The issue is not an ultimate "assuring" but always a penultimate "de-assuring" of theology, or, as one might put it, a theological warning against theology, a warning against the idea that its propositions or principles are certain in themselves like the supposed axioms of the mathematicians and the physicists, and are not rather related to their theme and content, which alone are certain, which they cannot master, by which they must be mastered if they are not to be mere soap bubbles.

CD 1.1 Section 5.4

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5

You can read the text here.

Self deception is a serious issues, so Paul continues to address the issues of factions and status seeking head on, reminding them that God's values are the opposite of the world's. Worldly wisdom isn't anything to boast about, if anything it's something to be ashamed of.[1] God is the one who bestows status upon them, and the status they possess is co-heirs with Christ, which means that everything belongs to them, since Jesus is Lord of all. That includes teachers whom they have allied themselves with. In this step Paul has relativized the importance of leaders in the grand scheme of things.[2] It also includes things not commonly under human control, like life and death, and the age to come. The status of the Corinthians is actually much greater than they realized, if only they could get their focus off of their petty squabbles.

Paul continues his re-orientation of their perceptions by telling them how to view him and Apollos; like servants - certainly not the type who could raise your status via allegiance to them. They're just trying to do the job that God has given them as faithfully as possible, because faithfulness, not eloquence is what God requires. Since Paul works for God, he doesn't care what the Corinthian's opinion of him was. He's not in their employ, and additionally they don't judge justly the way God judges. He will reward Paul in accordance with his faithfulness.

[1] Ciampa and Rosner.

[2] Note how vs. 23 seems to suggest subordination on the part of the Son to the Father, something I believe is typical of the NT (even though I don't consider myself a subordinationist - but that's another story).

Monday, October 30, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:5-17

You can read the text here.

Paul circles back to drive the point home regarding factionalism that he sprung up as different groups pledged allegiance to different leaders. Paul and Apollos aren't anything special that will help the Corinthians raise their status. They're in fact mere servants and following them should bring disrepute in the world's eyes.[1] While Paul and Apollos played an important role, it's secondary to the role played by God who is the one they should be solely focused on. God will give Paul and Apollos their due, who, after all, are on the same team!

Paul and Apollos are trying to build a temple worthy of the living God. The foundation was laid by Paul; the message of the cross preached in a fashion that the focus was on Jesus and not on Paul. Apollos and others built on it. Some, like Paul, built well. Some didn't. God can tell the difference. Those who built in a fashion in line with human wisdom and status seeking built with poor materials that won't stand the test, while those who pointed the Corinthians to Jesus built a building that will survive God's testing on the last day. They will be rewarded, while the shoddy builders will have nothing to show for their labor.

Self-seeking will destroy the temple. It's not the way to build and it's not the way to live. Those who pursue their own status and glory at the expense of the unity of the church will not receive glory from God. If they tear the church apart by their pride, God will tear them apart.

[1] Ciampa and Rosner make this point effectively.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tradition Preserves Orthodoxy

As I've grown older I've come to see that not all of the fruit of the Reformation is positive. The emphasis on sola scriptura, particularly has had serious effects. In 1994 Wayne Grudem published his systematic theology text book. It has been a standard text used in Bible colleges and seminaries across the US for decades. In this text he promotes a doctrine of the Trinity that is essentially Arian. Why did this not become a big deal until 2016? How could heresy have been taught in countless Bible colleges, seminaries, and churches with almost no one noticing? You can find isolated cases of push back earlier (like my teacher, Graham Cole back in 2010 - note while Evangelical he is also an Anglican) but no widespread outcry came until last year! It's easy to see how this can happen in the Evangelical movement because the sola scriptura principle has developed in such a way that the tradition has been ignored almost across the board. Over the past few years I've read a lot on the Trinity in Augustine, the Lombard, Aquinas, and others. After reading them and then going back and reading Grudem, the unorthodoxy of his views are obvious!

The whole situation is very ironic because Evangelicals see themselves as the bastion of orthodoxy in opposition to both the Catholic church and liberal Protestant denominations. But, on arguably the most central doctrine, it's the Evangelical movement that has a lot of unorthodox pastors and teachers, and they didn't even know it! More respect for the tradition (i.e., a more Catholic approach) would have stopped this much, much sooner.

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I take Scripture seriously, and that I really want to take it on its own terms and hear God speak through it. Certainly there is time for overthrowing tradition, and even a doctrine like the Trinity may legitimately need to be rethought. However, most times are not that time and the great tradition of the church can serve as guard rails to help us think rightly about God. We're not the first smart Christians in the history of the church, nor are we the first godly ones. Let's use our great heritage to our advantage! If nothing else we will know when we're deviating from what we has been handed down through the centuries and do so cautiously. I write this hoping that my Evangelical sisters and brothers can learn from this and get to know the richness and depth of the tradition of the church.