John 1-5

copyright by Ruth Venner
copyright by Ruth Venner

Monday, June 30, Chapter 1

Who wrote The Gospel of John?  It turns out to be a question without an answer; or a question with too many answers.  Within the text, the author wrote:  This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.  (John 21:24)  Even this hint becomes a puzzle.  The disciple referred to is commonly called the Beloved Disciple because the Gospel mentions several times the disciple whom Jesus loved.  It is reasonable to assume that he either wrote or directed the writing of the Gospel.  But the next sentence uses the word WeWe wrote the Gospel, not I wrote the Gospel.

But the biggest problem is that we do not know who the disciple whom Jesus loved was.  It is generally assumed to be one of the Twelve because he was at the Last Supper and generally thought to be John because he was beside Jesus at the table, based on the other Gospels.

I still think the author was John the Apostle, the author of the letters of John and of the Revelation of John.  But I could just as easily prove a case against that belief.  Without question, the author both knew Jesus and knew details about his ministry.  That he was a disciple is also not in doubt.  As early as 150 AD, John the Apostle was named and none of the early writers ever named anyone else.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This sentence is like a seed, seemingly small, but capable of growing to great size.  The Word existed before the universe.  The Word was God.  The Word was something other than God.  In verse 2, John gives the other the identity of he.  As we read on, the He becomes light and later Jesus.

The Word of God and the Word were common concepts in the teachings of Judaism in the First Century.  The association of the Word with the Messiah was also known and most likely influenced John to choose this opening.  In other words, Chapter 1 would have been easily understood and acceptable to Jews and Jewish Christians of the day, while appealing to gentiles as being like the Greek philosophies.

John 1:14-18 has a great deal in common with Exodus 33:18-34:7.  God is present with us.  He is present in the human called Jesus and by his life we can know Truth.  Mark that word, truth, because John uses it 25 times in this Gospel.  We will look more closely in a later chapter.

John the Baptizer proclaimed that God was walking among us; that he was both like God and was God.  Only this Gospel has the Baptizer proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God.  John called him the Lamb of God, a title used in verses 29 and 36 and nowhere else in Bible.  Isaiah 53:7 and Jeremiah 11:19 are the most commonly cited references.

In the calling of the disciples, Nathanael plays an important role by being the first to express belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  Jesus says, if you believe that much, just wait.

Tuesday, July 1, Chapter 2

The first miracle recorded by John involves turning water into wine at a wedding.  It seems a frivolous miracle and many have questioned it.  Yet, as we read John and especially as we read the Revelations, we can see why the author believed this miracle was so important.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  Jesus is acting as the groom in this miracle by supplying the wine for the wedding guests.  Jesus uses the image of feasts, especially wedding feasts to represent Heaven.  And there is the representation of the blood of Jesus in the wine.  This miracle is looking forward to many important concepts of the Messiah.

John only records eight miracles and each of them gives us a special message.

Jesus next goes to Jerusalem where he clears the Court of Gentiles of the businesses set up there.  The other Gospels place this event just before the crucifixion, so John is in the minority and is generally disregarded on this account and several others.  There is no reason to throw out what John records.  Jesus may have cleared the court more than once, or John may have placed the event earlier because he had an important theological reason to do so.  History in ancient times was not about proper sequence of events.  It was about the story.  If the story works better to have the events of June 23 moved to July 1, then do it.

People began to believe in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe in the people.  In other words, he knew that without the power of the Holy Spirit, men could not be trusted with the Truth.

Wednesday, July 2, Chapter 3

Nicodemus appears only in John’s Gospel, but John includes him with Joseph at the burial of Jesus, so John gives him a level of importance.  The issue here is of the idea of rebirth, really the idea that the Baptizer had been preaching for some time.  Repent and turn away from your sins; become a new person; be reborn.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was learned in the Torah and the Prophets.  Yet he had difficulty with the idea of being reborn.  Jesus tells him it is like when you take the ritual bath to clean yourself of your sins.  You must do that, but you must also be cleansed within by the Holy Spirit; a bath in water and a bath in the Spirit.  One without the other does not work.  If you do not become a new person, that is, a person of God, you do not have the Spirit.

John went on to give us the most quoted sentence from the New Testament, John 3:16.  It is so common that is has begun to lose its meaning.  Do not lose sight of the fact that it is included as a part of the discussion with Nicodemus about being born anew.  For Jesus, the most important statement is yet to come; But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (verse 21).

What has been done tells us that the Love of God is action.  The Truth works, does things, creates good, moves and shakes.  As Paul Tillich wrote:  Truth is something new, something which is done by God in history, and, because of this, something which is done in the individual life.  Truth is hidden, truth is mystery….But the mystery of truth in Christianity is an event which has taken place and which takes place again and again.  It is life, personal life, revelation and decision….In Greek thought truth only can be found.  In Christianity truth is found if it is done, and done if it is found.  In Christianity truth is the new creation….Therefore, in Christianity the opposite of truth is lie, and not-as it was in Greece-opinion….You cannot have opinion about the Christ after you have faced Him. You can only do the truth by following Him, or do the lie by denying Him.

John alone says that Jesus baptized (22).  Little is made of it, but it does support the notion that we should follow him in baptism.

The Baptizer then testifies again about Jesus.  He all but says he is the promised Messiah.  He again calls Jesus the Son of God and adds that salvation can only be achieved through belief in Him.

Thursday, July 3, Chapter 4

Now is verse 2, John seems to recant his earlier statement that Jesus baptized people by saying that it was really his disciples.  Notice how often the word baptism appears in John and how much time he spends on it.  The other Gospels combined do not say as much.

Jesus leads his disciples through Samaria to return to Galilee and they stop at Jacob’s well.  While the others go into town to get some food, Jesus rests at the well.  The sixth hour would have been midday (12 hours in the day, 12 hours at night, regardless of the time of year).

Only one woman was there at noon.  Women walked to the well in the morning and again in the evening, never midday.  This woman was shunned by the others, so she came when she knew no one else would be at the well.

She must have been concerned to find a man there, but she came on anyway.  Jesus requested that she give him a drink of water.

She could see that he was a Jew and could hardly believe her ears.  No self-respecting man, especially a Jewish man, would even speak to a woman in public, let alone risk touching anything she had touched.

She questions him and he remarks that she could have living water for the asking.  She, not surprisingly, failed to understand his statement.

Now we are back to baptism.  Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  Again, she fails to understand, but catches the idea of eternal water and asks for it.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit that was always with him, Jesus knew the woman.  She began to understand a bit more and switched the questions to that of worshiping God.  That gives Jesus the perfect opening to say, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

The woman speaks of the Messiah and Jesus says, I am the Messiah.  The woman does what we all should do, she brings others to see and hear Jesus.  Many believe.

Back at Cana, Jesus heals the son of an official of Herod; the son being in Capernaum at the time.  For John, this healing serves as a sign, something that the prophets foretold about the Messiah.  It also serves to show people that being a part of Herod’s family was not a barrier for Jesus.  Nothing is said of faith except that the man took Jesus at his word.

Friday, July 4, Chapter 5

The last chapter ended with a healing.  This chapter begins with one.

First, the description of the Sheep Gate and Bethesda tells us John knew the city.  Also, the statement that people used to lie there suggest that John wrote sometime after the city was destroyed in 70 AD.

Of all the people waiting at the pool to be cured, Jesus approached a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years.  Notice that the man wanted to be baptized, to slide into the pool to be cured.  Jesus baptized him with the Holy Spirit.

Naturally, it was on the Sabbath which led to the usual conflict with the theological police.

His response was to argue that he had to do what God was doing and God worked on the Sabbath.  The end of verse 30 is key:  I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Jesus then uses the Baptizer as a partial reference by saying he told you I am the Messiah.  But I have a greater reference, the Word of God, which you also choose not to believe. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Righteousness

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Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Genesis contains a dozen chapters of stories about Abraham.  The Jewish Oral Tradition contain additional stories, enough to fill a small book.

There is a reason.

There are important stories of people who responded to God before Abraham.  But Abraham is the beginning of a nation that will respond to God.  We find the Messiah in Abel, Noah, Lot, and many others, but we find the nation in Abraham.

We also find in Abraham the ultimate image of God’s redeeming power in the world.  God spoke to Abraham and said, Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.  Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.

God looked for one man who would do what God himself was willing to do, give his Son as a sacrifice.  Abraham loaded his donkey.  No complaints.  No negotiating.  No asking why.  Abraham loaded his donkey

His absolute faith in God is beyond what most of us can achieve.  He could have cried as did David:

How long, Adonai?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I keep asking myself what to do,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long must my enemy dominate me?

But Abraham loaded his donkey.

We cannot be satisfied with being a partial Christian, doing God’s work when it fits our schedules.  We must take Paul’s words to heart:   That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

Abram was a full time follower of God; he loaded his donkey.

Jesus said:  This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 Corinthians 12-16

1Corinthians13v01to13_2010

“Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org”

Monday, June 23, Chapter 12

In the first three verses Paul is saying that the rules of the pagan gods do not apply with the One True God.  No one speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit will ever speak against God, Jesus, the Messiah, or the Spirit.  What was happening in Corinth was a rise in emotionalism.  We know people today who flit from one religious group to another seeking the religious high.  Paul was saying that emotion can overtake a person to the point of distorting the Good News.  We must balance the emotion, the necessary emotion, with what we have learned, what we know.

Within the Christian Community there are many skills and powers.  Do not demean your own skills, all are for God’s work.  Paul equates this whole chapter to the Trinity.  Jesus gives each of us our own task to do for the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability, the power, the skill to do the task.  God gives us the energy to accomplish the task.  This is not necessarily the same as the natural abilities we have at birth.  Because I can run faster than anyone else is a part of my body, but it may not be the gift Jesus wants me to use for the Kingdom.

The remainder of the chapter is a thorough description of the body of Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 actually begins with 12:31.  Paul is saying you Corinthians are trying to reach the higher plane, but you are going about it in the wrong way.  Here is the way.

Kenneth Bailey gives this important outline:

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:1-3)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love

 

Love defined (13:4-7)

Opens with an indirect reference to knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love

 

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:8-13)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Ends with faith, hope and love.

 

In verse 1 Paul used his personal experience to connect with the Corinthians.  He spent 18 months working in the central market making tents with Aquila and Priscilla.  Corinthian brass was the best in the Roman world and all of the craftsmen worked at the central market.  The downside of that is there are several hundred workers hammering brass from sunrise to sunset.  The noise could be heard all over the city.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 13, 1934 in London:  In the first place it is very simple, what is being said here—that a human life is only meaningful and worthwhile to the extent that it has love in it, and that a life is nothing, is meaningless and worthless, when it is without love.  A life is worth as much as the love in it.  Everything else is nothing at all, a matter of indifference, unimportant.  All the good and bad, big and little things are unimportant.  Only one thing is asked of us—whether or not we have love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 21, 1934 in London:  Last Sunday we learned that despite all our ideals, our seriousness, our knowledge, and our faith, even our good deeds and sacrifice, our lives are worth nothing if we do not have that one thing that Paul calls love…. Every person has love within him or her and knows its power and passion…. However, this love, with its power and passion and meaning, which everyone knows, is self-love—our love for our own selves…. But this self—love is love that has gone wrong, that has fallen away from its origin.  It is self-satisfied and is therefore condemned never to bear fruit—a love that is really hatred of God and my brother and sister, because they could only disturb me within the tight little circle I have drawn around myself….

So it pretends, veils itself, and dresses itself up in a thousand different forms, trying to look like real love—and it succeeds so well that human eyes can hardly tell the difference between the real thing and the fake.  Self-love disguises itself as love of our neighbor or our country, as public charity, as love of humankind, trying not to be recognized for what it really is.  Yet Paul cuts through all of self-love’s attempts to cloud the issue and to deceive and compels it to face its proper responsibility by drawing for it, for us, his picture of what God considers real love.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 28, 1934 in London:  In troubled times, if we stop to ask ourselves what will really come of all our agitation, when our thoughts go back and forth from one idea to another: what will come of all our worries and fears, all our wishes and hopes, in the end—and if we are willing to have answer from the Bible—what we will hear is:  There will be just one thing in the end, and that is the love that was in our thoughts, worries, wishes, and hopes.  Everything else ends and passes away—everything we did not think, and long for, out of love.  All thoughts, all knowledge, all talk that has not love comes to an end—only love never ends….

Why must everything else come to an end, and why does only love never end?  Because only in love does a person let go of himself or herself and give up his or her will, for the other person’s benefit.  Because love alone comes not from my own self but from another self, from God’s self.  Because it is through love alone that God acts through us—whereas in everything else it is we ourselves who are at work; it is our thoughts, our speaking, our knowledge—but it is God’s love.  And what is ours comes to an end, all of it—but what is of God remains.  Because love is God’s very self and God’s will; that is why it never ends, it never doubts, it stays its course.  It pursues its way with sure steps, like a sleepwalker, straight through the midst of all the dark places and perplexities of this world.  It goes down into the depths of human misery and up to the heights of human splendor.  It goes out to enemies as well as to friends, and it never abandons anyone, even when it is abandoned by everyone.

Paul Tillich adds these thoughts on the same verses:  But there is another consideration in our text which seems to contradict the words about love.  Paul singles out knowledge, and points to the difference between our fragmentary, indirect and darkened knowledge, and the full, direct and total knowledge to come…. He speaks of something which, besides love, is perfect and eternal—namely, the seeing of the truth, face to face; the knowledge which is as full as God’s knowledge of us….

But there is only one way to know a personality—to become united with that personality through love.  Full knowledge presupposes full love.  God knows me, because He love me; and I shall know Him face to face through a similar uniting, which is love and knowledge at the same time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 4, 1934 in London:  Faith and hope abide.  Let no one think it possible to have love without faith and without hope!  Love without faith would be a stream without a source.  That would mean that one could have love without Christ.  Through faith alone we are justified before God, through hope we are prepared for our end, and through love we are made perfect.

Through faith alone we are justified—our Protestant church is built on this sentence.  To the human question, how can I stand before God?  Luther found the one answer in the Bible:  if you believe in God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.  To the question of how human beings can be justified before God, the answer is through grace alone, through faith along.  We would be entirely right if, here at the end, we turned the first sentence of the chapter around and said, and if I have all love, so as to accomplish all good works, but have not faith, I am nothing.  Faith alone justifies—but love makes perfect.

Wednesday, June 25, Chapter 14

Verse 1 from the Amplified Bible:  Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).

Or more simply from CJB:  Pursue love!

However, keep on eagerly seeking the things of the Spirit; and especially seek to be able to prophesy.

We do not know the history of speaking in tongues, nor do we know what it means to speak in tongues.  This letter to Corinth is the only mention outside of Acts.  Paul uses the same two Greek words, laleo (to speak) and glossa (tongues) that Luke uses in Acts.  About the only point of agreement is that the term, to speak in tongues, means either speaking an existing language without having learned the language, or speaking in a language used in heaven not understood by humans.

The problem in Corinth was not laleoglossa, rather the abuse of it.  Services were being interrupted by people shouting or speaking what no one else could understand.  Many were saying that it was proof of the person’s higher spirituality.

Paul basically said do not do it unless there is a translation that will improve the congregation.  The key to understanding Paul’s position is found in verses 14-15.

In this discussion we should read Deuteronomy 28:49-50:  The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.

Also Isaiah 28:11-12:  Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,

 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen
.

Verse 22 points out that believers do not need tongues.  Starting in verse 26 Paul gives an outline to be followed in a proper worship service.  He does not say that we have to follow that outline.  It is intended for Corinth.  It is a generalization only for the rest of us.

Verse 34 gets us back to the touchy subject of women in worship.  Paul has already said that women may teach, preach, and prophecy, so he is not now trying to silence them.  He is addressing the same problem caused by those speaking in tongues, they were causing disruptions in the service.  Women, with their new sense of freedom, were disrupting the services with questions and idle chit-chat.

Consider that the congregation at Corinth had rich and poor, slave and free speaking twenty or more languages.  Greek was the only common language, but most knew only enough to buy bread at the market, especially the women who were at home most of the day.  For some of those women, church was the only time they left the house.  It was social time for them, so they spend the time talking with women they know.

The service is going on in a language most of the people struggle with at best.  It is natural to ask, “What did he say?”  In no time at all there is a buzz drowning out the speakers.  Corinth is not alone in this problem.  I have been able to attend church a number of times on trips to Haiti.  Even with a small group there is a constant murmur of talk.

Kenneth Bailey wrote:  I have preached in village churches in Egypt where the women were seated on one side of the church and the men on the other.  There was a wooden partition about six feet high separating the two sections.  I preached in simple colloquial Arabic, but the women were often illiterate and the preacher was expected to preach for at least an hour—and we had problems.  The women quickly passed the limit of their attention span.  [Another result of illiteracy and staying at home.]  The children were seated with them and chatting inevitably broke out among the women.  The chatting would at times become so loud that no one could hear the preacher…. One of the senior elders would stand up and in a desperate voice shout, “Let the women be silent in the church!” and we would proceed.  John Chrysostom wrote of the same problem in his cathedral at Antioch around 400 AD.

In verses 26-36, Paul cautions prophets (male and female), speakers in tongues (male and female), and married women with their husbands, all to be silent in church.  Do not interrupt the service.

Kenneth Bailey again:  But there is a further reality at play.  Middle Eastern society is predominantly an oral cultural.  I experienced this for seventeen years in Egypt, seventeen years in Syria and Lebanon, and for ten years in Israel and Palestine.  People process information by talking more than by sitting quietly and reflecting.  This can be observed at many levels of society.  A university professor will have the attention of the class and turn to write something on the blackboard.  The moment he or she pauses to write, the entire class breaks out talking.  They are not inattentive or rude, they are simply turning to a fellow student and chatting about the subject.  This social style is particularly prominent at meetings of women.  Taking advantage of any pause, women will often begin talking out loud—sometimes to themselves.  They are simply verbalizing the information they have heard in order to better absorb and retain it….

Paul picks up on these legitimate questions and in effect says,

I know your Greek is limited.  But your husbands have learned a bit more Greek than you have managed to absorb.  They have to in order to function on the job.  You have not had this chance and it is not your fault.  But things have gotten out of hand on a numberof levels.  Please be helpful and put your questions to your husbands after you return home.  I have just told the speakers when to be quiet.  This is a situation in which you also need to listen quietly even if you can’t follow what is said.

The word shame has a different meaning in the Middle East than here.  It is extremely important, but it covers all possible actions and words.  If I say to a friend that my wife does not look good in red, I bring shame on myself in the East.  Paul says to women, do not bring shame on your husbands by chattering in church; and by the way, husbands do not bring shame on your wives by chattering back.

Thursday, June 26, Chapter 15

Recall that much of the first four chapters were devoted to the cross.  Now Paul revisits the theme to deal primarily with the resurrection.

Verses 1 and 11 are connected.

1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

11Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

He stresses that we must receive the Gospel preached by Jesus and believe it.

Verses 2 and 10 also stand together:

2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul warns the Corinthians that they must stick firmly to what they have learned from Paul, Apollos, and Peter.  Do not bend the Word to suit yourselves.

The remaining verses, 3-9, hold together with Paul appearing in 3 and in 9.  Verses 4-8 are almost certainly quoted by Paul from an early church creed.  He is reminding the Corinthians, this is what we all believe; do not lose sight of it.

Verse 3 uses the word for, as in:  Christ died for our sins.  Today, we generally speak of Jesus being our substitute on the cross; that Jesus had to take on that role to settle accounts with God for our sins.  While that is part of the picture, it fails to consider that Jesus is God, so God paid the price to settle accounts with God.  That does not make much sense.

Jesus makes it plain.  The shepherd risks all to save the lost sheep.  The woman searches until she finds the lost coin.  The father runs to greet his lost son.  One after another, we see pictures of God in action in our lives in every day in every way.  God saves.

How should I live my life if I love God and love mankind?  I do what Jesus did.  He was God in human form.

Yes, he died for our sins, but he also died because of our sins, because we could do nothing about them, because they could only be erased by Grace.

Verses 12-20 make up one argument.  The two verses, 12 and 20, state that Christ rose from the grave.  The verses in between are a “What If?”

Verses 21-28 give us the world view of history, from Adam to now.  Death came to us from man, Adam, now life comes from Man, Christ.  Notice in 26 that that death is the last enemy.  Jesus’ resurrection defeated that enemy.  We will rise from our graves with Jesus.

In verses 29-34 Paul discusses the importance of the resurrection.  He begins with an important question:  Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  The last phrase has created a long list of possible explanations.  On behalf of whom?  Likely Paul is saying that a number of people have become Christians after the deaths of their loved ones who themselves were Christians.  They began to consider the idea of resurrection and decided it was likely and they wanted a part of the great victory.

As to the beasts in Ephesus, Kenneth Bailey writes:  Paul knows full well the risks he is taking in Ephesus.  Any foreigner who would dare enter a city like Ephesus and preach a message undermining the financial security of the “establishment” would be in grave danger.  This was particularly true when the patron goddess of the city was involved.  Because of Paul’s preaching, the goddess of the city was under attack and income from “tourism” was threatened.  Who would complain if the corpse of the foreigner who was causing this disruption was dumped into the harbor some moonless night?

In verses 35-50 Paul returns to Adam and Christ.  He begins with the question we Christians often ask ourselves out of curiosity:  What kind of body will we have in Heaven?  For Paul, the question is ridiculous.  We will have the bodies given to us by God, our old bodies will no longer exist.

Our bodies will be perfect and will never wear out.  They will be different, they will not even be like the bodies of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but will be unique heavenly bodies more like the body of Jesus before his ascension.

For the last verses, let us read from the sermon delivered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on November 26, 1939.  Imagine a small group of seminary students huddled in an old farm house without electricity or running water, trying to hide from the Nazis as the war approached the end of its second month.  They are celebrating the Last Supper and Bonhoeffer has chosen verse 55 for the text:  Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

You are invited to a victory celebration—to the celebration of the greatest victory won in the world, the victory of Jesus Christ over death.  Bread and wine, body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the signs of victory, for Jesus lives and is present in these signs today, the same Jesus who, almost two thousand years ago, was nailed to the cross and laid in the grave.  Jesus arose from the dead, burst asunder the rock before the tomb, and remained the victor.  Today, you are to receive the signs of his victory.  And later, whenever you receive the blessed bread and blessed chalice, you should know:  just as certainly as I eat this bread and drink this wine, just as certainly has Jesus Christ remained the victor over death, and just as certainly is he the living Lord who meets me.

Friday, June 27, Chapter 16

Paul, a missionary sent by the Church in Jerusalem, took upon himself the extra mission of supporting the struggling congregation in the Holy City.  We may wonder about that, but consider that they served as the headquarters for all the church activities throughout the Roman world.  All missionaries, and they may have numbered in the hundreds by the time of this letter, were sent by and supported by the one church.

Paul’s plans depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As of this writing, he expects to remain in Ephesus before working his way north along the coast and around through Macedonia again before reaching Corinth.

Paul had already sent Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22) into Macedonia with instructions to go on to Corinth from there.  Paul told the church that they should pay for Timothy’s travel back to Paul.

Again from Kenneth Bailey:  In his book Jesus in Beijing, David Aikman describes the house church movement in China.  He tells of the outreach of the Tanghi Fellowship in the Henan province.  In 1994 the Fellowship selected, trained and commissioned seventy young evangelists.  They were given about $200 each and sent to twenty-two of China’s thirty provinces.  They were also given one-way tickets to their destinations and told to return after six months using the funds they would receive from the new house fellowships they were to establish.  Exactly six months later, on October 10, 1994, all of the managed to meet the deadline and return to headquarters.  No one had died and there were only two short-term arrests.  New communities of Christians were started in many places.  Simultaneously, at five different locations, the young evangelists reported on their six months of ministry.  Mr. Zing, one of the leaders of the fellowship, reported to Mr. Aikman,

When we heard their testimonies, everybody was crying.  They wore out their shoes, they were rejected by people.  They lived in ditches and in forests.  Some of them lived with pigs.  In the meetings, God showed his love to us.  We were joyful because they all came back alive.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Hear O Lord

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photo credit a href=httpwww.flickr.comphotoszen3562880729zena via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-nc-sa2.0cca

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Hagar sent to the desert, away from her home and family; sent away because of the jealousy of Sarai over Ishmael.  The God of her master Abram heard her crying and answered by giving her Ishmael.  The angel told her his name means God Hears.

But Sarai, now Sarah, did not want Ishmael to interfere with God’s plans for her own son, so Hagar and Ishmael trekked through the desert until their water was gone and they were sure to die.

But God heard Ishmael crying and sent an angel to rescue them by providing water just as He would for Moses centuries later, just as He would for all of us through his Messiah.

The Messiah expects us to seek him, to cry for him.  He expects us to follow him, to imitate him.  If we accept the challenge he will represent us in Heaven.  Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven.   His call is not to an easy life.  We must give what we have to others.  We must seek the good for others ahead of our own.  If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

We are not bonded to the Messiah in Heaven.  We are bonded through baptism into his death.  We must die, there is no other way to have life.  As Paul said, Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

We can pray with David:

 Lord, teach me your ways,
and I will live and obey your truths.
Help me make worshiping your name
the most important thing in my life.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 Corinthians 7-11

undated Illustration showing woman wearing underwear incl c

I will be using the work of Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, for much of this study on the letter to Corinth

Monday, June 16, Chapter 7

Paul opens this chapter describing a marriage all Christians must strive for.  In verse 7, he adds that all should imitate him, but he knows most cannot resist the temptation.  This one verse has been the source of mountains of debate, yet it is not difficult.

Most Jewish men and women married by age 19 and those not married were considered almost outcasts—except for one highly esteemed group.  A man who became the disciple of a rabbi put off marriage for years, even for life.  He was to follow his master and imitate him in every way.

Paul was a disciple of Hillel, so followed the practice of not marrying.  We do not know if Jesus was a disciple of a rabbi, but it is entirely possible that he was set aside for God’s service, having the same result.  In those cases, celibacy was the norm.  Paul understands that few people can resist the temptations of the opposite sex, so he advised marriage.  He was one of the few Apostles who were not married.

There is evidence in Paul’s writings that he may have been married and is now a widower.  If that is the case, he would have married sometime after the Damascus road Revelation.

Verse 1 in the Greek presents a compelling problem of translation because we cannot determine if Paul is asking a question or making a statement.  Ancient Greek did not use punctuation marks.  The Greek reads like this in a literal English translation:  Now concerning things of which you wrote, good for a man a woman not to touch.  There are translations from a thousand years ago that make it a question, much like The MessageNow, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me.  First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?

This verse is central to the decision of the Roman Catholic Church that priests be celibate, but it was not always so.  It was 1139 before the Church first ruled that priests should not marry, but it was not uniformly enforced until the Council of Trent in 1563 in response to the Protestant Revolution.  Not that the Pope listens to me, but I think they made a serious mistake regarding this passage of Paul’s letter.

Please note that Paul calls for equal treatment of men and women.

On the question of divorce, Paul follows the teaching of Jesus; divorce is not in God’s plan.  Two Christians who practice true agape love should never have need of divorce.  That is the bull’s eye, but we do not always hit the mark in our lives and Paul understands that.

Paul was more concerned with the unequally yoked.  Christians married to non-Christians should stay married only if the spouse has no problem with practicing the faith and raising the children in the faith.  Paul was probably thinking of Timothy.

Verses 17-24 seem out of place at first glance, but Paul is simply expanding his position.  Paul believed that Jesus would return in a few years at most, well before he died.  He preached to people to prepare themselves for the end times.  We have the benefit of knowing that his estimate was a little bit off.  Still, what he says is as true for us as it was for the Corinthians and every other Christian since then.

Becoming a follower of Jesus does not mean giving up this world.  It does mean giving up the things in this world that separate us from God.  Stay where you are in the world, but become a Christian in that place.  I read an account of an American submarine in WWII that sank in Japanese waters.  The survivors were put into prison where one guard spoke one night through the door in halting English, I am a Christian.   He could do nothing else, but he could do that.  That is what Paul means.  That Japanese soldier did his duty, but tried to do it as a Christian.

Verses 36-38 are difficult to translate from the Greek, but the meaning is clear.  Paul may have spoken about a man choosing to marry a women other than the one he was engaged to, or about a man choosing a husband for his daughter.  Either way, it is not a problem.  In Paul’s opinion, it is better not to marry.

Tuesday, June 17, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 is short and simple.

There were at least a dozen pagan temples in Corinth, and they sacrificed animals in their worship.  As a fund-raising project, they sold the meat on the open market.  Many of the new Greek Christians were used to buying and eating that meat, so they wanted to know if it defiled them.  Paul said no.

First though, you do not go to the temple and participate in the service.  You might go to the ‘back door’ to buy the meat, but stay away from the services.

Today Paul might comment on bars, casinos, strip clubs, etc.  What would he have to say?  For the most part, get your food where you can without participating in the pagan rituals.  I think that would leave out the strip clubs.  Casinos, I am not sure.  My problem is that they only pay 60%, meaning the one person who wins $10,000 gets that money from all the people who lost a total of $16,667.  Games of chance are built on losers.

The issue of a stumbling block is the second part of this chapter.  If by eating meat from the temples someone else comes to believe the temples are good, that is a stumbling block.  As long as people around me know and believe the same thing, there is no harm in eating the meat.

We cannot say for sure that Paul ever ate pork, but it is clear that he ate meals with people who served pork.  He may have avoided that dish.  More to the point, he never condemned anyone who at pork.  When he was with Jews who observed the strict food rules, he did so as well.

Always think about what you are doing.  What effect does it have on people around you?  What effect does it have on you?  Are you closer to God?  Are others closer to God?

Wednesday, June 18, Chapter 9

Paul now brings the fight to himself. I also am free.  These are the rights that are mine; in verses 11-12, Paul says he should be paid for his labor.  But we did not use this right.  Why?  Because I will preach the Gospel regardless of what you may give to me.  I work only for Jesus; he will pay me.  You cannot control what I say because I do not work for you.

In the first verse of this chapter, Paul reminds us that he saw Jesus and had a conversation with him.  He saw Jesus the same way Peter saw Jesus.  This still happens today in the Middle East with people who are open to such things.  I quote again from Ken Bailey:  Over the last two decades literally thousands of Middle Easterners have had encounters with Jesus both in their dreams and during their waking hours.  Within the last year I have met two Christian leaders, one a Turk and the other a Sudanese, both of whom came to faith in Jesus through personal encounters with him.  One of them was on a pilgrimage when Jesus appeared to him in the middle of the day.  The other was awakened by Jesus in the night on three occasions.

But a visit by Jesus is not enough to make someone an Apostle.  Most of the 500 mentioned by Paul in Acts 15:6 did not become Apostles.  Each of us has our own unique purpose.  If it is to clean the church toilets before Sunday, clean them as if Jesus were coming.

Paul was called by Jesus to preach the Gospel, and he chose to do it while paying his own way.

In verses 19-23, Paul outlines how he is able to reach out to others.  Ken Bailey again:  After spending forty-seven years in the Arab world, and after acquiring the ability to lecture in four kinds of Arabic, I never said to my Arabic-speaking friends, “We Arabs.”  Knowing where that un-crossable line is drawn is a critical piece of acquired awareness.  As regards lifestyle Paul can live as “one under the Torah”, and he can live as “one not under the Torah”.  But in regard to his identity, he knows that he cannot become a Gentile, and he plays no games with his readers.

We are all familiar with the Olympics originating in Greece, but there were other games as well.  One, the Isthmian Games, was held in Corinth every two years.  It was a sports crazy city, so Paul made use of that to close the chapter.

Thursday, June 19, Chapter 10

To begin this chapter, Paul returns to the Exodus.  He taught the people in Corinth all about the Exodus because it is the story of the Messiah.  We should never read about Moses without seeing Jesus.  As the Hebrews left Egypt, they followed the Cloud of the Presence; they were baptized in the Red Sea as the Egyptians were sacrificed for their salvation; they ate the bread from heaven, the bread that was the Messiah; and they drank from the life-giving waters that was the Messiah.

But, and you Corinthians need to take this warning to heart, God killed nearly all of them for their immorality.  So if you think you are standing firm….

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too….

There were in Corinth and are now in America a lot of Burger King Christians.  But we cannot have it our way; it must be God’s way.

Verse 28 presents us with a different lesson to that of freedom.  If I go to a house to eat and the host says the food was presented to a god as a sacrifice, I should not eat it, for the other man’s conscience.  Paul is saying that I chose not to eat out of love and respect for the other man.  He has been sensitive enough to warn me of the meat’s origin so I will respond in kind.  The meat will not hurt me.

I had an experience along those lines in 1996 when I spent a week with our exchange student and her parents.  On the first day, Chao and her mother took me to a small shop and ordered fish head soup.  It is the traditional dish served to honored guests.  I partially insulted my hosts by not sucking the eyes out of the heads; I let Chao do that for me.  I took advantage of my freedom not to eat something I thought might gag me.  Chao was happy.  When they were able to visit us a few years later, we returned the favor with fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

Friday, June 20, Chapter 11

Typical of this letter, Paul praises the Corinthians in verse 2, but turns right away to criticism.   An important concept appears in verse 2 that we need to know.  Paul received the teachings and he gives the teachings to the Corinthians.  That is the process upon which Judaism and Christianity are built.  It is important to know how the teacher received the lessons.  Paul learned first from the great rabbi Hillel, then from Jesus directly.  We can trust Paul

Today it can be a bit more difficult to decide whom to trust.  I want to learn from someone who has studied the Word and teaches in accordance to what I already know from the Bible.  For example, I reject anyone who teaches that Jesus hates people.  A careful reading of the Gospels answers that  question.

Starting in verse 3 Paul begins to deal with a problem plaguing the Corinthian Church, that of public behavior of men and women.  Paul consistently preached  that all were equal before God and Christ.  He has not changed that message here.  He is dealing with a situation peculiar to Corinth; the congregation includes an even mix of Jews, Greeks, Romans, wealthy, poor, slave, and free.  With that mix came many different customs:  Jewish men covered their heads for prayer, Greeks did not, Romans did, slaves often had their heads shaved (women too) and uncovered.

How to deal with it?  Paul begins with the basics, men came before women, Christ before men, God before Christ.  This is right out of Genesis. This position is based on the Greek word, kefale; for the Hebrew word Rosh.  Both words refer to the head of a person, to having authority over others, or as being the source or beginning of something.  For example:  Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the new year of the Jewish calendar; it is the head of the year, the beginning.

A misunderstanding of the Genesis account has led many people astray.  They read that woman was made from man, and conclude that man is more important.  If that logic is used then animals are more important than man and plants more important than animals, etc.  If we reverse the logic to say the most important was created last, that would be women.  The first creation story in Chapter one puts a damper on the whole misguided notion.  Verse 27 of that chapter has man and woman created together in the image of God.

Galatians 3:26-28 makes Paul’s position very clear.  It is the teaching of the early church that he is passing on to the Churches of the Province of Galatia; equality in Christ.

As the church spread over the next eight centuries women continued to hold prominent positions in the churches of some regions, less so in others.  The Church of Rome began a campaign about that time to reduce the influence of women in the church.  It took centuries and not a few wars to achieve the goal.  The women of Ireland were particularly stubborn in giving up their status as equals before Christ.

In our current text Paul gets right to the prophets, men and woman.  Stop there.  Women prophets tells us a great deal about the church as Paul saw it and as Jesus intended it.  When Paul lists the parts of the human body prophets rank with Apostles and teachers.

Women held every position of leadership in churches throughout the Mediterranean.   Paul names women in roughly equal numbers in his letters.  Kenneth Bailey:  From the book of Acts we know that Greek women of high standing were attracted to the preaching of Paul.  Such women would not have been attracted to a movement that did not treat them as equals.  The church in Philippi met in the house of Lydia, a seller of purple cloth.  One of the two ports for the city of Corinth was Cenchrea.  The church there was led by Phoebe who is called a deacon and a leader.  While in Corinth Paul lived with Aquila and Priscilla.  Priscilla was a “professor of theology,” who, with her husband, taught the famous Apollos.  Living with this prominent Christian couple for eighteen months, and having them as personal friends, it is impossible to imagine Paul writing a letter to the Corinthians that would demean Priscilla.

All Paul says is, women cover your heads when you preach, teach, and prophesies.  Show some courtesy to those who believe you should do so.  I know it is not necessary, but think of others.

In verse 6 Paul gives women prophets another option, shave your heads.  He extends that in verses 14-15 by suggesting for a woman to cut off her long hair, she would be imitating men and that is not good.  Let women be women and men men.

In verse 16 Paul concludes the instructions with the statement that this is the practice in most of the churches, so do the same to save yourselves a lot of trouble.

Verses 9-10 contain the Greek word dia four times.  It is often translated as for in verse 9, but because in verse 10.  If Paul intended to use a different word in verse 9, there are at least two that would better serve.  The literal Greek translation is:  For not was created man because of the woman, but woman because of the man.  Because of this ought the woman authority to have on the head because of the angels.

Day 244- Eucharist at the outdoor altar!

Moving on:  Paul has heard about problems with the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth.  When you assemble, there are divisions and quarrels.  Those of you do not have to work (the rich) show up early and go ahead and eat and drink so that there is nothing left for the poor and the slaves.  What is more, you end up drunk and a shame to the name of Jesus.

The practice of eating full meals for the Sacrament continued for several centuries with the same problems reoccurring, until the Roman Church banned the meals.

With verse 23 Jesus gives us the oldest account of how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Last Supper, Holy Eucharist (the word means thanksgiving).  I remember that I used the verses 23-28 in services years ago, so I checked the Bible I used then, and it is all underlined in red.  It is the main reference for denominations everywhere.

Verse 27 is serious.  I must approach the table with love for Christ.  It would be better to pass it by than profane His Sacrifice.  Eating the Eucharist with less than a perfect heart if the norm, however.  Jesus understands our needs and our troubles and will overlook our weaknesses.  Still, we need to try to be as judgmental of ourselves as we are of others.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence