‘Control your own body’

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?

Paul on Easter

Some words from Paul on the significance of the resurrection.

Romans 1:1-4

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.

Romans 6:3-5

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.

Romans 6:8-10

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.

Romans 8:34

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.

Romans 10:9

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.

Ephesians 2:4-6

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.

Philippians 2:9-11

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.

Philippians 3:10-11

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.

 

Short enough Paul could have tweeted it

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.

Scripture & social principles on divorce

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)

And this:

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?

Getting the Spirit

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?