Friday, February 20, 2009

1 Corinthians 5

This is a sticky one to discuss. In the case of the man living with his father's wife (note it is not his mother but his father's wife), Paul says that we apply a different standard to those who are in the church than we do to those who are outside the church. If we are required to not associate with immoral people we would have no one to associate with (including ourselves) and would never have the opportunity to present the Gospel to non Christians. (Jesus says to live in the world but to not be "of" the world -- that is worldly). It is not appropriate to apply or to expect Christian ethical behavioral standards to people who do not profess to be Christians.

However, he goes on to say, we must apply these higher expectations to ourselves and to those who profess to be Christians. We usually apply this standard to the question of leadership. Although the worshipping community called the church is open and available to any and all who seek to come, leadership in the church is necessarily reserved for those who are professing and practicing followers of Jesus. I am reminded that on any given Sunday my gathered congregation includes committed followers of Jesus, loosely committed followers of Jesus, and many who are uncommitted.

I worry when I read research that indicates that, for the most part, the behavior of people inside the church is not all that different from the behavior of people outside the church. And then I remember this passage in Paul and am reminded that it was not so different in the early years. But that historical understanding is no excuse. We have to set a higher standard for ourselves and we have to strive to live up to them. And, when we fail, we get up and keep trying.
Dr. BJ

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2:2 "I resolved to not know anything except Jesus Christ and him crucified!" I find this both difficult and extraordinary advice. All too often, Christians think they have to know all the answers to all the questions. In my experience there are a lot of questions that have no available answers. I have found that there are a lot of questions that are an end in themselves (the question is the point). If we resolved only to know what we absolutely know -- Jesus is the Son of God, sent from God to offer his life on the Cross, be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven. Through the choice of becoming a follower of Jesus we receive the gift of salvation and eternal life -- we would not find ourselves in a lot of needless arguments over words, phrases and processes. Something to work on. . .
Now, having said that. Paul was an exceptionally well educated man who, as his letters clearly show, utilizes his learning and knowledge in his preaching and in his Apostolic work. So, don't think Paul is pretending to be some back woods preacher who claims to know nothing but the book. Paul quotes pagan philosophers and is well schooled in the use of rhetoric. He is profoundly acquainted with the Bible and is keenly aware of the political realities of his time. What matters is Jesus. What matters is how can we help more people come to know him!

Monday, February 16, 2009

1 Corinthians 1

The Corinthian church was located in southern Greece. Corinth was a very prosperous commercial center for the Roman empire. Corinth was known for its excesses and debauchery, kind of a "what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth" kind of mentality. The Romans had a word that meant "to corinthianize" which meant to take something decent and pure and totally debauch it. It was not exactly a nice place. Most of Paul's letters to the Corinthian church are written to address specific issues within the congregation -- behaviors, attitudes, excesses, spiritual issues, bad theology, etc.
Three things to notice in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:
1. Notice in 1:2 that the letter is to the Corinthians "and all others" -- Paul wrote it to a specific church in a specific place and time but the teaching is intended to be universal.
2. 1:10-17 -- the church has struggled with factions. There is a party spirit within the congregation (not a let's party -- but political party spirit). They a divided around who brought them to faith -- Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and the Christ party. These factions are pulling the church apart.
3. 1:22-23 -- preaching the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has some awkward responses from the general public. The Jews consider the crucifixion a "stumbling block" the OT says "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree" and so the Jewish listeners cannot reconcile the message of grace with someone who has been cursed. The Greeks consider the preaching of the cross to be foolishness. In Greco-Roman culture, crucifixion was the worse kind of execution and was not spoken of in polite society. For a preacher of faith to stand up and INTENTIONALLY speak of some one's crucifixion would have been consider is the poorest of taste (a foolish thing to do).
Dr. BJ

Thursday, February 12, 2009

finishing up Romans

Finishing up Romans:
Romans 12 -- Paul reminds us that the Church is not an organization but an organism. We are all members (various parts and pieces) of the Body of Christ. Apart from the body (and apart from Jesus)we can do nothing. Together we can do great things!
Romans 13 -- be good citizens.
Romans 14 -- Practical advice on living the Christian life. The key element of this chapter is Paul reminding us that we are responsible for the influence we have on others -- our lives are living examples of Christ.
Romans 15 -- Paul finally gives the reason for writing this systematic letter of introduction: He plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain. Paul feels called to preach where no one has every preached before and feels called to go to Spain. He is going to stop in Rome, gather support and go on. We do not know if Paul ever made it to Spain. Tradition makes it unlikely. When Paul took the offering for the poor to Jerusalem from the Churches in Macedonia and Greece, he was arrested for being the center of a Riot. To save his life, and his honor, he appeals to Rome and is eventually sent there for trial. The Book of Acts has Paul preaching under house arrest in Rome. Tradition tells us that Paul was martyred in Rome -- if that is the case then he never made it to Spain.
Romans 16 -- Paul sends greetings to everyone in the church in Rome that he knows. It is in interesting list. 16:7 Andonicus and Junia are listed as "prominent among the Apostles" which essentially means they are listed as Apostles. Junia is the Latin form of the Hebrew name Johanna. It is speculated in some circles that this is the same Johanna who was a witness to the resurrection in the gospel. It is curious to have a woman listed with the apostles in this manner. Note also verse 22 "Tertius" is the actually writer of this letter -- Paul was dictating and Tertius is his secretary.
I am looking forward to 1 Corinthians and some more regular postings.
Dr. BJ