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 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!



Day 310: John 8-9; Darkness and Light

As we talked about a couple days ago when we began the book of John, one of the things that John masterfully weaves into his writing is the interplay between darkness and light as it pertains to Jesus’ and His incarnation in the world.  John writes in the first chapter:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John is also, no doubt, drawing from some of the prophecies that come from Isaiah as well.  There is one in particular, from Isaiah chapter 9, that I can think of right away that contains the theme of darkness and light, one that we is often looked to during the Christmas season, a passage that Matthew also picks up in Chapter 4:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Jesus bears witness to Himself in our reading for today, saying that He is the “Light of the world” and that all who believe in Him will have “Light of life.”  In this small discourse, Jesus relates what He says to His status as the Son, pointing to the fact that it is through Him, and only through Him that we can know the Father.  He also uses the same wording here as yesterday, the I AM “ἐγώ εἰμί statement.  Jesus is the Light, the Truth that sets us free!

Reading these two chapters more carefully, we see that John is relating darkness, the slavery to sin, and even physical ailments as being part of the darkness that we are seeing here.  In contrast, Jesus says that He is the light, He is the truth that sets us free from slavery, and He is the one who heals the blind man.  I love the narrative of chapter 9 here, when Jesus heals the blind man and he is hauled before the religious leaders.  They ask him all sorts of questions about his blindness and the man that healed him.  They simply cannot put it together that Jesus could possibly be someone sent from God.  The man’s response?  “Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… I was blind but now I see.  Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Remember that in the past we have talked about God’s dwelling being in darkness.  From the very beginning, when the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and darkness was over the face of the deep.  Even in the Tabernacle and the Temple we noted that the place that God dwells is in complete darkness.  While this is true, I think that we can see this darkness in a couple of different ways.  First and foremost, darkness is the natural habitat of God and most definitely not for humans.  In the darkness we stumble, we cannot see, we are compelled to sleep, and we are vulnerable.  For us darkness separates, alienates… it is even dangerous.  We are light dwellers.  John’s Jewish readers would have picked up on this almost immediately… the Gentile readers wouldn’t have been far behind.

Yet, in Jesus Christ, those walking in darkness have seen a great light.  Though God has been with us in this dark world, the world that God created but that has been marred with sin.  We are not able to effectively be in relationship with God because of our sin.  It is only in Jesus Christ that our world has been illuminated, that in the presence of God we can now see!  We were blind, lost in darkness, and now we can see.



Day 308: John 4-5; The Woman at the Well

We continue along in the Gospel of John today and the first thing I think to write today is that it is such a shame that we didn’t talk about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus yesterday.  There is a whole lot of talk about the Spirit and all that goes along with being a believer in Christ and being born again.  What I realized though, as I was reading today is that much of what Jesus is talking about in His encounter with the Samaritan woman is an extension of this.  After a brief exchange, Jesus talks to her about receiving living water and about worshiping God “in Spirit and in Truth.”  These are all things that He had just talked about with Nicodemus.  Life in Christ, like worship isn’t about location, it isn’t about the things that you do, it isn’t even about how well you do them, it is TRULY about the inward change that takes place.  While there is certainly room for right worship and right works, they are not the main theme; they are simply a response to what God has done for us.  Really, in many ways, it is like the Shema!

We have talked about this passage in Deuteronomy so many times.  Deuteronomy 6 is one of the central themes that flows through all of the Bible and it too is about the inward change that happens, not simply about the outward actions.  The woman at the well is asking who is right about where the people worship, a mountain or the Temple.  I can only imagine Jesus head falling into his hands and thinking “you people just don’t get it!”  Fortunately, He is much more gracious than that.  He takes the time to explain to her why neither place is important as far as worship goes, but rather it is about the spirit in which you worship that is the important thing, in much the same way that it is the inward spiritual transformation (being born of the Spirit) that takes place when we become Christians.  There is nothing that we can do to put ourselves in right standing with God, but there is plenty that we can do in response to the grace that we have received!  God won’t like us more… He already counts us as righteous in Jesus Christ… which is the best place that we can be!  However, our actions after our salvation, in worship and service and life in general stand as a testimony to all that God has done for us!  Hallelujah!

I included here, for your reading pleasure, a paper that I wrote in my undergrad studies.  It is a paper about how worship is laid out in John chapter 4.  I hope that you find it worth the read!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

——————————————————

“Music may seem to be a surface matter, mere decoration,[1]” but there is no issue or hot topic in the church that has polarized congregations across this country more than the topic of worship and worship styles.  Though seemingly a problem that the church has only faced in this current generation, it is clear in the reading of the forth chapter of John that our idea of “worship wars” is in fact not at all a new one at all but something that people of God have been facing for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Given the extensive history of this particular issue, it would seem that there is a plethora of information that is, or should be available for the church; information that could provide direction in this time of conflict.  When it comes to comes to a discussion such as worship, there is arguably no verse that has been quoted more on both sides than that of the verses in John four.  Suffice to say though that neither side is quite sure what it is that Jesus is actually saying to the Samaritan woman at the well and both sides are taking the verses out of context to serve their own arguments.  Especially true is this on the side of “contemporary worship” proponents.  In this post-modern age of overly spiritualized life, Jesus saying that ” a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”[2] has been the rally cry for those who seek music that they say touches them in a spiritual way.  Is this what Jesus really meant by this though?  Perhaps this phrase should be examined more closely if in fact worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth are ” the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”[3].  While it is true that God the Father is seeking worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth, this is not a statement of type or style of worship.  God is seeking worshipers that will worship Him authentically, in the Truth of His Word and by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

“God desires worship – in fact, He commands it.[4]”  Worship to God actually happening is a non-negotiable fact when it comes to the debates on worship.  “I am the Lord your God,” say God in to the Israelites at mount Sinai, “you shall have no other gods before me[5].”  Jesus echoes these words and words of the Moses in Deuteronomy 6 in his rebuke of Satan in the desert when he said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only[6].”  These words are spoken to the people of God to make sure that their worship wasn’t divided.  There is to be no other worship than that of the worship of God almighty.  The words that Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4 don’t offer any question on this fact either.  “True worshipers,” Jesus says, “WILL worship God in spirit and in truth.[7]”  This is a redirection of the idea of worship from a place or a style to the nature of worship itself.[8]

Father God is actively seeking true, authentic worshipers to worship Himself and is no longer concerned with sacrifices, locations, or styles.  Foster points out that “it is God who seeks, draws, persuades[9]” us to worship.  “Worship is the Human response to the divine initiative[10]” that must be Christ centered and God focused.  When our concerns about worship change our focus from God to what type of music we are playing, where we are worshiping, or even those that we are worshiping with, we are no longer focusing our worship on God.  In effect, this is idolatry; the idolatry of self and it is in absolute contradiction with God’s command to us to worship Him only.  However, so much emphasis has been placed on the two words “spirit” and “truth” that it is difficult for people to not focus on them and what exactly they mean.

Spiritual life has taken on a very new meaning in the last 50 years.  Since the 1970’s, the general populous have become enamored with the spiritual nature of our existence.  Although this is something that Christians need to be especially aware of, secular culture’s attempt at defining what spirituality hardly reflects how the Church is, or should be looking at Spirituality.  Gary Burge points out that the “Spirit” that Jesus is referring has nothing to do with the so called “human spirit” but has to do with worship that is directed and “dynamically animated by God’s Holy Spirit.[11]”  The actual word “spirit” uses here comes from the Greek word pneuma.  When translated, this word refers largely to spirit, breath, or wind and is the word most often used to refer to the Holy Spirit[12].  In this particular context it would be best translated as “the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God.[13]”  Worshiping in spirit then would undoubtedly mean that the worshipers that God is seeking, those that worship in spirit and in truth, are worshipers that are responding to God alone and not focused on or distracted by other things.  God the Father is also pure spirit, and the worship which pleases Him is spiritual worship – “the sacrifice of a humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirit.[14]”  Clearly, this is Jesus speaking of worship as being an inner transformation, the change and refocus of the inner self, feelings, the mind, and the will to God alone.[15]

Postmodernism and truth has and continues to be a largely debated and discussed topic.  Today’s truth, as it has been undefined by postmodernism, is no longer absolute and can be completely contextual.  However, the Truth that Jesus is speaking of here is hardly contextual and is absolutely absolute.  The world truth here, when translated from the Greek refers specifically to truthfulness that corresponds to reality.[16]  Reality is simply the words that Jesus speaks later in the book of John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[17]”  Simply put, worship in Truth means worship that is Christ centered.  Sin had separated us from communion and relationship with the Father and it is only though the redeeming blood of Christ that we can come before God and worship Him.  Paul also points to this when he writes that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.[18]”  This is understood almost universally as Christ perfecting prayers and worship as it rises to God the Father which means that when Christians authentically worship God, they can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[19]” Worshipers that God is seeking are those that are in Christ because Christ is Truth just as He is the incarnate Word, which is also Truth.

If these worshipers, those that worship in Spirit and in Truth, are the worshipers that God is actively seeking, why is it that we are so caught up in the so called “worship wars?”  Generally speaking, the term “worship war” is actually an incorrect term because no one is truly fighting about whether worship happens or not on a Sunday morning.  Everyone wants to worship God and it seems that everyone is comfortable with praying and hearing the Word preached as well.  Most people are comfortable with receiving the sacraments as well even if there is disagreements about the means and the frequency to which it happens.  No, the worship war in the church is actually a music war, one in which the focus of worship has been taken off of God and has set it on personal preference of style.  Why is this the case though?  John Frame points out that “Musical questions are foundational questions. These questions ask, in one way or another, ‘what is worship?’ If we can answer that, then we can decide better what sort of music is right.[20]”  Musical portions of worship is very important to people.  Many times it is the music that is remembered first in the church, that which we is remembered when we go home from church and throughout the week as well.  It stands to reason that if we are truly asking foundational questions when we question and debate musical styles, it is an important issue for the Church to not only address but handle in a Biblical manor as God directs.

However this revelation of what worship is, or should be, does not seem to have stifled the conflict and looking to scripture for help doesn’t seem to have helped as it should.  Christians seem to relate more closely to the woman at the well rather than the teachings of our Savior.  We counter Scriptural directions and Jesus’ teachings on worship with questions about the venue in which worship happens.  When worship is discussed, questions and discussion quickly digress to questions about the best church or denomination.[21]  It seems that we have to repeat again and again that worship is not about a place or a time, worship is about the heart!  Scripture, especially these verses, show that worship is deeper than outward actions, which aren’t bad in and of themselves, and is much deeper than a building, art, music, and/or design.  “God wants more than ritual.  God wants the worship of the inner person; an inner heartfelt response.[22]”  Moreover, the two Greek words most commonly used for worship, proskynein, which is used by John here in chapter, and latreuein actually suggest worship as an “all-pervasive and ongoing condition.[23]”  In and of itself, worship is more than just faithfully attended Sunday morning church services; it is more than a type of music or even a style.  Worship is life.  It is with this understanding that we as Christians can and should proceed in our discussions and debates about worship.

Echoes of Paul’s words in Romans 12 flow through this understanding of worship as being a lifestyle, not simply an event.  We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which he calls this offering our “spiritual act of worship.[24]”  This isn’t a onetime offering that Paul is speaking of though.  He speaks in the next verse about being transformed, a work that is done through and only by the Holy Spirit.  Work of the Holy Spirit in this light is just as much an ongoing thing as our worship should be.  Christians call this sanctification which is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.[25]”  Like sanctification, worship is a state of being, a continuing action.  Harold Best uses the term “continuous outpouring” in his description of worship as relentless, lavish, generous giving of one’s life as a worship offering to God.[26]  The Church can no longer afford to support, or better stated not discourage the idea that worship is in a certain place and at a certain time.  Just like our lives our changed by the saving work of Jesus Christ and continually regenerated by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, so too must our worship be continually given to God the Father.  As Burge eloquently states it, the true authentic worship and worshipers that God seeks in “not tied to holy places but impacted by a Holy Person, who through His cross will inaugurate the era in which the Holy Spirit will change everything.[27]

What does this mean for the Church then and for individual Christians struggling to discover what authentic worship in spirit and truth really is?  Furthermore, how then do we go about doing it?  First of all, it is important to point out and understand that God is pointing here to a “big picture” look at worship.  To use this passage as a way of saying that one style or type of music is superior in worship to the others is a foolish, gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ words.  Jesus is pointing towards what would be the ends, the result of worship, not at all to the means by which we worship.  There are very few places in which God speaks negatively about the means of worship when it is directed to Him.  Why is this?  Because worship is about motivation and right focus.  Isaiah writes in the beginning of his book that God is upset with His people because of their wrongful worship.  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” God declares, “Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.[28]”  The worship of the Israel was wrongfully focused and wrongfully motivated.  They had lost the true meaning of what worship is supposed to be.  Christian worship is supposed to be centered on Christ and focused on God when we worship.  When we take the focus off of God and place it on what we want and desire, our ‘worship’ is a burden to God as well.

How is it then that we take the focus of worship off of God and what can we do to change this?  Our worship wars have done, in a different way, have accomplished that which the Israelites came to as Isaiah describes in his first chapter.  The focus of the Israelites was on the actions and the duty of what God commanded them to do in worship.  They didn’t look to God but to what it is that they were doing as a means of salvation and worship.  Duty and tradition was their so call worship war cry.  Sounding this call has happened again in our generation though it is not the only call that has gone out in regards to worship.  Contemporary worshipers have taken up their own rallying cry and sought to follow after what moves them and makes them feel good as well.  Notice then that in neither of these factions does God get mentioned as their source or their objective.

God is the source of our worship; He is the origin of it and the focus of it.  The Church and its churches must come back to that one truth about worship.  “In Christ alone my hope is found[29]” go the words of one song, and it has never needed to be more true than in this time of trial.  Christians everywhere must return to this truth.  As this worship war has gone on we have not only taken the focus off of God and Christ, we have made it about ourselves.  In essence, we want what we want and we are unwilling to move from our position.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their own things that move them, but this is not what worship is about and it is certainly not the type of worship nor the type of worshipers that God is seeking.  Worship isn’t about us, it is about God.  Whenever we place what we want and desire in front of God and make it more important than God we commit idolatry; the idolatry of self.  We have the audacity, knowing what we know about God, to place our own desires in front of Him.  This means we are not loving God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” nor are we “loving our neighbor as our self.[30]”  If we were to be truly loving each other as we loved ourselves we would be loving them enough to want to sing the songs they like just as they would love us enough to sing the music that reaches them as well.  Jesus himself has emphasized the loving of each other by equating loving each other with loving God in the book of Luke.  Do we do this?  No, we argue about whose music is better and what songs we should be singing.  People want what they want and are unwilling to change or even look to the needs and desires of others.  How are we to reach out to the non-churched and unsaved people of this world if we cannot even agree with our own brothers and sisters?

Christian worshipers need to pull away from this ‘me first’ mentality.  We need to come to the realization that Worship is about God and God alone.  If we don’t return to the Lord and Christ as the focus of our worship and of our life we cannot expect to be a witness to those lost people that we are called to reach.  “The Heart of worship” is what we must seek, worship that is all about God.[31]  It is notable that neither ‘contemporary’ nor ‘traditional’ worship is designated as part of that heart of worship.  These styles of worship can both be used and are both good ways to worship God because worship isn’t about musical style, it is about the heart!  Matt Redman writes, in his song “Come Let Us Return,” that worship is about the rending of the heart, the bowing of a knee, a prayer, and a fast.[32]  The essence of worship is that which is in the heart, the interaction that goes on between God and our true selves, our Spirit.  Our worship must be in Spirit and in Truth as Jesus said or it is wrongfully motivated and not what the Father seeks.  May this be true for us and for the Church as we seek to honor, glorify and praise God through the worship of our Sunday services and in our everyday life.


[1] Sibley, Laurence C.  “Worship in Spirit and Truth: a Refreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship,”  Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 170.

[2] John 4:23 (New International Version Bible).

[3] Ibid

[4] Boice, James M.  Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 587.

[5] Exodus 20:2-3

[6] Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8

[7] John 4:23 (emphasis added)

[8] Boice, 578

[9] Foster, Richard J.  Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 158.

[10] Ibid., 158

[11] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 147.

[12] Lee, Dorothy A.  “In the Spirit of Truth: Worship and Prayer in the Gospel of John and the Early Fathers.”  Vigiliae christianae 58 (2004): 280.

[13] Goodrick, Howard W. & Kohlenberger III, J. R.  The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1584.

[14] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 111.

[15] Collins, C. J.  “John 4:23-24, “In Spirit and Truth”: an idiomatic proposal.”  Presbyterion 21 (1995): 121.

[16] Ibid., 1526

[17] John 14:6

[18] Romans 8:34

[19] Hebrews 4:16

[20] Sibley, 170

[21] Bochert, Gerald L.  Worship in the New Testament.  (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008): 46.

[22] Webber, Robert E.  Worship Old & New.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 28.

[23] Best, Harold M.  Unceasing Worship.  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003): 35.

[24] Romans 12:1

[25] “Sanctification.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctification

[26] Best, 19.

[27] Burge, Gary M.  The NIV Application Commentary: John.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 147.

[28] Isaiah 1:13-14

[29] Townsend, Stewart & Keith Getty, In Christ Alone, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 3350395.

[30] Luke 10:27

[31] Redman, Matt, The Heart of Worship, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 2296522

[32] Redman, Matt, Come Let Us Return, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 4107633



Day 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.



Day 278: Malachi 1-4; The Broken Covenant

Well friends, we have come to it at last.  The end of the Old Testament.  I have to say, I’m shocked that it has taken this long.  We emphasize the New Testament so much in contemporary Christianity that I guess I thought it was larger.  But in all honesty, its taken 3/4 of a year to get through the Old Testament, leaving less than 1/4 of the year to get from Matthew to Revelation.  Today though, we come to the final writing but canonically and chronologically in the Old Testament.  Malachi is the punctuation of the Old Testament, showing the people of Israel that have returned to Jerusalem and Judah that they cannot continue to break the covenant even after returning from exile.  Whether Malachi was actually one of the returned exiles or a post-exilic child is not known, but what is known is that he spoke to the people around the time that Nehemiah was dealing with the controversy of intermarriage with other nations that was going on in Judah, many years after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

If you remember back to that section of Nehemiah, when he arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, he faced a great deal of challenges from both outside and in.  People resisted as he and the returned exiles sought to rebuild the wall.  Also, he was approached many times with issues concerning their faith and practices, which included the intermarriage of Hebrews with foreign women.  It is into this climate that Malachi speaks.  To be honest though, I think that at least 90% of what he had to say is completely applicable to us today as well.

Malachi (ortodox icon)

Malachi (ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Malachi was facing down an already unfaithful people.  They had just endured 70 years of exile as punishment for their sins and yet upon returning to their homeland, the started right back up with their sinful actions.  The religious leaders had once again become corrupt, neglecting worship by offering sacrifices of blemished animals.  This was a direct contradiction to the Law.  The people had also become corrupt in their worship, saying they will offer their best and then bringing their worst.  Malachi points out that they brought blind and debilitated animals for sacrifice, giving to the Lord that which they didn’t want anymore.  Sound familiar?  In my dealings with Churches, I’ve found that most abide by the 80/20 rule… 80% of the giving from 20% of the people.  We don’t give out of joy or even out of gratitude, but because our pulpit has shamed us into it for another year.  This reveals not only a lack of faith and trust, but a lack of understanding the true nature of giving to which we are called.  We follow the “give when you want to, or when you can” pattern, something Jesus will address in a rather harsh manner for us in the coming days.

The message of Malachi then turns to the people.  Apart from the sacrifices that they were offering inappropriately, an act that was unfaithful to God, they were also being unfaithful to their wives.  While the intermarriage controversy was one that Nehemiah had to deal with, it seems as though the people were dealing with the problem of marriage on the whole.  Men were getting divorced whenever they wanted to, not on account of marital unfaithfulness but by reason of marital boredom.  Sound familiar?  Divorce rates both in and out of the church are hovering around 50%.  Pastors and priests are caught day after day in sexual sin and marital infidelity.  Marriage itself is a pillar of society that has fallen by the wayside.  Why?  Are people being more unfaithful?  Maybe in some cases… But for the most part people are just being more selfish.  Rather than working on a relationship, they simply throw it away and get a new one.  Much like appliances in our culture, it is just easier (and often cheaper) to get a new one rather than work to fix the old.  And what of our faith?  It seems as though, with the rise of “spirituality” and the idea that there is no absolute truth, that faith too is simply a throwaway item.  Bored with your church?  Find another one.  Bored with God?  Try Hinduism for a while.  Bored with the truth that is right for you?  Try something different on for size.  We are shaped by the things that are around us, the culture in which we live.  Rather than being strong in our faith and then addressing culture, we have settled for being strong in our culture and then addressing faith.  And then we wonder where God has gone and why He is seemingly silent in our day to day lives.

But thank goodness for the covenant.  Thank God that He does not change.  Even when we turn away and do not keep the way of the Lord He still invites us back.  “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  Malachi speaks to this in chapter 4:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.  Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

These are the last writings of the Old Testament.  From here we enter the “inter-testamental period,” a time of over 400 years when God was seemingly silent.  Much happened during this time, some of which is included in the Apocrypha, the deutero-canonical books of the Bible that the Nicene Father’s considered somewhat helpful, but not inspired in the way that the Canonical Books of the Bible are.  Some day we may work through them, but in the mean time we wait… fortunately not for 400 years but roughly 24 hours until we enter Matthew and the Word of God becomes flesh!