Saturday, January 15, 2011

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 2 Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics:

2 Cor. 10 - Paul describes himself as one who bullies them only when he is away (in his letters). But he fancies he will have to do so in person to people who accuse him of “ordinary human motives” (3). He does not fight with fleshly weapons. They are assailing his authority – he defends it as given to build them up, so he won’t neglect to use it. He resolves to be more like the man of his letters when he is with them. He returns to the theme of boasting [see Jeremiah 9] urging them to come off believing in pretensions others have made and to recognize that Paul’s position of authority--his boast--derives from a commission from God.

The amount of time Paul devotes to this theme—of boasting, of seeing himself in conflict with others who are trying to denigrate his authority or puff up their own status in the church—indicates that there must have been some pretty caustic words going around and challenges among those preaching and teaching as to their relative status in the leadership.

2 Cor. 11 - Paul’s “jealousy” for them is from God. He arranged for their marriage to Christ. But as in the Genesis story, the serpent turned them [Christ’s Eve], away from simple faithfulness to a fallen condition and fallen relationship with God.

Paul has a little irony in his tone here. He asks them to “put up” with his foolishness; they “put up” with it when others preach a different message. Again, he refers to competing “apostles,” men who call themselves or make other feel they are “super-apostles” (5). Are they charging money for their preaching and thus making people feel they are getting something of greater value? Paul preached for free (supported by brothers from Macedonia). There are counterfeit apostles, “Satan going about as an angel of light.” They apparently are claiming to be more “Jewish” than Paul, for he reasserts his “Jewish” credentials here. They may also be claiming to have worked harder, but he here boasts of his many sufferings in Christ—39 lashes at the hands of the Jews (5 times); beatings with rods (3 times); a stoning; a shipwreck; dangers of all kinds; sleepless nights, hunger and thirst; fastings; exposure (25-29). He tells of his escape from the hands of the governor of Damascus, “let down in a basket through a window in the wall” (33).

There is a lot of emotion in this letter about the rivalries, divisions, boasts of superiority and travails suffered in these early days. So, the divisions in the church are from the beginning. Still, we must try to settle them, overcome them. If Paul anguished over this, it is something still worth working on.

Friday, January 14, 2011

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 2 Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics:

2 Cor. 7 – Paul expresses his belief that together they can put off all that keeps us from being perfect in holiness: “let us wash off all that can soil either body or spirit, to reach perfection of holiness in the hear of God” (1). Still this hope of personal and communal perfection does not blind him to the fact that the wider community of churches is full of “trouble on all sides: quarrels outside, [and] misgivings inside” (5). He commends the “suffering” that the Corinthians have gone through that led to some repentance or change in them. “To suffer in God’s way means changing for the better and leaves no regrets, but to suffer as the world knows suffering brings death” (10).

2 Cor. 8 - Paul talks of the generosity of the Macedonians to encourage a like offering by the Corinthians. He links his concept of giving in the Church to Jesus’ giving of himself to make us rich in grace. “Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of this poverty” (9). Also interesting here is a concept of “equality”, which Paul develops—that when some in the Church have a surplus, that surplus should be used to bring a degree of equality to those who have less—and that it would work the other way too had others a surplus and the people of Corinth had need of other’s help. There should be “equality” of status in the church (13-14).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

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 2 Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics:

2 Cor. 5 – Paul, the poet, continues - When the tent we live in is folded up there is a house built by God for us. We “groan and find it a burden being still in this tent” (4). We do not want to leave the mortal tent but we want to put the immortal garment over it. “to have what must die taken up into life” (4). In the law court of Christ, “Each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad” (10). In part it is this “fear” of God’s judgment that impels Paul to “try to persuade others” (11). But everything he does, he does out of love—if he appears crazy, if he uses his reason—he is simply trying to get us to understand that Christ “died for all. . .so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him. . .” (15). This is the ministry of reconciliation—reconciliation of the human with the divine, reconciliation of man with man, of man with woman, of man with the creation. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (21).

2 Cor. 6 - Do not neglect the grace God gives to you. This present moment, this time between Christ’s coming into the world and his return “is the day of salvation” (2). The marks of His presence are the following:
- fortitude (endurance) - capacity to suffer afflictions and constraints
- purity
- knowledge
- patience and kindness
- a spirit of holiness
- genuine love
- truthful speech
- able to demonstrate God’s power
- armed with the “weapons of righteousness”
- always rejoicing.

He warns about harnessing yourself to unbelievers. “[W]hat fellowship does light have with darkness?” (14) What this harnessing is is the question. It cannot mean a lack of love or concern, a failure to reach out to those who are lost. But it must mean at least accepting or being indifferent to the standards, values and habits of “the world” (the mass of unbelievers). Mennonites use the following passage to justify removing themselves—“ . . .we are the temple of the living God; as God said: ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty’” (16-18).

This is not exactly a Catholic vision. How shall this be reconciled to the Catholic openness to all that seems good and worthy in the secular world. How indeed shall the Catholic notion of “countercultural” be reconciled to this same openness? See the Avery Dulles article of 1998 where he tries to describe an approach to such reconciliation. Seeing this comment again in 2011, I do not completely recall the article referred to here, but I think he was talking about the need for us to tell our stories of faith, so that those caught up in the worldly culture around us can see that there is an alternative approach to living in this “tent.”

Reading this again in 2011, I wonder if this last part of chapter 6 is not a little self-contradictory. Paul is so articulate about Christ’s joining himself to us in our sinful state, though he himself had no personal sin. But now, as he is encouraging us to join ourselves to Christ, he tells us to stay away from those who have not done so. I think we must do as Christ did and live our lives among those who need his love and his salvation. We
must not be like them but if we separate ourselves completely, we are not following his example.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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 2 Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics:

2 Cor. 3 – Paul commends the community for being such a great witness. He doesn’t need to commend them. They themselves are a “letter of recommendation” “from Christ. . .and written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”(3).

Everything is resting on the Spirit – his commendation of them, his “qualifications” or credentials to be and “administrator of this new covenant" (6). Then he goes on to compare the salvation offered by Moses through the outward letter of the Law with the salvation offered by the Spirit. He calls the one that came by Moses a “ministry of death” (7), not because it was bad — it wasn't. It was glorious (7). But because the ministry of the Spirit is so much more glorious, it makes the older one pale by comparison (10). The veil that veiled Moses’ face in Exodus continues to veil the understanding of many who read the old covenant.

He ends the chapter with this: “Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit” (17-18).

This language is beautiful, but it is also complicated. I think I get it. What we "look to" to guide us in our spiritual journey, and the power of the Spirit that illuminates it for us, determines in large measure what we ourselves become. We are "the image" of that "looked to reality," the mirror that reflects it. The eyes we bring to that reality have a large part in determining exactly how transformative the "reflective" experience is in our lives.

2 Cor. 4 – Paul continues to defend the manner in which he has proclaimed the gospel—having been accused of being obscure or veiling it in some way. He claims rather that some are not able to “hear” the gospel because “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (4). Paul denounces the watering down of the word. His way of preaching is to state “the truth openly in the sight of God” and leave it to others’ consciences and to God. If there is a veil, then it is on those who “are not on the way of salvation” (JB 3). God brings light to illuminate the darkness, and it is he who shines in our minds to radiate the knowledge of God’s glory. We are only “earthenware jars” – “we see no answer to our problems but never despair. . .” “We carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus too may always be seen in our body” (10). See Luke 9:22 for Jesus’ statement of his gospel—“whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

“So death is at work in us, but life in you” (12). “Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (16). “[W]e look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (8).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

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 2 Corinthians. Any commentary I make is in italics:

2 Cor. 1 - In his opening and thanksgiving, he refers to God as the “God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged. . .” (3). We are strengthened by God that we may be equipped to pass on that strength to others, to make them feel that there is a source of strength and comfort for every affliction in our God. He tells them something they apparently already know—that he had to pass through some severe affliction in Asia, an affliction that “utterly weighed” him down; but he was delivered.

He speaks of knowing that he has conducted himself toward them “with the simplicity and sincerity of God” through God’s grace (12). He had planned to come to them on his way to Macedonia and then to return through Corinth again back to Judaea. But apparently he had to change plans and go from Troas (NW Anatolia]; they are disappointed, but he isn’t coming so as not to inflict pain on them. He wrote scolding them, not to cause them pain but to show his love.

2 Cor. 2 - He urges them to show love to wrong-doers they may have in their community. He will not argue with them for having forgiven them (10). He speaks of the opportunities that are created for the gospel - just by the “odor” or aroma believers give off—“an odor of life that leads to life” (16).

George Fox refers to this as well—see page 27 of his Journal where he says, “All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” Everything that touches the salvation work of God has this aroma.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

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. 14 - Prophecy is preferable to tongues for it edifies and “builds up” the church. It is best to have a unity of spiritual and intellectual gifts. The personal gift is not as good as the gift exercised for the community. Tongues are just a sign to those outside the faith, like miracles. Paul seems to say even for the unbeliever the gift of understanding is to be preferred, for the unbeliever will have his spiritual condition addressed and not come away thinking believers are crazy. It is good here too to read this passage in light of what Paul says about the cross in 1 Cor 1:18-25, which many use as a justification for anti-intellectualism in the Church. Paul says here, “[For] if I pray in a tongue, my spirit is at prayer but my mind is unproductive. So what is to be done? I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with the mind. I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will also sing praise with the mind. . I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14-19).

Paul’s concern is that those who come into the Church will encounter there a testimony that can bring him to God. The kind of service Paul describes in this chapter is interesting to think about. He imagines that a person coming in would see one person reading a psalm, another giving an instruction, revelation or a speaking and interpreting of tongues, prophets speaking—two or three at a meeting. The way he describes it, it sounds more or less like a Quaker Meeting. Would that Friends really saw themselves as exercising this gift of prophesy. The admonition about women not being free to speak in the church is very hard to deal with. I think Fox clearly saw that the Church in Christ should be a place where the “redeemed” should gather without the burdens of “the fall.” I still love Paul. He is amazing in this letter.

1 Cor. 15 – Paul repeats to them the very heart of the gospel teaching, which he “received” and which he passed on the them: that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers on once. . After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (3-8).

Christ’s dying must be seen in the context of the scriptures—of the scripture redemption narrative. [The NAB note refers us to the following OT texts specifically: Psalms 2:7 and 16:8-11; Is 52:13-53; Hosea 6:2 and the OT references made in Acts 2:27-31; 13:29-39)]
Ps. 2:7 – The Lord speaking: “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain,” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord who said to me, “you are my son; today I am your father. Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth. With an iron rod you shall shepherd them, like a clay pot you will shatter them”.

Ps. 16:10 - For you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit. You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

Is. 52:13 – See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond that of man, and appearance beyond that of mortals. . .He grow up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. . .Yet is was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured. . .”

Hosea 6:2 - He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence. Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain like spring rain that waters the earth.”

[Acts] Ps. 27:13 – “I believe I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”

The disputed points of this gospel Paul addresses are 1) resurrection of the dead, which Paul argues must be general and applicable to all if it is to be applied to Christ (13-16). If there is no resurrection, then Paul says their “faith. . .is empty” (14); they are still in their sins (17). This seems to put a lid on an exclusively “realized” eschatology. But Christ has been raised. Paul gives an archetypal argument, comparing Christ to Adam: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. Paul’s vision of the end times is that Christ will come (23), the end will come and reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” destroying every sovereignty and power death included. Then Christ will hand over his kingdom to His father.

Paul goes into a great deal of detail, trying to make sense to his readers of the thing called “resurrection of the dead.” Having assured them of its centrality, he now tries to find a way of making it sound reasonable: he argues that death is always necessary for birth. Things must be sown in the ground before they can come forth in new life. He argues that there are different kinds of flesh, and the kind we will have may be very different from the kind we now have (39). The seed of this new life is the corruptible flesh we now inhabit, but it can be changed from being “natural” to being “spiritual.” His belief that the end will come very soon, even before the end of his own generation, comes out here (51), and death will be “swallowed up in victory” (54-55). It is only faith that gives us the “knowledge” that the work we do now for the gospel will not be “in vain” (58).

I can relate to the idea that the bodies we live in now might be a kind of seed for the springing forth of some kind of existence that we cannot imagine, an existence that will even be bodily—just as any seed thrown into the ground may issue forth in a kind of new life that looks nothing like the seed from which it came; but the limitations of my own experience, the limits imposed by my senses and my imagination, make me wonder if we might have it really all wrong—that maybe our continued existence will only be real to the extent we retain a vision of our interconnected lives, our unity with all people—past, present and future. What we are and do today, in our lives, could make the human life that comes forth in the future far different and better than it could be if we live only for ourselves. But that is all so this-worldly, that sometimes I wonder if that is what Christ meant; or maybe all I am supposed to do is be obedient and not worry about what I cannot understand. It is more likely that.

1 Cor. 16 – The collections for the church in Jerusalem should go on weekly. He tells them he plans to come after he passes through Macedonia and is thinking of staying the winter with them to sort out some of the problems he has addressed He plans to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost because his work there is very productive. Timothy is traveling and might come. Apollos was asked to go to them, but cannot. He urges them to do everything they do in love.