Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

Justin-Martyr

Justin Martyr, First Apology[1]

In his first Apology, Justin addresses the Roman Emperor; Pius Augustus Caesar, his sons Versimmus and Lucius, both of which are philosophers, the Senate and all of the Roman people.  Martyr’s chief concern is regarding the injustice Christians are suffering at the hands of Roman authorities.  The Christian worldview is being egregiously misrepresented, and as such, Justin challenges these “lovers of truth” (the philosophers) to listen to reason, and to investigate to see whether or not the allegations raised against believers are warranted.

First, Christians are being condemned for simply bearing the name.  Justin points out that a mere name does not constitute whether one is evil or good, but rather the actions one does or does not commit should condemn or acquit them.

Second, Christians are charged of being atheists and Justin points out that they are atheists of a certain kind.  This atheism is not equivalent to our modern usage of the word.  Instead, it concerns the refusal of Christians to worship the pantheon of Roman gods, which Justin rightly labels as “demons”, which are not gods at all.  Instead Christians acknowledge only Jesus Christ as God, the only one worthy to be worshipped.

Third, Justin accentuates the need for Christians individually to be tried to see if they actually are evildoers, and if found guilty, they ought to be punished.  But to merely condemn one for bearing the name “Christian” lacks reason, and it is a travesty of justice.

Fourth, Justin points out the foolishness of idol worship and demonstrates how God is to be served.  Idols are nothing but soulless dead representations of contingent beings (creatures) and as such, to worship them is not only senseless but an offense to God (creator).  Since God is the only necessary being, he is the source of all things, and as such, the service that God accepts, must conform to the excellencies that reside in Him.  Moreover, Justin points out that the Christians worship is rational and is based on Christ’s teaching, who among other things, calls all men to repentance from dead works to serve the living God.

Fifth, Justin continues with a litany of Christ’s teaching found in the Gospels.  Concerning truth telling, the believer is to let “your yes be yes, and your no, no”.   Regarding civil obedience, give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to Him.  Here, Justin distinguishes the proper relationship the Christian is to have with the state and with God.

Sixth, Justin answers the heathen analogies to Christian doctrine, to the history of Christ and to his Sonship and points out that although there are similarities, truth and redemption are only found in Christ Jesus the Lord.  Since the aforementioned obtains, Christians have abandoned the worship of false gods, the practice of sorcery, and promiscuous behavior.

Seventh, Martyr points out that the life and works of Christ are predicted in the Hebrew prophets, and as such uses fulfilled prophecy to argue for the veracity of Christian doctrine.  He starts off with Moses describing the time of Jesus’ coming and his passion.  Then Isaiah (the most quoted prophet) describes the predicted virgin birth, reign, and crucifixion of Christ, while Micah describes Bethlehem as the place of his birth.  Furthermore, the Psalmist predicts his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension.   Justin also points out that Judea’s desolation, Christ’s healing ministry, and rejection by the Jews are also foretold.  Hence, if what was foretold has already been fulfilled, for Justin, it stands to reason that the predictions not yet fulfilled, will be.  And are thus worthy to be believed.

Eighth, Justin explains that even though demons have instituted the rite of baptism in their temples, true baptism is reserved only for those who are born again.  He continues to explain that partaking of the Eucharist is reserved only for those who have been regenerated and baptized.  He finally explains the reason they worship on Sunday and explains their liturgy.

Justin concludes his letter in the manner in which he started, he appeals to reason and justice. He challenges his audience, if the material presented is reasonable and true, and then they should honor it and not decree the innocent to be killed.  If it is nonsensical, they should totally disregard it. He then warns them that they will not escape the coming judgment of God if they do not stop their injustice.

[1] Martyr, Justin, “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, pp.163-187,) T & T

Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

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Reflections From 1st Corinthians Chapter 6: HOW IS INEPT JUDGMENT BASED ON IGNORANCE and WHAT MAY RESULT? (Vs. 1-11)

1-corinthians

In this chapter Paul continues the theme of how believers are to properly judge one another in the church.  He does this by; first shaming those who don’t judge (for they will even judge angels), and secondly by warning those who live cavalierly of the shaky ground they are on:

“Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

First, Paul uses an “a fortiori argument” (from the lesser to the greater, or with greater force all the more[1]) in order to point out the gravity of what’s occurring with believers, namely they are “suing each other”.

These whom the apostle calls; “saints” are acting like “aint’s”.  Those whom Paul describes as “called” are living like the “not called”.  Their inability to properly make judgments within the church (Chapter 5) spills over into the court of a heathen judge.  Their moral ineptness to make righteous distinctions was lamentable and occurred because of their ignorance regarding final salvation (e.g., the future judgment of angelic beings and the world they were to execute).  Thus, if the forthcoming judgments are weightier, these present judgments should be much simpler.  But for them it was not the case.

Paul here seems to undermine (perhaps mock) their (lack of) “knowledge and wisdom” about ultimate issues and say something that may seem to be contradictory.  In chapter 5:12-13 Paul says that believers judge insiders and God judges outsiders:  “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges,” yet in chapter 6:2 he says that believers will judge the world.

If world means angelic and human beings (v.3)—supporting said notion, then the issue is not if, but when we are to judge these beings—in the future.  Thus, presently, we are to focus on our own, God will deal with the non-believer.  But I’m still puzzled about future judgement.

Presently we are judging whether or not something is in accord with godliness or not, whether it is sinful or righteous.  In the future, sin will be no more, so what then will we judge?  I think the answer is that we will judge not over what is righteous or wicked, but on how righteousness will inform our distinctions (e.g. the wiser way to rule and reign perhaps?).

That is, the present judgments we are to presently make have a moral texture to them.  Distinguishing between what is good and evil.  However, in the future (in the new heaven and the new earth) these judgments will have an application to righteousness alone, for the former world of sin death and corruption will be no more.

I think this makes sense because God is the fountain and eternal source of just judgments before creation and after it.  As the redeemed creation and community of God, in the future there will no longer be slavery to wickedness, only the freedom to make righteous judgments.  I’m aware of the weightiness and nuanced intricacies of the aforesaid, but that seems to me a reasonable view.  So, Paul uses an argument from the lessor (i.e., judge among yourselves) to the greater (i.e., since, or because you will judge angels and the world).

Second, Paul shames the Corinthians because of their ignorance (i.e., they are the redeemed community of God the Righteous Judge) and subsequent ungodly dealings with one another.  These people thought more highly of themselves then they should have, blinded by their own pride, instead of being wronged or defrauded, they executed lawsuits against each other before unrighteous judges.  Both parties (the perpetrators and the victims) were guilty of unrighteousness according to the apostle.  This state of affairs was a bad sign of the genuineness of their faith.

Third, Paul warns them to not be deceived, and then describes those who will not enter God’s kingdom (neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers).  Paul reminds the Corinthians that once they were practiced these things, but now exhorts them to leave it all behind, and embrace Christ in their life, in how they live.

I see Paul alluding to the topic of new birth which brings about new life, and includes the real battle of sin each believer contends with (Romans 6-7).  Paul confronts the Corinthians wickedness with gospel truth and he calls them back to live in light of their identity.  The real followers of Christ will eventually return to Christ, the hypocrites ultimately won’t.

So, it could be said that inept judgment is based on ignorance.  That is, ignorance of our identity in Christ and our inheritance in Him inevitably results in a community that flounders rather than flourishes.

God give your church the grace to courageously, compassionately and swiftly deal with the strays within our own ranks as we entrust those outside the fold to You; the Just Judge who always does what is good beautiful and true.

(SDG)

[1] Peter Angeles, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, pg.5, © 1992 by Peter A. Angeles

Reflections From 1 Corinthians Chapter 5: HOW IS ADULTERY AN EXPRESSION OF ARROGANCE RATHER THAN LOVE? (Vvs.1-5)

 

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When it comes to any subject today, we either ground it ultimately on the creature or the Creator.  That is, someone’s “world-view” finally influences the way what is true, beautiful, and good is determined.  Today, the “same-sex marriage” is a case in point.  Two contradictory views are affirmed with this idea.  It boldly denies design on the one hand (i.e., marriage is what I the creature say it is a-la-moral relativism) but simultaneously invokes an immaterial “ought” of live and let live with those that disagree with said position.  This is problematic so I’ll try to explain.

First, “same-sex marriage” affirms that there’s no ultimate design to marriage, thus we make of it what the creature says and by implication affirm naturalism/materialsim which holds that human beings are nothing more than a body, not a mind/soul.  If humans are merely physical entities, than we have no meaning in life, since meaning is not physical, but immaterial.

Second, if one opposes the “same-sex marriage” position, they are labeled as haters, bigots, non-progressive idiots, etc.  The situation now slides into the world of “ought” of right and wrong, the immaterial world from where meaning comes.  Here in is the dilemma, on the one hand naturalism (i.e., physicalism) is affirmed which opposes any notion of mind, spirit, etcetera and simultaneously there’s the affirmation of an immaterial reality, which affirms humans are both mind and body (i.e., dualism, or substance dualism).  Whenever a contradiction arises, as in this case, we know there’s a falsehood and the “buyer” should beware.

In this world of ideas precious human beings are entangled, this is the field where life is lived and rules have far reaching consequences.  For example, naturalism affirms that there’s no God or gods, no design, and our existence is accidental and thus purposeless.  It’s the worldview that supports Darwinian evolutionary thought and the perch on which atheism rests.  If this is true why all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation?

Again, there’s Monism which affirms among other things that everything is one, mind is core, distinctions are eradicated, and life is essentially illusory or “maya”.  This is the worldview under which Buddhism and much of Hinduism exists.  If this existence is illusory, then our experiences are essentially meaningless.  If this is true why all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation?

Then there’s monotheism and specifically Christian Trinitarian theism that affirms a designer “God” the creator, sustainer, and author of life who grounds the meaning of what is good, beautiful and true.  This worldview affirms the physical and immaterial, it understands that we are body and soul, and it also affirms the world of “ought” of what is right and wrong, all of which are based on the Creator, not the creature.   If this is true, then all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation is warranted.

I say these things because from the biblical standpoint, love is grounded in the Creator, never the creature.  Thus, the designer determines what real love is, not a culture that is seriously broken because of its arrogance.

In Paul’s day, he had to deal with a similar issue of making the creature the measure of all things and by default the Creator is pushed aside, slighted, minimized, scorned and belittled by the creature’s “arrogance” “pride”.  This human trait sets itself up against God, becomes his judge, and shamelessly spits on the brow of He who gives us life.  Consider what the apostle says:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Like Israel, the Corinthian church had crossed a line of sexual immorality that even the pagans (i.e., Gentiles) in their day would not, that is, a son had sexual relations with his fathers’ wife.  This could be a step-mother or actual, the text does not say.  The moral compass here is shattered as God’s design of sexuality is ignored and shamefully the church did nothing.

The church failed to discipline the perpetrators and thus allowed the situation to continue.  Paul says this is a lamentable occasion fueled by the Corinthians apathy caused by their pride.  This is a recurring theme in the first letter where false knowledge actually produces death in the practitioners, not life.  And this false knowledge (i.e., which is contra Christ, the gospel, and held to be true), is fueled by human pride.

Church discipline while painful to receive and weighty to administer is absolutely necessary for the health of the church, the individuals involved in the transgression, and mostly God’s honor and glory.  Several thoughts to consider:

First, the text does not say whether or not the father is alive when this act occurred, but for Paul (i.e., God’s authoritative spokesman) it seems to not matter because he passed judgment on the action and ordered the man to be removed from the assembly.  This stroke of discipline illustrates the urgency needed to act on behalf of the transgressor, for the sin reveals the grave rift that obtains between he and God.

Second, not only is the man to be removed from the local church, his body is to be “delivered over to Satan” for the destruction of his flesh (v.5), this is severe, yet the purpose has final salvation in view, not momentary grief.  The “flesh” is what needs to be destroyed so that his spirit may be saved.

Does he mean by “flesh” his sinful nature as in other places in Paul’s writings, or his physical body, or perhaps both his body and sinful nature?  It seems that it’s his body which is what Satan is to work on destroying so that he won’t be lost.  Perhaps this may be akin to the pummeling Job received from Satan.  The difference though is that Job was a humble upright and righteous man, whereas this man is immoral revealed by his arrogance and wickedness.  What we today take so lightly and as a right of self-expression Paul’s attitude is that it will damn the perpetrator, sexual immorality is lethal to the soul.

Third, Paul says that he has “decided to deliver” this man to Satan, but how is that accomplished?  Is this something only the apostle has the authority to do or for the church as well?  Contextually, I would say the latter not the former.  Could it be that ex-communicating someone from the church actually makes them vulnerable to Satanic attack and destruction?  Sometimes it seems to be the case.

This hearkens back to Romans chapter 1 where God gave over rebellious mankind to their lusts and passions because they exchanged the truth of God’s glory as Creator for a lie and worshipped the creature instead.  This state of affairs came from humanity’s futile speculations which darkened their hearts evidenced in this church goers adultery with his mother.  It’s not according to God’s design, but a perversion of His good gifts.

Fourth, note that this discipline is to be done in Paul’s absence and in the power and name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a sobering solemn act, not one where song and rejoicing is expressed.  It is Jesus who is brought to center attention since it’s His church which He has purchased with his blood and is continuously building.

We have here a model for church discipline done by the church, the Body of Christ Jesus, so that the Head of the Body (Christ Jesus) may be honored through His people’s holiness, rather than ravaged by its wickedness.

It’s not loving to commit adultery but arrogant because its contra God’s design and plan for human flourishing.  What we believe is either grounded on what the Creator has revealed or what the creature says.  Thus, if God has spoken, how then shall we live?

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 Corinthians Chapter 4:6-21__ “WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF OUR PRIDE AND HOW DO WE REMEDY IT?”

1-corinthians

Paul continues his thought from verses 1-5 and explains the previous clause in verse 6:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

To what is Paul figuratively applying to himself and Apollos?  Not to make any judgements?  I think not since he’s calling out their arrogance and thus making a judgment.  Is it that Paul is ignorant of his own sin and doesn’t judge himself?  Again, I think not since partaking of the Lord’s Table requires self-examination and he exhorts believers to judge themselves in 1 Corinthians 11.

Could it be that the Corinthians judgment of Paul is insignificant to him or that of any human court concerning the value of his apostleship?  Perhaps but, why figuratively, why not speak plainly?  Could it be to confound their alleged “wisdom”?  More likely it’s that he’s a steward and servant of Christ.  But how can one possibly be the servant and steward of Christ and God’s mysteries since the deity is the source of all life and is self-existent?  He clues us in and says, “…stewards must be found trustworthy”.

I take that to mean that that if one is trustworthy, it’s based on Christ’s work on their behalf in election or being chosen by Him (see chapters 1:30-31; 3:6-10), rather than by any human autonomous ultimate choice.  I think that’s what Paul is driving home, the purpose here is to take the Corinthians back to God’s word which is foolishness to the world of men, but is actually God’s power and wisdom.

Paul is exhorting these believers to be God-centered in their thoughts by being Word-centered, the fruit of which is humility, not arrogance.  That is, when our standard of wisdom and knowledge is based on the creature, not the Creator’s revelation to us, arrogance will follow.  This arrogance is plain when we compare ourselves among ourselves and Paul says that that’s foolish, unbiblical and results from this fallen evil age.  It’s stupid thinking!

That was a problem then, and remains until today.  Which “superstar” pastor do you enjoy hearing friend?  And who do you disparage even if they are faithful to Christ’s word?  We have a human weakness that is ever present and raises it’s despicable head when we make much of the creature and little of the Creator because His word is not the ultimate source we turn to for wisdom and knowledge.

Paul is now going to first ask the Corinthians a question that concerns the source of their thought life and points out first that their gifts were not earned, but given, thus boasting here is immoral.  And secondly, Paul seems to ridicule their refrain and opinion of him:

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”   

Again here we essentially see the marks of true discipleship in Paul where according to this world’s wisdom the apostle’s life is ultimately unattractive, unsophisticated, and unbearable (v.9) “men condemned to death”, (v.10) “fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are without honor”, (v.11) “we are both hungry and thirsty…poorly clothed…roughly treated…homeless;”, (v.13) “…we are slandered…the scum of the world…dregs of all things,

These descriptions of Paul the world loathes in its wisdom and the Corinthians have drunk deep from its’ well.  Thus, not only does Paul explain from where their gifts come, and ridicules their view of him, but thirdly he explains his motive for said descriptions and his argument from verse 1:

14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”   

Paul does not want to shame but rather exhort them to follow his example as a father would to his children.  He can say this because he’s following Christ and by doing so, unlike the Corinthians, he’s living in light of the Gospel which is producing hardships that from a worldly perspective looks to be a wasted life.

So Paul not only wants them to imitate his faithfulness to Christ, but fourthly he goes on to explain that his motive in sending Timothy was for them to see what a real disciple looks like:

17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. 21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

Note how Paul compares Timothy’s faithfulness to the Corinthians unfaithfulness by his disclosure of Timothy as “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord”.  Here we see Paul’s prior rebuke and necessary exhortation (vv. 17-18) to children in the Lord who are filled with pride and are losing their way because they heed worldly wisdom.

Timothy is a faithful man of God because he’s grounded in the apostolic teaching which issues from the Lord Himself (Mt.7:28-29).  Thus, a pattern of teaching obtains from Paul which Timothy replicates in every place he teaches.  He’s telling the Corinthians to heed Timothy’s teaching because it’s like Paul’s.

Finally, Paul addresses those who are arrogant and calls them out: “You can talk for sure, but can you walk it out?”  That’s what I see Paul doing by asking them to see their, “power” and not their “words” (vv.19-20).  What we know is that this power is from the Spirit which produces new birth in dead souls (1 Cor.2), not mere words, but as it were, “God breathed life giving powerful words”.

Paul is calling the Corinthians out on their ignorance to which their arrogance so swiftly blinds them.  We must remember that this pride still blinds people today from seeing and delighting in the Gospel of Christ, and is thus ready to damn the prideful into a Christ-less eternity where God’s just wrath awaits the ungodly.  That’s pride’s danger, but it’s remedy is a God-centered, Word-centered, Gospel oriented life.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 4: IS THEIR EVER A TIME TO JUDGE ANOTHER’S WORK IN THE GOSPEL? (Vvs.1-5)

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Paul continues his thought from chapter three and exhorts the believers to think biblically, truthfully, when they regard the apostle’s status:

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

Like the Corinthians, many of us tend to label and decipher a person’s value based on their status in life.  To assist them in their view of the apostle, Paul says; “regard us as servants of Christ…stewards of God’s mysteries.”  Note the gravity and humility of this statement.

On the one hand, the gravity of being put in charge to steward, care for and appropriately handle the mysteries of God (i.e., to unfold the meaning of the incarnation and work of Christ on Calvary’s cross) as revealed to the apostle by Christ himself.

On the other hand, consider Paul’s humility recognizing that he’s Christ’s servant not a “superstar apostle” celebrity.  Contrary to the Corinthian blunder of comparing themselves among each other, Paul compares himself to no mere man, but recognizes his status before the risen Lord as a servant.  All who are in ministerial work are just that, servants and nothing more.

They are servants who have received mercy and God’s kindnesses.  That’s why any boasting that’s not Christ centered is truly in vain.  The Creator has given all things which the creature enjoys (i.e., salvation and gifts which accompany God’s people) freely, these are not earned.  Thus, to boast in that which you have not accomplished and posing as if you did is indeed delusional.

After describing his position as servant and steward, Paul accentuates that not just anyone can be a steward, only he who is “trustworthy” which implies that many are not and as a result, can’t be stewards (i.e., the Corinthians).  This is emphasized because the Corinthian’s seem to have questioned Paul’s legitimacy as an authority to heed.

Paul explains to these believers that their view of him and especially his apostleship is insignificant because he knows that God the Judge will have the last word on such matters and will rightly approve or disapprove of his work on the final day.  Do we realize the weight of this understanding?  Can we appreciate the profundity of this reality that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and be rewarded for our service and receive our praise from God?

Paul thus commands these believers to withhold their judgment because the day approaches when our works and motives fueling said works will be exposed by the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-wise God who perfectly and without bias judges.

We all long for praise, it seems, especially when we do something well because of our skill set.  This brings a measure of satisfaction, nevertheless, longing for the creatures praise is too short sighted, since they too only see our actions through the “key-hole” of life.  Paul is wisely pointing the Corinthians and us to look for God’s approval, praise and reward for its’ worth has an infinite texture to it that our creaturely praise can’t compare.

(SDG)

1 Corinthians Chapter 3: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BOAST IN GOD ALONE? (Vvs.9-23)

1-corinthians

After correcting the Corinthians on the erroneous bent to make much of men and by default little of God (Vvs.1-8), Paul gives the reason for why they are to boast in God for gospel fruit and not their favorite ministers:

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Paul first accentuates that the players are the apostles (the builders) and the Corinthians (the building, the field, the tabernacle of God by the Spirit’s indwelling).  Both are needy, both comprise the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and both have differing tasks according to the wisdom and knowledge of God.

If these believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then Paul could not affirm that they are the building of God.  That is, the fact these believers are the temple of God points to the divinity of the Spirit who is God and who is also the author of the gospel message preached by Paul and the other ministers.

Paul continues to explain that this building’s foundation is Christ (the foundation which has been laid down by the apostle) and like a wise master builder was built through Paul because of the grace of God.  Building upon the foundation which is Christ requires great care (a metaphor for edifying and growing people on and in the gospel message).  Here’s where some obscurity arises.

When the work of ministry is performed in accordance to the gospel message, lasting fruit will be borne and its genuineness will be revealed by the All-wise God’s furnace of truth: determining what is acceptable to Him and what is not, purifying what is acceptable and destroying what is not (vv.10-15).  Reward and the loss thereof are at stake here for the workers on God’s field/house, not salvation (as I understand it).  Paul now turns his focus off the workers and onto God’s building, His temple and exclaims to the Corinthians:

16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.  18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”

The apostle Paul pricks the Corinthians pride (their “altar of knowledge”) and finds it desperately wanting.  Their boasting in men reveals the ineptness of their capacity to judge righteously (something Jesus commanded his followers to enact) that they are in fact “God’s temple” by the Spirit’s indwelling.  Now Paul warns the perpetrator that “to destroy God’s temple”, will result in their own destruction.  How is God’s temple destroyed in the context?

It’s not destroyed by food, drink, illicit sex or a host of other sins.  Contextually, what destroys God’s temple (His people, His church) is pride revealed through their boasting in the creature (e.g., Paul, Cephas, Apollos, etc.) instead of the Creator (i.e., the source of all the good gifts they enjoy and derive tremendous benefit from).  When we make much of the creature, we tend to make little of the Creator and when this occurs, deception is occurring, demonic activity is raging and we are the tools being used.

Remember that the comparison between this world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ is made so that those who fancy themselves to be clever will humble themselves to accept the foolishness of the cross.  Paul’s warning the Corinthians who claim to know God, that if they are operating under the world’s wisdom (see chapter 1-2) then they can’t belong to Christ.  And if they in fact do belong to Christ, then their boasting is not based on God’s wisdom and knowledge, a knowledge that is simple yet profound, easily understood yet incapable of being fully grasped.

So Paul concludes this thought by commanding the Corinthians never to boast in men because they belong to God who is their greatest treasure, supreme good and delight.  To boast in the creature is an act in futility (this is not addressing the command elsewhere to give honor to whom honor is due) because we are finite, needy and utterly dependent on God who is infinite, self-existent and kind to us through the foolishness of the cross of Christ.

To boast in God alone then means to make much of God, and little of man.  It means that our praise is properly placed according to the worth of our object.  It means that we are rightly appraising what is true, beautiful and good.  It means here that we recognize that any gospel fruit is sourced in God alone, never in the minister.

(SDG)

Now Available in Summary Form: “A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF SPIRITUALITY” by Francis Schaeffer

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In volume three A Christian View of Spirituality, Schaeffer dovetails the thought of the “God who is There”, and considers what spirituality consists of.   He starts off by accentuating the fact that no people are “little” or insignificant because they are image bearers and it’s often the little matters that have monumental consequences in life.  Moreover, true spirituality is always grounded in the thought life where ideas ultimately govern people’s destiny.  Because the life of the mind is downplayed in many Evangelical circles, too many of its’ youth who grow up in church leave the faith never to return.  a major contributing factor is the egregious way God’s word is ignored and handles by leadership.  Sermons are constructed in shallow and glib manners.  This has terrible effects on the witness and vitality of the church.   The remedy is getting back to sound doctrine and living out its implications so that Christ is honored among the nations as the church community is true to the Lord. Follow the link Volume 3_A Christian View of Spirituality  and enjoy friend.

Reflections From 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 2: HOW IS GOD’S WISDOM MANIFEST IN GOSPEL COMMUNICATION? (Vvs.6-9)

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Paul continues this theme of wisdom and turns it (if you will) upside down.  On the one hand, the apostle refused to succumb to the pressure of using rhetoric as a means to connect with his audience, so that when he preached Christ, the testimony of God would not lose its power, but also so that these “word smiths” would not rely on human wisdom, tact, etc., but instead on the Spirit’s power.

On the other hand, it’s that very tactic of Paul that is Gods wisdom (which seems foolish to the unregenerate soul).  Paul explains:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Note how Paul says that the wisdom he speaks of is God’s wisdom spoken among the mature (i.e., those who understand that their calling and standing before God was all God’s doing, not theirs).  The mature here are those the world considers to be foolish because they trust in the eyewitness account of the God/Man’s life death and resurrection.

So this wisdom of God is spoken among the “called”, “saints” etc., a wisdom sourced in the Creator not the creature, it’s a wisdom in this present evil age that is from the age to come, it’s a wisdom the rulers of this age do not possess nor can grasp, it’s a wisdom granted by God.

So this wisdom (which I take to mean Christ crucified contextually) was previously hidden predestined by God before time to be mysterious for His glory.  Now I’m not sure how to interpret the phrase “to our glory”.  Could it be that Paul is referring to future glorification in the consummation of the new heavens and the new earth?  Perhaps it speaks of the praise due to those who embrace the message of the cross (even though their calling, redemption, and saintliness are God’s work) and thus despise this world’s wisdom of rejecting the message.

Again, it could be pointing to the honor and value we place on those who possess certain kinds of knowledge that when applied to the knowledge of God, that one has reached the heights of knowledge.  Perhaps it’s all three, or something else not mentioned but Paul continues and provides a phrase that clarifies God’s wisdom compared to the creature:

but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”    

I take rulers to refer to demonic spirits or Satan himself, not human beings.  The reason is because since the beginning in the Garden of Eden unto the present, satanic deception has been a constant affront to God’s word and plans.  Demonic spirits and Satan himself have outlasted all rulers.  Through the wisdom of God’s word and message, demonic ideas that exalt themselves above the knowledge of Christ are demolished by argumentation.  These ideas are called “strongholds” in 2 Cor. 10:1-6:

“Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”  

These ideas come from the god of this world (Satan) who blinds those who don’t believe the message of the cross.  We have a real enemy, and God with his foolishness (i.e., Christ’s Cross) defeated Satan and his creaturely wisdom (i.e., the crucifixion) through the hidden means now revealed to the called—redemption through the last Adam’s atoning death and resurrection from the grave.  Death died with the death of Christ and no creature had a clue what was truly occurring—including Satan.

This previously hidden wisdom, knowledge and power have been displayed to those who love God, not to those who hate Him.  So why is the cross God’s wisdom?  It’s because through it God accomplished his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of being a blessing to the nations, plural, through the Messiah.  To Greeks this is foolishness (which indicates they understood the message but rejected the implications of it) and to the Jews this message is a stumbling block (Messiah is to reign, not die, thus a dying deliverer is intolerable, an oxymoron).  Nevertheless, to the “called” both Greek and Jew alike, the message is the power and wisdom of God.

May we His people not cower with the message of Christ, but instead may we clearly and winsomely proclaim it, explain it, and live out its implications among those who are perishing whether it is foolishness to them or a stumbling block.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1st Corinthians 2: HOW DO WE MINISTER TO GIFTED, KNOWLEDGEABLE, & PROUD PEOPLE?

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Human pride is that malady that makes much of the creature and little of the Creator. It disproportionately attaches value to self and turns what is good and beautiful into a hideous reality.  Paul continues his thought from chapter one and offers personal biography that’s focused on intent:

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”   (Vvs.1-5)

When a crowd is gifted, knowledgeable, and proud, if we were able, many of us would be tempted to show our intellectual prowess in order to spar with the opposition.

To possess intellectual gifts and have a facility with theological and philosophical ideas and their requisite analysis has an appropriate place in gospel persuasion.  Certainly Paul could do this but when it came to the proclamation of the gospel, his strategy for persuasion is one of simplicity and substance.  This surely mocks human pride and showcases its emptiness.

Paul neither comes with rhetoric nor this world’s wisdom when he proclaims the testimony of God, but instead focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ and Calvary’s cross.  His purpose for doing this was so that believers would not trust in the creature’s mere words, but in the demonstrable power of the God/Man.

The incarnation of Christ (i.e., God became a fully functioning human being without any sin) is not one of the many critical aspects of the gospel, but the absolute heart of it.  In Jesus of Nazareth, God took on human flesh (while not at all compromising the perfections of His being of: aseity, simplicity, omniscience, omnipresence, omnisapience, omnibenevolence, etc.) which to the Jew was impossible (and a stumbling block) and to the Greeks (foolishness) but to the called it’s both the wisdom and power of God.

Now this demonstration of the Spirit’s power had to include signs, wonders, healings, etc.  Something other worldly followed Paul’s proclamation, but the greatest evidence was the church which had regenerated souls who once were dead in trespasses and sins.  This can’t be overstated but too often is misconstrued.  New birth truly is a miracle, where human will adds nothing to that reality according to Paul (something many believers have difficulty reconciling between the order of salvation: does faith precede new birth or does new birth precede faith).

Today, many false conversions obtain in America specifically because of a doctrine of salvation that says “by faith alone” I’m saved.  True, but that faith is “never alone”, it produces the evidence of new life in how a professing believer lives.

This state of affairs generally results from a functional illiteracy of the gospel of Christ, and a relativistic understanding of “faith” that is neither able to be verified or falsified, is not understood to be in the realm of knowledge, and is thus relegated to the private, subjective and personal sphere.  That’s not good news, but rather an indictment on church leadership that has forsaken the eternal, inerrant, infallible word of God and exchanged it for the temporal, errant, fallible word of men.

If one of us can’t “believe” in this book called Holy Scripture, the Bible, because men wrote it, then there’s a problem with consistency.  Daily men are trying to persuade us to their views of: politics, science, philosophy, history, theology, ethics, etc. through their writings.  Why do we choose to believe their views?  Are we to seriously discard everything they say because they wrote it?  There’s more going on here than meets the eye friends.

For Paul and those wanting to be faithful to gospel of Christ, the way to minister to knowledgeable, gifted and proud people is to keep it simple without being simplistic.  Because the gospel of Christ while being simple is exceedingly profound, and it is therefore the duty of every teacher to do their due diligence in order to not be derelicts with the treasure of God’s word.

(SDG)

REFLECTIONS FROM 1st CORINTHIANS: CHAPTER 1: DO CALLED SAINTS EVER HAVE TO OVERCOME PRIDE?

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My goal in writing reflections from 1st Corinthians are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source.  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly because it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

This first letter of Paul to the Corinthian church is one of his earliest writings, occasioned by internal strife among believers fueled by pride in the creature rather than the Creator:

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Vvs.1-9) 

 

These verses let us peer into several facts about the letter, the audience and the key issue at hand.  First, as in all his letters, Paul establishes his credentials as sourced in God’s will (v.1), not mans’, so that his apostolic ministry is sanctioned by the Lord of the church not an earthly institution or movement.  Why is this significant?  Because unless one is sanctioned from above, they don’t have the authority to speak into how we come to understand God, love God, and walk humbly before God.  Paul is saying, what I’m about to deliver to you comes from the uncreated Creator through the created creature.

Second, the audience is the church of God in Corinth which means that as Christ’s prized possession, through his shed blood on Calvary have been purchased by God’s mercy and grace and as such have been sanctified in Him (v.2).  They are holy because Christ’s righteousness is theirs.  Moreover, they are saints—holy ones—by calling which means that its’ utterly God’s choosing not theirs (i.e., they brought nothing into the relationship to fulfill this state of affairs) concerning their rescue from wrath.

Again, those called, call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ which I take to mean that Jesus, because of his ontological status as Master, Shepherd, and God incarnate, is the source of all that is good.

Fourth, after describing who they are, Paul gives thanks for the grace the Corinthian church received evidenced in their speech, knowledge, and gifting (vvs.4-9) but something was amiss, there was internal strife.  Paul states:

10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.”   (Vvs.10-16)

Fifth, the apostle exhorts the believers not to divide among themselves over their favorite minister (e.g., Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Christ) as if they were anything special in one sense, (only Jesus Christ is redeemer and savior here, not his servants).  These divisions which must stop are evidenced in quarrels which are caused by their pride.  This problem is an overarching theme which influences what Paul says and how he says it throughout this letter.

Sixth, the contrast between the clever/foolish and between the wise/knowledgeable is also rife in the letter.  Consider how after Paul explains that his call was to preach the gospel rather than to baptize believers (vvs.14-16) and to do this in a specific way that hits a nerve with these prideful believers:

 

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

It’s not as if Paul is denigrating the life of the mind, but for the apostle how Christ is preached, how the gospel is presented, is fundamental to what it accomplishes.  If it rests on the cleverness of speech, it certainly will make the cross of Christ void.  That is, for those who “come behind in no gift and are enriched in all speech and knowledge” (1:5), if they don’t plainly and clearly speak the truth of Christ’s cross, true conversions won’t occur.

Seventh, I don’t think Paul is calling for “dumbing down” the message so that its breadth, length, height and depth are stripped.  Instead, what he is exposing here is the motive of pride which is the cause of why people reject the Gospel message.  The preaching event involves the word of God, the preacher, the hearer and the response.  Paul notes:

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

 Here the same word is either devalued or valued.  If devalued this word is unable to save from God’s wrath, that is those perishing can’t receive the message and thus be rescued.  If valued, then the message utterly rescues those who embrace it for in it God’s power resides.  The same word has two different effects; it has two different responses, but why?

I think the reason is found in the quote from Isaiah 29:14 which Paul cites (v.19).  Here, the prophet indicts a people who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.  This refers to the Jews, the people of the book, who should have known better but did not.  The result was judgment and destruction.  The same end awaits Gentiles too.

Jesus applied this same text to the Pharisees when their hearts were hardened to his message and person.  The main problem here as always, is that the word of men (i.e., tradition of washing of hands) wants to take precedence over the word of God (Mt. 15:1-9).

Paul in Romans (1:18-23) explains why God’s wrath is justly revealed and why men became fools: “they suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness and thus become darkened in their understanding.  They become fools.

James also addresses this issue in (4:1-7) where the people because they don’t love God but the world instead, live as fools because of the swelling of their own pride.

Paul’s point here is that human wisdom when compared to God’s is foolish and the reason for this is because the knowledge of the Creator is necessarily both ontologically and epistemically superior to all created things.  Ironically, the very foolishness of God in the preaching of the Cross of Christ is the remedy the Corinthian believers don’t see because of their blinding pride:

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Of course, the world sees the Cross either as a stumbling block (for the Jew) or foolishness (for the Gentiles “every non-Jew”).  The stumbling block is understood but not embraced, it is scandalous to Jews.  The foolishness is understood but not welcomed because it’s not sophisticated enough for the “wise”.

This demonstrates human ignorance concerning ultimate issues and also explains our need for God to move on the minds and hearts of blinded people which is what takes place for the “called”.  The “called” consist of both Jew and Gentile alike, who when hearing the message of the Cross love and embrace it, they see that it is—the wisdom and power of God:

22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 

Paul continues explaining how God’s infinite superior knowledge, His epistemological prowess, supersedes the creatures finite limited knowledge and how in the simplicities and complexities of the cross God accomplished His purpose of “choosing” the proud while simultaneously crushing their arrogance:

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.”   

And just in case there’s any misunderstanding of how the Corinthians got saved, Paul continues:

30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Human boasting is the highway to hell.  The knowledge of God revealed to us through Christ Jesus tells us minimally the following things.

First, the knowledge of God reveals that our religious tradition is an epistemological one where we can come to know the Creator God through His son.  Knowledge and specifically of God, is a necessary condition for salvation to obtain, though it is not sufficient.

Second, this knowledge is granted to us by God which means that it comes from outside of ourselves, it does not come from within the human being.  The reason here is so that there will be no boasting before God.  Moreover, this knowledge produces trust, or faith that results in rescue from God’s wrath.

Third, this understanding reveals the human malady of pride and the necessity of preaching the cross of Christ clearly and boldly so that many called may come into the kingdom.  Human pride caused the “Fall” in the Garden of Eden and Sovereign grace has come to rectify that malady.  May we not shy away from the foolishness or offense of the Cross due to our pride, instead may we along with Paul love it and cherish it as we endeavor to be salt and light in this dark world.  Lord have mercy on us.

(SDG)