Day 337: 2 Corinthians 8-10; The Cheerful Giver

Paul has the dubious pleasure that I think every pastor throughout the history of the church has probably had at some point in time in his ministry, that of talking about giving.  You know… that awkward sermon that is given on the need for tithing and giving cheerfully when you “can’t afford” it.  Generally it is made more awkward by the fact that church funds are usually low, giving is down, and many of the church member blame the pastor and leadership.  It is an interesting paradox that churches often face as we are asked to give into a system that is clearly broken, and we are asked to do it joyfully.

Well, that might be a little bit more than what Paul is talking about here.  Paul has asked the churches to given gifts for an offering that he is taking to the church in Jerusalem who has suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of the Jews.  They were, at this time, likely doing a lot more hiding and were probably very poor.  Chances are, the church in Jerusalem had been kicked out of the synagogues and many of the believers had been arrested.  It is entirely possible that they were meeting in houses or even in back alleys to worship, if they were able to meet at all.  Some of them may have lost much of their businesses, their homes, and perhaps even their families.  While Saul, now Paul, wasn’t persecuting them anymore, there were no doubt many that rose up to take his place.

Wisely, Paul approaches this from the angle of giving cheerfully, even drawing on Scripture like Psalm 112 to talk about the need and benefit of giving.  He doesn’t simply say that he needs money and then guilts them into giving by making them feel bad.  Instead, he talks about how giving is part and parcel to the Christian life, yet another part of the sanctification that is taking place within the believers.  Interestingly enough, Paul points out right away that it is a matter of the heart, not a matter of wealth or physical abundance.

Remember a long while back when we talked about the Shema and some of the meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength?”  Let’s recap real quick here:

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

This is a direct quote from Day 53, we talked about the deeper meanings behind this command that really has become the overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Not only are we to love God with our mind and our heart, and even by the things that we do and the interactions that we have, we are also supposed to be honoring God with all the physical things that we have as well.  Part of this is really understanding the nature of all we have as being first and foremost a blessing for God.  Our Heavenly Father is the creator of all things, He is above all things, and it is He who has blessed us with all that we have, great or small.  In this we need to make sure that our hearts are not for our things, but for the One who has given them to us.

The other part of this has to do with the nature of our hearts in this recognition.  Not only do we remember that all we have is given to us as a blessing from God, we are also to have a cheerful and open heart when we are giving back to him and to others.  Yes, it isn’t simply about the giving of things that Paul is talking about here, he is talking about the nature of our hearts both when we give and in our everyday lives.  We have not been blessed to be hoarders of our blessings.  Like the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are blessed to be a blessing, given to so that we can give ourselves as well.  This is both the attitude and the stance that we are to take as grow ever deeper in humility and thankfulness, giving generously and joyfully of the gifts that God has given to us.



Day 336: 2 Corinthians 5-7; Ministry of the Body of Christ

It is interesting, as I read this letter, Paul keeps saying things and then making sure that he is clarifying what he is saying as not being something boastful, but rather to make sure that the recipients are understanding that the boasting that is happening is in Christ.  They are not saying anything that is happening is being done of their power, but through the work of the Holy Spirit, all of what is being accomplished is happening.  Paul is also making a great deal of effort to talk about the contrast between our hope for something beyond this world and the work that needs to still be done here.  The whole first part of chapter five is talking about the fact that, while we long to be with God, in our heavenly dwelling, we still need to recognize the fact that we are living in this earthly tent.  I think he is drawing on some of his other writings here when he is talking about walking by faith and not by sight.  At other times in the New Testament he talks about seeing God in the life to come, which will certainly make following God a lot easier.  For now though, we live and work in this world by faith in God through the Holy Spirit and we need to keep this in mind.

Paul goes on from here to talk about the ministry of the body of Christ here on earth.  As I was reading this I was thinking of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, how He prays for His disciples to be in the world but not of the world.  In many ways, they are to be what the people of Israel were to be in the world, the mediators between earth and heaven.  Jesus’ disciples and the Church were never meant to be people that withdraw from the world and don’t interact with it.  Neither are we supposed to be so intertwined with the world that we are unrecognizable from all those around us.  We are called to be “priests” of sorts, mediating between heaven and earth.  Paul puts a label on this as well: reconciliation.  This is really the crux of what Jesus came to do as well, in being justified through His blood, we are reconciled to God and put back in right relationship with Him.  Obviously that is not fully realized in the here and now, but it is the reality in which we live, reconciled in relationship to God.

He continues talking about this new reality, showing that not only are we reconciled in a sort of declarative way (like when someone is declared not guilty in a trial), we are made new in spirit as well.  In one of his more famous writings Paul says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  It isn’t a simple change of thought towards us from God, we are actually a new creation!  The old is gone… the NEW has come!

So what are we to do with this?  Paul talks about this in terms of the ministry of Christ on earth.  If this is the case, which it is, then it is to be our ministry on earth as well.  While we cannot do for other what Christ did for us, we are called to spread this good news to all people in Matthew 28!  This is the means by which we can participate in the ministry of reconciliation that Christ began here on earth.  Sure, there are a number of ways that we can do things in the social sphere to help those who are less fortunate, feed the hungry, stand up for the orphan and the widow as the people of God are supposed to do.  However, none of it really amounts to a hill of beans if we aren’t spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all that we meet.

Part of what Paul has to say today as well is a direct draw from the Old Testament.  Remember yesterday Paul was talking about the New Covenant and its superiority to the Old Covenant, yet we see here that Paul is drawing from the very basis of the Old Covenant as He talks about how believers should be living.  What is the Old Covenant?  “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the reconciliation that He brings.  In Him, the Holy Spirit has been sent and God indeed dwells among us, in our hearts, and God is indeed our God.  Moreover, we wait for the day when this covenant will be fully realized, when Christ comes again and God dwells among us physically and forever.



Day 335: 2 Corinthians 1-4; Intro to Second Corinthians

As we enter into reading the second letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we need to start by recognizing two things.  First, we have to remember that this isn’t a direct continuation of the first letter that he wrote, as if the letter was so long that he couldn’t put it into just one volume.  A period of time has passed since the writing of 1 Corinthians, a period in which is seems that Paul has indeed visited the church and that the visit was “painful.”  We also need to take into consideration, as this writing takes place, that there may have been several correspondences that took place between the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians and now, some of which may have been added into this writing as it took shape as one of the books of the Bible.

Paul opens his letter with a greeting, like many of the other greetings that he writes in the different letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire.  He then talks about the current situation that he and his traveling companions have found themselves in.  Yet even in the many trials that Paul has faced, he doesn’t lose faith in God and even points to the greater desire of God in these hard times to turn to Him and rely completely on His strength.  However, Paul is not saying this in a way that is showing how good he is while at the same time showing how bad the believers at the church in Corinth are.  Instead, Paul is giving God the glory for the faithfulness that He has show in their sufferings.

In his writing, Paul talks about some of the issues that have been going on with his journey and his change of plans.  He seems to go into considerable detail about why the plans are changing and even feels the need to defend his decision to not return to Corinth.  In this, he also talks about a “sinner” among them.  It could be that these situations are related and that there is some conflict that is going on within the church in Corinth or possible between some leaders and Paul.  In any case, Paul has been directed by God not to return to Corinth and is instead writing to them to explain all of this.

The final chunk of today’s reading comes in the form of a discussion about the New Covenant and its superiority over the old.  Paul talks about the triumph that they had in Troas, preaching the Gospel of Christ there.  It seems that they had considerable success in their spreading of the Good News there, yet even in this Paul remains humble and gives the credit to Jesus Christ.  It is not what they do or even what they writing that is the main thing, but what the Spirit of God is doing on the hearts of those who hear the Gospel that is important to Paul.  He then makes a turn towards relating this to the people of Israel and their handling of the Old Covenant as well.  So concerned they are with what has been written and even what Moses said, and yet it is like a veil over their hearts as that cannot truly understand what actually means.

Really, we have said this many times before, but here Paul is saying it again, the Law is not something that brings salvation and neither do the sacrifices of animals bring about forgiveness.  These are things that were set in place to give light to a greater hope in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  The Law dictates things to do in order to remain in God, yet in Jesus Christ these things are done and fulfilled.  It is, however, only through these things that we can really understand the significance of what Jesus did on the cross.

It is this hope, Paul goes on to say, that causes us to not lose heart.  In Jesus Christ we have a hope for something greater, something better than the struggles of this life.  He writes at the end of chapter four, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.



Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10-13; Worship, Spiritual Gifts, and Love

Today’s reading, apart from chapter 10, have much to do with the corporate aspect of worship in the sense that Paul is talking about “rules” in worship as well as the use of spiritual gifts.  In fact, chapters 11-14 all have to do with pretty much the same thing: corporate worship.  The thing about these chapters is that each one of them often gets used for some reasons that weren’t necessarily part of the original meaning.

In chapter 11, Paul addresses head coverings in worship.  This was likely an issue for the Corinthian church in general and Paul is not necessarily speaking to the whole church here.  It is possible that things were happening in worship involving head coverings that were becoming distractions for worship, therefore Paul set some guidelines for them.  Notice though, that in the midst of this discussion, Paul draws it all back into the center, which is Christ.

In the same way, Paul addresses things that are happening around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The greater story, we read, is that there was division at the Lord’s Table because of class, wealth, and work and this is not acceptable.  Paul writes, “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

We see here too that Paul uses the words of Jesus’ institution of communion and then goes on to point out that one thing that needs to happen during communion is the act of self examination.  By not doing so, Paul says, we are sinning against the body and blood of Christ.  These words are used a great deal in communion and communion preparation liturgies which I think is a good thing, self examination is one thing that we are called to do as Christians.  Sadly, these words have also been used to keep people away from the Table of our Lord, and I don’t think this is right at all.  The Lord’s Supper is a place in which we are welcomed, a place that Christ invites all His people to, and it is clear that all of Christ’s people are sinful by nature (even though we are redeemed).  It is not by human judgments that we are judged, but before God, and when we come to the table we need to remember, above all else, our identity in Christ Jesus as those that are forgiven and justified.  Here Paul is addressing systems of inequality that were present in the Church that were “dishonoring” others at the Lord’s Table, something that is unacceptable in the Church and to God.

Paul then turns his attention to the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.  I know what you are thinking, “isn’t 1 Corinthians 13 the chapter about love?”  Yes, it is.  However this is another passage that often has been used outside of the context for which it was originally meant.  Paul is talking to the church in a corporate setting here, for both the spiritual gifts and the “love chapter.”  There were a lot of things that were going on in worship, much like the head covering issue and the issues with the Lord’s Supper.  Paul is concerned here that there are things drawing people away from the center of worship, that being Christ.  The use of spiritual gifts had become showy and attention seeking, which is why Paul wishes that the less showy gifts would be the ones that they excel in.  He also talks about women, both speaking and dressing, which doesn’t have anything to do with women in church leadership positions (the precedence for which is set by Lydia in Acts 16), but has more to do with dealing with a particular culture in a particular city where the women’s action in worship was both distracting and tended towards the temple cult worship of pagan gods.  In this case, Paul says that women are to be silent.

Ultimately though, what Paul is getting at here has a lot less to do with how to use these gifts as much as the “why” of using them.  Why do we have spiritual gifts?  Why do they manifest themselves in worship?  Paul very clearly points out that it is for the edification of the body, NOT for individual gain.  Like the teaching on prayer that Jesus does, pointing to the leader that prays loudly on the street corner and receives nothing but public attention, so too would worship be if spiritual gifts were used in such a way.  What does love have to do with it?  It is what surrounds all of this… using spiritual gifts in such a way that we are (you guessed it) loving God and loving neighbor! The Shema!  When the use of spiritual gifts becomes more about showmanship than about worship, we find ourselves in the wrong… Yet these gifts are still present (even today) and are meant to be useful for building up the Body of Christ, and that is how they are meant to be used.

The following is another paper that I have written in the past.  It has more to do with 1 Corinthians 14, which isn’t necessarily part of our reading today, but has everything to do with the chapters that we did read today.

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Pericope Paper: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Introduction.  All people everywhere seek to pursue what is best, to do otherwise would be nothing more than a foolish and empty pursuit.  Christians are called to pursue the things of the Lord and the live above the prevailing worldly culture.  “Live above the culture,” Paul seems to say, “don’t just blend in, be intentionally different.[1]”  This is the main point of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  After talking about the church, and the dealings that the people there were having, Paul begins to talk about spiritual gifts. He writes that they should live their lives in the way of love and seek after spiritual gifts and particularly the gift of prophecy.  Paul goes on to explain that prophecy is a better spiritual gift because it helps to build up all those who hear it, rather than speaking in tongues which is more of a conversation between the person and God.  Paul wants all those to whom he is writing to have the gift of speaking in tongues, but it would be better if people had the gift of prophecy, which helps to build up the church as a whole.  Prophecy is greater and better than speaking in tongues, unless there is someone who can interpret the tongue, in which case the message of the one who is speaking in tongues can be understood.  If one really thinks about it, what good is a message in a language that cannot be understood?  A similar argument can be made of that of an instrument, or group of instruments that plays a song with indistinguishable or out of tune notes.  If people don’t recognize an instrumental sound, how can they react to it?  So it is with people that hear a different tongue.  If people want to have spiritual gifts, they should work to develop gifts that help the church as a whole.  Those who speak in tongues should pray for interpretation.  If one should pray in a tongue and doesn’t understand it, they are only praying with the spirit and their mind is unfruitful, so pray and sing and worship the Lord with both the mind and your spirit.  Though Paul is thankful for his gift of speaking in tongues, it would still be better for intelligible words to be spoken in the church rather than tongues.  Though tongues are a sign of the Holy Spirit, the really don’t help unless there is someone to interpret.  If someone that is not a believer comes amongst a group of people speaking in tongues, he will not understand and probably think everyone is crazy.  On the contrary though, if a group of people are prophesying and an unbeliever comes into the group, he will hear and understand what is being said and know that God is there[2].

Paul brings up several different principles that could and should be applied to everyday Christian life.  Everyone has gifts that can be used in the church today, but what Paul is addressing here in particular are spiritual gifts.  Paul’s goal is to further clarify the proper use and further development of spiritual gifts. One of the main theological principals in this particular passage excerpt in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth is that the people of the church and the church as a whole should seek to strengthen and use the gifts God has given them to help the church grow and to spread God’s kingdom to unbelievers.

Contextual Meaning.  The church in Corinth, like the Christian Church at the time was a relatively new entity.  The city of Corinth however, had been in existence for far longer.  In the time of Paul’s journeys and letters to the church in Corinth, the city had become a large thriving trade port, and the new capitol of the Achaea province, and home to somewhere around 100,000 people[3].  Because of its strategic placement and its great dealings and commerce with traders, it was a place of great importance and great prosperity.  With the vast amounts of people from many different parts of the world, there were many different religions and cults that thrived there many of which practiced sexually immoral activities.  The city’s upper class was concerned with only one thing as well, the accumulation of wealth.  Corinth became known, because of these things as a city of evil and use of the word “Corinthian” even became an adjective, associating that which was being described as immoral or sexual[4].

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth comes to them in the midst of all this as an answer to the questions and assumptions of the Corinthian people.  At the time that Paul write his first letter to the Corinthian church, many sins were running rampant throughout the church there.  Many people in the Corinthian church had developed the opinion that they were free to do whatever they wanted.  They abused their Christian liberty in many ways and had great spiritual pride.  These sins were all an extension of the Corinthian culture that prevailed during the time[5].  Paul wrote to combat these issues and direct them in the ways of properly living as a Christians.  To the Corinthians at the time, what Paul had to say flew drastically in the face of the way they were living; they were literally polar opposites.

After expounding for several chapters on the worldly issues that the Corinthian congregation was facing, Paul turns his attention to things inside the church and the spiritual matters that plagued its congregation.  One particular issue that Paul addressed that was pertinent to them at the time was the issue of spiritual gifts and their proper use.  The congregation in Corinth had seen obvious signs of the spirit moving though the manifestation of various spiritual gifts and Paul says that he would not have them be ignorant about them[6].  Whether or not they had any knowledge of them before this letter is unclear[7], but if other aspects of Christianity were being bent to fit into the culture of Corinth, it would be fair for Paul to assume that the gifts of the Spirit could be and probably were misunderstood.  Paul seeks to fix that in the later chapters of first Corinthians when he talks about the various gifts that the spirit has to offer and how useful they all are.  He also, to quell the quarreling and division that was going on in the church at the time, makes the point that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit.  Paul makes it very clear by the end of chapter twelve, that though there are many parts of the church, like there are many gifts of the spirit, they are all useful and necessary.

Paul wants the people of Corinth to pursue all Spiritual gifts so long as they make sure that love, which is most important, is kept in the forefront of their minds.  This is why he starts chapter fourteen with a continuation of chapter thirteen, “follow the way of love[8],” or “pursue love[9].”  These words clearly set love apart as the number one thing that the church in Corinth should be pursuing.  Calvin says that love “should take an honored place in their dealings with each other” and by doing so the use of spiritual gifts would be kept under control[10].  He is saying this because of the apparent abuse of the gifts they were being given, this is his way of turning them from their self-seeking attitudes and help focus them in on what is most important[11].

After making clear to the Corinthian church that what is more important than any gift is love, He ventures into tackling not just a dispute between two spiritual gifts, but the reason why certain gifts should be used more and are more edifying to the church body.  Again, Paul is making it clear that he wants the church to pursue all spiritual gifts but he sets apart prophecy as a gift that is better than others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.  It isn’t that Paul doesn’t think much of the other spiritual gifts, he is just establishing, as Calvin writes, the “pride of place” that prophecy should get[12].  Naturally though, words like this require some explanation.  One cannot just simply say that one spiritual gift is better than another without giving some sort of a reason for it; they are gifts of the spirit given by God as a sign of God’s presence.

To really understand Paul’s argument, one must truly understand what some of the words he used mean.  Prophecy is a word that is often misunderstood to simply the telling of the future, but this is not the only meaning this word can hold.  Prophecy in the context that Paul was writing about is the gift of speaking an inspired message which often times had to do with obedience to God.  Many times this included Old Testament writings or inspired utterances directed at a person or people[13].  The gift of speaking in tongues on the other hand, was understood as to speak, tell or proclaim[14] something in a different language, tongue or even a strange spiritual language that is not of this world[15].  Without too much thought one can see that these gifts, though both are inspired by the spirit, are very different and can have very different effects on the church body.  In this context Paul continues his defense of his statement that the gift of prophecy is better than the gift of tongues.

The gift of speaking in tongues, though great and awe inspiring comes with some obvious disadvantages.  If someone starts speaking in a different language suddenly, no one will know what that person is saying.  It is because of this that Paul says that anyone speaking in tongues speaks only to the Lord.  Calvin points out that the gift of tongues is more “showy” than that of prophecy, probably due to the fact that when someone does begin to suddenly speak in a language other than their own, people can be filled with awe and wonderment, which is not necessarily the case when it comes to the gift of prophecy[16].  Paul points out here that this thought process is obviously flawed because speech in another language, though miraculous, does nothing for the church in the way of helping it or building it up.  Notice though, that Paul does not say that it is bad to speak in tongues, just that it is not helpful to the church body as a whole unless, as he goes on to say in v. 13, there is someone to interpret the speech.  This is an excellent rebuttal to a question that could have easily been asked, as Calvin again points out.  Paul wanted to make sure that there is still an opening for the gift of speaking in tongues and to make sure that it was known that the gift was not useless[17].

Prophecy is the contrast that Paul makes to his audience in Corinth.  He says in v. 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation[18].”  This is yet another reason to support Paul’s argument of prophecy being better than speaking in tongues.  When a non-believer is present, He says later in v. 24, he will hear, understand and possibly be convicted by the prophecy[19].  In this way then, the church as a whole will be built up and the Word of the Lord and the good news of the Gospel spread.  This is simply a hypothetical statement that Paul makes, but one to prove his point.  If an unbeliever hears someone speaking in tongues, he may think that the person speaking is mad.  This encounter with a manifestation of the Spirit does not produce a conversion[20].  On the contrary though, an unbeliever that hears someone speaking in tongues is convicted, converted, and worships God because of it.  The application for the Corinthians here is rather obvious and as Paul works through is explanation he offers more and more examples and reasoning for what he is saying, thus making his argument irrefutable.

Contemporary meaning.  Point for point, Paul’s desire is for the church to be built up through the use of the gifts of the spirit.  In his entire explanation of why he thinks prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, he bases his argument on the good that it would do for the church as a whole.  If the gift of tongues could do this better, Paul’s letter would have reflected it.  This idea or building the church as a whole and working for the betterment of believers is not something uncommon to the church today either.  In the pursuits as a Christian community, the church, and its people, should seek to do what it can to build up those around them and win people over for Christ.

One thing that makes sense and something that Chester points out is the somewhat negative acceptance that the gift of tongues receives from those on the outside[21].  This can go for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  If someone walks into a church next Sunday and hears someone speaking in tongues, they probably won’t know how to take it.  If one doesn’t understand it, and has never heard or heard of it before, it will very possibly be a turn off for them.  On the other hand though, the person could be in awe at the gift.  What Paul is saying though is that if there is no interpretation for what is said in tongues, the message that was coming through it, which was presumably from God, is lost and no one is edified or built up because of it.  Again, this is why Paul calls for interpretation when speaking in tongues.  This is a principle that should and often is applied in churches today.  In many Pentecostal churches and others that believe in and allow the speaking in tongues gift in public worship, an interpretation is not only expected but anticipated when a person proclaims something in a different tongue.  This is in direct line with what Paul says in First Corinthians.  Instead of having random utterances and proclamations that disrupt the service, this gift is used as a channel to proclaim God’s message and build up the body.

One doesn’t often hear of the gift of prophecy in church anymore.  Though it is still relevant and applicable with today’s Christians, the greater point that Paul is trying to make is what the Church body should look at; the gifts of the Spirit should be used to build up the church and win people over for Christ, not for self edification or showiness.  Paul makes this point over and over again.  His entire argument is based on it, and the application that Christians today can take out of it comes also from it.  Paul likens the misuse of spiritual gifts poorly played, out of tune instruments.  An audience would hardly stand for a performance where instruments were indistinguishable and played incorrectly.  Likewise, the misuse of Spiritual gifts both then and now can turn a captive crowd away from the gospel and therefore give a bad name to the church and the people in it.  Furthermore, the name of Christ and the message of salvation are tarnished when Spiritual gifts are abused.  Christians must avoid these things in an effort to spread the good news.

Paul summarizes this point very well earlier in his letter when he says, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial[22].”  Paul makes this point time and again to address the argument of Christian Freedom, an issue that was highly used by the Corinthians to defend their actions[23].  Paul goes on to say, “”Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others[24].”  Paul’s point here that as witnesses for Christ Jesus, we should be pursuing thing that are for the good of others.  It isn’t that the gift of tongues was bad; it was that it was being used improperly.  Even with the best of intentions, today’s believers can misuse and abuse God and the gifts He gives them.  Paul reminds every Christian everywhere that there is a higher calling, to sets their minds on things above[25] and not waste time in the foolish pursuits of the world.

Paul sums up his argument about Spiritual gifts rather elegantly at the end of chapter four-teen when he says “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way[26].”  As a church body, Christians should always be encouraging of the use of spiritual gifts.  As Paul says at the beginning of his argument, “Pursue spiritual gifts,” but follow in the way of love[27].  This is the application, and even the calling for Christians today.  God has blessed Christians with gifts, this is an obvious fact; it now lies on those being blessed to work to build up the church and help to spread the message of grace and salvation to all people.


[1] Life Application Study Bible, New International Version.  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1991).  Pg. 2059.

[2] Today’s Parallel Bible.  New International Version, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2000)  Pg 2631-32.

[3] Bimson, John J. ed .”Baker Encyclopedia of Biblical Places.”  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press: 1995). Pg. 92-93.

[4] Myers, Allen C. ed.  The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.  (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1987).  Pg. 235.

[5] Grocheide, F.W.  “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1953). Pg. 16.

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:2  NIV

[7] Grosheide, “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  Pg. 279.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New International Version

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New American Standard Bible

[10] Calvin, Jean.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1960). Pg 285.

[11] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[12] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 286.

[13] Goodrick, Edward W. & John R. Kohlenberger III.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1999).  Pg 1588.

[14] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1566.

[15] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1538, 1553.

[16] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[17] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 290.

[18] 1 Corinthians 14:3 NASB

[19] 1 Corinthians 14:24 NIV

[20] Chester, Stephen J.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”  Journal of the Study of the New Testament.  (London, SAGE Publications: 2005). Pg 417.

[21]Chester.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”   Pg 419.

[22] 1 Corinthians 10:23a NIV

[23] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 220.

[24] 1 Corinthians 10:23b-24 NIV

[25] Colossians 3:2 NIV

[26] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 NIV

[27] 1 Corinthians 14:1-2 NASB



Day 332: 1 Corinthians 5-9; Questions and Answers

There are two main purposes that Paul had in writing this letter to the church in Corinth.  The first reason, as we saw yesterday, was to deal with some pretty major issues that the believers were dealing with.  Some of the first things that we saw Paul addressing in this community of faith were divisions that had cropped up among them.  People were raising up the teachings of some higher than that of others and this was causing a divide among them.  After addressing that, we see today that Paul is moving on to what one of my Bibles calls “disorder” in the church.  I would say this is an understatement as the first thing that is brought up in 1 Corinthians 5 is that of incest.  To be honest, I think this passage is a bit shocking for many people to read as we don’t hear much about incest today… but issues just as horrific as this are present in church communities across the world aren’t they?

We’ve seen hundreds of clergy, religious leaders, and pastors brought into the public eye for the criminal sexual abuse that they had been committing over the course of many years.  The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the vast number of pedophilic church leaders that were brought into the public eye over the past decade.  Even more people turn a blind eye to the domestic issues of people within our congregations as well.  Child and spousal abuse run rampant throughout our communities and we look the other way.  I wonder what Paul was referring to when he was talking about the boasting of the church in Corinth.  Could they have been honestly been proud and boasting about this man and his “father’s wife” (aka. HIS MOTHER)?  Or maybe it was that they were boasting about the great community that their church had while turning a blind eye to this particular happening.

That might hit a bit more close to home for us.  We talk often about our churches and how we can make them more welcoming, ignoring the fact that people in oppressive relationships walk through our doors every week and we do nothing for them.  Paul doesn’t mince words when he talks about this stuff going on.  “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” he says.  He says too that we need to get rid of these people; remove them from the body.  Now, I think that this may seem a bit harsh, especially for today’s standards.  What about “let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”  It is true that, even as a community of faith, we are all sinners.  Yet in our redemption through Christ’s blood we are called away from a life of sin and into that of Christ.  Anyone living in sin like this, blatantly disregarding the Word of God, ought not to be allowed among other believers who may also fall into this lifestyle.  Church discipline is one of the most difficult things that a Church has to do, and it is not the Church’s way of allowing itself to be the judge and jury, but rather something that is done in love in an effort to correct and reconcile a person or people.  Never are we called to hate the sinner, lest we would find ourselves filled with self-hatred, but rather to understand that the Love of Christ is poured our for them as well as us, in equal measures.  Corrective action such as church discipline, like that which Paul speaks of here, is ultimately meant to awaken someone to that love so that they may turn from their ways and be healed.

The second main purpose of Paul’s writing this letter to the church in Corinth is to answer questions that the church apparently asked him in a prior correspondence.  Paul makes a sharp transition towards these questions, which he will address throughout the rest of this book, in chapter seven.  These folks had a lot of interesting questions that came up for Paul.  While Paul addresses a great many things around the subject of marriage and singleness, as well as that of food that is sacrificed to idols, and even Christian freedom, all of it revolves around the same point: keeping Christ at the center of it all.  Note that Paul advice on marriage doesn’t have so much to do with marriage as much as it has to do with living a life that is pleasing to God and ultimately following and growing in Him.  Even for those that are “unequally yolked” in marriage to a non-Christian, Paul encourages them to continue in that relationship.  He says that the unbelieving spouse will be “sanctified” by the believing spouse.  There is much discussion around this topic, but what Paul writes here is quite clear.  The use of the word ‘sanctified’ is also very telling as sanctification has to do with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.  Perhaps Paul is revealing how the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives all family members through the life of a believing member.

Paul has much to say, and I think it deserves noting here, about divorce as well.  “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  In a culture where divorce happens to almost one in every two marriages, even in the church, this is a very telling statement and I think that it stands pretty well on its own.  There are often debates about situations of spousal abuse, etc.  I would submit that these are not what is being addressed here and are special situations.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Christian freedom.  A lot of what he says here also stands on its own and needs little explanation.  The main thrust of what he is saying is that, like he writes to the church in Rome, being free from sin and given salvation does not grant the right to live however we want.  Paul didn’t do whatever he wanted, instead he did whatever was NEEDED to win more people for Christ.  This, I think is very important, and not something that we can just do when the need strikes.  Like an athlete that trains for each game, not knowing what will happen when he or she plays, Paul too says that he did and we must work hard so that we can be ready to win people for Christ at any time, wherever we are.



Day 331: 1 Corinthians 1-4; Intro to 1 Corinthians

Unlike our journey through the Old Testament, the transition between the books of the Bible is going be a lot quicker as we jump from letter to letter for the remainder of the year.  1 Corinthians is the first of two recorded letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.  However, it is one of possibly four total letters, of which we can assume also that there were correspondences back from the church there as well.  Paul’s writing in this letter, which is quite possibly the second letter that he actually wrote to the church in Corinth, was written to address a variety of issues that were apparently going on in the church at that time.

The city of Corinth was one of the major cities of the Roman Empire in that region, located on an isthmus, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, and that also separated the Aegean Sea from the Gulf of Corinth.  Those wanting to do trade with anything west of Greece would have had to sail around the rest of Greece, bringing them into the greater Mediterranean Sea.  To this end, they would be risking storms, piracy, and any number of other dangers not to mention adding a great deal of time to their journey.  For many, it was simply easier to dock in Corinth, offload their goods and transport them on land to the other side of the isthmus and have them loaded on to another ship to continue their journey.  Naturally, this made the City of Corinth both important and very busy.  With all the hustle and bustle, with many people coming and going, this was also a hotbed for an large amount of idol worship, mostly centered around the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods.  This would have included many temples, most notably he temple of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love.  The worship that took place in that temple would have likely involved cult prostitutes and sacrifices to idols, as well as other things that the church in Corinth would have to deal with.

Paul begins his letter to the church by immediately getting down to business.  There are divisions that are forming within the church that his very first appeal is that all agree together and be united.  One of the very first issues that the church is dealing with is a crisis of leadership.  Disagreements have arisen about who is the leader of the church and likely whose teachings are better than others.  Immediately though, Paul takes this argument and turns it on its head.  “Is Christ divided?” No one in the Church is baptized into any name except that of Christ Jesus.  Interestingly I think that this is an argument that we can take to heart in the Church today as well.  In the age of denominationalism, where it seems as though the Church itself is divided on so many things, fighting within itself about who is more correct in their doctrines, perhaps we need to be asking ourselves whether Christ is divided or not.  We are all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and members of one body.  Perhaps it is time that we embrace each other as brothers, accept the diversity of the Church, and understand that we are in agreement about the main things, letting peripheral issues remain just that and serving as ways for us to learn from each other rather than fight against each other.  Paul will circle back to this in chapter three as well.

Another important argument is also made here in today’s reading.  Paul’s exposition on the wisdom of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel also has a great deal to say to us.  He talks about not bringing any sort of human wisdom when he preached among them in Corinth.  Instead of laying out such a lofty logical argument, as some might have done, he instead sticks to the message of Christ Crucified.  This, he says, is wisdom to those who believe and foolishness to those who are perishing.  Sometimes I think that the Church uses this as an excuse… we don’t need scholars or educated folks, we just need to preach Christ Crucified and we’ll be fine.  I think Paul would disagree.

Let’s contrast this with Paul’s address to the men of Athens, in the Aeropagus, recorded in Acts 17.  Here Paul takes on the Greek philosophers by using the message of Christ and Greek philosophy.  Paul is wise in doing so as those who were there would not have otherwise listened to him.  In fact, it is entirely possible, at least in the beginning, that the church in Corinth was composed of very poor, uneducated people, and therefore Paul’s message had to be both understandable and applicable to them.  This may be one of Paul’s way of saying that as Christians, we need to know our audience and be able to engage with whomever they are.

There is more here too though, Paul also talks about how his message was a demonstration of the Spirit “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Paul makes the point of discerning that, had he given the same wisdom filled speech that he did at the Areopagus, the people may have not seen the power of the Spirit, but simply Paul’s wisdom.  This would likely have been a stumbling block for a bunch of peasants who didn’t know any better.

It has probably always been something present in the church, but it seems that in the last two decades there has been a sharp increase in the “mega-churches” and those that follow only certain pastors because of their abilities to speak.  These leaders have done incredible good in the world and brought many to Christ, there is no doubt of this, but the burden they and all pastors must remember and carry is the need to keep the main thing the main thing.  Paul’s message here is not to simply preach Christ Crucified while ignoring the issues of the world in which the church lives and operates.  However, it is important that we keep Christ at the center of it all.  The Cross of Christ, the grace, salvation, and reconciliation which He offers us through His blood is to be at the center of the message of the Church.  All else, though important, pales in comparison.  Pastors, leaders, and all brothers and sisters in Christ, do not forget our center.  Do not forget from where our help, our love, and our salvation comes from.  Even as we engage the myriad of issues surrounding the Church today, let us approach them from our center in Jesus Christ.



Day 330: Romans 14-16; Building Up the Body

Yesterday we began the final section of Romans which brings us from the reality in which we live, the forgiveness we have found in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, to the response which we should have towards that grace.  Remember that this response is one of gratitude, the third part of journey of “guilt, grace, gratitude” and has much to do with the living out of our faith and the freedom from sin that we find in Christ.  Because we are dying to our old selves and putting on the new self, that is Jesus Christ, there is a sort of inner transformation that takes place.  This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, where as soon as we accept Christ we are perfect little angels, but rather over time.  This process is called “sanctification,” the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us and make us more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  Part of this is the living out of a life of gratitude towards God, emanating His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and so much more in every situation that we find ourselves in.

Again though, we find that this isn’t about simply about an individual’s inner transformation.  Too often in the American Church, which is plagued with individualism, we make things simply be about “me and Jesus.”  There is an element of this in the Christian faith to be certain.  Every one of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and each one of us will have to stand before the throne of heaven at the end of time.  Yet this emergence of “me and Jesus” thoughts is really a recent happening.  With the enlightenment, modernism, and now post-modernism leading the philosophical ideal, individualism and its associate relativism have marred the community of faith with its influence.  Yet Paul makes a point here at the end of his letter to the church in Rome that Christian faith is not simply to be an individual thing, it is to be something lived out in the community of faith, mutually building each other up as we continue to be transformed and made more and more like Christ.

This shows up in Paul’s writing to the Romans, and in other epistles as well with His addressing issues that have cropped up in the church.  We see Paul writing about the different things that people eat, about what is “clean” and what is “unclean,” and later we’ll even see what Paul has to say about spiritual gifts and how the impact the body of Christ.  Really though, what this has to do with is passing judgment on others within the body of the Church.  Paul is encouraging the believers in Rome not to sweat the small stuff as it were.  There are many things that people do differently and they are more than likely convinced that they are doing things right.  We see this all the time in church don’t we?  We judge how other people are worshipping, what other people are wearing, how they are controlling their kids, what they do for a living… the list goes on and on.

Yet Paul’s point here is that what people do they do before the Lord much more than they do before any person.  In this sense, individuality within the Christian community is something to be honored and understood.  If someone is singing with their hands in their pockets, their heart is still before the Lord.  If those pockets are bluejeans rather than dress pants their heart is still before the Lord.  If that person’s kids are running around church after the worship service is over, their heart is before the Lord (there are safety concerns of course which is a bit more of a public affair, but this is not a judgmental thing).  In all these things we are the Lord’s and we need to keep this in mind.  Paul’s command here is to not pass judgment on each other.  When judgment is passed it only serves to place a stumbling block in the community, not just in front of the one being judged.  It is a stumbling block that more than just the judged can fall over too.

So what then is the point of community?  Mutual edification… building each other up in Christ Jesus.  While there are things that we do that are between us and God, ways that we worship and live our lives that others might not necessarily agree with, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a position where we could grow a little bit.  Even those with the deepest convictions about their lifestyle, their worship style, or any other style can learn from those of other styles and convictions.  And those that aren’t so sure about themselves should find the church a place in which they can come and grow in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the encouragement of the community of faith, not a judgmental group that only want you to do things the way you do them.  What does Paul say right off the bat today?  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him (or her), but not to quarrel over opinions.”  These opinion issues only serve to weaken the already weak and to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us use our faith and our gifts to build each other up, so that together we may all grow in the Spirit and knowledge of God and be formed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.



Day 329: Romans 11-13; In View of God's Mercies

Paul closes out the the second section of his letter to the church in Rome continuing his discussion on salvation and how the people of Israel and the Gentile fit into it.  One of the things that he points out is that through God’s work in Jesus Christ, God has not rejected His chosen people of Israel and neither has He turned from them to try some sort of “plan B” for the salvation of the world.  Paul reveals to us that this has always been a part of God’s plan.  God has been working for the salvation of the world since the time of the fall and He always knew that there was no way that humanity could do it for themselves.  Paul has talked about this throughout the book of Romans, how the Law was never intended to save and neither was living in a particular way something that was supposed to bring about salvation or perfection.  In fact, all of what God did in the Old Testament, all the law and the prophets, all of God’s self revelation were preparation for the coming of Jesus that God’s people would recognize their savior and that all believers would have a context for understanding Jesus’ work to bring about our salvation.  It would be much more difficult for us to understand and recognize Jesus’ sacrifice if we didn’t have, say, the Hebrew sacrificial system.  In the same way there are a great deal of Jesus’ teachings that don’t make too much outside of the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

So this is all well and good… actually this is great!  God, in Christ has reached down to us and lifted us out of our misery, out of the sin that has enslaved us since the very first sinful act back in the garden.  It is by grace alone that this has taken place, because of God’s great love for us.  Certainly it is not because of anything that we have done to show ourselves as worthy and, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand this because we know that the deepest desires of our heart and they are selfish, self honoring, and self absorbed.  If this is the case though, that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God, and there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves righteous, do we even have to try to do anything good?  Paul would say “absolutely!”  This is what we come to as we open chapter 12.

Paul opens chapter 12 with the word “therefore” which is a key word for us to pick up on.  It means that Paul isn’t starting something new here but saying “because of all that I have just said, now…”  This is exactly what He is getting at here.  He writes, “by the mercies of God…”  Other translations right “in view of God’s mercies…”  What Paul is getting at here is that what He is about to say is completely dependent on what he has just said.  What is to come should happen because of what has already taken place.  That is the truth of our lives as people of God too isn’t it?  What is to come in our lives, our whole lives, is to be lived out in light of all that God has already done for us.  James Brownson, in his book The Promise of Baptism, writes, “In the Bible, our identity is not found in our past, but in Christ’s past, which is our future.  Our truest and deepest self is defined not by what we have experienced in the past, but by what Christ experience and accomplished for us.”  I think this is a very good way of restating what Paul is saying here, we are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul is saying here that what has been given to us requires a response, and that response, one again, is that “Shema style” of living in which we are loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

He then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It isn’t simply that we are supposed to love God while we just do whatever we want.  God also calls us to be set apart for Him, to live lives that are honoring and pleasing to Him.  To do this, we need to be continually following after God, continually being that “living sacrifice,” not because we are trying to make ourselves more righteous, but out of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.  All that follows, from Chapter 12 onward is written in this light, talking about how we are to live.  Again though, this is not in the restriction style that the law was interpreted as, but in freedom from sin that we have been given in Christ, through which we are called to live in GRATEFUL obedience to Jesus Christ.



Day 328: Romans 8-10; New Life in the Spirit

Keeping in mind all that we have talked about over the last two days in the intro to Romans and our talk on faith yesterday,  today’s reading is quite simply the next step along this “Romans Road” that we have been walking.  Paul’s writing in the book of Romans is meant to lay out the whole story of redemptive history in a way that is both logical and systematic.  We have walked with him from the death of our old lives without Christ, when we did not know God and did not have faith, into a new life of faith in Christ Jesus in which we are Justified and made Righteous in Him!  All of this happens because of the faith that God gives us through the working of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.  Yes, even faith is a gift of God.  We often like to think of faith as being something that we produce in ourselves… we want to take some active part in our own salvation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that it is difficult for people to accept that they can’t do anything to better themselves.  In some ways this is a particularly North American issue.  In the United States especially, we have this notion of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps” and “working to better your own life.”  Our culture of individualism and “win at all costs” mentality has made it difficult for us to accept salvation as something that we take no active role in.  If we could only work up our own faith and discover for ourselves the way of salvation, then we would “save ourselves.”  But this is not reality.  God has searched us out, the Holy Spirit who has been at work in our hearts since the beginning, drawing us to God and bringing us to faith.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ when we come to faith!  Our Triune God is at work throughout the salvation process.

So where does Paul go from here?  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the Law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  This is great news for us!  More than this though, we are not only set free, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God and made to be fellow heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, we are future heirs of the resurrection and the glory that will be revealed in Christ Jesus, and now in us because we are united to Him.  It is here that we begin to move from the topic of what God has done in us and the grace that we have received toward what it is that we are to do with this new life that we have found ourselves in.  Paul talks a great deal about perseverance here, without actually naming it, and how we need to rest in the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  While life may be difficult, there is nothing at all in this world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We will talk more about turning this corner tomorrow, but for now Paul goes back into another discussion about election (which is a topic that will come up again and again, so once again we will forego a deeper discussion on election until a later time) and then faith vs. works.  It is clear that he is in anguish of his Jewish brothers and sisters who have really gotten the law wrong.  He points out to us once again that it is by faith that we receive salvation and that it was faith that was the ultimate goal of the Law as well.  Paul echoes the words of the Shema here as well, talking about having the Word of God “in your mouth and in your heart.”  Sadly many of the people of Israel didn’t pick up on this.

This is something that we need to always have before us as we live out our lives of faith.  It isn’t about actions, not about doing all the right things in the right order.  In fact, living for Christ isn’t about that at all.  As we will see tomorrow, we are called to live lives of gratitude for all that we have received in Christ Jesus, but never thinking that what we do somehow makes us more or less saved.  Once we are saved, we are saved forever.  I wonder if that was what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote “Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.”



Day 327: Romans 4-7; By Faith

We continue in Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as he lays out for the church in Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember yesterday how he walked through the a sort of “creation narrative” as he explained general revelation and how all humanity is without excuse for knowing God.  He also makes it very clear to us that all of humanity is sinful in its very nature and that there is nothing that we can do to get out of this sin.  Calvinists would call this “total depravity” but it might be better to say that this is a “pervasive depravity” combined with “total inability.”  While this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the TULIP acronym, it most certainly is more correct (and besides, TULIP is a poor representation of Calvinism anyway).  Sin affects every part of our being and there is nothing we can do to make it right or to make ourselves right.  No amount of good works, social status, or even ethic status as the Jews thought can save anyone from their sins.  Quite simply, Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yet it isn’t all hopeless here!  Paul also goes on to say that “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  The good news is that God has done something about our condition!  God knew that we could not do it on our own and so He did it for us by sending His Son to live and die for us.  I added the word “all” into this because it is implied from the first half of the sentence.  It is true that ALL have sinned.  It is also true that ALL are justified.  Now this is something that people might push back on because is smells of universalism.  Our “TULIP” acronym comes back into play here with both “Limited Atonement” and “Unconditional Election.”  Again, I must point out that TULIP is really a horrible acronym for calvinism or the reformed faith because both of these statements can be confusing.  It might be better to put it this way: Christ’s death on the cross was Sufficient for all, but effective for elect.  Who are the elect?  Well… that gets into an entirely other topic…

 Election is something of a difficult doctrine to unwrap.  People often hear it as God has chosen some and not others.  Essentially, this is true… but when said like this, it makes it sound like no one gets to choose anything about anything.  You are either elect and go to heaven or you are the opposite (reprobate) and don’t.  If you throw a word like “predestination” in there, it makes it even worse for some because we think that these choices are already made.  The fact of the matter is, at least on some level, God has revealed Himself to some people in a special way (we call this special revelation).  For those in whom the Spirit is working and gives faith, which is also a gift from God mind you, when they come to faith they become one of the elect, chosen by God and forgiven of their sins by His grace alone.  The ramifications of this doctrine are that there are those who will never choose God and never turn towards Christ.  Paul says that these people are without excuse.  For them, the death of Christ is as sufficient as it is for anyone else to save them from their sins, yet because they have not turned to God in faith and accepted this gift, it is not effective for them.

I understand that these are difficult teachings, but they are clearly laid out in the Bible.  We will return to them in the future, but for now I would like to focus in on the key word here: “faith.”

As we return from this to the readings for today, check out how Paul lays out the stories of Abraham and faith.  Abraham isn’t saved, says Paul, by virtue of being the father of the nation of Israel.  He is saved because “he believed God,” because he had faith.  This didn’t have anything to do with his works or his ethnicity, it had to do with faith and Paul lays this out pretty clearly.  It all depends on faith.

He continues on in chapters 5-7 to talk about the effects of having faith in God do for our life.  It is not simply that when we come to faith our sins are forgiven and that’s that.  Paul shows us that in many ways what happens is that we “put on” Christ in many ways.  When we come to faith in God through Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit we “die” to our old self.  We are no longer who we were, but we are raised to life in Christ!  This is one of the main promises in the sacrament of baptism and one of its primary meanings as well (more on that to come later as well).  By faith we are united to Christ… in God’s eyes He no longer sees us as a sinful human, but sees us as He sees His Son: RIGHTEOUS.  For those looking for another theological term, we call this “imputed righteousness.”  Calvin, in his institutes says it like this:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short–, because he deigns to make us one with him.” (3.11.10)

Wow, this is a heavy post today.  My head hurts thinking about the theological ground that we covered.  Yet these things are important.  Perhaps not all the fancy theological words, but the premise is at the very core of the Christian faith.  In some ways, these are the things that we need to be able to talk about as Christians.  Granted, I think that people tend to be more open to hearing about the testimonies of people as they experience God in their lives.  However, at some point in time it comes down to faith in Christ Jesus and what has taken place in our lives.  We NEED to know these things… perhaps not the technical jargon so much… but what has happened to us… we need to know this so that we can share this Good News with everyone we meet.  One of the things about election that is so vitally important to the whole of the doctrine is the fact that, in just about every place that it is talked about, the writers and theologians say that we can never know who is elect and who isn’t.  The doctrine of election gives us no excuse to not preach, but actually encourages us to testify even more because WE ARE NOT the judges of who is elect and who isn’t… that is something that has happened in the counsel of God alone and will not be known until the end of time.  So speak boldly the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



Day 326: Romans 1-3; Introduction to Romans

Today we being the transition into the largest section of the New Testament, and one of the last sections as well.  These are known as the ‘epistles.’  they are composed almost completely of letters that were written by Paul, Peter, & John.  A few of them are are written by others or have somewhat disputed authors (in that there is not agreement on who exactly wrote the book), but all are really exposition on faith in Christ Jesus, drawing from the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures and of Jesus and how both of these are now interact to form and shape the faith of the Church as it grows and develops.  We will see the authors address many issues from salvation by grace alone to the formation of church government and the qualifications for its leaders.

The book of Romans itself is the largest of the Epistles and arguably the most well known.  Paul, the author, lays out the whole argument of faith in God from the very beginning, taking us through what has become known as “Romans’ Road,” or the journey of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  He is writing to an audience in Rome, a place that He hasn’t yet been able to visit, trying to build up the church there and empower them in their faith as they face persecution and rejection.  As we can see from our reading today, it is clear that there are both Jews and Gentiles present in the audience that this would have been read in.

As we begin our reading of the book of Romans, we see Paul expressing his desire to come and visit the Roman church.  Clearly this book was written before the events that we read yesterday when Paul was actually in Rome.  It is also important to note here that Paul feels himself called to be an Apostle.  I like how he writes “set apart for the Gospel of God,” which is really true if we remember back to Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9.  God really had chosen him to be the instrument He used to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, something that we see laid out pretty clearly here.  More over, Paul’s words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” are quite interesting if you contrast them with his old life.  What a turn around he has experienced!

From here, Paul goes on to lay out the journey of faith and, in so many words, explains the process of going from condemnation and judgment under the law to righteousness through faith by the grace of God alone.  Basically, Paul begins with the story of Israel, talking about how God revealed Himself to them and they didn’t listen.  Yet he doesn’t say with Israel and points out that God has been revealed to everyone throughout the entire world through the very creation that He created.  In theological terms, this is called “General Revelation.”  The glory of God, the very existence of God is revealed simply by looking at the greatness of creation all around us.  Indeed this is a response to so many of the psalmists who wrote things like “all of creation declares your glory.”  Paul makes the point as well that because of this general revelation of God to all people, no one has an excuse not to turn to God.  In other words, because of all that God has given us on this earth, we cannot use the excuse “I never heard of God” or “I never saw God.”

Paul goes on to say then that God is both righteous and justified in His judgment of humanity.  For some were given over to the desires of their flesh, the sin of this world in worshiping idols and practicing all manner of unrighteousness.  Whether these folks knew God or not, they were sinful to the core.  An argument could be made here that the the people Paul is referring to at the end of Romans 1 were not the elect, but were those who never turned to God.  Whether or not this is the case really is besides the point though as Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to show that even those who follow God and judge those people will be judged themselves because they too sin by doing these things.  He then clarifies by saying that God will judge all who sin whether they knew the Law of God or not.

Interestingly, Paul takes a bit of a turn here, pointing out the necessity and purpose of the Law.  He also goes into a talk about identity, building upon the argument he has made about the equality of God’s judgment for all.  Paul points out that identity is not a matter of physical happening, or anything else for that matter, that makes a Jew and Jew and a Gentile a Gentile.  It is (hear the shema echos here) a matter of the HEART!  “Inward circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  So, is there any advantage to being any particular race?  Paul says, “By No Means!”  The Jews were recipients of the Law of God, and God revealed Himself in a special way to them, but that didn’t make them any more faithful or save them in any special way… they are judged just the same.  In fact, in some ways they have even less excuse because with God’s Law brings a greater knowledge of sin.  But as for sin, there is no difference.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So what then?  Are we to remain in sin?  Are we hopeless?  Paul ends, and so will we, with one of the greatest statements of faith and salvation through grace that is written:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.



Day 325: Acts 24-28; Paul's Defense of the Gospel

We come today to the final chapters of the book of Acts.  If there ever was an into “all the world” as Jesus charged the disciples with back in Acts 1, Rome would be that place.  For all intents and purposes, Rome was the center of the world.  This was, however, where God was calling Paul to go and it was where Paul demands to go too!  Before he can get there though, he stands trial before a whole host of Roman rulers, all of which say the same thing: “this man has done nothing to deserve death.”  Crazily they all decide at different times that Paul has really committed no crime and, if it weren’t for the appeal that he made to Caesar, he would have gone free.  Something tells me that the Lord knew this and the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to say that even when it might otherwise not had been necessary.

I don’t really have a great deal to say about all that happens in today’s reading.  Paul delivers three very well thought out, well articulated defenses in our reading today, laying out the reasons why he is not guilty of anything while also delivering the Gospel message to many of the ruling class of the Roman empire.  These were people that would probably have not heard the Gospel before now, being that for the most part those that were interacting with the Apostles and other believers were likely common folk, much like the fishermen from which Jesus chose His disciples.

There are some pretty miraculous things that take place on Paul’s journey to Rome.  He gets shipwrecked on an Island and miraculously everyone on the boat survives, just as Paul said they would.  The natives on the Island are all very welcoming to Paul and the Roman men, something that was likely hit or miss back then.  Paul survives a snake bit from a cobra, something that clearly other people had died from judging by the reaction of the natives that were with them.

Most interesting, and what I think we’ll end this journey through Acts with, is the narrative of what happens just before the ship runs aground.  He tells them that they need to eat because they haven’t in a long while and they need to recover their strength.  So, in the midst of a storm, when it looks like all hope is lost, Paul takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it before them and eats.  What a beautiful picture of the Lord’s Supper we see here presented before us.  In the midst of the tumult of life, God beckons us to His table, to sit down and rest, to recover our strength and find hope once again in Him.  I don’t know that this was the intent of the author as He was writing these last chapters, or if this was the purpose and lesson that God or Paul was trying to teach in this action.  What I do know is that this is something that holds true for us today, tomorrow, and always.  God has a plan for our lives and the Holy Spirit is active in guiding us on the way.  And at any time, amid the craziness of our hectic lives, Jesus says, “Come all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  We too can find encouragement in God who is with us each and every day and is working all things together for us who love Him and are called according to His purpose.



Day 324: Acts 20-23; Paul Arrested

After three missionary journeys totally almost 12 years, Paul finally returns to Jerusalem.  Interestingly though, we read that he doesn’t return there to be an evangelist as he had been in other places, he returns because it is the Holy Spirit that leads him there.  What’s more, he goes there knowing full well that he is going to be arrested and imprisoned for the Gospel.  Despite all the discouragement from the other believers that he is with, Paul follows the Spirit’s leading and heads out for Jerusalem.  The people in Ephesus, where he has been staying for some time, weep not only because he is leaving, but because he has told them what awaits him back in Jerusalem and they know that they will probably not see him again.

I can’t imagine the inner turmoil that must have been going on inside of Paul during this time and I honestly don’t think that any of us in the church in North America, or any of the other free countries throughout the world can appreciate at all.  We don’t know what it is like to be persecuted for the Gospel or put in prison for what we believe.  There are those throughout the world that do understand this, and while I can’t speak for them, I know that they would empathize with Paul’s situation.  I would like to say that I would go if the Spirit called me, and even be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ, but we are blessed with the freedom to worship in the United States and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that.  To be honest, I think that some people in the church see such devotion to faith in the same way that we see “religious extremists” blowing themselves up, and somehow think that there may and possibly should be a limit to what we do for our faith.  Clearly, Paul has set an example for us that this is not the case.  While God cannot and would not call us to kill others in His name, something that is contrary to God’s nature in Scripture, He can and often does call us into uncomfortable situations in which we need to trust Him with all that is going on, and with ourselves as well and our futures as well.

One thing that I noticed in the reading of the narrative of Paul’s arrest and trial is the similarities between this and many other narratives in the Bible.  Jesus, like Paul, was arrested and they tried Him unfairly, drumming up accusations that wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court.  If we go back quite a ways we can also see similarities between Paul’s story and Joseph’s story as well.  Arrested and put in a prison (well), Joseph was going to be killed by a plot from his brothers.  Paul too was almost the victim of a plot to kill him from those that he once served with.  Both managed to escape through the work of a person intervening, and are shipped off to other places in what seems like a hopeless situation.  However, God meant Joseph’s situation for good in saving Jacob and the people of Israel from the death of a famine.  Here too God means for good as He is bringing Paul and the Gospel before many people in trials and even before the heads of the Roman government as well.  While Paul doesn’t necessarily become second in command to Cesar like Joseph, the Gospel of Grace reaches what might possibly be thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it, and countless people are brought to faith because of it.  Praise God!!



Day 323: Acts 17-19; Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Today we continue the story of Paul’s second missionary journey throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia.  We read, though I didn’t necessarily talk about, Paul’s first journey yesterday and pick up on his second journey after the first Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.  Now we see Paul’s journeys throughout the region and how he is able to, with the Holy Spirit as his guide, raise up believers and start church in many of these different cities.  Paul, with his partner Silas, journey to Antioch, Tarsus, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus before returning back to Caesarea and finally Jerusalem.  This is a major journey for this day and age, spanning about 2,000 miles and probably taking roughly four years.  There are a lot of things that happen here, many of which you can read for yourself today.  What I think is important to point out is how Paul raises up churches and people to lead those churches.

We don’t necessarily see how Paul does his discipleship program in each of these cities.  He doesn’t record for us how exactly he raises up leaders, but one of the important things that we see here as we journey with Paul and Silas is that it becomes very clear that Paul isn’t sticking around in these places much longer than he has to before he moves on to the next city.  Sure, we read in most of the New Testament that he continues to keep correspondence with these churches, he even visits them once and a while, especially if there are some points of doctrine and belief that he feels need addressing, but really when it comes down to it, Paul and Silas are working to raise up Christian leaders in these cities so that the churches can continue to function and grow while they move on to another city to spread the Gospel there as well.

It is interesting also that there is really no cookie cutter type church that Paul sets up.  He doesn’t go in with exactly the same message that He preached in the last city because it worked.  Have you ever experienced that?  Every now and then we have a pastor visit the church that preaches a message that was probably great somewhere in a certain context, but when it enters into another pulpit/church context, it doesn’t make any sense.  It is clear that Paul knows this.  The most pointed example here is Paul’s address to the Greek’s in Athens.

When Paul was in Athens, we see that He is “provoked” in his spirit because of all the idols.  Athens as a place full of idols to the pantheon of gods that the Greeks worshiped.  More than this though, Athens was a place of philosophy, bringing forth Plato and Aristotle, some of the greatest thinkers of the day.  Philosophy and Logic became almost a culture, or probably more of a subculture within the Greek people, and Paul takes full advantage of this peaking the curiosity of many of the philosophers there.  When he comes before them in the Areopagus, which was probably an amphitheater of some sort where people spoke, he doesn’t bring to them a sermon directed at the Jews, or something that would only make sense in Rome, understanding their customs and history Paul brings before them a sermon that is based both on logic, drawing even from some of their own philosophers, but also on their own worship practices.  In this He both draws them in and draws them to Jesus in a way that they understand and relate to.

I think that we see in here some of the ‘tactics’ of Paul and Silas as well, as the go around on all their missionary journeys.  They bring the good news of the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they speak in the ‘language,’ within the cultural understanding of those that they are encountering.  There is no cookie-cutter church, no one way to worship God, except in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yet even this gives a very wide latitude to all that can take place, and I think that is the key.  As these new churches are springing up all across the Roman Empire, we are seeing that same freedom that we have found in Christ also being present in the worship of the believers and as such, these places can live and thrive within the different cultural contexts that they find themselves.