Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts On It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are all from the letters of Paul. I am reading his letters and trying to put them into the context of the story told by Luke in Acts. I am presently re-reading 1st Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics.

1 Cor. 10 – Paul expounds on the lessons Christians can learn from the OT narrative. As Christians enter into Christ through baptism, the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” in their water passage. Similarly they “ate. . .spiritual food” provided by God on their passage through the wilderness. The rock that nourished the Jews in the wilderness was Christ typologically present in the water from the Rock, and in the manna. Yet they were unfaithful. Christians face the same choices—we must not fall into idolatry (14). The sacraments are for us a “participation in the blood of Christ . . .participation in [His] body.” (16).

This chapter presents in a very unequivocal way the idea that things in the Old Testament narrative are to be seen as “types” and “figures” of events and lessons from Christ’s life. No one in my experience focused more on this than George Fox:

“. . .as man comes through by the Spirit and power of God to Christ who fulfils the types, figures, shadows, promises, and prophecies that were of him, and is led by the Holy Ghost into the truth and substance of the Scriptures, sitting down in him who is the author and end of them, then are they read and understood with profit and great delight.” George Fox, Journal, 32

This is an idea that has meant a great deal to me, but I have also come to see more in it than Fox and early Friends saw. They saw the types and figures as “shadows” of the substance – Christ – that preceded his ascendance into the world we live in. But Fox never considered that the time that was to come AFTER Christ’s time here on earth would also be a time when we would need the physical presence of some “shadows” to remind us of him. Like the sun rising and setting, shadows are cast on both sides of the noon of His Presence. And I think I see those sacramental “types” and “figures” as still playing a significant role in reminding us of the eternal spiritual substance, which is Christ.

Returning to the text, when you eat of food sacrificed to demons, you make yourself one with those demons—even though we may know that they are “really” nothing. We must remember that what we want to do is “build up” the body of Christ, not bring it into disrepute. You don’t need to probe into the origin of food offered to you by pagans, but if someone tells you it was sacrificed, then you must respond as if that act has significance to a brother’s conscience.

1 Cor. 11 - Paul uses the prevailing cultural norms as ways of bringing out how Christ can be understood by the people of Corinth. As a man is head over his wife in marriage, so Christ now is head over the man. Women should not act like men—if she doesn’t wear the customary veil, she should logically have her head shaved like a man, but this she does not want to do. Women are to be veiled as a sign of submission – and for propriety’s sake. These are all just customs, but people should not be rebellious (16).

He addresses the problem of factions among them. When they meet together it ought not to be for simple eating and drinking but rather to all be equal before God and to share in the sacred memorial of Christ’s Last Supper with them. He warns them that communion is not just eating. It involves “discerning” Christ’s presence in the bread (29). Ordinary eating should be done at home.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts On It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are all from the letters of Paul. I am reading his letters and trying to put them into the context of the story told by Luke in Acts. I am presently re-reading 1st Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics.

1 Cor. 8 - Since “gods” other than Yahweh really do not exist, Paul is not troubled by eating food sacrificed to them. They are illusory. But if others are troubled, then one ought to refuse so as to preserve the good conscience of one’s brother or sister in the Lord.

The note in the NAB is very good: “Paul urges them to take a communitarian rather than an individualistic view of their Christian freedom. Many decisions that they consider pertinent only to their private relationship with God have social consequences. Nor can moral decisions be determined by merely theoretical considerations; they must be based on concrete circumstances, specifically on the value and needs of other individuals, and on mutual responsibility within the community.”

1 Cor. 9 – Paul insists that he is “an apostle”—he has seen the risen Lord; this church is his work “in the Lord.” People who work for the gospel have a right to be supported, but Paul does not claim it. In an exercise of the same “communitarian” ideal mentioned previously, he does not exercise this right because he thinks it might create obstacles to some he is attempting to reach. He is also still dealing with the boasting question—the boasting or self-inflation of those in the community who think their grasp of the gospel gives them a certain status or aura—grasping the gospel, embodying the gospel, representing it in any way puts a burden on you to serve it, not boast about it. His “freedom” in the gospel makes him want to be its slave, and that means he must try to be all things to all men—he must try to communicate the truth of the gospel to all manner of men so as to “win” them. We are after an imperishable crown, not an earthly one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts On It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are all from the letters of Paul. I am reading his letters and trying to put them into the context of the story told by Luke in Acts. I am presently re-reading 1st Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics.

1 Cor. 6 - It is wrong to resort to the law courts when dealing with a “brother.” The saints should work things out in their community. Paul clearly alludes to the promises made in Daniel’s eschatological passages (7:22-23) that the “holy ones” would be the ones who would eventually possess the kingdom and be judges over others, even angels [though when I turn to Daniel, that seems far from clear in the cited passages]. Paul seems to think it is better to put up with injustices than to go to “outside” courts for judgments in cases between believers. Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom: the unjust, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, boy prostitutes (catamites), practicing homosexuals (sodomites), thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, robbers. Beyond this, the saying, which perhaps Paul had said and others in Corinth have “over-relied” on by some there, that “everything is lawful for me,” (12) does not mean that immoderation or other departures from “moral” behavior is now okay. The standard of the kingdom is high, not slack: “[W]hoever is joined to the Lord [and all the baptized are joined to him] becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside he body, but the immoral person sins against his own body” (17-18). Our bodies are temples “of the holy Spirit within [us] whom [we] have from God. . .” (19)

1 Cor. 7 - “Sex is always a danger,” Paul says. Marriage is for this--neither partner owns his own body in a marriage. Each belongs to the other. So he thinks staying as you are at the time of your call is best (7:25-40). He is sure the “world as we know it is passing away.” The important thing is to give individual attention to the Lord. He goes on to say that if you are married, you are not to separate or divorce; or if you do separate, you should remain single. He does permit believing partners whose unbelieving spouses leave them to remarry. “The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace” (15). The overriding principle with Paul seems to be that people should not worry about the state they were in before their call, that decisions about changes to one’s earthly state should become relatively unimportant in light of the fact that “time is running out. . .[that] the world in its present form is passing away.” (31).

What shall we make of such advice today, made as it was from such a perspective? I think we ought not to put much weight on it in the last analysis. On the question of how marriage “divides” us from single-minded service to the gospel, it is true to some extent. Yet every person must put the Lord first to some end. The single man or woman serving the Lord puts Him first in order to serve the faith community. The married person must put Him first in order to fulfill the calling of being a spouse and a parent, a citizen or a friend—the only thing that changes is the field of service, for there is no state of life—excepting perhaps the purely contemplative—where only the Lord is served; and then we need to ask “to what end” He is served?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts On It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are all from the letters of Paul. I am reading his letters and trying to put them into the context of the story told by Luke in Acts. I am presently re-reading 1st Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics.

1 Cor. 4
- We are Christ’s servants, stewards of the mysteries of God (1). Having just finished some of the earliest Christian writings – the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch and Clement – I can say how wonderful it is that Paul sees himself as “steward” of these deepest mysteries. The others dwell so steadily on the “dos” and “don’ts” of the Christian community. He too will impose a standard [see chapter 5] but he does not dwell on such things as much. Paul will not be judged by them or even by himself. He will be judged by God He urges them again not “to go beyond what is written,” (6) [said in both JB and NAB to be obscure—maybe a reference to the OT promises and their fulfillment in the cross, maybe a gloss]. Somehow they must be making claims and boasting of having come into some advanced state or mystery—maybe the very kingdom of God itself—but Paul brings them up by reminding them while they are reveling in this claim, he is still weak and deprived, serving the gospel, being ridiculed and persecuted for the sake of the gospel. They need to stop their boasting.

1 Cor. 5 - A case of incest that has been brought to his attention disturbs him, especially in light of the spiritual boasting the Corinthian church has indulged in. The person should be expelled. But still it is the boasting that is the focus of his concern (6). It is not necessary (or possible) to withdraw from misdeeds in the world, for one would have to leave the world entirely to get away from all those who are sinners; but Christians must exercise discipline inside the church, “banning” those who are “sexually immoral or greedy” or those who are “idolater[s], reviler[s], drunkard[s] or robber[s]” (11). God is judge of those outside the church.

We clearly do not “separate” ourselves from sinners who are in the faith community any more than we do from those outside [in society generally]. We probably should “labor” more actively with those in our communities who we suspect are behaving badly. Paul’s division of “in” and “outside” the church gets more complicated with democracy, for in a democratic society, we cannot simply dissociate ourselves from decisions made on ethical/moral issues. We must put our political “weight” behind judgments that reflect our sense of God’s will. Abortion, sexual “sins” – all of this is very complicated. I think many Christians have adopted Paul’s conviction that only God can judge in the last analysis. There is no “unity” among us on many ethical and moral issues.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts On It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are all from the letters of Paul. I am reading his letters and trying to put them into the context of the story told by Luke in Acts. I am presently re-reading 1st Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics.

1 Cor. 2 - He continues arguing that the while the gospel is not based on a wisdom that is “human.” It is a wisdom “mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages . . . ” It is a wisdom revealed through the Spirit. “And we speak about them [things freely given us by God] not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms” (13). To understand these things, we must put on “the mind of Christ” (16).

I have been thinking a lot about this lately (12/2010), how what we adhere to as a people of faith is really a kind of “knowing” that is not at all “worldly”; it is a knowledge attained through faith. What is this faith and how does it get planted in us? I, like many believers was not raised in any church. My grandmother taught me to pray and occasionally took me to church with her, but not with any regularity; and I never went to any class or learned any creed. But I always felt loved and watched over from above – yes, up above, when I reached far outside of myself, tapping around for a presence outside of myself. As I grew and made this “presence” part of how I lived from day to day, my identification as one connected to this grew in strength.

Not that I did not value and rely strongly on my reason and on what I could know through my senses or my ability to use logic; but the “presence” was not something I came close to through those doors. That those doors – reason, logic, consciousness – existed at all I considered part of the “creation” I was blessed with. But they did not lead me to any ultimate “home”. How well Paul puts his lips to these realities – it is amazing!

1 Cor. 3 – Paul admits his evangelization approach was not one that took a completely spiritual approach, for he did not and does not see them ready for such an approach. “I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it” (2). The rivalry among followers of the various teachers must stop. Paul said he laid the foundation – And the foundation is Jesus Christ. Then other teachers came and threw the people into confusion about exactly what the gospel message was about. The work of each teacher must build on the foundation. He says some will “build in gold, silver and jewels”; others will build in “wood, grass and straw” and the buildings constructed will be tested by fire “in the end”. How each holds up will reveal the “quality of each man’s work” (13-15). Is this a way of predicting that some would build in a worldy way and others in a simpler way; or is he saying the building of some will be of great value and others of cheap materials. I think maybe it is the latter. But what really is “of value” in the spiritual realm – fancy outward things or simple, solid things? We believers are “God’s temple” (16), the home of the Spirit of God in our world.

It’s interesting that the words of verses 14 and 15 apparently form the basis of the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory. Paul says when we are tested on “the Day” of the Lord, the fact that some do not pass muster does not necessarily mean that they will not be saved, but they will be saved “as through fire.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts About It

The Scripture readings I am doing right now are from the letters of Paul. My commentary on the readings is in italics. Presently, I am on the 1st letter of Paul to the Corinthians:

1 Cor. 1 – Paul writes the church at Corinth because he concerned about divisions that have arisen among them. It has been reported to him that these divisions are based on loyalties of factions to different teachers – to Paul, to Apollos or Cephas, men who have come and instructed them on their admittance into the people of Christ. We [all those who teach of him] preach a “crucified Christ, to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (23-25).

How can one reasonably accept an explanation or teaching about Christ that seems to violate both Jewish tradition, from which the whole idea of the “anointed one,” “the Christ” came from, and the demands of human reason, which the Greeks celebrated? This problem is still a serious obstacle to many. My way through it or around it is not something completely mysterious to me. It is by understanding Christ as the fulfillment of a tradition and more importantly a narrative that must be “entered into” by us through the faculty of our God-given power of imagination and through what we have come to call “faith,” our inner commitment to a vision that is not in the same category as things we can “know” or “prove.” We cannot know that truth lies here, in Christ, but we cannot see life as meaningless or empty of spiritual realities that elude reason or logic either. Somehow we must just accept that we have been given faith. It is just part of the person I am.

“The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you [those who are part of the community of faith], God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom” (30).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts About It


This letter is thought to be from the same time period as Galatians and Ephesians (61-63 AD), though Ray Brown thinks a case can be made for it coming a little earlier. It is addressed to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus and the church at his (or their) house.

Paul refers to himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (1) though it is not clear where he is imprisoned. It might be in Ephesus, Caesaria or Rome, though the JB seems to go for the last of these.

He states in verse 8 that while he could with “no diffidence” tell him what to do, he prefers to appeal to his love instead. Acts of kindness, he later says, “should be spontaneous” (15). He (Paul) is an old man now and prisoner of Christ Jesus. He says he is “appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I become while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus” (10-11). Onesimus is a slave belonging to Philemon, and Paul is sending him back as one who is now “one with Paul” in faith. It seems likely that Onesimus left the household without their permission, and Paul is returning him so as to give them an opportunity to free him “voluntarily,” knowing how much good he is doing serving Paul and the gospel away from them. “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (15-16).

It is so interesting here how Paul turns the screws on their consciences. He does not flail against slavery from an ideological or even ethical point of view. He simply stimulates Christ’s work in them by giving them an opportunity to see the situation from a gospel point of view.

Paul tells them to charge any loss or wrong up to him on Onesimus’ behalf. He sends greeting to them also from his companions in Rome—Epaphras (who is also in prison), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Daily Scripture and Thoughts About It


Paul writes around the year 56-57 AD to the church at Philippi from prison somewhere (Ephesus, Caesaria or Rome). Timothy is with him. Paul had founded the church at Philippi in 50, during his second journey (Acts 16: 12-40) and revisited it twice during the third (in the autumn of 57 and again at Passover in 58). The JB associates this letter with the great Pauline letters (notably Corinthians) rather than grouping it with Eph, Col and Philemon.

Phil. 1 – Paul greets “the saints in Christ Jesus” in Philippi along with the “bishops and deacons.” (NRSV v. 1) (The JB says the word “episcopos,” which they translate as elders, has not yet come to have the meaning later associated with bishop) He expresses thanks for them and prays “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, . . .” (10). He uses the phrase “day of Christ Jesus in verse 6 as well, so indicating the prominence this expectation still has in his thinking. He reassures them that while his imprisonment for Christ is something he must deal with, it has not hindered the spread of the gospel but has actually “helped” to spread it—among the imperial guard and among others.

The word about Christ is getting out—in some cases by those who are acting “out of love” and in some cases by those who are actually trying to “increase [his] suffering” (16) by seeking to rival or compete with Paul. It does not matter to Paul. Everyone who speaks about the gospel of Christ helps in the long run. He does not even care if he must suffer death for Christ. In fact, he even yearns for an end to his life: “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith. . .” (24-25).

He ends this section by encouraging them to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, . . .” (27) or as it is translated in the JB, “avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” Any suffering they must endure is a privilege.

One of the things I appreciate very much about Paul is his emphasis on the importance of cultivating “knowledge” or “wisdom,” about the faith we have placed in Christ. This gnosis is very important. It deepens our awareness of the redemptive love of God towards all men and makes our love more like the kind of love Christ had for us, a love that went out to us not because we are deserving but despite the fact that we in varying degrees undeserving of God’s love. This is one of the biggest challenges for people, to learn to love not as we define love but to come to understand and enter into the love God has for all. Forgiveness and compassion come from this kind of love instead of the fault-finding that comes from comparing your own worth with the shortcomings of those you are asked to love. I see the difficulty of learning this in talking to adolescents. They are generally very idealistic and understand the virtue of love very well. They especially understand its capacity to bring out the best in them. They can appreciate instances where someone else’s patience or compassion for them helped them in some way. But ask them to extend that same love to those who are unlikable to them in some way, however trifling, and you see that they have not yet grown to the point where they see that all men are in the same boat. The obnoxious bus driver who drives them crazy needs to feel their love as much as they need to feel it from others. The nerdy kid who just can’t attain what they consider to be normality also has a claim on their love if they would call their love Christian love. The planting, watering, cultivation and growth of this love, all of it, is the work of the gospel in us. And it is not a sudden burgeoning growth, but one of slow root development and continued examination in the light, which Christ gives us both inwardly and in the lessons his life and death teach us. Grant oh Lord, that this love may be formed in us and made ever more profound and secure. Keep the value of this love fresh in us and help it transform the details of our lives so that others may learn of it through us. In unity with Jesus and with Paul who lived and died to plant this love in the world we pray.

Phil. 2 - Paul urges his readers to aspire to unity of heart and mind—“be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2); and the key to unity is humility—“Let each of you look not to [his] own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (4-5).

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
[as] something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness.
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (6-11, NAB).

Ray Brown and my JB both say it is uncertain if Paul was the author of this hymn or was just using it here in this letter, but it is amazing stuff. One of Paul’s great moments – probably simply giving us a worship formula used in the earliest church. It has been pointed out what beautiful literature this is in addition to be profound spiritual insight – the emptying out and coming down to the humiliation of the cross is followed immediately by seeing Christ as lifted up and exalted – capturing the whole paradox of Christ’s incarnation. JB also says what I believe, that use of this formula is evidence that the very early church “believed in the divine pre-existence of Jesus” (260) way before John’s time.

Through his great humility and self-giving Christ unified himself with the human race and it is likewise by humbling ourselves of our self-involved human nature that we can achieve a degree of unity with Him and through Him, with God. In this modern era, where nothing is so sought after as self-actualization, self-determination, and self-expression, it is not surprising that those institutions, which are built on unity, namely marriage and the church as well as civic communities of all kinds, are suffering. If we can only come to be sensible of Christ’s great act of love for us and be moved thereby to respond to him with even a degree of surrender and love, he will lead us in a different path. So that even in a world where self-aggrandizement is the chief love of almost everyone, one can hope to redeem one’s life.

Paul goes on to tell his readers that they must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (12-13). This is a very Quaker friendly passage. The salvation we come into is not a once for all time event, and not something that “happens” when we profess faith in Christ. It is a process, something we work out with God’s help; “it is God who is at work in [us].” He empowers us not only to know His mind (4) and His will but to be obedient to Him in all we do.

Paul speaks of sending Timothy off to them soon, and he sets Timothy apart among many who “are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (21) as one who is seriously concerned with their welfare. And he is also sending Epaphroditus, “my brother and co-worker” who is ill, even close to death (26).

Phil. 3 - Paul begins to conclude his letter with a renewed call for his readers to rejoice. But he warns them not to be misled by those whom he call “the dogs” (2), the “judaizers” who “mutilate the flesh.” The people who are “the circumcision” are those “who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (3). He has the fleshly circumcision and every other fleshly connection with the people of Israel, but they are not seen as strengths by him any more—now that he has come to know Christ. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (8-11).

These are beautiful words that capture so well the overriding vision Paul has of salvation. For him salvation seems eminently personal, a being gathered up into the very person, life and work of Jesus Christ. In that is our glory and our boast.

Paul addresses the matter of whether his sense of salvation amounts to “perfect maturity” and he declines to make this claim. But he continues to live and act on the faith that he will attain to it (like an athlete who strains for the victory at the end of all his striving). The people whose minds “are set on earthly things” will end with destruction.

Phil. 4 - Continuing his loving conclusion, Paul urges his readers to help those who have shared in Paul’s work: women co-workers Euodia and Syntyche, and Clement. And others “whose names are in the book of life” (3).

He admonishes his readers once again to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4). “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (5-7). And finally, in those now famous words, Paul urges us to cultivate and contemplate everything that is worthy in life:

“[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (8).

He thanks them for the support they have sent to him and especially tells them that it is the benefit to them their generosity entails in spiritual reward that makes him the happiest.

Throughout this lovely letter, we not only hear how we are to grow in the depth and breadth of love, and come to know the resignation to God’s will that brings complete peace and equanimity of mind, but we see it in Paul and hear it in the tone and feeling of his words.