Reflections from 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 8:1-3_ COMMUNITY, KNOWLEDGE & REAL LOVE ARE BASED ON GOD AS CREATOR AND REDEEMER PART 1

CHAPTER 8:1-3_ COMMUNITY, KNOWLEDGE & REAL LOVE ARE BASED ON GOD AS CREATOR AND REDEEMER PART 1

            Paul continues his instruction to the church in how they are to live in community through the knowledge of God constrained by His love.  Knowledge is a key theme in this letter and in chapter eight Paul uses it or a derivative of it eleven times.  Up to this point in 1 Corinthians, he uses the term in three distinct ways.

            First, there’s a knowledge that we ought to have: “do you not know that we will judge angels…?” Second, there’s a knowledge that we can’t have: “or how do you know wife whether you will save your husband?”        Third, there’s the knowledge that we do have: “we know that all have knowledge.”  The object of this knowledge (the third way we know) is first our knowledge of God and secondly our knowledge of the creature which instructs us how we are to live communally as we submit to Christ and his word so that real human flourishing occurs.  This is easier said, then done.                 It seems that in this chapter, the quality of knowledge unfolds in the interplay of the subject/object relationships.  Paul begins with:

“Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.”

The Corinthians were real believers whose lifestyle contradicted the Gospel.  This was dangerous and that’s why the apostle wrote to them.  They were known for not coming behind in any gift but also for their arrogance and pride which forfeited God’s love and thus tore down the people for which Christ Jesus died.

            Devotion to Christ as Paul reveals is fleshed out in the community setting where iron sharpens iron through God’s providential design of diversity expressed through each member of the church.  The purpose for this is vibrant human flourishing as each one contributes to the good of the other.

            Here we have an example of how “not to” wield our knowledge of God so that the weaker member of the church may be raised to new heights of holiness and not razed to sin.

(v.1) Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies

The focus is on worship, “things sacrificed to idols…” who Paul and the Corinthians know are false.  The apostle admits that knowledge is real, but if applied arrogantly rather than moved by love, it becomes self-serving to exalt the knower at the expense of the encouragement of another.

            Paul is not belittling knowledge, but he is mocking knowledge that’s not wielded as Jesus modeled.  This is a major issue in our relationships.  The maxim, “people don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care” should give us pause when we are in any setting.

If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know

            Paul seems to be saying that if God’s love is not the engine driving our dissemination of God’s knowledge, then that knowledge is immoral, sinful and weak.  The reason for this understanding is tied to verse three

            but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

            When Paul says, “but if anyone loves God…” he is pointing out the difference between perceived knowledge and actual knowledge.  The former is based on subjective feeling, the latter is grounded on objective evidence.  To be known by God (synonymous with new birth, redemption, being “born-again”) precedes our loving God (evidence of new birth, redemption, being “born again”).

            This love and it’s authenticity expresses itself in humble submission to God’s revealed will (Scripture) which causes us to gladly lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, rather than being self-absorbed with our knowledge.  The test for Christian authenticity is the love Jesus modeled and succinctly expresses in John 13:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

            Paul is saying the same thing Jesus said.  That if our knowledge of God is real, then it will be authenticated/evidenced in how we imitate Jesus’ love when we relate to our Christian brothers and sisters.  This knowledge is not a perceived knowledge, but an actual knowledge seen in communal living.  (SDG)

Reflections From 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 7:25-31 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING VIRGINS Part 4

CHAPTER 7:25-31 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING VIRGINS Part 4

Paul in the previous section exhorted believers to find their rest in Christ because of his call on their lives, because of the rescue from God’s wrath. And now that we are the people of God, it is that which defines us, not physical and emotional pain which one day God will eradicate. 

Paul now addresses virgins.  He starts again with the theme of whether or not Christ had previously spoken on the topic and says:    

25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.  

Paul here addresses virgins.  He begins by saying, “I have no command of the Lord” meaning that Christ has not previously spoken on the subject (compare verse 10), but now Paul is giving apostolic insight into the matter and says:

26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress,

What is he saying here?  What’s the present distress?  We are not certain but we know that he is speaking through the Spirit of God and says: “that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 

27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 

Now this is a difficult passage to accept especially in our culture where a person’s happiness does not take into consideration the good of another nor their honor in the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

            Paul is saying, if you are married “bound”, don’t look for a divorce “released”.   If you are divorced “released”, don’t look for another to get married. 

28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. 

This verse contextually refers to the earlier stipulations in the chapter for divorce and remarriage that Paul addresses.  The apostle’s pastoral concern for the Corinthians well-being is captured by “I am trying to spare you” referring to marriage (which is good but has very challenging aspects to it).

            Paul continues his address with the theme of time and the form of this world (v.29) which is very brief and is passing away.  That is, what we value now in some measure is not what awaits us in the future like “marriage” or “sex” (vv.30-31).  It seems that Paul is wanting to encourage undistracted devotion to Christ regardless of our social status (vv.32-35).  Undistracted devotion, that’s a massive issue today where distractions are not only ubiquitous but lethal and Americans are drowning in it (me included).

            Paul is pointing believers to joy in Christ in ways that are unimaginable to many of us because the kingdom of God is a hazy concept.  He ends the chapter again by giving the boundaries of when one can marry: only after the spouse is dead and only with another believer (vv.36-40).

Personal Conclusion:  the thoughts expressed by Paul are difficult for many believers to bear and are often ignored precisely because we don’t trust that God knows best and actually is out for completing our joy in Him.

            What will we believers do when difficult sayings like those covered in this chapter challenge our devotion to Christ?  May our disposition be as Mary’s was, “Behold the bond servant of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:38).  To follow Christ in this life means that his word has final place in our decisions, attitudes and lifestyles. 

Lord, there are many difficult issues Paul addresses in this chapter, and we trust they are for our good because only you do all things well.  Grant to us a willing heart to follow you regardless of our lot in life (short as it may be) so that when it’s all been said and done we can with one voice say, “To God be the glory great things he has done” (SDG)

Reflections from 1 Corinthian CHAPTER 7:17-24 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING THE FREE AND THE SLAVE Part 3

CHAPTER 7:17-24 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING THE FREE AND THE SLAVE Part 3

            Paul in the previous section encourages the Corinthians to cling to Christ regardless if they are single, married or divorced.  Now, he turns to the theme of being “called” which is a massive theological concept in the Bible:

17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.

This text is intriguing and multilayered. Paul here points out that the status in life one occupies is ultimately God’s doing, not theirs.  For the believer, the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good Creator uses hardships to make us more like Christ Jesus the master.

            How often have we been embittered because we are either: single, married, separated, divorced or widowed?  These relationships can be sources of ecstatic joy or valleys of unbearable pain.  In this crucible believers are to remember their lot in life (Ps.16) is God’s doing and that He is accomplishing His good pleasure.  Thus, Paul starts enumerating the diverse situations in which the Corinthian’s were saved by grace: 

18 Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

            The term “called” points to the rich history of God’s activity in human affairs.  It is principally “word” saturated where God’s pleasure is revealed through saving rebellious souls from His wrath (e.g., the call of Abraham and his descendants) and bringing them into a covenant relationship.  Here, God, not the creature, initiates and provides the necessary means for said relationship to be realized. 

            We really are not alone for behind the activities of man and their progeny neither, fate, chance nor luck obtain, but rather the self-existent God, the author of life is writing our particular stories in ways beyond our understanding.  This process does not eliminate the significance of our choices, but adds to the tension of grasping how a Sovereign God operates His divine hidden will through the activities of sinful human beings without doing anything evil.  This is a puzzle and Paul brings it up.

            The apostle asks if one was a Jew or a Gentile when they were regenerated, converted, saved.  Regardless, one is not to try to make a cultural or situational switch (whether Jew or Gentile) but one is to be consumed with God’s eternal holy word.  The word of God is to govern how we believers live in this present evil age because it comes from He who upholds all things through the power of His word.               

            It’s that word or “commandment” that’s to govern our lives in this present evil age because it’s our life—it’s God breathed, it’s the source of all power and the means through which all things were created (Heb.1:1-3).  We creatures ultimately come to trust either God’s words or man’s words.

            When God said, “Let there be light” it obeyed-He spoke into existence what previously did not obtain (Gen.1).  When God said to our dead souls, “come forth” as Jesus did to Lazarus from the tomb, we like him rose from the dead (i.e., we were saved, we were regenerated, we were justified).  It’s by God’s eternal word that His enemies are rescued from wrath (Eph.2:1-10), become sons and daughters and are sanctified to become more like Jesus (Rom.8:28-29).

            So now that we belong to Christ Jesus because of our calling, we are to live a certain way.  There’s a caveat on the term “called” I want to point out:  it’s used in contexts where heathens are rescued from God’s wrath (e.g., Abraham’s calling), where prophets are called to give God’s law (e.g., Moses calling) or kings are called to lead God’s people (e.g., King David).  In Corinthians, people are “called” to salvation, to service (i.e., through their gifts 1 Cor. 12-14) and also in their social status.  Paul says:

21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

To reiterate the term “called” in this context seems clearest to be a person that’s born-again, regenerated, one who is God’s friend, no longer His enemy.  Those called have had their greatest need abundantly met—in Christ Jesus (the last Adam) the second person of the Triune Godhead the “called” are part of God’s family no longer under wrath, but under grace.

            So, Paul continues and addresses those who have been saved and starts with the “slave”.  While much can, has, and will continue to be said about slavery and its nuanced contexts of injustice, cruelty, and final eradication in Christ, the following should be noted:

First, men actually don’t own anything; God owns it all by virtue of being Creator and sustainer of all that exists.  Second, mankind is actually the steward of God’s good creation and accountable to Him on how they use it.  Third, when man enslaves another image bearer it reveals a thirst and hunger for power and dominion that alone belongs to God and is not ultimately sanctioned by Yahweh.

Fourth, in the ancient world, depending on the circumstances, a slave could either be in charge of a nation’s wealth (e.g., Joseph over Egypt), be enslaved by another nation (e.g., Israel enslaved by Egypt), be enslaved to a creditor where children and wives were sold off at auction never again to be reunited.  Slavery came into the world as a result of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden and has been a heinous reality ever since where the strong over power the weaker person, clan, tribe or nation.          So, whether one is in a favorable or horrific situation as a slave, Paul is reminding the Corinthian’s that if God “rescued you” (i.e., called you) from His wrath into His favor, then don’t worry about your temporary position as a slave.  Imagine the anxiety many of these slaves daily endured and Paul says don’t worry?  Is he being heartless? No, Paul continues:

“but if you are able to become free, rather do that”

Paul knows it’s better to be a freed man than to be “owned” by another.  In fact, he uses the word “but” to emphasize the “better-ness” of being freed.  He now provides the reason:

22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.”

Paul is accentuating several truths here:

First, bondage which results from our rebellion against God, Christ has come to liberate the captives.  The slave to men, is now the freedman in Christ, the freedman, is now the slave of Christ. 

Second, the same master that frees us enslaves us.  Christ frees us from darkness and evil and enslaves us to his goodness, beauty and truth.  Believers are in fact “bound to Christ”.

Third, both free and slave (a temporary condition) are now ransomed by the substitutionary sacrifice of Calvary’s cross (an eternal abode) where the greatest injustice in human history (crucifying the sinless Son of God) was the means to free those enslaved to death.

Fourth, because Christ bought believers out of the slave market, we are no longer to be slaves of men.  Contextually, Paul seems to be saying:

Christian, you need to be viewing reality through the lens of Christ’s calling via Calvary’s tree.  Because Christ has freed you from God’s wrath, your fortunes have been reversed, your greatest need has been met, thus peace not anxiety is your lot in life.  Being free is better than being a slave, therefore don’t become slaves of men.

But how do we become slaves of men?  I think it’s when we view and live life contra God’s design.  This is a grave matter.  A reality with which married, single, divorced, widowed, freed and enslaved have to come to terms.  Our condition on this side of eternity is temporal however difficult it may be.  Paul wants believers to see Christ as the treasure and joy in life that has no rival, because in reality, that is true. 

The grass really is never greener on the other side, but we think it is.  Paul is exhorting believers to rest in Christ when they are suffering physical and emotional pain.

Reflections from 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 7:12-16 “MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING MARRIAGE TO AN UNBELIEVER” Part 2

            Paul now addresses the spouse married to an unbeliever.  The married are to remain married but if there’s desertion or divorce they are to remain as they are and not cling to another.  To the unmarried, they are to remain single, but if they lack self-control, they are to marry.  To the married who are with an unbelieving spouse Paul says:

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.

For Paul, when one spouse converts to Christ it’s their duty to stay together and not divorce because of conversion so long as the spouse consents to live together.  This issue was difficult then and remains unto today.  Emotions run high, words are spoken, insults are unleashed, and at times physical abuse occurs.  This can be a difficulty and tricky situation to navigate but there’s a reason for the command:

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Puzzling as it may be, here’s my best shot at getting the point.  Biblically one is not redeemed because of another’s trust in the living God.  For personal repentance is required of each one to be rescued from God’s wrath. 

Second, the allusion to “unclean” and “holy” are OT themes where being set apart is a sign that one is part of the covenant community and thus males were to be circumcised, the people were to eat kosher foods, etc. 

Third, taking part of said activities were signs one was part of the covenant community but did not guarantee one was part of the remnant (i.e., real regenerated believers in heart evidenced by their obedience to Yahweh).  That is, not all Israel was saved evidenced by their recalcitrant lives and while their lineage is Jewish not all were sons of Abraham (i.e., not all had the faith of Abraham).

Fourth, as it was then, so it is today where people partake of the covenant community’s activities but remain unbelievers.  So, what does Paul mean by “unclean and holy”?  Perhaps being around the believing community does offer an opportunity for genuine faith to arise in both spouse and children.  Again, even if they don’ have genuine saving faith, the Christian theist’s worldview has an impact on them that aids mirroring the image of God and somehow they are “clean and holy”

This text is tough to decipher, nevertheless when a text in Scripture is puzzling, the wise way to proceed is to use what is clearest in Scripture to deal with and try to understand the more difficult passages.  Paul continues:

15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul notes several things here.  First, the previous verses on “clean and holy” can’t mean someone is in the covenant family because he addresses the issue of “saving” one’s spouse.  Personal repentance and faith is a necessary condition for salvation, thus one can’t be “saved” on another’s faith in Christ (e.g., your parents faith).

            Second, Paul wants believers to understand that in this present evil age, believers married to non-believers will at times experience desertion or divorce.

            Third, sometimes spouses believe that if they persevere in the marriage they will be able to save their spouse via example, but Paul reminds them that this is never a guarantee.  It may happen, but it may not.

            Fourth, the bondage that such a believer may experience is not what God has designed for them but instead His peace.  What could this mean?  Minimally, once we were God’s enemies but now are his friends because of Christ, wrath is no longer ours to bear.  This peace is to be mirrored in our relationships.  He’s saying, “If they want to leave, let them go and cling to Christ”.

Reflections from 1 Corinthians 7: 6-11 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1

            Paul continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman, whether they are a virgin or not.  Furthermore, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

            Whatever state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern themselves with pleasing the Lord.  Paul aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find themselves.  He starts off by saying:

But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”   

What’s the difference between these two terms?  A concession is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way (L&N §13.141), whereas a command here does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42).  Paul is making it clear that if what he refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey, they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors. 

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”    

The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.  When Paul says, “I wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.

Paul reveals that he is not married (we are not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but also self-controlled. 

It is not unreasonable to think that Paul was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus.  Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation.  Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.

If that was the case and more, then may the weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.  Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status, possessions and human relationships.

This is who is speaking and we do well to carefully consider what he is saying and what he means.  Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire, he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and abilities.  He now addresses the unmarried and widows:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single.  Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual immorality, if you are a single believer, then stay single. 

While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express itself.  Is Paul encouraging abstinence at all costs?  No.        

While it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get married.  It’s better than burning in passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of marriage.  Now Paul addresses those married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Several items stand out here.  First, Paul makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and his.  This could be understood to mean that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed.  The problem with that interpretation is that Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the rest of us are not.  So, to think that Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.

            Second, one could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and a concession, between what must be obeyed and what may be obeyed.  The problem though is that the Lord’s instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a concession does not possess. 

            Third, many understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said topic.  Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”. 
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject.  This third option seems to make the best sense. 

Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own wife.  Both husband and wife are in a position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to honor Christ in their marital union.

Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.   

So, whether we find ourselves, single, widowed, married, or in a troubled union, God calls us Christians to honor Christ Jesus, our faithful savior and redeemer.  Lord, in our weakness show the sufficiency of your strength as you continue the work began in us by the Holy Spirit.  (SDG)   

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Reflections from Scripture_ 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 7:1-5 “HOW CAN WE HONOR ONE ANOTHER IN THE MARRIAGE UNION?”

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CHAPTER 7:1-5 HOW CAN WE HONOR ONE ANOTHER IN THE MARRIAGE UNION?

            In chapter 7 Paul continues the theme of believers walking uprightly in our relationships.  Because of Christ’s atonement (i.e., his sacrificial substitutionary death on the cross and his resurrection for those who trust in him), God is glorified in our bodies but how is that accomplished.  Here it focuses on the marriage union between a man and a woman.  Pail writes:

“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise, also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.(1 Cor.7:1-5)

Let’s make several observations.  First, it’s good to be single.  Apparently, someone had previously written to Paul from Corinth concerning the state of the church and wrote: “…it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”  Here, he can’t mean that there is to be no physical contact because he would be contradicting his command elsewhere to greet one another with a holy kiss.

Contextually, this has to do with sexual intercourse as the following verses unfold.  What’s “good” about a man not touching a woman?  It seems he’s referring to the virtue of being unmarried for the purpose of glorifying God and being about the business of the kingdom as the rest of the chapter depicts.  That is, singleness in the church is not to be frowned upon, but rather appreciated and lauded.

As the self-existent One, who is the source of all life, the virtue of goodness is necessarily based on God’s ontological status (i.e., the divine nature in all its perfections shared by each member of the trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) and thus the Creator rather than the creature determines what is good.  Here, to be single is good, but immorality is not and thus a real problem.  Thus, Paul offers a “game changer”, as we say.

Second, it’s good to be married.  While singleness is a good thing, it’s not if immorality is a struggle, thus, marriage is the good option Paul commands:  But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.  The clause, “But because of immoralities” calls attention to sexual sin contextually (6:12-20) and offers the solution “each man is to have his own wife and likewise also the wife to her husband”.  There are several observations that can be noted.

First, each man is to be devoted to the one woman he has entered into covenant with and not another wife.  Second, that being the case, the singular term “wife” not wives, supports monogamy, not polygamy. Third, this is a safeguard for those longing to sexually express themselves within the context of a one flesh union between a man and a woman.  Fourth, this contradicts the in-vogue notion of “same-sex marriage” that many in Western civilization have embraced.  Fifth, the same holds true for women.  Sixth, both male and female have a bent to immorality, both are culpable before Gods’ court of justice, and both are graciously given a solution—marriage.  Now in this covenant relationship there are duties given for flourishing to obtain.

Third, duties obtain for both man and woman.  Paul continues his thought and describes the duties both husband and wife are to fulfill toward each another.  When Paul says; v-3 “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband” he makes abundantly clear that they equally share the responsibility to make the marriage union flourish.

First, Paul grounds his command of duty/fulfillment on the idea and reality that “authority” over the other’s body is a non-negotiable.  What does authority here mean?  On the surface, biblically when one has authority over another they possess the power to command persons (and affect them) to live a certain way, to do certain things.  This attribute of authority again is grounded in God’s being—one way image bearers express the Creators presence, objective reality and His existence.

Second, Paul is sounding the alarm when he states in v-4:  “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 

The alarm here is that both husband and wife belong to each other, they are distinct persons, but have a one flesh union which forever changes how they are to live.  It seems clear that they are not “free” to make autonomous sexual decisions, but instead are to always submit to the desires of each other within God’s design for sexuality (which clearly exclude bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexual adultery, etc.), but not as clearly when it deals with oral copulation.

When we consider a text that does not give us specifics (e.g., Paul here does not specify what I brought up), a wise approach to get at the meaning of a biblical text, is to consider the entirety of what Scripture teaches (on a given topic) deal first with the clearest texts and then proceed to the more obscure texts.  By this approach, the obscurity, while not completely removed, does have more light shed on it by the clearer passages in scripture.  After Paul describes both duties and authority, he commands both husband and wife to obey.

Fourth, husbands and wives are commanded to stop sinning against each other.  Paul gives a prohibition because then like today, husbands and wives were sinning against each other by depriving each other of sexual intimacy v-5; “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

To deprive means to withhold something good possessed by one for the benefit of another—the covenant spouse here.  That is, if one spouse desires sexual relations the other is to concede.  Only by mutual agreement is the married couple to withhold sexual relations.

This opens up a “can of worms” that’s filled with pain, manipulation, and abuse which reveals our brokenness as people.  Nevertheless, we must understand that what fuels this command is love for God and Christ Jesus (though imperfectly expressed) in the marriage union between a man and a woman.

Men often don’t walk in a loving manner toward their wives and wives accordingly to their husbands.  The reason for such turmoil is the real distinctions between men and women.  The lack of appreciation and understanding of these distinctions has from Adam and Eve unto today been a real problem.   That is, according to God’s design, a man’s greatest need is to be respected, while a woman’s supreme need is to be loved.  And while the needs are distinct, both spouses are commanded to honor one another.

The prohibition to “stop depriving one another” means that if that’s presently the case, it is to cease in the present.  Yet, if mutual consent to withhold obtains, it’s for a very practical purpose; “so that you may devote yourselves to prayer”.  Could it be that Paul is commanding the spouses to entreat God with the same passion with which they sexually pleasure each other?  I don’t see why not, but this activity of intimacy between spouse and God has a “time” or “duration” of activity not specified.

There’s a time for everything under heaven Solomon wrote and here Paul is saying to married couples, “there’s a time for sex and a time to refrain in order to pray”.  Whatever the duration here, the key is that there’s agreement.  So, there’s a time for sex and a time for prayer, but he does not end it there.

Paul finishes the command and provides the reason for it: “and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control”.  Both spouses are addressed because when marriages fail and adultery occurs there’s usually culpability from both parties.  Paul is alluding to the practical need for sexual relations to continue when he says, “come together again” for the purpose of denuding satanic temptation to commit adultery.

The reason for the command is because there’s a lack of self-control, thus the loving act for the spouses to do is to sexually fulfill each other (however imperfectly it may be done).  Obedience here is the path of holiness to the LORD which is our highest good and joy.

These verses unfold the gravity of marriage and their reflection of God’s love and care for His people.  Elsewhere Paul explains that marriage is the mystery unveiled of Christ and His union with the Church (Eph.5).

We live in a time where “sexual liberation” is lauded in a way that actually dishonors God and thus dishonors human beings.  Sexuality expressed according to God’s design is magnificent, when it goes awry, while for a time may be exhilarating, will in the end be another means for human destruction.  God have mercy on our souls and bodies.

(SDG)

Considering a Few Who Have Shaped the Church’s Thought: PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD / REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD

Theological Book Summaries

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7. Too often Christians find themselves imitating the faith of those who actually do not speak the word of God to them in truth. Instead, they listen to teachers who proclaim what their itching ears want to hear to their utter destruction. One way to guard against that is to consider how believers through the centuries understood the Gospel, and treasured Christ as they lived out its implications.

There are two cautions, two extremes, I think are critical to consider if we are to love God with our minds and hearts. First, we must guard against thinking that because something is old (pick a number) it’s irrelevant in the present and for our future. Second, we must guard against thinking that because something is new it’s relevant for the present and future. Both extremes are foolish, irrational, clothed in hubris and blind us from discovering objective truth in order to live it out presently and in the future.

The following summaries are provided to encourage, challenge, comfort and invigorate the follower of Christ to consider how in the last two millennia followers of Christ understood and lived out the implications of their faith. It’s to consider how these believers spent their energies for the glory of God and the cause of the kingdom, and to see where their example is worthy to be emulated.

Some things will seem odd, some things odious, some things onerous, and some things endearing. I trust in no way you will be bored. These summaries are but a taste of their substance that I’ve attempted to capture so that you, the reader will take up and read at the source.  Click the link Theological Book Summaries to download the entire summaries.

(Soli Deo Gloria)

 

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”

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Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)

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Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)[1]

The Doctrine of Election

In Calvin’s treatise On Predestination, he first addresses the doctrine of eternal election, where some are predestined to salvation and others to destruction.  He begins by affirming that neglecting this doctrine essentially impairs God’s glory and produces pride in the individual.  He admonishes both the inquirers and those shunning the doctrine of predestination, to stay within the bounds of scripture, rather than venture into what God has concealed, for everything we need to know is contained therein.  When God ceases revealing, we cease wanting to be wise.  Calvin understood that profane men would scoff and cavil this doctrine, but it is not to deter one from its inquiry.  For scoffers will always find something to poke fun at.

Predestination is the Eternal Decree of God

For Calvin, predestination is “the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,” God testifying his election of Israel in (Dt.32: 8, 9; 4: 37; 7: 7, 8; 10: 14, 15; Ps.47: 4; 33: 12; 1 Sam. 12:22; Is. 41:9 etc.).  God also shows His rejection of Ishmael, Esau, Saul, and Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67, 68; 147: 20; Mal.1: 2, 3; Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:16; etc.).   Though in the line of Abraham, they were rotten, not the remnant.  Hence, in God’s eternal and immutable council some were elected for salvation, and others to perdition.

Calvin makes a case for election from Scripture contra those who interpret election, as those who God foreknew would not be worthy of his grace.  His election is certainly not based on man’s inherent worth, for it precedes works.  As Paul declares God’s choosing us (i.e., believers) before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 1:12; cf., 1 Tim. 2:9).  Jesus himself explicitly demonstrates God choosing us not based on past merits, but on God’s mercy (John. 15:16).  Again, Paul shows that the origin and cause of election proceed not from works of merit, but from God’s good pleasure (Rom. 9:11).  Calvin disagrees with those that assign election to past or future works, for he understands that God finds nothing in man to show him kindness (Rom. 9:15).

Moreover, Peter accentuates God accomplishing the believer’s salvation by his own determinate foreknowledge in Christ’s death (Acts 2:23).   Election is further supported by the Father’s donation to Jesus, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me” (John 6: 37, 39, 44, 45; 17:9; 12; 13:18;).  These texts demonstrate God’s gratuitous adoption of those whom according to his good pleasure, he wishes to be his sons, because God is contented with his secret pleasure.  Calvin then considers the church fathers on this issue (Ambrose, Origin, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas) understanding that Augustine got the doctrine correctly in his later years and continues dealing with objections to his position.

Responding To Objections

Calvin deals with several objections to his view and responds accordingly.  He first addresses those who object that God makes anyone reprobate, and reminds his dissenters that Paul does not try to defend God, but simply reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to argue with the Creator.  Calvin further shows that the reprobate, are those trees not planted by the Father who are doomed to destruction (Mt. 15:13).

A second objection is that it seems unjust and capricious for God to doom some to destruction before they have committed any wrongs.  Calvin’s response is that because of God’s ontological status (being righteous), he does not commit any lawlessness, and by the mere fact of his willing (in election), is necessarily right.  A further objection is that God seems to be a cruel judge by preordaining the reprobate’s sin.  But, Calvin defends the justice of God with Paul’s words, “…O man, who are thou that replies against God…” (Rom. 9:20-21).  This passage couches God’s infinite mind, to man’s finitude.  The last objection we will consider is the charge that Scripture nowhere declares that God decreed Adam’s fall.  Calvin responds that Scripture proclaims all mankind was in Adam, made liable to eternal death.  The decree is dreadful, but it is impossible to deny that God foreknew man’s end before being created.  To do so, is rash and not advised.

Election Confirmed by God’s Calling

Calvin deals with election confirmed by God’s calling and the reprobate bring upon themselves the righteous destruction to which they are doomed.  Calvin admits that election is God’s secret, but is manifest in his effectual calling.  He then deals with the metaphysics of said calling and concludes that it is founded on God’s free mercy.  He then illustrates aforementioned and understands that this calling is grounded on Christ.  He further considers objections to his position that the elect sometimes fall away and responds accordingly (e.g., the son of perdition passage, many are called but few are chosen, etc.)

[1] Calvin’s Institutes: Chapters 21-24, (This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999. Contacting the CCEL).

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Martin Luther: On Christian Liberty, Justification, the Church Fathers and the Scriptures

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Luther, On Christian Liberty[1]

In his letter On Christian Liberty, Luther addresses Pope Leo X and

affirms that he has never thought any evil concerning his person, but regards him highly and his dispute is not over morals, but over the word of truth.  The Church of Rome “Babylon” doesn’t want reform, and the pope is as Daniel in that Satanically ruled city, the “seat of all pestilence”.  He views Luther’s chief nemesis, John Eccius, as the enemy of peace, evidenced by their exaltation of the Pope (i.e., only via his authority one can be saved, and he alone has the right to interpret Scripture).  Instead of trusting those who exalt him, Luther implores the Pope to trust the ones who humble him.

The Christian is the Freest Lord of All

For Luther, the Christian is the freest lord of all, and subject to none, but is also the most dutiful servant of all and subject to all (Paul’s example used: 1 Cor.9: 19; Rom.13:8).  He argues that mere outward pious acts do not make one justified or liberate the soul, but rather the risen Christ and his word (Jn.11: 25; Mt.4: 4).  The soul can do without everything but the word of God.  Through the word salvation is realized (Rom.1; 10:9; 10:4; 1:17) and the sinner liberated (Rom.3: 23).  This justification is by faith alone, hence, the Christian’s primary concern must be to grow, not in reliance on works, but in strengthening one’s faith.  Luther cites Jesus when confronted by the Jews what the work of God was, “to believe on Him whom He hath sent…” (Jn.6: 27-29).

Commands Teach Us What is Good, But They Do Not Help Us Obey

Precepts (commands) teach us what is good “thou shall not…” but it does not empower us to obey.  Once one understands the aforementioned, that person is ready to believe the promises of God, which by faith aids the obeying of commands, “the promises of God give that which the precepts exact” p.11 (see; 1 Tim.1: 9).  To disbelieve God’s promises is the highest form of insult toward Him, while the converse is the greatest honor toward the Almighty (1 Sam. 2:30).  Among other things Luther makes a case for the priesthood of all believers and sees the system that separates “laity” from “priest”,  “clergy” etc., as bad because the notion is not biblical.

Why Are Good Works Commanded?

To the objection: “if faith is everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded?  Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”  Luther affirms no!  Pertaining to his freedom, man is justified (inwardly) subject to none, but concerning his works (outwardly) he is subject to all and the servant of all.  For Luther, those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), in his words: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works” p.18 (Mt.7: 18).  He continues and asserts that good works prior to justification profit the non-believer nothing concerning salvation.  But Luther wholeheartedly embraced the doing and teaching of good works to the highest degree, especially directed toward others (Phil.2: 1-4) as imitators of Christ (Phil.2: 5-8).   The works, which overflow from the joy of being justified, the believer is not concerned with recognition or recompense from friend or foe.  Luther then uses the Virgin Mary, and St. Paul as examples of the aforesaid life.

Justification is the Grounds for Love

For Luther, the man justified by faith in Christ is the one who serves his neighbor by love.  The liberty of the justified is a freedom from all sins, laws, and commandments (1 Tim.1: 9), and a liberty from believing that good works makes one right before God.

 Luther, Table Talk on Justification[2]

In Luther’s Table Talk on Justification, he begins by asserting that it is impossible for the papist to understand this article.  One remains a child of God even though periodically he sin or be tempted, for he is the Shepherds lamb.  Christians make the best use of natural wisdom and understanding because through faith, their reason furthers their understanding of things divine, not so with the unregenerate.  Their understanding is darkened because it strives against faith.

For Luther, the workmen who continuously is improving his craft, is like the righteous who constantly strive to increase their faith.  Faith and Hope are distinguishable in that, among other things, the former; it looks to the word and promise of truth, whereas the latter; looks to that which the Word promises (i.e., the good or benefit).  Again, faith is necessary for salvation because man is justified by it before God through Christ the Lord.  Justification is the key doctrine for all theological disputation; one cannot merit it, it is an inheritance from the Father, it bears the fruit of generosity toward neighbor, it produces virtues (the greatest being patience) and good works in the believer.  Luther understands that a believer’s good works are incompletely good, because they proceed from a weak obedience.

Luther, Table Talk on the Church Fathers[3]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the church Fathers, he does not want to be too critical of the Fathers.  He considers Chrysostum a rhetorician whose exegesis goes awry concerning the message of the text.  On the one hand, Luther’s disgust with the following fathers are because justification is nowhere to be found: St. Jerome; for his writings are cold, Ambrose; for his books are poor, Augustine; for his inattention to faith in Galatians or Romans and his apparent siding with the Church’s authority.  On the other hand, Luther appreciates the writings of Epiphanius; who compiled a church history, and Prudentius; who is the best of Christian poets.

The Fathers must be read with caution.  Luther asserts this because: First, their exegetical methods draw attention away from the Gospel of Christ.  Second, their writings are used in a way that undervalues the teaching of Christ’s apostles.  Third, Augustine noted; the laws of the Jews brought less trouble to the church than the ordinances and traditions of the bishops.  For Luther, faithful Christians must heed the words of Christ and those who stray from them in their teaching, should be shunned.

Luther, Table Talk on the Scriptures[4]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the Scriptures, he views the Bible as the highest and best of all books.  He understands that rulers have tried to destroy the Bible, and its survival is seen as an act of God alone.  Luther compares it to the writings of Homer, Virgil, and the like, and concludes that there is no comparison, regardless of how fine and noble these antiquated books may be.  He is thankful that finally, the Bible is written in the German language for all to read and understand.

Part of the reason Luther sees the Bible as superior to the rest is because of it’s divine content of virtues and gift’s.  The Scriptures abound in comfort for those undergoing trials and tribulations.  They should be studied and judged not by mere reason alone, but in humility bathed with prayer.  Moreover, for Luther, the one who has mastered the principles of the text will not err in its interpretation, but will rather silence his adversaries.  He also affirms that the Bible is to trump the authority of the fathers, regardless of their value.  Again, Luther sees that the knowledge of God in Scripture supercedes any of the other sciences whether philosophers, or jurists for the effect it has on our eternal destiny.

Luther understands that there is no harder discipline of knowledge to master than that of divinity, even though worldly wisdom would hold the contrary position.  He sees the worse thing that could possibly happen to Christians is for the Word of God to be taken from them or falsified.  Among other things, Luther continues lauding the Scripture’s magnificence and comments on the many books of the Bible with the respective authors intended message (Judges, Proverbs, John, Paul, etc.), and the is a discussion on the different genres (example: Gospel parables).  For Luther, the ablest teacher of the Word is the one who so familiarizes with its every text, that the context, verse, and meaning of the passage are known.

[1] Concerning Christian Liberty: by Martin Luther 1520, “The Harvard Classics”, Volume 36 (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910, Pages 353-397)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.