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.
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.
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?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC