06 July 2015

Day 6: 1 Corinthinas 1–2

It’s day 6 of the 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and today we start Paul’s first letter to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Corinth. Today’s readings are the first two chapters.

As we’ve seen before, Paul has the soon return of Jesus clearly in his mind (1.7-8). And, I’m not sure if I’ve ever tied these things together before but this view must have influenced not only Paul’s own life, but his mission as well. That could help explain why he was constantly on the move — trying to fulfill Matthew 10.16-23.

The first part of this letter is about divisions within these followers. They were separating themselves into these cliques based on who baptized them and looking down on the people in the other groups. Paul’s adamant that this isn’t the way, insisting that everyone’s in Christ (1.10-17).

The remainder of this chapter, 1.18ff, is about how G‑d does things. Society picks the prettiest, the brightest, the most qualified to do the thing. But, here, Paul states that G‑d chooses the ugliest, the dimmest, and the least qualified to do the thing. So, in a backhanded kind of way, Paul’s saying that the Corinthian followers of Jesus aren’t that bright! In fact, he comes right out and says so, “By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class” (1.26). Ouch!

The point of this is so that people won’t think more highly of themselves than they should; that’s they’re something special. But, being plain, ordinary folk? They have a tendency to be more humble. They know that what’s happening through them is actually from G‑d (1.26ff). Paul even says this of himself in the next chapter. He states that he didn’t come with human wisdom and arguments so that it could be said Paul won the day by his logic. Instead he states that he was “weak, fearful, and trembling” (2.1-5). It was G‑d’s power working through Paul’s weakness that the Corinthian followers were drawn to.

In closing of chapter 2, we have one of the most misused verses in the Bible, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (2.9; NKJV*). And since I’ve addressed this before, I won’t go into detail here. Needlesstosay, Paul doesn’t stop there. He states that what was once hidden had already been revealed, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (2.10; NKJV). And that hidden thing was G‑d rescuing all of humanity, not just the Jews. He told them that the reason people don’t get what G‑d’s doing — they aren’t spiritual: “[People] who are unspiritual don’t accept the things from God’s Spirit. They’re foolishness to them and can’t be understood, because they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way” (2.14).

And that gives me pause. Is the reason I don’t see what G‑d’s doing is because I’m “unspiritual”? Is G‑d doing things in other traditions, perhaps even non-christian traditions or non-traditions, and I’m not understanding it because “they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way”?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

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*  Scriptures marked NKJV taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

05 July 2015

Day 5: Galatians 5–6

In day 5 of our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and we’re finishing off his letter to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Galatia (Galatians 5-6). As we’ve noted previously, these people were Celts (Gauls) who had started following The Way of Jesus but had been diverted into Judaism (circumcision and following Torah) by some false teachers. This letter’s Paul’s attempt to steer them back onto the correct path.

In Chapter 5, Paul starts out stating that Christ has set us free “for freedom” (5.1). His point is that, even though the Galatian followers are now free, that doesn’t mean they’re free to do what they want. It means they’re free to serve others in Love (5.13). This freedom, however, doesn’t mean one can now start following first century Judaism. On the contrary. He then states that those who have recently been circumcised, are “required to do the whole law” (5.3; cf. James 2.10).

Again, Paul sees first century Judaism as a step away from Messiah. He’s very emphatic about this, “You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Messiah. You’ve fallen away from grace” (5.4). It’s not that people who were Jewish are without hope. That is, if one has come up through first century Judaism and reach the “goal” of Messiah, that’s one thing. But to leave the Messiah and go back to Judaism? That’s where Paul takes issue. As he states later, “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Messiah Jesus, but faith working through love does matter” (5.6). And later still, “ All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” (5.14).

Some people take issue with Paul’s thoughts in the next section. Depending on the translation, one can get caught up in dualism. In 5.16ff, Paul starts talking the “flesh” versus the “spirit.” That’s one of the reasons I like the Common English Bible (CEB). It really captures Paul’s meaning, I believe. Paul, being a Jew, didn’t believe the material world was a “bad” place. On the contrary. It was the “supremely good” world created by the supremely good G‑d. So, “flesh” or the physical isn’t what Paul’s getting at. He’s talking about “selfish desires” (5.16). The problem is thinking only about oneself and acting out for one’s own interests. Paul teaches that the G‑d’s Spirit leads people away from their own “selfish desires” and towards loving actions towards others. As he states in the next section —

“Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith” (6.7-10).


Paul seems to be telling the Celtic followers of Jesus, “Look, I get that you want to ‘do something’ while following The Way, but to go into Judaism is a step away from Messiah. If you really want to do something, work for the good of everyone when you have the chance. That’s where the Spirit is leading. That’s where G‑d’s new creation is growing” (see 6.15).

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Well, that’s been a whirlwind of a letter! Paul seemed to have a very strong opinion about the Judaism of his day (see 1 Thessalonians 1.6; 2.14 and my reflection here). And for the Galatian followers of The Way of Jesus to adopt Judaism was a definite move away from Jesus in Paul’s thinking. After all, it was no longer about being Jewish or not; it was about New Creation. Are there things in our own lives that lead us away from Jesus? Do we look at people of other faith traditions and think that they’re “outside” of G‑d’s people? What can we do to move past that type of thinking? What faithful actions can we commit to do that will help implement G‑d’s New Creation here and now?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

04 July 2015

Day 4: Galatians 3–4

Day four of our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge brings us to Galatians 3 and 4. And like I posted earlier, Paul really lays into the Celtic followers of Jesus in Galatia! He calls them “irrational” (3.1, 3) and questions if their experience in Messiah was “for nothing” (3.4).

Paul has one question for the Galatian followers: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard?” (3.2). This is a crucial question. Some people take this question out of context and make it about “works versus faith” (and it’s usually directed at our Catholic sisters and brothers because Catholicism is so misunderstood by a lot of Protestants). But that’s not what the question’s about. Paul’s very specific here. This question is about following the Law of Moses. The New Testament writers call Jewish people who were zealous for the Law but claimed to be followers of Jesus “Judaizers.” Today we might call this movement “Messianic Judaism.” It’s about people who believed and taught that to be a real follower of Jesus the Messiah, one must first become a Jew. In the first century, that meant being circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses.

For Paul, it seems that you can’t be both. You’re either in the body of the Messiah or you’re in the body of Moses (see 1 Corinthians 10.2). Certainly, as we’ll see in a moment, one could be a Jew and be in Messiah (Paul was, as well as most of the early followers of Jesus). But that meant something else in this context.

Perhaps a better way of saying it is one doesn’t need to be circumcised to be in the body of the Messiah. For Paul, a Gentile being circumcised and following the Law was a step away from Messiah and a complete misunderstanding of the Law. In fact, Paul stated that one who then followed the Law was under a curse (3.10).

How could he say that? Because, as he states elsewhere, the Messiah is the “goal of the law” (Romans 10.4). If one has reached the goal, why would one need to go back to the path that leads to the goal? Or, as he says here, “the Law became our custodian until Messiah so that we might be made righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian” (3.24-25; emphasis added).

In other words, the Galatian followers had already reached the goal; they were already in the Messiah! Of course, they didn’t reach the goal by taking the same path as the Jews but that didn’t mean they needed to go back and start the journey all over again. To Paul, that’s what it looked like the Gauls were doing. But the Galatian followers were already part of the family; they didn’t need to start over. As Paul says in the next verses:

“You’re all God’s children through faith in Messiah Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There’s neither Jew nor Greek; there’s neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you’re all one in Messiah Jesus. Now if you belong to the Messiah, then indeed you’re Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (3.26ff; emphasis added).

I sure wish today’s followers of The Way of Jesus would embrace this passage. It could bring such healing to the world. We all get there by different roads, but we’re all still “God’s children.”

In 4.1-11, Paul gives another example of what he’s trying to explain. He says that the child of a wealthy family — an heir to the throne, if you will — is no different than a slave when she’s still a minor. She’s placed under the care of custodians until a predetermined time set by her parents. When that time comes, she receives her inheritance.

Some of us do something similar today. If we have a child who received a large amount of money from a wealthy relative, the money’s placed in a trust fund until she reaches a certain age, say, 21 years old. She can’t draw against that trust fund until she turns 21. But on her 21st birthday, she can now access the trust fund and do with it as she wishes.

Paul’s point was that the Law was a custodian for the Jews until an appointed time — the coming of Messiah. But when the appointed time came, the Messiah came and the custodian’s no longer needed.

Likewise, the Celts in Galatia were enslaved to other things. But, because Jesus is the High King of all creation, the Lord of the Elements, they, too, were set free. To return to either way of living (first century Judaism or heathenism) would be to enslave oneself all over again (4.8-11).

Paul then makes some really bold statements that, if we don’t keep them in context, we’ll surely misunderstand what he’s saying. In the remaining part of the chapter (4.21ff), Paul tells a story about Sarah and Hagar, and their children, Isaac and Ishmael, respectively. In Paul’s telling of story, he equates the first century followers of The Way of Jesus with Sarah and Isaac, as people of the promise. Likewise he equates the first century Jews with Hagar and Ishmael.

Next he quotes Sarah and relates it to the situation between first century Judaism and first century followers of The Way of Jesus: “Throw out the slave woman and her son, because the slave woman’s son won’t share the inheritance with the free woman’s son” (4.30). Paul’s point is that, during the transitional period between the resurrection and the War of the Jews and the Romans, people needed to pick a side. As noted above, you’re either in the Messiah or you’re not. And if you’re not, woe betide you when the war starts!

Again, this is about the peoples of the first century — it’s not about people today. Paul was desperately trying to keep the Galatian followers from going backwards into Judaism. Paul’s biggest opponents were Jewish followers of Messiah who were zealous for the Law of Moses. In their eyes, the only way one could really be in Messiah was through physical heritage. Therefore, they were creating havoc within the communities of Paul who was all about freedom from the Law. In his mind, the Law was only a temporary thing (3.19-24) that led the Jews to Messiah. Since Messiah had come, the temporary thing wasn’t needed anymore.

So, how does all of this relate to us today? I can see a lot of parallels, especially in relation to our religious traditions. Can you see anything within your tradition that would be viewed as a “custodian”? Something that might be used to enslave others who didn’t quite “fit in” or don’t “do it” like everyone else? What steps can we take to remove these custodians and free G‑d’s people?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul