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 267: Obadiah; Prophecy against Edom

Today and tomorrow we are going to branch off from the original reading plan that we set up at the beginning of the year.  I have decided to split up Obadiah and Jonah into two separate posts as they are two rather different books.  So today’s reading is simply the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament.  There is not much that is known about the prophet Obadiah.  In some Christian traditions, Obadiah is the same person who shows up briefly in 1 Kings 18 as the man who is hiding the prophets of God from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  In this tradition, Obadiah is given the gift of prophecy as a sort of “reward” for being faithful to God and hiding the prophets during this time.  That would place Obadiah’s ministry somewhere in the 800’s B.C.  Others hold that Obadiah was a prophet during the fall of Israel and many of the surrounding nations (including Edom) to Assyria.  In any case, it is clear that the judgment of the Lord will also come to Edom for their antagonistic relationship with Israel.

Obadiah the prophet (Овдий in Russian), Russia...

This issue animosity between these two nations was as old as the nations themselves.  The nation of Edom is descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob who sold his birthright and basically lost everything to his conniving “little” brother.  Even though the story of Jacob’s return to his brother being full of love and happy tears, the two settle in different places and, as far as we are told, only reunite because of Isaac’s death.  Other than that, we hear very little from Esau except through the nation of Edom.  Their feud is long standing, like one of those family arguments where no one can remember what brought it about… but in this case it seems as though everyone remembers.

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-...

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-Obadiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this prophecy, the main reason that judgment was coming to Israel was because of this relationship.  Edom was rejoicing over the troubles that had fallen on Israel.  In fact, there are many times when the Edomites attacked Israel, or didn’t come to their aid when they needed help.  More over, when the people of Israel and Judah were taken into exile, some sources say that the land of Edom plundered what was left of the land.  It was because of their contempt, because of their rejoicing at the difficulties of God’s people that Edom was the only nation that was not promised any mercy from God.

Like Judah, the nation of Edom actually survived the time of exile and the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and even Greece for a time.  It seemed as though the prophecy of God wasn’t going to come to pass.  However, in the mid 160’s B.C. during the Jewish revolt from the Greek Empire, Judas Maccabeaus routed the Edomites signaling the beginning of the end of their nation.  By the first century A.D. the nation of Edom no longer existed.  While it may take a while for God’s judgments to become reality in what we know as the physical world, the Word of the Lord is as sure as the breath that you took a moment ago.  When God spoke, the universe was made, when God judges it will come to pass.



Day 259: Daniel 10-12; Daniel's Visions of the Future (Part 2)

Today’s reading continues the visions that Daniel has regarding the future and times to come.  As we get to chapter 10, we are nearing the end of Daniel’s life.  By some estimates he would be about 80 years old by now which may have been the reason that he was still in Babylonia rather than returning with the exiles to Judah.  In any case, while he is still in Babylonia he has yet another vision, one that is again very similar in nature to that of John’s revelation that is recorded for us.  What we are reading about, as the messenger explains to Daniel after the vision, is the future that Israel was to experience in an empire that continuously changed hands and passed from leader to leader over the next several hundred years.  The messenger describes the rise of Medo-Persia, Greece and then its divided kingdom, and finally of Rome.  This happens over the course of about 500 years and, like the visions in chapters 7-9 that we read yesterday, is a kind of expansion on the dream of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had.

While we certainly don’t have time to go through all the events that happen in this time period, and I certainly don’t really want to bore you with an unnecessary history lesson, I think that there are some events that happen here that are important as they are the fulfillment of different parts of Daniel’s dream.  So, at the risk of seeming lazy, I’m going to link some events and names that are important to this time in history.  The links will be to wikipedia sites so you can take it for what its worth.

Babylonia
Medo-Persia
Greek (Macedonia) Empire
Roman Empire

Darius
Cyrus the Great
Alexander the Great

Diadoche (Division of the Empire of Greece into the 4 Kingdoms)

Antichus III
Ptolemy V
Seleucus IV
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (probably one of the most interesting and pivotal people of the inter-testamental period of 2nd Temple Judaism.  Led to the Maccabean revolt)

Like chapters 7-9, the last chapters of Daniel have been subject to a great deal scrutiny and study and have been cited in a number of different doctrines regarding the true meaning of Daniel’s visions and the end of time.  We need to remember that Scripture is not to be read as if it was some sort of a code that is to be broken.  The Word of God is not meant to be difficult to understand, as if God was revealing Himself through the Scriptures in a way that is difficult to figure out.  That statement itself is a contradiction.  The word “revelation” literally means to reveal in a way that is understandable, and that is what Scripture is… the Revelation of God to humanity.  We need to remember this as we read through Scripture… This doesn’t change just because we are reading the prophets and their obscure visions.  Even here, God is revealing Himself to His people.  They will be going through a great deal of change and upheaval even while they are back in their homeland, but we see here that God is in control of even this.  While it might seem like the world is going crazy around them, God is still at work in these trials.

Perhaps we can learn something from this too.  While we would probably like to hear that there are hidden meanings that we can spend years and years trying to unpack, I think the words of comfort and truth that are contained here are much more important.  We live in a world today that is volatile and corrupt.  It seems like every day some new war, uprising, bombing, killing, or accident has taken the headlines by storm.  If its not that, we end up hearing about corruption in government and business, poverty, disease, and injustice everywhere.  Yet even in this God is in control and is at work.  The governing nation of the world turned over four or five times in about 600 years, yet through it all God was at work to bring about redemption.  He is still at work, even now in the turmoil of this world, to bring about the ultimate redemption at the end of time, when evil will be defeated and the Lord will set up His throne on earth and all things will be made new and right.