Posts Tagged ‘paul’
Tim Tennent writes about a modern-day apostle he met recently in India.
One of them (whose name cannot be shared for security reasons) is a former road-worker who was one of the earliest to respond to the gospel in the region. He shared with us his love for Christ and the amazing ministry God has given to him. He is constantly traveling, bringing the gospel to new villages all over this mountainous region. When many people of his age are thinking about retirement, he is thinking about which villages have not yet had the opportunity to hear the gospel. He has personally led over 500 Hindus to Jesus Christ. When we left the meeting, one of our Trustees turned to me and said, “I feel like I have just met the Apostle Paul.”
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20, NRSV)
I wonder how this passage informs the ways Christians talk about prostitution today.
When I read a passage like the one above, I assume that what Paul had to say to the Corinthian church has something to teach us as well. The central point appears to me to be about our bodies and our relationship to Christ. Our bodies are not our own. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Paul finds sex with a prostitute objectionable because it unites one who belongs to Jesus Christ with someone unholy. It almost feels like we are reading Leviticus when we take a moment to look at what Paul is actually saying to the Corinthians.
No where in Paul’s analysis do questions of consent or oppression or power come into play, although that does not mean he would approve of the institution. As with slavery, Paul appears more interested in teaching the church how to live in the light of a institution existence. Whether he would eliminate the institution is not a question he openly addresses in either case. In the case of prostitution, it is a uniting what belongs to God with one who stands in de facto rebellion against God. It does not matter that in certain counties in Nevada prostitution is legal. It does not matter that countries in Europe sex work is a regulated business, as it was in ancient Rome. It does not matter that Hollywood glamorizes the degrading and brutal exploitation of women. What matters is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. We were bought with a price, and we are not now to unite what Christ has bought with the bodies of those who are still enslaved by sin.
That reading may not make much sense in public debate about the rights of sex workers. But it is my best effort to understand Paul’s teaching and how it still speaks to the church today.
Yes, it is an hour long, but it is typically excellent NT Wright on Paul as the first theologian and the necessity of theology in the life of the church.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV)
I’m not sure why this caught my attention recently. I noticed the 1 Corinthians 13 triad of faith, hope, and love while reading 1 Thessalonians. And then I saw how Paul here connected each one with an outcome. Faith produces work. Love prompts labor. Hope inspires endurance. Here is a portrait of the church that Paul celebrates.
Faith, hope, and love are all great and wonderful. But isn’t Paul here pointing out the true indications of these three things? Show me your faith separate from works. Show me your love that does not result in labor. Tell me of your hope that does not give you the endurance to walk through trials. You cannot. If you have not endurance, then your hope is fragile. If you do not labor then you do not love. If you do no work, you have no true faith.
Paul pairs these terms in offering praise, but heard rightly they are a challenge to us as Christians.
Paul in 1 Thessalonians calls on the church to live in a manner that will please God.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, NIV)
This is not by any means a unique passage in the New Testament.
So, how do we interpret Paul’s words here? What does it mean to control our bodies in holy and honorable ways?
Some words from Paul on the significance of the resurrection.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart fro the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David and was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that , who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
1 Corinthians 15:20-21
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
1 Thessalonians 4:14
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:12, NRSV)
This was not Paul’s tent revival strategy. This was not his plan for hosting a Billy Graham-style crusade. This was the vision and plan for his ongoing ministry in Corinth. It was his pastoral strategy for planting and nurturing Christian congregations.
How do we read these passages of Scripture about divorce?
I’m passing on the Lord’s command to those who are married: A wife shouldn’t leave her husband, but if she does leave him, then she should stay single or be reconciled to her husband. And a man shouldn’t divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7: 10-11, CEB)
Jesus left that place and went beyond the Jordan and into the region of Judea. Crowds gathered around him again and, as usual, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.”
Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 1-12, CEB)
I am struck by the way both Paul and Jesus make reference to Genesis 2:24 (Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 6:16). I am also struck by how our official United Methodist statement on divorce creates wiggle room around these passages.
God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates. …
Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.
So I find myself trying to understand a few things. How should we understand the words of Paul and Jesus? Are they timeless ethical teachings? Are they culturally specific guidelines that do not apply in a post-industrial economy? Does our United Methodist interpretation faithfully embody the spirit and letter of scripture? Does a breach of this command of Jesus constitute a sin that endangers our salvation?
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11, NIV)
If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. So how does one get the Spirit of Christ? This is a question of ultimate significance if Paul is any guide.
It seems to me — and please do not confuse this blog post for a systematic study — that the Book of Acts is a wonderful resource for studying this question. Acts is the book of the Holy Spirit more than any other, although that by no means suggests we should ignore the other scriptures.
As Paul is the author of Romans, I go first to his story when thinking about this question. So where and how does Paul receive the Spirit of Christ?
On the road to Damascus, of course. The truth that he could not see burst in on him against his will and all expectation. He was overwhelmed by something that an instant before he had neither seen nor imagined could be true. Indeed, he had been betting his life on the belief that it was false.
But in that flash of light he did not receive the Spirit. That came later at the hands of another man:
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9: 17-19, NIV)
What about you? Where in Scriptures do you find guidance in answering the question I raised above: How does one get the Spirit of Christ?
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthian 2:1-5, NIV)
I have not been pleased with my preaching recently, so my morning devotional reading today caught my attention. When I feel as if my ministry is muddled in the mire, my first instinct is often to turn to human wisdom and technique. I start pulling books off the shelf by experts and successful preachers to look for ideas and methods.
This is not wrong, but Paul reminds me that it is not exactly right either. Paul preached only Christ and preached with the Spirit’s power.
So, here is the question. What does the Spirit’s power look like when it attends your preaching?