Saturday, November 5, 2016

Decisive or Divisive… or Both?

While preparing to preach a sermon from 1 Corinthians 4:20, I read the following commentary on vv.14-21. It is copied with the citation at the bottom. I think it is safe to say that the second paragraph — "Before we trace…" — would make an "interesting" discussion starter in a group representing various denominations.

7. Fathers and children (4:14–21)

In verse 14 Paul seems to recognize that he has been verging on sarcasm in the previous paragraph, and he pulls himself up by assuring the Corinthians that he is not trying to make you ashamed, not in any wrong way. He is not averse to arousing in them a proper sense of shame,21 but here he emphasizes that he is speaking as a father to his beloved children (14).
  Before we trace the way in which Paul sees himself as a father to the Christians at Corinth, it is necessary to stress that he does not see it as an authority-position, let alone as one invested with status. He would have known the words of Jesus himself: ‘Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven … He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.’22 The way the title ‘Father’ is given to, and accepted by, the ordained ministers of certain denominations flies in the face of this teaching. Indeed, many other sections of the church often manifest a paternalistic, over-dominant style of leadership, even if they do not use the title ‘Father’. The folk-religion which lies behind this is not nearly so serious as the unbiblical theology which gave rise to and still endorses such an understanding of status and authority in the church. This false teaching is arguably the strongest barrier to the growth and health of the church in our day. It affects church unity, evangelism, worship, lay ministry, the ministry of women, theological training. Indeed, virtually every aspect of the mission of God’s church is hampered, so long as this anti-Christian view of leadership in the church is perpetuated.
Positively, Paul sees himself as father to the Christians at Corinth (and particularly to Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, verse 17) in the sense that he proclaimed the gospel to them and was, therefore, responsible on a human level for their faith in Christ. Like any father, and because children always copy their father, he has striven to set them an example in daily life of the behaviour expected of Christians; I urge you, then, be imitators of me (16). Timothy’s task was to remind them of Paul’s ways in Christ (17). This consistent example was number one priority for Paul wherever he went (as I teach them everywhere in every church, 17). It underlines the vital importance of exemplary behaviour in the daily lives of all called to leadership in the church. The Corinthians had not seen Jesus in the flesh: they had no Bible; but they had seen Paul (cf. 11:1). Many others had pointed the way to Christ,23 but he was the first to come all the way to them with the gospel: I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (15).
It is, then, as their father that Paul now promises to come to them. When the father has been absent from his family for some time, he wants to come home with love in a spirit of gentleness (21), not with a rod. Many of those in Corinth whom he had brought to faith in Christ were now behaving in an arrogant and boastful way, writing off him and his ministry and causing great trouble and division in the church. Paul’s fatherly heart was deeply hurt by this behaviour and something of that pain can be gauged by his comments elsewhere: ‘My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!’24

Children often make loud claims in a boastful way: it is a reflection of their immaturity. There is a lot of talk, and not very much power to put the big words into action. So Paul ends these two chapters in the same mood as he began—with a strong (and strongly-felt) plea to the Corinthians to stop boasting and to grow up: the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power (20). He does not often use this phrase the kingdom of God, so common in the Synoptic Gospels; but, when he does, it always refers to fundamentals. He does not ever explain its meaning; he accepted it as the heart of the gospel—and proclaimed it day by day.25

David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, The Bible Speaks Today; ed. John R. W. Stott; Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove.: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 67-69.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Almost a Nickel

If memory serves correctly (it still does once in a while), I have already posted my two cents worth regarding the current political melee. Since this is an additional comment on that subject, I figure I am up to "almost a nickel."

I have read or listened to many who are saying, in essence, that the only valid choice a biblical Christian has in this election is to vote for Trump. It is, at its bare bones, the insistence that no candidate is perfect but Trump will not do as much harm as Clinton so we are spiritually obligated to vote for him. The arguers of this stance even toss in scriptures, albeit none that specifically address the requirement to vote for the "lesser of two evils." However, they do postulate that their opinion is the authoritative word on the matter.

So, in an attempt to offer some balance, here are some scriptures to chew on ("meditate on" if that sounds more spiritual), beginning with three from Romans 14 (I am using different translations in an attempt to gain at least a measure of the criticism Rick Warren regularly receives.):

Romans 14:1 "Welcome those who are weak in faith, but do not argue with them about their personal opinions." (GNT)
Romans 14:4 "What right do you have to criticize someone else's servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right." (CEV)
Romans 14:23 "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (ESV)
1 Corinthians 3:18-20 "Don't fool yourself. Don't think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God's fool—that's the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It's written in Scripture, 'He exposes the chicanery of the chic. the Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls." (MSG)
1 Corinthians 10:31 "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (NIV)
2 Timothy 2:4 "As Christ's soldier, do not let yourself become tied up in worldly affairs, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army." (TLB)

What it boils down to, for me anyway, is this: I am seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit who convicts and convinces us of what is pleasing to God and I believe there are a lot of people trespassing on His territory.

P.S. Please, do not assume you know for whom I am or am not voting. This was not about the candidates at all but rather those who assume they are God's 2016 Presidential Election prophets.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Growing Pains

I do not like pain. Really. I do not like it. But they say pain serves a purpose: Pain tells us when something is wrong. Pain also occurs when drastic steps have been taken to fix something that was wrong. Everyone who has ever gone through major surgery understands this.

You face double the pain when the two come together and that is bound to happen for anyone seeking to live a Christlike life. First, there is the pain of identifying something specifically wrong with your life in spirit, thought, and/or deed. Sometimes the error is so deeply engrained that it is a tangible part of what defines you. Next is the pain that comes with making a clear, meaningful, and permanent correction. Then, and only then, healing and recovery can occur.

Here is an example in down-to-earth terms: 
1. We love God and we love our country.
2. No matter how many good people immigrate into our country, some bad ones slip in, too, and it only takes a few of the bad guys to do a lot of damage (witness 9-11-01).
3. A conflict arises (or should) when we seek to be Christlike but desire to "protect" our country by turning away immigrants because some might do us harm (rather than recognizing where our real safety lies as revealed in 2 Chronicles 7:14).
4. You have to make a decision to be totally Christlike or seek a worldly solution to national security. 

It isn't pretty but it is true. Denial only cancels the hope of change and healing.

Final note: I am not a fan of the modern Episcopal Church. But I do have respect for a recent stand they have taken and thank Tom Wiles* for sharing it. You can read it here.

*Tom Wiles is Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island. We were also roommates our Senior year at Oklahoma Baptist University. I had the great privilege of having his mother-in-law, Marilyn Bryant, as pianist when I served in my first staff position out of college at First Baptist Church, Lindsay, OK.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When Hermeneutics Don't Matter

The problem with attempting to share insight gleamed from tried and true principles of biblical interpretation, i.e. hermeneutics, is they are often nonessential to those who believe in the sufficiency of their own strong personal opinion. It is nothing new but recently it was resolutely stated to me that Jesus was not crucified on Friday but on Thursday based entirely on Jesus' own words recorded in *Matthew 12:40 – "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

As we discussed it, the friend would not accept the explanation that in the reckoning of the original audience, "three days and three nights" was a reference to three distinct days or any part of those days. This person refused to view it in any context other than the way it sounded in English and would be understood in our culture, namely, Jesus spent three full twenty-four hour periods in the grave. I should add that observations of scholars who write commentaries have little bearing on this person. Among my own references were the Word Biblical Commentary, the Encyclopedia of Bible DifficultiesMatthew Henry, Commentary On the Whole Bible (Unabridged), and John Wesley, Wesley's Notes On the Bible.

If it comes up again, and it very well may, I will probably just refer to six passages from the gospels themselves, including Matthew, which are even clearer in plain old English. They are as follows:
  • From Matthew 27:62 – The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate
  • From Mark 15:42 – And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
  • From Luke 23:54 – It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.
  • John 19:14 – Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”
  • John 19:31 – Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.
  • John 19:42 – So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Those would seem to be rather overwhelming. But, in this case, I suspect my friend will gladly use an uninformed, albeit steadfast, interpretation of one verse to essentially ignore six with clearer meanings.

A Pastor's life has these moments.

*For the sake of consistency, all scriptures are from the English Standard Version (ESV).