27 July 2015

Day 14: 2 Corinthians 2:14–3:18

It’s day 14 of our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and things took a weird turn. As you can see by the title of this post, we’re staring Paul’s second letter to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Corinth. However, for some reason that I can’t seem to figure out, we’re reading 2 Corinthians 2:14–3:18, instead of the first couple of chapters. I suppose the belief is that this section was written first (?) since we’re supposed to be reading these chronologically. That doesn’t make sense to me, but there it is nonetheless. So, let’s get to it!

Starting at the beginning of chapter 3, Paul talks about the two different covenants; the two different ministries. One covenantal ministry brought death and the other brought life. Paul states that the ministry that brought death was written on stone tablets but the ministry that brought life is written on hearts (3.1-6). This is an obvious reference to the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. He even says as much in verse 14, “But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ.”

What’s remarkable, though, is verse 6, “G‑d has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not based on what’s written but on the Spirit, because what’s written kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Again, Paul’s context here is the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law.1 What Paul’s saying here — and saying it rather boldly, I might add — is that he and the others ministers of the New Covenant were doing things based on the Spirit and not the Jewish Scriptures.

But let’s extrapolate that out to include the Bible as a whole. If our only knowledge of Jesus is “what’s written,” then does that, too, lead to death?

If we’re constantly saying, “The Bible says…” as some sort of legitimacy for our harsh and hateful words and actions toward others then it’s quite true, “what’s written kills.” I think Paul would be mortified if he saw that we’ve made the Bible into an idol, the “fourth person” of the G‑dhead.

At the end of Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story, Jesus tells the disciples, “I’ve been given all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28.28; GNT2; cf. Daniel 7.13-14). Notice he didn’t say, “All authority has been given to the letters and stories you chaps are going to write about me.” And yet, that’s exactly the way we treat the Bible! But Paul wrote that what’s written kills. And while he was specifically meaning the Torah (which, for a Jew must have been a very shocking thing to say, let alone read!), could the same be said to many of us today and our handling of the Bible? What would it look like if we stopped using the Bible as a legal document full of facts and started seeing it as a living guide full of truths? What if we insisted on being led by the Spirit instead? What would that look like in our world today?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

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1. To be fair, the “stone tablets” were only part of the Mosaic Law. As we know, they were the Ten Commandments. Kind of an interesting spin given all of the news here in Oklahoma about removing a monument of them at the State Capital. Not to mention those people who insist that followers of Jesus must keep the big ten!

2. Scripture quotations marked (GNT) are from The Good News Translation in Today’s English Version — Second Edition. Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

21 July 2015

Day 13: 1 Corinthinas 15–16

As we continue our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge, we’re finishing off 1 Corinthians with chapters 15 and 16. Let’s get to it!

As we know, chapter 15 is the most concise teaching we have from Paul or anyone else on the resurrection. For some it’s one of the most challenging. So, let’s try and break it down.

First, what does Paul mean by the word “resurrection”? Some think he was talking about a spiritual (i.e., non-material) being; that Jesus didn’t have a material body but was some sort of spirit energy. Others think that the apostles and others were so distraught from Jesus’ death that their emotions got the better of them and they started seeing things. Others contend that they just meant a new sense of G‑d’s presence within their hearts. Others believe that Jesus was resuscitated. That is, he died (or was really close to death) but was brought back to life. Can you imagine Jesus coming to his followers after he’d been beaten nearly to death by the Romans and trying to convince them he’s been raised from the dead? “Yeah, you look it!”

None of these explanations fit the meaning of the word as it was used in Paul’s time. Resurrection always meant a reimbodiment of the soul. Whenever we see the word “resurrection,” that’s the intended meaning — the soul of someone who has died now has a new body; a new physicality (see Acts 17.29ff).*

Paul starts out by stating that he and all of apostles teach the same thing — “Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures” (15.3-4). Now, when Paul says, “in line with the scriptures,” he’s not thinking about a couple of verses from Daniel or Ezekiel. No. When quoting a passage (or alluding to one), the Jews of his day intended the entire context. So when Paul states that “Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures,” he’s meaning that the overall context of the Old Testament story was that the Messiah would have to die and be raised.

We can see now why he then asks the Corinthian followers his question. If the old story’s about the resurrection, and all the apostles teach the resurrection, then “how can some of [them] say, ‘There’s no resurrection of the dead’?” (15.12). It’s a valid question. The resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin for the whole story. Without it, the story of Jesus and what he was about all falls apart. And that’s exactly the position Paul takes (15.12-19).

Paul then goes through a lot of explanation about death and resurrection. But the verse that sticks out for me is verse 22, “In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ.” Paul’s clearly talking about life for everyone here because of the work of Jesus. It’s right here, my friends, where the true hope of the gospel comes in. “Everyone will be given life in Christ.” This is truly “good news.”

In the remaining bits of chapter 15 (15.35ff), some people think Paul’s dabbling with dualism again, what with all his talk about physical and spiritual bodies. The problem is we think spiritual is only immaterial. But Paul’s point is that the “spiritual body” is a different type of material body! A trans-material body, if you will. That is, it’s beyond our categories of what a material body means. It’s more than our understanding of a material body, not less.

In 15.50-55, he seems to make this quite clear. He doesn’t say our current body must be removed so that our true body (the immaterial soul) be set free from it’s shell; it’s prison. He states that our current body “must be clothed” with what can’t die; what can’t decay. So the idea is not to be bodiless, but to replace the current material decaying body with a trans-material body that doesn’t decay.

In other words, a person is made up of their entire self — soul and body (or spirit, soul, and body). G‑d’s reconciliation of creation is the entire creation, not some supposed immaterial part that’s the “real” creation. That’s one of the points of the incarnation and the resurrection — the material creation is “supremely good” (Genesis 1.31) and has been redeemed and reconciled to G‑d.

That’s why what we do in the world matters. In fact, that’s the way Paul finishes off this chapter, “As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord” (15.58; emphasis added; cf. 3.12-13). The idea that G‑d will destroy creation and start over (as some people maintain) is not the biblical story! G‑d’s story ends with G‑d’s Realm and our realm becoming one (Revelation 21). That’s why our “labor isn’t going to be for nothing.” It matters in the implementation of G‑d’s Realm.

We now turn to the last chapter of this first letter to the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus. Paul talks about gathering a collection for relief in Jerusalem (16.1-4), his travel and visitation plans (16.5-12), and his final thoughts (16.13ff). There one thing I want to touch on here — “Everything should be done in love” (verse 14). Love should be the foundation of everything we do. Love should also be the starting point and the goal. Love should be the motivation for every action we have. When we’re at our jobs and serving others, it should be “done in love.” When we spend time with our families and friends, it should be “done in love.” When we pay our bills, shop for food, take our pets for walks, whatever it is, it should be “done in love.” If we don’t know what love looks like, look back to chapter 13; Paul explains it there. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if our actions don’t look like 1 Corinthians 13, then we aren’t acting out of love. Can we see that our actions, our intentions, look like 1 Corinthians 13?  Can we say that we do everything for love?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

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* For a very in-depth study on the resurrection, I highly recommend N. T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

20 July 2015

Day 10: 1 Corinthinas 9–10

It’s day ten of our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and we’re reading chapters 9 and 10 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus. So let’s dig in!

In this first section, Paul’s saying that we should share our resources.

Wait…What?

Yep, Paul talks over and over about how a farmer plants a vineyard and should get to eat the fruits it produces; of how a soldier doesn’t join the army and pay for his own way, the military does that; of how shepherds get the milk from their flock. He says all of this to say, “the one who plows and the one who threshes should each do so with the hope of sharing the produce” (9.10). In other words, what we work for shouldn’t be seen as ours only.

Ouch.

Indeed. That’s harsh. What would our parishes and congregations look like if we practiced this? I bet they’d be pretty small. At first. I think that the wrong people would leave and the right people would show up and stay. If we came into this family knowing that we were expected to share our resources, would we join?

Paul then goes on to say that, while he should be financially supported for his ministry, especially from those whom he’s helped personally, he doesn’t charge people for his work. Instead, “we put up with everything so we don’t put any obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (9.12). Even though he believes he should be able to make a living off of preaching (9.14), Paul flatly states, “I offer the good news free of charge” (9.18).

I really wish others would embrace what Paul’s teaching here. We need more of this in the church. What would it look like if our ministers and scholars and teachers and theologians took up Paul’s example? When they’re called to come and give a lecture at a college, what would happen if the speaker said, “By they way, I don’t charge anything for this.” Or, perhaps, the money that would come in goes to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen instead. How would that change people’s perception of preachers? I think it would change quite considerably and for the better.

Paul then says one of the most famous passages in all of his letters. After stating that when he’s around Jews, he acts like a Jew; when he’s around Gentiles, he acts like a Gentile; when he’s around the weak, he’s weak; he says, “I’ve become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it” (9.22-23). Again, what would happen if people who follow The Way of Jesus started acting like this? In other words, instead of looking down our noses at those who are different from us, what would happen if we realized that they’re just like us? Or perhaps, we’re just like them? We all want justice. We all want safety. We all want to not be afraid. What would happen to the people we come in contact with if we treated them the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7.12)? Nothing short of the expansion of G‑d’s Realm.

In the beginning of chapter 10, Paul says some things that a lot of people miss, especially from the part of the country where I live. Depending on one’s translation of the Bible, Paul wrote that “the end of time has come” (10.11). Other translations say, “world” or “ages” or “the last days” or some just say “the end”. The Common English Bible’s the worst, though — the “end of time”? Seriously? As much as I like the CEB, it really drops the ball here! The word Paul uses is αἰών (aiōn) and it means “age”. Where some people come up with “time” or “world” is beyond me. Perhaps their own view of eschatology is poking out.

In any case, Paul’s point in this passage (10.1-13) is not the “end of time.” It’s about the close of the Old Covenantal age; the end of the transitional period between the end of the Old Covenantal age and the full establishment of G‑d’s Realm. Paul parallels what happened during the Exodus with what was happening from the time of Christ till then in his own generation. He saw his own generation as the final generation of the Old Covenant age. He saw his own generation as the True Exodus to which the Old Covenant Exodus was an example.

The temptation he talks about in verses 12-13 should be seen in that light — of people getting caught up in the trap of returning to first century Judaism, not some general temptation that we might have today. Remember, this was the transition time, the Exodus time. As we’ve mentioned before during this very crucial time (before the outbreak of the War of the Jews and the Romans), being on the “correct” side would literally save your life.

In the final section of this chapter (10.14ff), Paul talks very candidly about one’s personal liberties and how that should be reflected while in the presence of others. He contends that while we may have the freedom to eat and drink what we want, we should be more concerned about the conscience of the other person. “ No one should look out for their own advantage,” Paul says, “but they should look out for each other” (10.24). What would happen if we started living this way? I know a lot of people who really don’t care about other’s situations and just live for themselves. What would happen if followers of The Way of Jesus actually lived like Paul states here? What kind of impact would that have on the world?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

19 July 2015

Day 12: 1 Corinthinas 13–14

Last time, in our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge, we ended with Paul telling us that he would show the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus a “way of life that’s best of all” (1 Corinthians 12.31; NLT*). Today, we see what that is!

Often referred to as the “Love Chapter,” I’m sure many of us have heard or read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings. But, to me, that misses Paul’s point. Paul isn’t referring to romantic love in this chapter. Paul insists that love — the type of Love that is G‑d — is the foundation of everything. Whether it’s speaking or having visions and understanding mysteries or even giving one’s life for someone else, if whatever we do isn’t based in G‑d’s Love, then it’s a wasted effort.

A number of years ago, I conducted an experiment. It wasn’t a very deep experiment, but it was life changing, to say the least. Taking 1 John 4.8 as my foundation, “G‑d is love,” I exchanged the word “love” in verses 4-8 for the word “G‑d.” Here’s a loose rendering of those verses:

G‑d’s patient and kind.
G‑d isn’t jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
G‑d doesn’t demand G‑d’s own way.
G‑d’s not irritable, nor keeps records of being wronged.
G‑d doesn’t rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
G‑d never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through
every circumstance.
G‑d never fails.

How many of us think of G‑d in this way? How would it change us if we started to understand G‑d like this? How would it change our view of the world? Paul finishes out the chapter saying temporary things pass away but love lasts forever. How would the world change if we started to look at each other and all creation this way?

In Chapter 14, Paul brings up what’s been referred to as an “order of service.” That is, each person should contribute to communal worship. He states, “When you meet together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All these things must be done to build up the church” (14.26). Note that, each person. Not just the men. Not just the women. Not just the clergy. But “each one.” I know that later in this chapter, “Paul” states that women should be silent (14.33-35), but this is a contested passage. And rightly so, in my opinion. It just doesn’t line up with what Paul had just stated nor what he says elsewhere (Galatians 3.26ff; Romans 16) nor his own experience (Acts 18.18ff; 1 Corinthians 16.13ff). So, even if we take this passage as actually coming from Paul, there’s obviously another way of interpreting it given all the evidence. I’m happy to leave it as a cultural issue and not a “universal truth.” Besides, even those who maintain that Paul really meant this, limit it only to women in leadership roles, which is something the text just doesn’t limit.

Furthermore, for me, this passage of an “order of service” really can’t be maintained in our huge services today. How can “each one” contribute to the overall building up of the church? It’s simple; they can’t. It’s only when we see this taking place within a very small, home church type of setting does Paul’s admonishment make sense. Some would disagree, but that’s the way I see it.

How about you? What would it mean to our neighborhoods if we stopped having these huge churches and had small, home meetings? What would happen if we no longer treated the church like a business and more like a family?



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul


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Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Day 11: 1 Corinthinas 11–12

In our continued 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge, we’re now at chapters 11 and 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus. So, let’s begin!

In the beginning of chapter 11, Paul talks a lot about the proper attire for community worship — women should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy and men shouldn’t (vv. 1-16). And there have been a lot of traditions that take this passage to heart; well, the women not cutting their hair part. But, this was a cultural issue — not an eternal one (verse 16).

What astounds me, though, is that some traditions seem to overlook the crucial piece — women praying and prophesying in public worship! A lot of those same traditions that believe women shouldn’t cut their hair also believe that women shouldn’t be “over” men, i.e., have any kind of authority. Therefore, praying and prophesying is left only for the men folk. In other words, they get very caught up in the non important bits and miss the important bits (Matthew 23.24). Women and men having equal parts in communal worship is the important bit.

In the remainder of the chapter (11.17ff), Paul brings up how the divisions at the beginning of this letter have really messed up their community worship, insofar as people are separated into different cliques and classes during the Eucharist. In other words, the very thing that’s supposed to unite people is being used to separate them! This is still the case in many places. Whether one’s a Baptist or Roman Catholic or Reformed or Church of Christ, one must be part of that particular tradition before one can partake of the Lord’s Supper. And let me emphasise that — it’s the Lord’s Supper. It’s Christ that brought us all together and we have come up with all sorts of rules and regulations as to who can and who can’t share this meal.

“But what if they’re not [fill in the blank]?” I’ll say this gently but firmly — that’s none of our business. This is Christ’s meal and he’s invited all to come and share it. Paul tells us how to deal with people we assume shouldn’t share this meal, “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (11.28). What would it look like if we removed these human conditions and had an open communion? How would it be perceived by those “outside” of the church?

I know what it looks like because I’ve seen it first hand. At St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, they had open communion — anyone who wanted to share the meal was welcome to do so. I’ve seen it bring healing to those who have been hurt by the church. Because of the Eucharist and Fr. Alan and the people of St. Michael’s, people who had once turned away from the church suddenly felt differently about it, maybe just a little bit, but healing had started. May G‑d grant all of our places of worship this type of unity, especially to those who have believed and been deeply hurt.

And that brings us right to chapter 12. Here, Paul uses the metaphor of a human body to explain that, because of Jesus, we’re now all part of the same family.

In the first part of the chapter (12.1-11), Paul talks about the Spirit giving each person different gifts but with one goal — the common good (12.7). In other words, we need each other. One person can’t do it all. And here’s the shocking bit for some — they aren’t equipped to do so! I know of a lot of parishes that expect the clergy to do it all. But that’s not the way it works. Each person has been equipped to do a certain task and, when she or he doesn’t do that task, the whole is weakened.

To explain what he means, Paul states that people who follow The Way of Jesus are like a body (12.12ff). For a body to work properly, each component must do what it was designed to do. Eye’s can’t hear; ears can’t speak; mouths can’t lift someone up if they’ve fallen. No, Eye’s are used for seeing; ears are used for hearing; mouths are used for speaking; arms are used for lifting. Each component must do what it was designed to do or the body is defect.

Furthermore, there are no primary jobs of the body components — each component must work in concert with all of the other components or the body becomes damaged and less than it’s supposed to be. If someone has a stroke, then the brain may no longer work properly. And if that happens, then parts of the body cease to work properly — the left side of the face may droop, there may be paralysis in the left arm and leg, etc. Likewise, when we don’t do our part — the part that we have been created to do — then the whole of creation suffers.

So, finding out and living out what we’ve been designed to do is beneficial, not only to ourselves, but to everyone else, too. “But,” Paul says, “now let me show you a way of life that is best of all” (12.31; NLT*).



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC
#30DaysofPaul

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* Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.