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Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:12-18

Final Instructions

12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will[a] to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers[b]—you know that the household[c] of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about the good treatment of Timothy, who was going to minister to them, young though he was.

Paul mentions Apollos, whom he urged to visit Corinth, then says that he did not wish to go at that time (verse 12).

Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:24-28:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

My post on Acts 18:24-28 has much more about this Jewish convert who went to the southern part of Greece — Achaia — and ended up at the church in Corinth for a time. He was a highly eloquent speaker and some members of the congregation put more weight on his teachings than they did Paul’s.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to view all good preachers in unity. One should not be favoured over the other:

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

Matthew Henry explains that Paul really wanted Apollos to return to the Corinthians (emphases mine):

Paul did not hinder Apollos from going to Corinth in his own absence, nay, he pressed him to go thither. He had no suspicions of Apollos, as if he would lessen Paul’s interest and respect among them, to the advancement of his own. Note, Faithful ministers are not apt to entertain jealousies of each other, nor suspect of such selfish designs. True charity and brotherly love think no evil. And where should these reign, if not in the breasts of the ministers of Christ? 2. Apollos could not be prevailed on for the present to come, but would at a more convenient season. Perhaps their feuds and factions might render the present season improper. He would not go to be set at the head of a party and countenance the dividing and contentious humour. When this had subsided, through Paul’s epistle to them and Timothy’s ministry among them, he might conclude a visit would be more proper. Apostles did not vie with each other, but consulted each other’s comfort and usefulness. Paul intimates his great regard to the church of Corinth, when they had used him ill, by entreating Apollos to go to them; and Apollos shows his respect to Paul, and his concern to keep up his character and authority, by declining the journey till the Corinthians were in better temper. Note, It is very becoming the ministers of the gospel to have and manifest a concern for each other’s reputation and usefulness.

In the end, Apollos did return to Corinth and became an elder in their church. Some Bible scholars believe that Apollos wrote the Book of Hebrews. He is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Paul then gives the Corinthians two instructions. The first is to stand firm in the faith with maturity (verse 13). The second is to do everything in love (verse 14).

John MacArthur has a whole sermon on these two verses.

Henry has a more succinct analysis:

The Corinthians were in manifest danger upon many accounts: their feuds ran high, the irregularities among them were very great, there were deceivers got among them, who endeavoured to corrupt their faith in the most important articles, those without which the practice of virtue and piety could never subsist. And surely in such dangerous circumstances it was their concern to watch. Note, If a Christian would be secure, he must be on his guard; and the more his danger the greater vigilance is needful for his security. 2. He advises them to stand fast in the faith, to keep their ground, adhere to the revelation of God, and not give it up for the wisdom of the world, nor suffer it to be corrupted by it–stand for the faith of the gospel, and maintain it even to death; and stand in it, so as to abide in the profession of it, and feel and yield to its influence. Note, A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand (2 Corinthians 1:24); it is by this that we must overcome the world (1 John 5:4), both when it fawns and when it frowns, when it tempts and when it terrifies. We must stand therefore in the faith of the gospel, if we would maintain our integrity. 3. He advises them to act like men, and be strong: “Act the manly, firm, and resolved part: behave strenuously, in opposition to the bad men who would divide and corrupt you, those who would split you into factions or seduce you from the faith: be not terrified nor inveigled by them; but show yourselves men in Christ, by your steadiness, by your sound judgment and firm resolution.” Note, Christians should be manly and firm in all their contests with their enemies, in defending their faith, and maintaining their integrity. They should, in an especial manner, be so in those points of faith that lie at the foundation of sound and practical religion, such as were attacked among the Corinthians: these must be maintained with solid judgment and strong resolution.

That said, we should act in love and charity:

We may defend our faith, but we must, at the same time, maintain our innocence, and not devour and destroy, and think with ourselves that the wrath of man will work the righteousness of God, James 1:24. Note, Christians should be careful that charity not only reign in their hearts, but shine out in their lives, nay, in their most manly defences of the faith of the gospel. There is a great difference between constancy and cruelty, between Christian firmness and feverish wrath and transport. Christianity never appears to so much advantage as when the charity of Christians is most conspicuous when they can bear with their mistaken brethren, and oppose the open enemies of their holy faith in love, when every thing is done in charity, when they behave towards one another, and towards all men, with a spirit of meekness and good will.

Paul then mentions Stephanas and his household, the first converts in Achaia (verse 15), the part of Greece in which Corinth was located, and tells the Corinthians to be subject to them as well as every other fellow worker and labourer in the church (verse 16).

MacArthur gives us some background on the earliest years of Paul’s ministry in Achaia:

The south part is the ancient Achaia – he preached Christ. In fact in the seventeenth chapter of Acts it tells us that he preached at Athens and some believed including Dionysius the Areopagite and another person as well believed, and then he went from there on – and probably some others in addition to those two – then he went on into Corinth and there he preached and there were many who believed. There was Crispus who was the leader of the synagogue. There was Gaius who probably, according to Romans 16:23, was Paul’s host while he was there in Corinth. And there was this household of Stephanas, and there was the household of one named Chloe, and there were many others who believed. Now watch. What he’s really saying here is that God was going to grow a church in Achaia. That was His plan. And as a guarantee that God was going to grow a church, God gave some first fruits

Further, there may have been other individuals saved before him and perhaps he was the first household and that’s why he’s designated as first fruits. But either he’s included in the first fruits or he’s the first household saved in Corinth. The point simply being that he was the guarantee. By the Spirit of God giving this family and this household, God was in effect saying there’s going to be a full harvest in the city of Corinth. And there was, there was a great church built there, a wonderful church to which Paul ministered for one and a half years teaching the Word of God. And this group was the beginning of that church.

Henry says that Stephanas would have been a man of high social rank, yet, once converted, he and his household devoted themselves to serving the church in Corinth:

They have disposed and devoted themselvesetaxan heautous, to serve the saints, to do service to the saints. It is not meant of the ministry of the word properly, but of serving them in other respects, supplying their wants, helping and assisting them upon all occasions, both in their temporal and spiritual concerns. The family of Stephanas seems to have been a family of rank and importance in those parts, and yet they willingly offered themselves to this service. Note, It is an honour to persons of the highest rank to devote themselves to the service of the saints. I do not mean to change ranks, and become proper servants to the inferiors, but freely and voluntarily to help them, and do good to them in all their concerns.

Both commentators use the word ‘addicted’ in describing the service of Stephanas and his household, because that is what the word ‘devoted’ means in Greek.

Henry says:

they had moreover addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, to serve the saints.

MacArthur explains:

Now let me go back to the word devoted. It’s the word tassō. Moffett and Morris, in his commentary, say that the root meaning of this word is addicted. Did you get that? Addicted. What a great thought? They have addicted themselves to the service of the saints. Isn’t that great? They have addicted themselves to it. Now you say well, what is the service of the saints? Well, the word service or ministry, and your Bible may say ministry, is diakonia, from which we get deacon. Now diakonia originally meant a table waiter, and it came to mean anybody who serves somebody else in the church out of love. Any loving service is diakonia.

Now the New Testament describes all kinds of diakonia. For example, it talks about the diakonia of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:5. It says, “there are many services,” and then it goes on to describe the spiritual gifts. So spiritual gifts is one kind of diakonia. If we’re addicted to serving the saints, it means we’re addicted to using our spiritual gifts. Another one, in Acts 11:29 and 2 Corinthians 8:4, it speaks of the diakonia of giving. So that when we give our money that is serving the saints. Not as many of us are addicted to giving as perhaps we ought to be. So being addicted to the serving of the saints means we serve the saints through our spiritual gifts. We serve the saints through giving.

Stephanas, along with Fortunatus and Achaicus, went to stay with Paul in Ephesus; Paul says they have made up for the absence of the rest of the Corinthians (verse 17), which is a wonderful thing to say to such a wayward congregation. Paul loves them all, the good and the not so good.

Paul says that the three men’s presence has refreshed his spirit as well as the Corinthians’, therefore, the congregation should give them recognition, or respect, for that (verse 18).

Henry’s commentary says that the men gave Paul more details about what was going on in the Corinthian church, possibly allaying his worst fears:

They gave him a more perfect account of the state of the church by word of mouth than he could acquire by their letter, and by that means much quieted his mind, and upon their return from him would quiet the minds of the Corinthians. Report had made their cause much worse than it was in fact, and their letters had not explained it sufficiently to give the apostle satisfaction; but he had been made more easy by converse with them. It was a very good office they did, by truly stating facts, and removing the ill opinion Paul had received by common fame. They came to him with a truly Christian intention, to set the apostle right, and give him as favourable sentiments of the church as they could, as peace-makers. Note, It is a great refreshment to the spirit of a faithful minister to hear better of a people by wise and good men of their own body than by common report, to find himself misinformed concerning them, that matters are not so bad as they had been represented. It is a grief to him to hear ill of those he loves; it gladdens his heart to hear the report thereof is false. And the greater value he has for those who give him this information, and the more he can depend upon their veracity, the greater is his joy.

In closing, MacArthur gives us this insight on 1 and 2 Corinthians:

No other church is so rebuked as this.

On the other hand that is an evidence of love, because love is something that admonishes and rebukes when sin is visible. In fact I just would call your attention to the fact that if you take the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians and you take the 13 chapters of 2 Corinthians that totals 29 chapters written to straighten out one church. Now in terms of chapters that makes it the longest book in the New Testament. There’s no other book that has 29 chapters. The closest is Matthew and Acts but this one had 29 chapters, because there was so much to say, because there was such a mess in Corinth. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have 29 chapters written about me to try to straighten me out, but that’s what happened in Corinth. The book is loaded with rebuke but it is also loaded with love, because you see, it’s love that calls to righteousness. Isn’t it? It is love that rebukes always. It’s love that says, “Here is the way; walk ye in it.”

My next post on 1 Corinthians 16 concludes the book. After that, it is on to 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:19-24

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:10-11

10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s travel plans: staying in Ephesus until Pentecost, then going to Macedonia and, if the Lord willed it, a considerable stay in Corinth afterwards.

Paul was sending Timothy to Corinth to do the Lord’s work; Paul instructed the congregation to put Timothy at ease (verse 10).

Timothy was young and fresh faced. Paul wanted him to be his emissary, giving hard truths to the Corinthians, who were likely to be a tough audience as they were already divided by various teachers, some of whom were false.

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out what Timothy faced (emphases mine):

Timothy was sent by the apostle to correct the abuses which had crept in among them; and not only to direct, but to blame, and censure, and reprove, those who were culpable. They were all in factions, and no doubt the mutual strife and hatred ran very high among them. There were some very rich, as it is probable; and many very proud, upon account both of their outward wealth and spiritual gifts. Proud spirits cannot easily bear reproof. It was reasonable therefore to think young Timothy might be roughly used; hence the apostle warns them against using him ill. Not but that he was prepared for the worst; but, whatever his firmness and prudence might be, it was their duty to behave themselves well towards him, and not discourage and dishearten him in his Lord’s work. They should not fly out into resentment at his reproof. Note, Christians should bear faithful reproofs from their ministers, and not terrify and discourage them from doing their duty.

Paul entreats the Corinthians not to despise Timothy but to ‘help him on his way in peace’, because Paul is expecting his return as were others (verse 11).

Henry says that Paul wants to point out that, even though Timothy is junior in rank to him, he was invested with the same authority to do the same work of the Lord:

He did not come on Paul’s errand among them, nor to do his work, but the work of the Lord. Though he was not an apostle, he was assistant to one, and was sent upon this very business by a divine commission. And therefore to vex his spirit would be to grieve the Holy Spirit; to despise him would be to despise him that sent him, not Paul, but Paul’s Lord and theirs. Note, Those who work the work of the Lord should be neither terrified nor despised, but treated with all tenderness and respect. Such are all the faithful ministers of the word, though not all in the same rank and degree. Pastors and teachers, as well as apostles and evangelists, while they are doing their duty, are to be treated with honour and respect.

Henry says that Paul was expecting a full account of the Corinthians from Timothy upon his return:

Conduct him forth in peace, that he may come to me, for I look for him with the brethren (1 Corinthians 16:11; 1 Corinthians 16:11); or I with the brethren look for him (the original will bear either), ekdechomai gar auton meta ton adelphon“I am expecting his return, and his report concerning you; and shall judge by your conduct towards him what your regard and respect for me will be. Look to it that you send him back with no evil report.” Paul might expect from the Corinthians, that a messenger from him, upon such an errand, should be regarded, and well treated. His services and success among them, his authority with them as an apostle, would challenge this at their hands. They would hardly dare to send back Timothy with a report that would grieve or provoke the apostle. “I and the brethren expect his return, wait for the report he is to make; and therefore do not use him ill, but respect him, regard his message, and let him return in peace.”

John MacArthur’s sermon has another British missionary story from the 19th century. It is about a Scot, John Gibson Paton (1824-1907), a devout Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) who ministered to the cannibals of the New Hebrides:

Paton was a Bible student – a Bible college student in London. God called him to go to the New Hebrides Islands where there were man-eating cannibals. You know, that would be a hard thing for a young Bible college student to say yes to, wouldn’t it? I know what I’d have said. I would have said, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy. Are you sure my gifts are fit for that?” Or I would have said, “Look, I graduated Lord. I can make it in the ministry. No sense in me being somebody’s lunch. All this effort?” I would have said, “Look, Lord, I’ve got a great idea. I know a Bible college dropout who’ll never make it in the ministry. Send him there; they’ll eat him, and who will know.” The guy will be a hero. Right? Leave me alone will you? I can cut it.

But John Paton didn’t argue with God. The Lord said go, so he went. Took his little wife, a ship let them off, they paddled to shore in a little rowboat. They were there on an island inhabited by man-eating cannibals whose language they did not speak. And they had no way to contact them. They set up a little hut at the beach and the Lord marvelously preserved them. Later on when the chief of the tribe in that area was converted to Christ, he asked John who that army was that surrounded his hut every night. God’s holy angels protected him. After a matter of weeks there, his wife gave birth to a baby, and the baby and the wife both died. He was all alone and he says in his biography that he slept on the graves to keep the natives from digging up the bodies and eating them. And he decided he’d stay.

The challenge was great, the adversaries were many and that was where God wanted him, so he stayed. How do you do that by yourself? You do that by being totally depending on God. Accept the challenge, because it’s in the challenge where your resources run out and you depend on God and it’s where you depend on God that His power flows to victories that you never dreamed possible. It’s to the one who really labors for the Lord and does the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, has a vision for the future, a sense of flexibility, a thoroughness, not superficial, has a commitment to present service, and accepts opposition as an opportunity or a challenge.

Paton’s Wikipedia entry has more.

The inhabitants of Tanna, where the Patons had settled in 1858, were fierce. Yet, Paton survived many attacks on his life. There was one time when he was in a near-death situation, but, providentially, a ship arrived at the island just in time to rescue him and, from the other side of Tanna, two other missionaries, Mr and Mrs Mathieson. The ship took them to another island in the New Hebrides, Aneityum.

From Aneityum, Paton went to Australia then returned to Scotland to recruit new missionaries and to raise funds for evangelising in the New Hebrides. Some of the money went towards building a ship. Later on, he was able to have a steamship built for the missionaries.

In 1864, while he was in Scotland, he remarried. Margaret (Maggie) Whitecross accompanied her husband to the New Hebrides. They settled on Aniwa, the island closest to Tanna. Paton wrote that the inhabitants were just as cruel as those on Tanna.

Incredibly, Maggie bore ten children, four of whom died at very young ages. One of their sons became a missionary in the New Hebrides.

John Paton learned the language of Aniwa and put it into writing, enabling him to translate the New Testament for the islanders. It was printed in 1899. By then, he had enabled the establishment of missionaries on 25 of the 30 islands in the New Hebrides.

Maggie taught the women and girls to weave hats and sew. She also taught them the tenets of Christianity.

As Paton had some medical training, he and his wife were able to minister to the sick, dispensing medicines daily.

Paton held a service every Sunday. He also taught the men how to use modern tools.

By the end of his ministry on Aniwa, he and his wife had trained local teachers to preach the Gospel. By the time they left for Australia, the whole island professed the Christian faith.

The Patons retired in Victoria State, where Melbourne is located. Maggie died in Kew in 1905 at the age of 64. John died in Canterbury in 1907. He was 82, which is an amazing age, considering he had ministered to cannibals and had to contend with all sorts of tropical diseases.

The Patons’ ministry was a Pauline one involving a deep, guiding faith as well as perseverance against all adversity. It is an amazing story.

Returning to today’s reading, next week’s post details Paul’s final instructions to the Corinthians. As ever in his closing chapters, the Apostle names several people doing the Lord’s work and his satisfaction with them.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:12-18

In 1995, a Church of England scandal made national news.

Reading an update on it this week reminded me of the Corinthians, whom St Paul reproved for becoming debauched. Their carnal attitude permeated their church services: babbling nonsense ecstatically ‘in tongues’, which was part of pagan worship, and drunken Communion services.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, something similar happened to a church in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there were no senior Church of England clergy to censure the vicar. As it happened, they encouraged a programme about which they knew little.

This week, The Times recapped what happened at St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield at what was called the Nine O’Clock Service, or NOS.

The NOS was held every Sunday.

A young Christian rock musician — and ex-nightclubber — Chris Brain, led the NOS, which The Times describes as:

a radical mix of rave culture, social and environmental campaigning and religion that drew queues of black-clad young followers for its weekly gatherings.

Instead of reminding Chris Brain of pertinent chapters of 1 Corinthians, the clergy wanted to extend the NOS throughout the United Kingdom (emphases mine):

The hierarchy was buzzing at the prospect of a vibrant model of service that might be copied around the country to attract new congregations.

Chris Brain, the charismatic young Christian rock musician who had emerged as leader of the NOS, met Dr George Carey, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later recalled: “He said to me, ‘I’d be very happy to see an NOS in every town and city in the UK’.”

Carey, who met Brain in 1990, was interested in getting more converts, and rightly so. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he declared the 1990s to be the Decade of Evangelism. He is best remembered for propagating the Alpha Course nationwide. Alpha started at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. It has been an international phenomenon for many years.

Returning to the NOS, in 1989, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev David Lunn, had confirmed 100 people — nearly all NOS attendees — at St Thomas’s. That is an extraordinary number of confirmands for any church at any one time:

It was a moment of great excitement for the church hierarchy because they were almost all young people, usually thought of as being out of reach.

As a result, Brain became a diocesan star of sorts, seen as being ideal for the priesthood:

Brain was fast-tracked for ordination and invited to contribute to the archbishop’s collection of essays on evangelism. Lunn told the BBC that the NOS had a “permanent significance” and was a “new development in the way we understand the Christian religion”.

The church authorities were either unaware of, or happy to turn a blind eye to some more disturbing aspects of the movement.

Brain’s ordination in 1992 was rather extraordinary:

When Brain was ordained in 1992, the NOS borrowed at considerable expense the robes worn by Robert de Niro in the film The Mission for the service.

He became St Thomas’s vicar.

Behind the scenes, however, carnality prevailed with Brain and some NOS adherents, particularly women. It was turning into a cult:

There were allegations of controlling behaviour and followers handing over thousands of pounds while cutting themselves off from their friends and families. Young women were enlisted as “postmodern nuns” in Brain’s Homebase Team. Some allegedly gave massages and engaged in sexual activity when putting him to bed.

Brain rationalised their behaviour, as one woman later recalled:

One member of the group, interviewed by the BBC, said: “He would talk about how we were discovering a postmodern definition of sexuality in the church. It’s just language — language covering up the fact of what was really going on: one bloke getting his rocks off.”

Things started getting out of hand in 1992:

There had been consternation in 1992 when an NOS service at a Christian festival included a troupe of dancers in black Lycra bikinis cavorting in front of 15,000 people.

A few laypersons and clergy complained to church authorities, but nothing was done until 1995:

Church leaders finally listened in August 1995 after disclosures by three whistleblowers:

One woman claimed that there was bullying and people were “blurring boundaries sexually”. She worried about how money was spent. The NOS charity, the Nine O’Clock Trust, recorded an income of £272,000 in 1994.

That amount of money is something an average Anglican church can only dream of.

Church authorities suspended Brain’s ministry. A month later, he tried to downplay the extracurricular activities of the NOS:

In a September 1995 interview with a Sunday newspaper he said that the sexual contact he had with women followers was “heavy petting” but “non-penetrative”. The Homebase Team had been created to help his wife at home because he was so busy with his work. “It was like any other vicarage, you always get ladies helping the vicar’s wife. They set up a rota but the idea of handmaidens is ridiculous,” he said.

Brain added: “These were relationships which began 10 or 12 years ago when I was part of the nightclub scene. When I became a priest, I should have done something about them . . . I didn’t and that was wrong.”

He said that his ordination never should have happened:

He claimed that it was “utterly ridiculous that I was made a priest . . . I was the breakthrough for the church but it changed everything for me. Everyone became dependent on me.”

Yes, congregants depend a great deal on their vicars. They expect spiritual leadership and guidance. He is their shepherd.

The Times is revisiting this story because, after 25 years, former NOS members are now seeking compensation:

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The current Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev Pete Wilcox, said that:

the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

More ex-members could be coming forward:

to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One member explained that the reason for waiting a quarter of a century to come forward was because the Church of England advised them to stay silent:

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The article says that the hierarchy even gave the NOS financial backing.

The ‘postmodern nuns’ wore unusual habits and had unorthodox duties:

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”.

Fast forwarding to the present, Brain is now 63. The article says that he has changed his first name from Chris to James. He is currently:

co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

The Times reported that he did not respond to their attempts to contact him.

The NOS, The Times says, had between 300 to 500 members. A number of them forsook family and friends for the movement, filling its coffers with large sums of money.

At the time the scandal broke, the then-Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Lunn, said that:

the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The current incumbent, Bishop Wilcox, is taking a much different stance:

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

A large law firm, Slater & Gordon, is representing the former members. One of their solicitors (attorneys), Richard Scorer, said:

The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.

I remember when the story broke. It was in the papers for several weeks. Even the atheists I knew at the time expressed their shock and said that priests should not act like that.

The Times has done an admirable job of returning this harrowing story to the spotlight.

I hope that settlements can be reached and that the Church of England learns an important lesson from this.

However, I have a few old bookmarks on the Nine O’Clock Service, which say that Chris Brain’s departure did not end the movement. Furthermore, The Independent reported at the time that Bishop Lunn was quick to demand that Brain resign as vicar and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from performing priestly duties.

More to come on Monday.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Plans for Travel

5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to contribute generously to the fund he was collecting for the poverty-stricken church in Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16 is the closing chapter to his first letter to the church in Corinth. As such, Paul wraps up with practical details.

Today’s passage could be subtitled: ‘Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way’.

When I studied the Book of Acts, one of the memorable chapters was Acts 16, specifically Acts 16:6-10, when Paul received two divine messages telling him he had to leave Asia Minor and travel westward to Macedonia (emphases mine):

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul prayed often to do the Lord’s bidding in His way. He made plans but changed them when necessary.

Interestingly, we have a mention of Macedonia in today’s verses. Paul says that he will visit Corinth after his intended trip there (verse 5).

John MacArthur explains that Paul was in Ephesus at this time:

First Corinthians was written by Paul at the end of a three year stay in the city of Ephesus. Paul took 1 Corinthians after he’d written it, handed it to Timothy, and sent Timothy with it. Now, originally, according to 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 15 and 16, originally Paul had planned to follow Timothy – just a little while after Timothy left, Paul was going to leave and he was going to come along right to Corinth, then to Macedonia, then back to Corinth. He had a plan.

But now as he writes here – of course in 2 Corinthians, he’s reflecting way back to his original plan – and here he says, I’ve changed my plan. “I will come to you when I have passed through Macedonia.” So instead of Corinth, Macedonia, Corinth; it’s going to be straight to Macedonia then to Corinth, and then I’m going to go back to Jerusalem. So, he had this plan working out. And it had to change now and then, but basically he had made a plan for the future.

Paul says that he would like an extended stay with the Corinthians, perhaps through the winter, so that they can help him on his journey (verse 6).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the help Paul desires is practical and moral support:

It is plain that he hoped for some good effect, because he says he intended to stay, that they might bring him on his journey whithersoever he went (1 Corinthians 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:6); not that they might accompany him a little way on the road, but expedite and furnish him for his journey, help and encourage him to it, and provide him for it.

Paul reiterates his hope of an extended stay in Corinth rather than a brief visit, ‘if the Lord permits’ (verse 7). He was ever conscious of the Lord’s will in his ministry.

Anyone who is a student of 1 Corinthians or has read my series on the book knows that they were in a bad way with some of their habits and conduct. MacArthur reminds us:

the Corinthian church is in a hot spot of paganism. The Corinthian church has got problems all over the place. The Corinthian church is in a desperate situation. And Paul says, look, I’ve got to come to be with you. And I’m going to have to do that in the future and I’m even planning – look at verse 6 – to spend the winter with you and have you give me some supplies so that wherever I go from there my needs will be met. I’m going to stay. You’ve got some needs.

For the time being, Paul is staying in Ephesus until Pentecost (verse 8). The city is providing a productive ministry for him — ‘a wide door for effective work’ — even amidst his adversaries (verse 9).

Henry offers this analysis:

A great door and effectual was opened to him; many were prepared to receive the gospel at Ephesus, and God gave him great success among them; he had brought over many to Christ, and he had great hope of bringing over many more. For this reason he determined to stay awhile at Ephesus. Note, Success, and a fair prospect of more, was a just reason to determine an apostle to stay and labour in a particular place. And there were many adversaries, because a great door, and an effectual, was opened. Note, Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Henry offers a note from the Roman world on Paul’s use of ‘wide door’, relating it to his adversaries:

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine? No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal.

MacArthur’s sermon, which he preached in 1977, has fascinating anecdotes pertaining to seminary, pastoral work and missionary dreams.

He speaks of his own ministry at Grace Church and watching the building work expand. He relates this to doing things properly, according to plans and the right codes:

Now I remember when all the buildings around Grace Church were going up. When I first came here, was that one little education building and the chapel. And since then all these other buildings have gone up. And I’ve learned a lot about building – I didn’t know anything about it – but just by watching. And I learned at least some basic things, and this was the key thing in relation to what I want to say to you this morning. That you have to build according to plans, according to code, and you’ve got to pass the inspection. In other words, you’ve got some plans; it’s got to be like that. And then, it’s got to be like the code that city requires and then the inspector’s got to make sure it’s all right. And you know something, when you’re doing the work of the Lord, you’ve got to do it according to the plan that the Spirit of God lays out, according to the code of service which God has established, and you’ve got allow it to be exposed to the divine inspector who’ll tell you whether it does any good or not.

He says that some seminarians expect the perfect job to fall into their laps after graduation. That is not the way the ministry works. A seminarian needs to have a vision of and a plan for ministry:

I’m afraid that there are some people even in seminary, some young people in seminary, they’re just going through the motions of seminary trying to get the grades done. They’re not involved in an effective dynamic ministry now, so they’re not proving themselves faithful for a future one. And they’re not strategizing for anything in the future and then when they come out of school, they really don’t have anything to, because they haven’t prepared themselves to do anything by the route of faithfulness, and they haven’t planned to do anything by virtue of evaluating the need and setting a strategy. You’ve got to be ready. You think God’s going to buy a pig in a poke and throw you out and hold His fingers? No. When God wants somebody to do a job, God wants somebody to do it who’s ready to do it, proven ready, and has a plan to do it.

You know all the time I was working for Talbot Seminary – just to give you a personal illustration – all the time that I was involved in preaching all over the country, I was planning how I would pastor a church when God gave me the opportunity. So that by the time the Lord opened the opportunity at Grace, I knew just exactly what God wanted me to do here. Now there’s been some changes and some growing and development, but those were the years that I was framing the thing that I was going to do, so that when the door opened I was ready to do it. You see, training for service is not just a matter of learning some Bible facts and hanging around waiting for God to drop you like a big guru from heaven into the perfect situation and say, “Go.” See? It’s a matter of you being faithful in the present, of you working hard in the present, of you being involved in the Lord’s work in the present, and of you laying out a plan so that when the day comes and the door opens you are ready to go …

Let’s look at the second point. The one who does the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way not only has a vision for the future – I love this – he has a sense of flexibility. You know what? The future may not all come together like you thought it would. So you’ve got to be flexible. This is so good. You get some people that say, well, I know exactly what God wants me to do. I have the gift of A, and I have the so forth of B, and I obviously have the talents of C. Therefore, that equals that I do this. And until that comes along, I’m certainly not going to go over to that place and do that. That’s just not exactly what fits me. Oh, boo on that. That’s bad. See? Well you get yourself all convinced in your own mind that you will do this. You’ve just eliminated one very great element of Christian service: Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way demands a sense of flexibility.

He tells stories of two British missionaries, who, against all the odds, ending up in faraway foreign lands winning souls for the Lord.

One was William Carey (1761-1834) from England, a Particular (Calvinist) Baptist, the father of modern missions:

William Carey, the great pioneer of modern missions, cobbled shoes in England. But you know what he did while he cobbled shoes? Right in front of his face, every day, was a map of the world. And he wept over it, and he prayed over it, and he planned over it, and he strategized over it. And one day God hit the launch button and said you’re gone from the shoe business, William Carey. And he landed in India, and he opened India to the gospel for every missionary who’s gone there since. And God used a man who was a faithful man in the present who proved himself a capable man, and it was a man who had a vision for the future. And he planned and when the time came, he was ready – vital.

The second was David Livingstone (1813-1873), a Scottish physician and Congregationalist, best known in popular culture for meeting Henry Stanley in Africa. Stanley famously asked, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’

Of him, MacArthur says:

Did you know that all his life David Livingstone had his heart set on going as a missionary to China? Did you know that? David Livingstone all his life wanted to go to China. David Livingstone was disappointed all his life because he never got there, but one day God punched the button on his life and he wound up where? In Africa. And David Livingstone did for Africa what William Carey did f[or] India. He opened it to the missionaries who’ve been there ever since. Flexibility. You see the need and the door is open and you’re a prepared heart and you’ve got a plan, God may launch you in an area you never dreamed possible.

According to Wikipedia, Livingstone’s primary goal was to eradicate the slave trade in Africa:

Livingstone advocated the establishment of trade and religious missions in central Africa, but abolition of the African slave trade, as carried out by the Portuguese of Tete and the Arab Swahili of Kilwa, became his primary goal. His motto—now inscribed on his statue at Victoria Falls—was “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization“, a combination that he hoped would form an alternative to the slave trade, and impart dignity to the Africans in the eyes of Europeans.[17] He believed that the key to achieving these goals was the navigation of the Zambezi River as a Christian commercial highway into the interior.[18] He returned to Britain to garner support for his ideas, and to publish a book on his travels which brought him fame as one of the leading explorers of the age.

Livingstone believed that he had a spiritual calling for exploration to find routes for commercial trade which would displace slave trade routes, rather than for preaching. He was encouraged by the response in Britain to his discoveries and support for future expeditions, so he resigned from the London Missionary Society in 1857.

Livingstone left a convert of his to evangelise in southern Africa, Sechele, who was the chief of the Kwena people in Botswana:

After Livingstone left the Kwena tribe, Sechele remained faithful to Christianity and led missionaries to surrounding tribes as well as converting nearly his entire Kwena people. In the estimation of Neil Parsons of the University of Botswana, Sechele “did more to propagate Christianity in 19th-century southern Africa than virtually any single European missionary”.

Livingstone left a good name for himself in Africa, according to Alvyn Austin, who wrote an article about the explorer in 1997:

at a time when countries are being renamed and statues are being toppled, Livingstone has not fallen. Despite modern Africans’ animosity toward other Europeans, such as Cecil Rhodes, Livingstone endures as a heroic legend. Rhodesia has long since purged its name, but the cities of Livingstone (Zambia) and Livingstonia (Malawi) keep the explorer’s appellation with pride.

But I digress.

In closing, MacArthur advises us to plan, do the Lord’s work and be ready for the future:

… if you’re going to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, that means you’re going to have a vision for the future. You’re going to have a sense of flexibility. You’re going to have a work that’s not superficial, and you’re going to have a commitment to a present service, a present ministry that’s fruitful and effective. And then, when the time comes for God to punch your launch button into that future, you’re going to be ready, you’re going to be proven, and you’ll have worked through the principles that’ll work in that new dimension of ministry. People, let’s us be always abounding in the work of the Lord, and let’s do it so it’s not in vain but so it’s to His glory. That means every one of us, whatever our gifts and abilities and callings are.

Next week, Paul gives the Corinthians advice on how to treat Timothy.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:10-11

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

The Collection for the Saints

16 Now concerning[a] the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body in the eternal life to come.

In this last chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul characteristically takes care of what I would call housekeeping: general, local directives along with his personal plans, ending with a benediction, a blessing.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes that Paul wrote this in AD 57.

Paul is collecting a large sum of money from the other churches in Greece and Asia Minor to take to the poor converts in Jerusalem.

John MacArthur gives us a brief timeline (emphases mine):

He hasn’t gotten to Corinth yet; he hasn’t written the book of Romans yet, but by the time he gets to Corinth and pens it, he collects this stuff to take back to the Jews at Jerusalem.

And by the way, he had gathered money from Achaia, Macedonia, as well as Asia Minor, which would be Ephesus and some other cities that he had touched there. So, he had, apparently, a very, very substantial, large amount.

In that era, Jerusalem no longer had the splendour it had under Solomon. Ancient historians’ records indicate that it was a city of grinding poverty, with a steadily increasing population. Many Jews who came to the city for religious festivals stayed on afterwards, including those who converted at the first Pentecost and wanted to become part of the church. Furthermore, many converts did not have regular employment, as some of the local Jews did not want to hire Christians.

MacArthur says that Jerusalem received a goodly sum of money from donations by wealthy benefactors who came from abroad for religious feasts:

And none of those Jewish benefactors who were granting money to the city would want it to go to those who were confessing a crucified, rejected Messiah.

Early in Acts, we discover that the first converts in Jerusalem pooled together what they had for the church, including property. However, those resources were finite.

There was also a famine in the land. Times were desperate, indeed, hence Paul’s desire for a huge sum of money from the Gentile churches.

Paul was always one for uniformity. One could think of him as the Apostle who brought quality control into the Church. He was always about best practice in doctrine, worship, conduct and giving.

As such, he begins by writing about the collection for the saints in Jerusalem and instructs the Corinthians to follow the same directives that he gave the church in Galatia (verse 1).

Matthew Henry interprets that verse as being one of encouragement for the Corinthians:

Note, The good examples of other Christians and churches should excite in us a holy emulation. It is becoming a Christian not to bear to be outdone by a fellow-christian in any thing virtuous and praise-worthy, provided this consideration only makes him exert himself, not envy others; and the more advantages we have above others the more should we endeavour to exceed them. The church of Corinth should not be outdone in this service of love by the churches of Galatia, which do not appear to have been enriched with equal spiritual gifts nor outward ability.

Paul then tells the Corinthians how the collection should proceed in his absence. Recall that 1 Corinthians in its entirety is a response to questions from the congregation. 1 Corinthians 16 is also a chapter with answers to their questions.

Paul says that the Corinthians should collect all the money before he arrives, with congregants giving what they can week after week at Sunday worship (verse 2).

Henry’s approach to giving at Sunday worship is practical without being burdensome:

Indeed all our charity and benevolence should be free and cheerful, and for that reason should be made as easy to ourselves as may be. And what more likely way to make us easy in this matter than thus to lay by? We may cheerfully give when we know that we can spare, and that we have been laying by in store that we may.

This is the point of giving regularly at Sunday worship. Our donations go to the clergy, to the poor in the congregation, perhaps to the poor in a special mission project in another locale, and to the maintenance of the local church building as well as church programmes, such as Sunday School.

MacArthur says that the Greek word Paul used for ‘collection’ is ‘fellowship’:

… several times in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:13, and Romans 15:26 to be exact – when Paul refers to the collection, he calls it the koinōnia. He actually uses the word koinōnia to describe a collection. And the word koinōnia means – what? – fellowship. But to him, it is inseparable. You cannot share money without sharing fellowship.

Fellowship fosters unity among all churches, e.g. those in our denomination, such as poor congregations overseas:

Paul’s point here is that the church’s primary responsibility is to make sure that it funds its own needs. That’s basic.

Now, notice also that it is not one local church funding only that local church, but one local assembly here in Corinth caring for the needs of another local assembly in Jerusalem so that the church, when it really is the church, and when it understands what it is universally, will meet its needs anywhere, not just selfishly pouring it on at its local point of existence. But the church is to meet its own needs.

MacArthur tells us why Sunday is the day for the church to collect donations at worship:

Now, the normal day for the church to meet was the first day. Did you know that? It always has been. In John chapter 20 is where it all started.

People say, “Well, how did we ever get away from the Sabbath, and how did we ever get on Sunday?”

Well, here it is, in John 20:19 it says, “The same day at evening” – this is Resurrection Day, when Jesus rose –being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.” The first post-resurrection service was held on Resurrection Day, Sunday, the first day of the week. Well, that became such a great day, such a glorious day, Resurrection Day, that that became the standard day.

And you move over to the same chapter, the twenty-sixth verse, “And eight days later, again the disciples inside” – eight days later would be the next Sunday – “Thomas with them: then came Jesus.” The second service they ever had after Resurrection was also on a Sunday, and that became the pattern. And so, later on, as you move into the book of Acts, you see them gathering on that day.

Over in Acts chapter 20, for example, it says, “And we sailed away from Philippi. We came to Troas, and on the first day of the week, when he disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them.”

So, by the time you’re into Acts 20, it’s the pattern of the Church to meet on the first day of the week. And by the time you get to Revelation 1:10, that day has a name, and it’s called the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day. You might also be interested to know that the day of Pentecost, in which the Church was born, was a Sunday, the first day of the week. You might also be interested to know that the Church never did celebrate the Sabbath as such. In Colossians 2:16, Paul says, “Don’t let anybody bind you to a Sabbath.” In Romans 14, he says the same thing. And it is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament.

So, the Sabbath was set aside in favor of Resurrection Day. And the Church was to come together on the first day. And that’s why he says what he says here, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store.”

Now you say, “Well, why? Why on the first day of the week?”

Because that’s the day of worship. And how you handle money is inextricably tied with the depth of your worship.

MacArthur explains how donations to the Jewish temple and pagan temples worked in ancient times. The treasuries he describes were, essentially, banks:

In the early years of the pagan temples in Greece and in the Roman world, the pagans would give their money and their offerings at the pagan temples. And all the pagan temples had what were known as thēsauros or treasure boxes. And people would come with their money and place it the thēsauros, the treasury of the temple. This was true in Judaism, wasn’t it? The temple treasury, don’t you read about that in the gospels? This was true in many pagan religions. In fact, it got to be so that the temple actually would come to the place where it would not only receive the gifts of the people, but it would even hold their money for them. So that temples – pagan temples became banks. The biggest banks in the Greek world were in temples. And the reason was because the people worshiped the gods they worshiped out of fear and nobody would rob the temple bank. Safest place to put a bank.

They actually had safe deposit boxes that you could have for your own deposit and so forth. So the idea in terms of the cultural background is of a treasury associated with the meeting place or the place of worship. The idea of the term simply means to set by yourself privately and devoting your own thinking and self-determination to the determining of whatever amount you’re going to give and to place it in the treasury. Now the use of the term treasury in that world would have commonly brought to their mind the treasury at the house of worship. So it seems best to see that the phrase is simply saying put your money in the treasury, and they would know that the treasury would be that which was common to their place of worship.

This is why churches have a treasurer, someone who can keep a good account of the donations and handle the congregation’s giving responsibly:

And that’s why, beloved, you want Godly people in responsibility in the church.

Like Henry, MacArthur says that the amount we give at worship is up to us but suggests that we be as generous as we are able to be:

That’s up to you. But do it every week and everybody do it. And David said, “I will not give the Lord that which cost me nothing.” Do it sacrificially. Do it magnanimously. And I’ll tell you a great truth people, when you start to give to God, God starts to return it. You know, it’s like planting seed. It is absolutely like planting seed. If we had time we could go across this room and we have testimonies. When I first taught these truths and within about a matter of six months or so we go $500,000.00 in gifts to begin to build this building. And I bet if we could have people stand up, they could tell how God has blessed those gifts since that time. Since they invested with Him. Giving to God is like planting seed.

Henry has similar exhortations:

Our prosperity and success are from God and not from ourselves; and he is to be owned in all and honoured with all. It is his bounty and blessing to which we owe all we have; and whatever we have is to be used, and employed, and improved, for him. His right to ourselves and all that is ours is to be owned and yielded to him. And what argument more proper to excite us to charity to the people and children of God than to consider all we have as his gift, as coming from him? Note, When God blesses and prospers us, we should be ready to relieve and comfort his needy servants; when his bounty flows forth upon us, we should not confine it to ourselves, but let it stream out to others. The good we receive from him should stir us up to do good to others, to resemble him in our beneficence; and therefore the more good we receive from God the more we should do good to others. They were to lay by as God had blessed them, in that proportion. The more they had, through God’s blessing, gained by their business or labour, their traffic or work, the more they were to lay by. Note, God expects that our beneficence to others should hold some proportion to his bounty to us.

Returning to Paul’s instructions, he told the Corinthians to decide who should make the journey to Jerusalem and accredit them by letter (verse 3).

Henry explains:

This would be a proper testimony of their respect and brotherly love to their distressed brethren, to send their gift by members of their own body, trusty and tenderhearted, who would have compassion on their suffering brethren, and a Christian concern for them, and not defraud them. It would argue that they were very hearty in this service, when they should send some of their own body on so long and hazardous a journey or voyage, to convey their liberality. Note, We should not only charitably relieve our poor fellow-christians but do it in such a way as will best signify our compassion to them and care of them.

Paul concludes by saying that, if the donation is substantial enough, he will accompany the accredited persons to Jerusalem (verse 4).

Henry says:

Note, Ministers are doing their proper business when they are promoting or helping in works of charity. Paul stirs up the Corinthians to gather for the relief of the churches in Judea, and he is ready to go with their messengers, to convey what is gathered; and he is still in the way of his duty, in the business of his office.

MacArthur adds:

Look at this, verse 4. This is really an insight into Paul. And he says, “Look if it’s suitable, I’ll go along with it.” In other words, listen, if you give enough so that I won’t be embarrassed, I’ll go along and accompany it. Isn’t that good? I’m not about to take a long trip to Jerusalem, though if you just give a little bit. So that’s just a nice little way for Paul to say you know, come on, stretch yourself a little. If it’s a suitable offering, I’ll even go.

Paul was finally able to take the large sum of money from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem in Acts 24. He must have been thrilled.

Acts 24:17 says:

17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.

He was put on trial and imprisoned for a few years at that point and ended up in Rome, at his request, for a proper trial. Although he was allowed to preach for a time, he ended up dying as a martyr for the faith.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 16, Paul laid out his travel plans, more about which next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 15:39-41

39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

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Last week’s post was about faith and the belief in a personal resurrection which Christ guaranteed to us by rising from the dead. Paul says that if there is no resurrection, then he is putting his life at risk every day for no reason.

Corrupting influences in the Corinthian church made some in the congregation doubtful of an afterlife. Paul is setting them straight.

Paul says that God gives everything and everyone the body that He wills:

38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

Paul points out that every living being has a body according to its species, whether animal or human (verse 39).

John MacArthur says that amino acids are responsible for our individual makeup, and all life on Earth is individual, because even within species, there are differences in each creature (emphases mine):

Now, verse 39 is interesting from a scientific viewpoint. All flesh is not the same flesh. You ought to know that. In fact, there are, according to what I read, 600 octodecillion combinations of amino acids.

Now, I don’t know how many 600 octodecillion combinations is; it’s a lot. It’s almost infinitesimal. It’s almost immeasurable. And the reason there are so many is because amino acids are the building blocks of flesh. Amino acids are what produce you and me and anything else in us. And I have my own little set at work in me, and you have your own little set. And amino acids, for every individual, the combinations are unique. No two people are alike. Have you ever noticed a difference in complexion and skin features and wrinkle capacity and resistance in different people? All the different – the colors of the hair, all different features, the growth patterns, width, height, all that stuff. Everything is different because everything’s individualthere’s no two stars alike, no two flowers alike, no two blades of grass alike, no two snowflakes alike, no two any things alike – not even identical twins. They have their own little set of amino acids.

Try it at home. Look at the birds and the bees in your own garden. There is always some tiny difference to observe among robins, wrens and so on in plumage. The same goes for bumblebees, which are easier to observe than honeybees. The coloration differs just a tiny bit, even when they are of the same variety.

As for differences in humans, this is one of the reasons why ‘one size fits all’ groupthink and totalitarian governments are dangerous. We each have a different set of life experiences, even among identical twins somewhere along the line.

Paul goes on to say that there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies but that both of those have their own particular glories, separate from one another (verse 40).

That is Paul’s way of saying that, when we rise in glory to be with Christ forever, our bodies will become glorified forever.

MacArthur explains:

And really, folks, the glory is vastly different. The difference between a pretty flower and the sun is a lot of difference. A lot of difference. A pretty flower is nice. It has a certain amount of glory. But it doesn’t have anything like the sun. And there are stars in our universe that are like thousand suns and more. The glory of the celestial – listen, whatever you see on earth is not what has to be up there is what he’s saying. From the human viewpoint, we look at a flower, and then we look at a star, and there’s no comparison. A flower is gone in a week; the star’s been there since God created.

Now, the notice here. “There are two kinds of bodies,” he says. “The earthly kind and the heavenly kind. There’s a big, big difference.” So, what he’s saying is, “Listen, in resurrection, the body is going to be different. The glory of the resurrection body can be infinitely beyond anything we can conceive in this earth – the earthly, the terrestrial.

Paul then discusses the universe and the differing types of glory among the sun, the moon and the stars, particularly the stars (verse 41).

He is saying that we will have our own varying degrees of glory when we join Christ in the world to come.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

All this is to intimate to us that the bodies of the dead, when they rise, will be so far changed, that they will be fitted for the heavenly regions, and that there will be a variety of glories among the bodies of the dead, when they shall be raised, as there is among the sun, and moon, and stars, nay among the stars themselves.

MacArthur cites a Reader’s Digest article by way of explanation:

Donald Peattie, in Reader’s Digest, said this, quote, “Like flowers, the stars have their own colors. At your first upward glance, all gleam white as frost crystals; but single out this one and that for observation and you will find a subtle spectrum in the stars. The quality of their lights is determined by their temperatures. In the December sky you will see Aldebaron as pale rose, Regel as bluish white, and Betelgeuse orange to topaz yellow.” End quote. So, that’s just an idea. They’re different. Every star is different. Every sun is different. The moons are different. It’s all different. It is unique. There are no two stars alike, no two suns alike, no two people alike, no two flowers alike, no two blades of grass alike, no two birds alike, no two anything alike.

Therefore, if God can create the planets and the rest of the universe, He can certainly raise us from the dead and give us glorified bodies for eternity.

Henry says:

All this carries an intimation along with it that it must be as easy to divine power to raise the dead, and recover their mouldered bodies, as out of the same materials to form so many different kinds of flesh and plants, and, for aught we know, celestial bodies as well as terrestrial ones …

To speak directly to the point: So also, says he, is the resurrection of the dead; so (as the plant growing out of the putrefied grain), so as no longer to be a terrestrial but a celestial body, and varying in glory from the other dead, who are raised, as one star does from another. But he specifies some particulars: as, (1.) It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown. Burying the dead is like sowing them; it is like committing the seed to the earth, that it may spring out of it again. And our bodies, which are sown, are corruptible, liable to putrefy and moulder, and crumble to dust; but, when we rise, they will be out of the power of the grave, and never more be liable to corruption.

MacArthur answers questions about what we will look like with glorified bodies:

I think we’ll all be there, in a sense, unique.

For example, Moses and Elijah, long after they had died, were given some kind of form to return to appear on the Mount of Transfiguration and were recognizable in some way as Moses and Elijah. And God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And we see in the resurrection, even at the end, at the great white throne, that standing in resurrection form before God are the small and the great, which means the variables are still there.

You say, “Will I look like me?”

Well, yeah. You’ll be recognizable as you.

“Will I be the same as I am?”

No, you’ll be different, but recognizable as you. Listen, Jesus had all the nail prints in His –

People say, “Will I still have this scar here? Will is still have my nose over here? Will my ears be funny? Will I…”

I don’t know, but Jesus had the same scars in the same places that He had in the body before His glorified body. So, what Paul is saying, you see, is this: the basic form of resurrection will be glorified another level of glory. We will be different from this body, and yet different from each other in that body. That’s exciting to think about.

There are a lot of dear saints who are dead, and their spirits are with the Lord, and they’re waiting for that day when they get clothed with that body. And here – we’re here, and looking at our infirmities and weaknesses, and wanting so much that body …

There is an incorruptible existence, with no decay, no infirmity in the future. So, we go into the grave corrupt; we come out uncorruptible – incorruptible. It’s a fantastic thing to realize. That body will never decay; it’ll never get old. It’ll have absolutely no time limitation. It will have no capacity to deteriorate. We will be permanently incorruptible. No decay.

That is a thrilling thought — and reality to be made manifest one day.

The rest of the chapter is in the Lectionary, however it is worth quoting some of it to reinforce the points made above, especially with the mention of the two Adams, the first man and Jesus Christ:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[e] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall[f] also bear the image of the man of heaven.

This chapter also has the following familiar verses so often quoted about death and the afterlife:

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

I hope this reinforces our belief in the resurrection of the body, which will be glorified forever and ever.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 15:27-34

27 For “God[a] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”[b] 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s instructions on worship; it must be ‘done decently and in order’. Good news for the Frozen Chosen and the reason why orderly worship has been the norm for over two millennia.

1 Corinthians 15 is all about the Resurrection and eternal life.

In the preceding verses, Paul describes how Christ’s mediatorial kingdom will end, at which point he will deliver it to God the Father (emphases mine below):

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

In verse 27, Paul says that everything is in submission — ‘in subjection’ — to Christ, except for God the Father, and cites Psalm 8:6, a Messianic verse:

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,

Matthew Henry describes Christ’s nature as our Mediator:

… though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Revelation 3:21. Then was the prediction verified, I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalms 2:6), placed him on his throne. This is meant by the phrase so frequent in the writings of the New Testament, of sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1, c.), on the right hand of power (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69), on the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2), on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, Hebrews 8:1. Sitting down in this seat is taking upon him the exercise of his mediatorial power and royalty, which was done upon his ascension into heaven, Mark 16:19. And it is spoken of in scripture as a recompence made him for his deep humiliation and self-abasement, in becoming man, and dying for man the accursed death of the cross, Philippians 2:6-12. Upon his ascension, he was made head over all things to the church, had power given him to govern and protect it against all its enemies, and in the end destroy them and complete the salvation of all that believe in him. This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes. (2.) That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Corinthians 15:26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued. The Redeemer must reign till his enemies be destroyed, and the salvation of his church and people accomplished; and, when this end is attained, then will he deliver up the power which he had only for this purpose, though he may continue to reign over his glorified church and body in heaven; and in this sense it may notwithstanding be said that he shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation 11:15), that he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33), that his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, Daniel 7:14. See also Micah 4:7.

John MacArthur says:

Jesus Christ takes the assignment from the Father to redeem the earth, and He goes about and does it. And when He’s all done, when He’s all finished – He’s finished coming as a baby; He’s finished living as a man. He’s finished dying, rising, coming back. He’s finished fighting the enemies of Satan and all the other world enemies. He’s finished with all the rebellions; He’s squelched all the enemies; He’s crushed all the foes.

It’s all done, and He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He’s got all the redeemed, and they’re all gathered together, and all the ones who were unbelieving are gone, and they’re judged, and they’re all away. And all that’s left are the redeemed. Then He gives it all to God and says, “Here, I did My task.” He gives it to the Father. And that’s what the Bible calls the eternal state: the new heaven and the new earth. No more rebels. He gives it all to God. All things in the kingdom are under His feet.

There’s an interesting footnote, in verse 27, I’ll call your attention to. He says, “God the Father’s going to put all things under His feet in that kingdom.” But he adds one thing, “But when God the Father says, ‘All things are put under Christ,’ it is obvious” – manifest means obvious – “it is obvious that He” – that is God the Father – “is an exception.”

At that point, Paul says, Christ will become subject to His heavenly Father so that those who are redeemed will know their salvation came through God’s power (verse 28).

Henry interprets the verse:

… it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it. Note, Though the human nature must be employed in the work of our redemption, yet God was all in all in it. It was the Lord’s doing and should be marvellous in our eyes.

MacArthur clarifies the reign of Christ:

You say, “Christ is going to keep on reigning?”

Yeah, because when He was born, in Luke chapter 1 it said, “Fear not, Mary, for thou has found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David – now listen to this – and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be – what? – no end. He will reign forever. Forever.

In Revelation chapter 11, verse 15, it says, “He will reign forever and ever.” You know what I love? I’ll illustrate it, Revelation 3 he says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with Me in My throne.” And where is My throne? My throne is in the Father’s throne. You see what Jesus is saying? “Ultimately, My throne and the Father’s throne is your throne.” In other words, all things return to God. As in the beginning we were all coming out of God, in the end we all return to God, and we reign with Him in common life. No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I made everything, and all things resolve in Me.” That’s where history’s going. It came from God, it goes back to God, and resurrection makes it happen.

When God made a humanity, he made a humanity of righteousness, with a plan that they would dwell with Him forever. When they lost that righteousness, He didn’t give up the plan; He will raise them to a new humanity of righteousness and gain them back into His presence. That’s history. That’s history, that God may be all in all. Everything goes back to Him. And not in a mystical, Greek philosophical way are we – do we float back into some deity, but we are united with God by the common life that flows through us. And we sit with Him on His throne, with Christ who is in the same throne, and the Holy Spirit no doubt is there as well. A great, great reality.

I’m positive the Holy Spirit will be there, too. Be in no doubt.

Then we come to verse 29, which must be one of the most problematic in the Bible. Paul speaks of people being baptised on behalf of the dead, and if there were no resurrection of the body, why would such baptisms take place.

Matthew Henry goes through the most common theological explanations of what ‘baptised on behalf of the dead’ means and poses this question:

But who shall interpret this very obscure passage, which, though it consists of no more than three words, besides the articles, has had more than three times three senses put on it by interpreters?

Henry’s conclusion is that some Corinthians became baptised when they saw that those in the congregation who disgraced the Lord’s table through drunkenness became sick and died:

We read that many were sickly among them, and many slept (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 11:30), because of their disorderly behaviour at the Lord’s table. These executions might terrify some into Christianity; as the miraculous earthquake did the jailer, Acts 16:29; Acts 16:30, c. Persons baptized on such an occasion might be properly said to be baptized for the dead, that is, on their account. And the hoi baptizomenoi (the baptized) and the hoi nekroi (the dead) answer to one another and upon this supposition the Corinthians could not mistake the apostle’s meaning. “Now,” says he, “what shall they do, and why were they baptized, if the dead rise not? You have a general persuasion that these men have done right, and acted wisely, and as they ought, on this occasion; but why, if the dead rise not, seeing they may perhaps hasten their death, by provoking a jealous God, and have no hopes beyond it?” But whether this be the meaning, or whatever else be, doubtless the apostle’s argument was good and intelligible to the Corinthians.

MacArthur also had problems interpreting this verse in 1977, when he delivered his sermon on it:

Now, there are some of you persistent Bible students in this congregation who have asked me to interpret 1 Corinthians 15:29 for the nine years that I’ve been here. And I have stalled you off until this very hour. And now I can no longer stall you because here we are, at a very, very difficult passage in the Scripture, that we’ll endeavor to gain an understanding of as we look at it this morning …

Now, that verse, beloved, has between 40 and 400 interpretations, any one of which might be right with some exceptions. What it’s saying I really don’t know; I’ll be very honest with you. I do not know. I will take a calculated risk; I will throw myself at your mercy this morning, and you can determine whether or not there is much grounds for my conclusion. But believe me; you don’t hardly have time during one week to study 40 views intelligently, let alone to come to a conclusion. But I have one anyway, and I’ll offer it to you. I will not be dogmatic on this simply because this is one passage that is so obscure and so difficult, that we couldn’t be dogmatic, but we can draw some conclusions that I think the context sort of lends itself to.

Now, let me give you a basic point that I’m working with as a result of working over the text. By the way, I started with a completely different view on Monday than I wound up with on Friday. In fact, I was very surprised at my conclusion. I think three people talked to me during the week, and I told them three different views that I was holding on that day.

But anyways, this is Sunday morning, and here we are. As for me tomorrow, you don’t know where I’ll be. But anyway, I think that the context lends itself to the fact that Paul is trying to point out things that would be lost if we give up bodily resurrection. And so, in my mind, there must be legitimate things. And there’s much reason for that; I just make that statement to you. But I think what Paul is saying here is simply this: people get saved because they anticipate resurrection. In other words, one of the strongest incentives for people to become Christians is the hope of resurrection.

MacArthur discusses proxy baptism, which is what the Mormon Church does. It is a heresy:

Let’s look, first of all, at the simple statements in the verse. “What shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”

Now, the Mormon Church takes this verse, and they take what appears on the surface to be the most obvious view: that somebody is baptized for a dead person. And the Mormons call it vicarious baptism. And they teach – and incidentally, you might note that that is not common only to Mormonism; that was a heresy taught by two ancient fathers in the Church known as Cerinth and Marcion. They both believed this. In fact, it was branded as heresy even then.

But they say, “Paul is saying this, that a Christian who is alive and has been baptized can get rebaptized for a dead person to that the dead person can get saved by proxy.” Okay? So, like if your great, dear friend at work dies without the Lord, you can come here and get baptized for that dead person, and by proxy he’ll get saved.”

The Mormons, of course, teach that the spirits of those who have died can’t enter heaven unless a Mormon is baptized for them by proxy.

Now, it’s obvious, I think, to all of us that we don’t believe that. Proxy baptism, vicarious baptism could only be extrapolated out of this text. And there’s a simple principle of biblical interpretation: you never generate a doctrine out of an obscure text when no other text in the Bible teaches it. I mean you – that’s mercilessly attacking the Bible with your own bias and making it say what you want it to say. And you can’t do that.

The person who gets baptized himself doesn’t get saved by being baptized, let alone a dead person. We believe you’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Right? And baptism is simply an act of obedient faith that proclaims that testimony of salvation. But no one is saved by baptism, not living people, to say nothing of dead ones. “It is appointed unto man once to die,” the Bible says, “and after this” – the baptism? – “after this the judgment.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 29 means the following:

… “Some people, unbelieving people, are being saved because of the dead.” Now it is most likely that the dead have reference to Christians. The dead.

There is the yearning among mourners to be reunited with the people they lost to death. Therefore, if the dead were Christians, the mourners become Christians. They also see the way that those who died, in their final days, were optimistic about dying because they would be with the Lord.

MacArthur says:

There are some people who come to Christ and are saved because of some dead person or persons. What do I mean by that? Just this: there are two things, I think, in this particular area that draw people to Christ. One is this: an unbeliever sees a Christian, and he watches that Christian face death. And that Christian has hope and confidence; he is encouraged; he anticipates being with Jesus

And you know, there have been people come to Christ simply because they’ve seen the hope in the heart of a believer. And what Paul was saying here, possibly, is just that, “If there is no resurrection, then why are some unbelievers being baptized because of the great hope they see in those that have died?” See? If there’s no resurrection, why?

There’s a second element to this. You know, another great thing in death that is a cause for people to be saved is the hope of reunion. Do you know that? I’ve never had a funeral in which I didn’t give that word. You say to – someone who’s a Christian has died, and you’ll say, “You know, this person knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and they went to be with Him. And if you will come to Christ, you can be rejoined with this one you love.” Right? You’ve heard that at funerals? I would dare say some of you came to Christ because you wanted to be reunited with somebody you loved who went to be with the Lord. That happens all the time. All the time.

I’ve seen a husband, who wouldn’t come to Christ for any to her reason, finally come to Christ when his wife died because he wanted to be reunited. I’ve seen it happen in the case of a mother dying, and a child who had been wayward and rebellious come to Jesus Christ in the hope that he would be reunited with his mother. Reunion.

Paul then discusses his own ministry. If there were no hope of resurrection, why would he put himself in danger every day (verse 30), saying ‘I die every day’ (verse 31) and says he fought with ‘beasts at Ephesus’ (verse 32a).

He mentions that because he was persecuted when he preached: beaten, imprisoned, thrown out of town. If there is no hope of resurrection, then enduring that was pointless and masochistic.

Did Paul actually fight with beasts at Ephesus?

Henry says that it is possible he did, although he probably meant ‘beasts’ as being a figurative expression for enraged men:

he had fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 15:32), and was in danger of being pulled to pieces by an enraged multitude, stirred up by Demetrius and the other craftsmen (Acts 19:24, c.), though some understand this literally of Paul’s being exposed to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheatre, at a Roman show in that city. And Nicephorus tells a formal story to this purport, and of the miraculous complaisance of the lions to him when they came near him. But so remarkable a trial and circumstance of his life, methinks, would not have been passed over by Luke, and much less by himself, when he gives us so large and particular a detail of his sufferings, 2 Corinthians 11:24, ad fin. When he mentioned that he was five times scourged of the Jews, thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice shipwrecked, it is strange that he should not have said that he was once exposed to fight with the beasts. I take it, therefore, that this fighting with beasts is a figurative expression, that the beasts intended were men of a fierce and ferine disposition, and that this refers to the passage above cited.

MacArthur thinks an actual fight with fierce animals might have taken place, although he is not sure:

People say, “Well, it can’t be real beasts, because, you see, we don’t have any other record of it.”

Well, you have this record. How many times does God have to say something to make it true?

“Well,” you say, “they couldn’t be real beasts simply because Paul was a Roman citizen, and a Roman citizen really couldn’t suffer that kind of a situation; he couldn’t be brought to – into the arena before the beasts. And Paul, as a Roman citizen, wouldn’t have done that.”

Well, listen, Paul’s Roman citizenship did get him out of some things, but it may well have been that it didn’t get him out of this. And those people would have figured if the beasts all eat him, who’s going to protest? Right? Who’s going to write Rome and tell them? Not us. And not him either.

I don’t know. Some say, “No, this is a wild beast; it’s a metaphor.”

I know Lenski, in his commentary, goes on paragraph after paragraph to prove it’s a metaphor. And I’m not sure he does, but it might be. He says it’s really just saying “wild beast” is a metaphor for the wild people at the riot in Acts 19 that occurred in Ephesus. Maybe so; I don’t know. But whatever it is, Paul says, “Look” – verse 30 – “all of us apostles are in jeopardy. I particularly am in jeopardy; I die daily. Here’s one incident: I had to fight beasts in Ephesus.”

By the way, there is an old historic church legend that says he did fight beasts in Ephesus, and that they had the same problem that they had in the den of Daniel; they became totally passive and left him alone. That’s just a legend.

The next half of verse 32 says that, if there is no resurrection, then we might as well live life as Epicureans, indulging our base instincts.

Paul was citing Isaiah 22:13:

and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life. There might have been some Jews in the Corinthian congregation who adopted that same outlook, unbiblical as it is.

However, as those who have studied the Classics know, this was also a widespread philosophy in Greece and Rome. Atheists were likely to have been in the Corinthian church, more about whom below. Perhaps they enjoyed the revelry of eating and drinking before the Communion service.

MacArthur tells us how parties ended in ancient Egypt:

Classic literature is full of this kind of thought. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells one of the customs of the Egyptians. He says, “In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet was ended, a servant would often carry around to the guests a coffin. And in the coffin was a wooden image of a corpse carved and painted to resemble a dead person as nearly as possible. And the servant would show it to each of the guests, and he would say, ‘Gaze here, and drink and be merry, for when you die, such you shall be.’” That’s a great way to end a party. I’ll tell you what; it’s a great way to get a party going. If you really believe that, you are going to party.

Paul warns the Corinthians about keeping bad company: it ruins good morals (verse 33).

Henry says:

Note, Bad company and conversation are likely to make bad men. Those who would keep their innocence must keep good company. Error and vice are infectious: and, if we would avoid the contagion, we must keep clear of those who have taken it. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed, Proverbs 13:20.

Paul issues a reprimand to the congregation, saying that they must wake up from their ‘drunken stupor’ and repent, because there are people among them who have no knowledge of God — atheists; he says that to their shame (verse 34).

Henry explains:

… I am apt to think that the expression has a much stronger meaning; that there were atheistical people among them who hardly owned a God, or one who had any concern with or took cognizance of human affairs. These were indeed a scandal and shame to any Christian church. Note, Real atheism lies at the bottom of men’s disbelief of a future state.

MacArthur emphasises the importance of good theology:

See, some in the church didn’t know God truly, didn’t know God’s teaching truly. And so, they were espousing heresy. And listen to this – now here’s our point that we made at the beginning of the message – bad theology leads to bad behavior, just like good theology leads to good behavior. Just like because of all God has done, because of this truth, you are to so live. So, if you introduce error, you’re going to have corrupt morals.

So, he says, “Stop being deceived. Bad theology will corrupt your good morals. You’ve got to break the association with these people teaching this heresy. You can’t run around with heretics without it having a corrupting influence.”

In other words, what he’s saying is, “Look, holiness is predicated on a association with good teaching. If you deny the truth of the resurrection, you have removed an incentive to good living” …

You see, beloved, the resurrection has tremendous implications. If Jesus rises from the dead, if He is alive, and we shall live also, then there is an incentive for people to be saved, because there’s hope after death, and there’s reunion. There is an incentive for people to serve Jesus Christ, because you can throw this life away and know that you’re going to get it a million-fold in the life to come. There is an incentive to sanctification, because morality will be honored and rewarded in the days to come. And anything less than that is shameful heresy and will corrupt the truth.

The hope of resurrection is in both the Old and New Testaments. Only those with a poor understanding of the Bible or an atheist would discount it.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 15:39-41

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:27-34

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[a] 31 But if we judged[b] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[c] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers,[d] when you come together to eat, wait for[e] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s passage discussed the church love feasts that the Corinthians held. These would be comparable to today’s church potlucks. Afterwards, they would receive Holy Communion. The problem was their irreverence and mutual hostility.

Some wealthier members deprived poorer congregants of food. Other people attending got drunk. Many argued at table. They were not in a fit state to receive the Lord’s body and blood.

Paul takes them to task for their irreverent behaviour, especially in the presence of the sacrament.

In last week’s post, I’d written that the church potlucks I’d attended were happy occasions where everyone was united over plates of homemade food and good conversation.

One of my readers, Rob, wrote about the potlucks he’s been to and has given me permission to post his comments, revealing a much different perspective (emphases mine):

This is a sad topic to miss out on in the 3-year lectionary. Addressing the disorder in the Corinthian church, Paul is relevant to today’s fellowships as well. I suppose it’s not the same as back in his day, with our socially dispersed lifestyles and varied views of the Supper.

One thing I think applies: today, there are the “in crowd” and the less visible hangers-on. One group is clearly more in fellowship than the others. Being ignored or dismissed because one is not “theological enough” or isn’t involved in popular trends of his church is analogous to what Paul is fighting in this passage.

Yes, the cliques are ever-present, though largely ignored or dismissed. The latest trends are regular old liberal theology, homeschooler superiority, subordination of women and then the typical class divide. Doubt it’s any different from any decade, really. Though folks are certainly more agitated and outspoken these days (social media).

Between last week’s and this week’s verses are the following, which are in the Lectionary:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Those are important because not only are they theologically precise but Paul wrote them before the Gospels were written.

John MacArthur explains:

this is directly taken from the statements of Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s practically certain. And I think that you’d find very few conservative scholars who would disagree with this. It is practically certain that 1 Corinthians was written before any of the four Gospels, though the four Gospels appear in your New Testament first in their order, they are not, in terms of chronological authorship, in that order. They were not written till a later period than this.

So, here is really the first statement of God in print regarding the Lord’s Table. For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And Paul says, “It was directly from the words of Jesus. He Himself instituted it.

There are two ordinances of the Church: communion and baptism. Both of them were set in order by the example of Christ and ordained and initiated by Him as well. And this is no different. So, he says, “This is straight from the Lord. It is His Supper. He has instituted it.” You notice in verse 20 “the Lord’s Supper.” It is His Supper.

One wonders how many people are familiar with today’s verses wherein Paul says that receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner can — not will — lead to illness or death. I only discovered these 12 years ago, thanks to another blogger.

No doubt this has applications beyond the Corinthians’ situation.

Paul says that receiving the sacrament in an unworthy manner is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 27).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

He lays before the Corinthians the danger of receiving unworthily, of prostituting this institution as they did, ad using it to the purposes of feasting and faction, with intentions opposite to its design, or a temper of mind altogether unsuitable to it; or keeping up the covenant with sin and death, while they are there professedly renewing and confirming their covenant with God. 1. It is a great guilt which such contract. They shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27), of violating this sacred institution, of despising his body and blood. They act as if they counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith they are sanctified, an unholy thing, Heb. 10:29. They profane the institution, and in a manner crucify their Saviour over again. Instead of being cleansed by his blood, they are guilty of his blood.

We say that we do not do that. Many of us receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner, however, it is easy to profane it.

MacArthur gives us examples:

I’ll tell you how you can come unworthily. The Corinthians did it. You can come – here’s the way you can treat the Table of the Lord unworthily. Number one, by ignoring it rather than obeying it. By just not doing it. You’re saying, “It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s unimportant.” Is that right? No, that’s wrong; that’s unworthy of you, and unworthy of Him.

Second, you can treat the Table unworthily by making it a performance rather than something meaningful, by just doing it rather than understanding it.

I’ll tell you another way you can pervert the Table and come unworthily is by making it into a saving thing rather than a communing thing. By thinking that it saves you to do it rather than understanding that it only causes you to make a fresh commitment and a fresh communion with Christ.

Another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it as a ceremony rather than as a personal experience. And another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it lightly rather than treating it seriously. If you come to this table with any bitterness toward another Christian in any way, shape, or form; with any unconfessed sin; living in any kind of sin that you will not repent of and turn from; if you come with any less than the loftiest thought about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God; if you come with anything less than total love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, you come to this Table unworthily.

And you say, “What’s the result?”

Look; you are liable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Paul advises the Corinthians — and us — to examine our consciences beforehand, then receive Communion (verse 28). If you have had an argument with someone, seek reconciliation. If you’ve done someone a wrong, right it. Then receive the sacrament.

Paul says that it is important to discern ‘the body’ — that means Christ’s body — beforehand. Contemplate our Lord’s suffering, the horrifying way He bore our sins on the Cross. 

Serendipitously, today’s Sunday Gospel reading, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B), discusses His sufferings. Christ’s crucifixion was a suffering of both body and soul. In that reading, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, John MacArthur points out that the Greek word psuche is used, which means soul, or inner person. Our Lord suffered our sins in an unimaginably intense way in order to reconcile us to God.

Returning to today’s passage, MacArthur discusses the Greek used in 1 Corinthians 11:29:

Look at your heart. Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? The word here in the Greek means a rigorous self-examination: your life, your motives, your attitude toward the Lord, your attitude toward the Lord’s Supper, your attitude toward other Christians. Be certain you’re not careless, flippant, indifferent, entertaining sin, unrepentant, mocking – all of that.

And when you’ve examined yourself, then let him eat of the bread and drink the cup. Examination first. Why? “Because he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks” – krima in the Greek; it should be translated chastisement. It’s not damnation. That’s the worst translation I’ve ever read of that. It means chastisement. Katakrima means damnation. That’s used in verse 32. Krima is a less intense word; it means chastening. “If you eat and drink unworthily, you will eat and drink chastening to yourself because you are not discerning the Lord’s body.”

Paul goes further and says that the reason many of the Corinthians are becoming ill and some dying is because of their unworthy reception of Holy Communion (verse 30). Older translations use a form of ‘sleep’ for ‘death’.

MacArthur says:

How does God chasten us? Well, in Corinth, this is what He did, verse 30, “Because of this, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” And “sleep” is a metaphor for death. The Lord said, “Because of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Table, some of them had gotten weak. They were mildly sick. Some of them were very sick, and some of them God had killed.

And incidentally, the Greek says a sufficient number were dead. I don’t know how many God killed in Corinth, but a goodly number. Why did he kill them? What evil did they do? The evil of coming to the Lord’s Table in an irreverent manner. You get a little idea of the seriousness.

He refers to Ananias and Sapphira who suddenly dropped dead in Acts 5 (another passage excluded from the three-year Lectionary) after cheating the church in Jerusalem:

I personally believe that Ananias and Sapphira, who were executed by God for their sin, were probably killed and executed at a communion service. That would be very, very stark, wouldn’t it? They probably dropped dead at a communion service, because that’s what the early Church did when it came together. And I’m not sure that it isn’t true that some Christians today are weak, others are sick, and some have even died because of how they treated the Lord’s Table: with indifference, sinfulness, whatever.

Paul offers a remedy. We are to judge ourselves so that God does not judge us (verse 31). That means examining our conscience (verse 28), repairing our broken relationships, repenting of our sins, then receiving Holy Communion.

Paul also points out that when the Lord passes judgement on us it is a chastisement for this world, one from which to learn, so that we may avoid judgement with ‘the world’ — non-believers — in the life to come (verse 32).

MacArthur explains:

I love this, “But when we are judged” – he says – “we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world.” We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world. Want to hear something? You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world.

People say, “Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I’m lost?”

No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that, you will be – what? – chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what’s that? Take you to heaven. See, that’s not too bad. The point of the verse – a tremendous verse – the point of the verse is, “Look, we are being chastened by the Lord in order that we would not be damned with the world.”

You say, “But maybe the Lord won’t chasten me.”

Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and every son He scourges. Every Christian is under the chastening hand of the Lord which prevents him from ever being condemned with the world. Is that a great truth? So, we have not that ultimate fear. I don’t know about you; I’d just as soon be healthy, happy, and alive for a little while. So, I want to check myself when I come to the Lord’s Table.

Paul closes with simple advice on church dinners, especially if followed by Holy Communion, as was the case in the early days of the Church. Those who are hungry should eat at home first (verse 34). When gathering together, wait until everyone has arrived before eating (verse 33).

Paul ends by saying that he will give the Corinthians more instructions — ‘directions’ — when he sees them again.

About that, MacArthur says simply:

I don’t know what the rest of the problems were, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Indeed we can.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

1 Corinthians 14 discusses the Holy Spirit’s gifts to those living in the Apostolic Era in order to increase the growth of the Church.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The Lord’s Supper

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[a] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading was about women’s hair, a particular instruction to the church in Corinth and not a general one, as that was the only time Paul discoursed on head coverings.

The rest of 1 Corinthians 11 is about the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Corinthians were partaking of the sacrament unworthily.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the situation (emphases mine below):

In this passage the apostle sharply rebukes them for much greater disorders than the former, in their partaking of the Lord’s supper, which was commonly done in the first ages, as the ancients tell us, with a love-feast annexed, which gave occasion to the scandalous disorders which the apostle here reprehends

The problem was not with the love-feast, or agape, but the manner in which they conducted that feast then received Communion afterwards.

The early church in Jerusalem instituted the agape out of love and mutual necessity. Shortly after the first Pentecost, the numbers of Christian converts grew to more than 3,000 people. Some had travelled to Jerusalem from afar — e.g. the Hellenic Jews — to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, and stayed in the city afterwards. They had no money or jobs. Acts describes how the Christians who did have money and property pooled together what they had so that every convert could be fed, clothed and housed.

John MacArthur gives us more history on the agape, which some small sects still practice, although it is not commanded in the New Testament. Our modern day equivalent would be coffee after a Sunday service, a time of fellowship. Another would be a church potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to be shared by others attending.

MacArthur says:

Notice verse 41 and 42 of Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” – and this is in response the message of Peter given on the Day of Pentecost – “the same day there were added” – and they would be added to those who had already believed in Christ – “three thousand souls.” Now, there is the birth of the Church.

And they continued steadfastly in four areas, four ways in which the early Church celebrated its life. One, the apostles’ doctrine. That’s teaching. Theology. Teaching that which the apostles received as revelation from God. Fellowship. That’s ministering. That’s carrying out the duties and responsibilities that believers have within the framework of the Christian community …

And then lastly, in prayers. Those are the four dimensions of the life of the early Church: teaching, ministering, communing with the living Lord, who had died for them, and praying.

Now, those things, again, are indicated in part in verse 46, “They continued daily with one accord in the temple” – and apparently that’s where they gathered for teaching or apostles’ doctrines, very likely – “and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart.” And the idea there again is you have breaking of bread and fellowship, and certainly prayer would be thrown in as well.

So, in the life of the Church, notice, they continued every day breaking bread. I’m convinced, along with many other Bible scholars and historians of this period, that the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Table on a continual basis. In fact, it is not unlikely that they may have had communion with every meal they ate at the close of that meal. That is not an impossibility. That is, perhaps, a likelihood …

Now, we see this as we go through the book of Acts. And eventually, that fellowship meal became known as the love feast, became known as the agapē, or some of you may have heard it pronounced agapē. It was the love feast, the common meal, the sort of early Church potluck that they ate and followed it with the communion.

Now, it seems as though, in the early days, they were doing it every day. They were fellowshipping all over everywhere all the time. Now, remember this; that at the time when Peter preached at Pentecost … in that whole long period of feasting in Israel, many pilgrims had come to the city and were living with other Jewish families. This was part of the culture. When many of those pilgrims were saved, they didn’t want to go back; so, they stayed in the community. And when they stayed in the community, then the Christians had to take care of them. That’s why it says in chapter 2, verse 44, “They had all things in common and were selling their possessions and goods and giving them to the people that had need,” because there were all these people who had come into the city, whose needs had to be met. They had no livelihood.

In addition, instantly, at the point that the Church began, slaves were saved. And there became a common brotherhood of the slave and the rich man, and the slaves’ needs were then being met by rich men who could meet needs. And there was a beautiful commonness. They ate in different houses. They began to mingle their lives, and part of this was the celebration of the breaking of bread commemorating the communion of our Lord.

Eventually:

this became a pattern in the early Church. The church came together the first day of the week. They had a fellowship meal, followed by communion, followed by a sermon. Now, that became pretty much the pattern. And as time progressed, it stayed with us. And in fact, even today, there are many churches that meet together on every Lord’s Day, have the breaking of bread, followed by a sermon.

The love feast, long ago, faded away. The love feast was not something instituted by our Lord. It was not something instituted by the apostles. It was something that was a holdover from the culture. And so, it never really stuck. The early custom to connect the Lord’s Supper to the ordinary meal of every day began to fade away a little bit. They didn’t do it with every meal. Then they did it with the common meal, once a week, and even that began to fade.

Now on to today’s verses.

Paul begins by saying that he is not about to compliment the Corinthians on the way they gather for Holy Communion, because it is for the worse, not the better (verse 17).

He says that when they gather together as an assembly — a church — they do so with divisions among them (verse 18).

Recall that in the early parts of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them to put their divisions aside, come together and follow Christ.

MacArthur explains:

Verse 18, “For first of all, when you come together in the church” – and the word church – ekklēsia – is never used in the New Testament in reference to a building. Never. It is always used in reference to an assembly of people. Whether they’re living, dead, universal, or local, it’s always people. A church is an organism. So, “When you come together in the church, I keep on hearing” – again and again is the Greek – “that there are schismata among you, and I partly believe it.”

Now, schismata is an interesting term. It refers basically to a difference of opinion. I want you to understand the word here, because I think we’re seeing another dimension in the messed up life of the Corinthian church. It refers basically to a difference of opinion …

So, he says, “When you come together, I continually hear that there are differences of opinion among you.” When the Church comes together, instead of uniting and fellowshipping, all you do is argue. Argue.

Now, this adds another dimension to their already messed-up church. They had already split the church on at least two other accounts. The rich and the poor had drawn a big line between them, and they were totally alienating each other. So, they were split on that basis – the sociological split.

They were split theologically – “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” “I am of Christ.” Everybody had his little clique. We’ll read it in chapter 1 and chapter 3. They had their own little theological group, and the amazing part of it was that the different groups didn’t even disagree theologically; they just isolated around personalities.

And so, here there were personality cults, segmenting everybody. There was a split sociologically between the rich and the poor. And now here we find that in just the – every week, week in, week out, discussion and interaction of the life of the church, there was a constant wrangling about differences of opinions about everything.

Interestingly, Paul says that factions have to exist in order for the peacemakers to emerge (verse 19).

Henry interprets that verse as follows:

Note, The wisdom of God can make the wickedness and errors of others a foil to the piety and integrity of the saints.

Paul says that the Corinthians are not coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper (verse 20). Instead, they are behaving like gluttons and drunks with others among them going hungry (verse 21).

Henry explains:

They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions they themselves brought, before the poor were allowed to partake; and thus some wanted, while others had more than enough. This was profaning a sacred institution, and corrupting a divine ordinance, to the last degree. What was appointed to feed the soul was employed to feed their lusts and passions. What should have been a bond of mutual amity and affection was made an instrument of discord and disunion. The poor were deprived of the food prepared for them, and the rich turned a feast of charity into a debauch. This was scandalous irregularity.

Paul asks why they have to behave in this manner (verse 22). Do they not have homes where they can privately enjoy a feast? Or are they behaving like that because they hate the Church, especially in their humiliation of sending the hungry away empty? He rebukes them for their actions and says they deserve no commendation at all for their love-feasts. In fact, he implies they deserve condemnation.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians:

what kind of a potluck is that, where you go and sit in a corner and eat your own food? Selfish. And one is hungry. The poor man, he can’t get anything, and another is drunk. You have extremes there. The rich are drunk, and the poor have nothing. And you call this the love feast? You call this the Lord’s Supper? You say this is communing, and then you enter into the communion in that kind of a situation, hating each other, fighting each other, antagonizing each other. How can you celebrate the common unity of the saints? How can you do what he says in 10:16, “How can this be communion with the blood, communion with the body? How can you be that one bread and one body of verse 17? How can you celebrate that you’re a one-bread family? You’ve destroyed it. There’s no room for that.”

And then Paul, in just a frustration, as if he were groping for a reason why they’re doing it says in verse 22, “What? What am I to think? What is the answer? Is it because you don’t have a house to eat and drink in? I mean do you roam the streets, and the only place you can go to eat is here, so you’ve got to come here and stuff your face? Is that it? You don’t have a home, if you’re hungry, that you could go home to and eat or drink? You got to turn the fellowship meal into a gluttony and drunkenness exercise because you don’t have a house you can eat and drink in? Is that it?

Or maybe it isn’t that you don’t have a house. Maybe it’s that you despise the church of God. Maybe your problem is you hate the church, and you’d just as soon destroy it. Maybe your desire is to take the thing which Jesus has bought with His precious blood and wreck it. Is that what you want to do?

I hope this does not happen these days. I haven’t been to a church potluck for 40 years. I remember them as being happy occasions of fellowship, with tables full of food, more than enough for everyone.

Paul isn’t finished with his criticism of the Corinthian love-feasts. In fact, he issues a severe warning about receiving Communion unworthily. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Head Coverings

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband,[b] and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife[c] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[d] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

——————————————————————————————————–

My last instalment in this series discussed Paul’s exhortation at the end of 1 Corinthians 10 to do everything for the glory of God whilst taking care to not offend Jews, pagans or Christians.

Today’s reading is a contentious one, and even John MacArthur admitted he was reluctant to preach on it back in 1976 (emphases mine below):

First Corinthians chapter 11. And I tried to delay it as long as I could but finally I just really ran against the wall, and I couldn’t think of anything else to get out of it, so here we are. And it has to do with the subordination and equality of women.

The following week, he asked the congregation for their patience:

This chapter is very interesting, and I want all of you to please remain until I’m finished this morning and not duck your head or be inclined to leave until I’m finished. This is a very interesting passage, and you’re going to find some very interesting truth, I’m sure, applied perhaps in a way you’ve never really understood it before.

This was a time when women were entering the job market en masse in the United States. Some were married, some were divorced and the end result was that the demographic of work — and the family — would change irreversibly. How many women are single or divorced heads of households today?

Our reality of the 21st century makes this a particularly difficult passage.

However, MacArthur says something highly interesting that puts these verses into perspective:

this isn’t a universal principle; this is a custom. Paul never said anything to the – to the Jews or the Romans about hats or not hats or covered or uncovered. It was an issue in Corinth. And in fact, Paul, as a Jew, was uttering language here entirely antagonistic to the Jewish custom of rabbinical teaching. The Jew always wore a tallit, a covering. And Paul is saying, “Don’t wear a covering.”

We say, “Paul, you know the Jews always wear a covering.”

Yeah, but these aren’t Jews, and if they do, it’ll be wrong for their society. It’s cultural. Paul isn’t laying down an absolute rule to be observed by all Christians. And I just – I read something this week that said that this proves that women should never come to church without a hat. It doesn’t prove that at all. That used to be the feeling of many people, and then the hats got so bad, no one could see, and the thing kind of died down a little …

But that isn’t the point. It’s fine to wear a hat. That’s wonderful. But that isn’t what he’s saying. He’s simply saying, “Accommodate yourselves to the custom of the Corinthians. If for a Corinthian woman to appear submissive and modest she wears a veil, then women, you wear a veil. And men the opposite.” Don’t violate customs that have significance in your society. The man and the woman are – to be sure they acquiesce to those.

I can back this up with an essay on hermeneutics that Dr Craig S Keener wrote several years ago. Hermeneutics involves studying historical and cultural context when interpreting Scripture. My post which included this example from 1 Corinthians 11 is here, and Dr Keener’s essay, which I cited, is here.

In citing Ephesians 5, Keener discusses the order of authority in the family unit in Greek and Roman societies:

from Aristotle onward Greeks and Romans often emphasized that the male head of the household must rule his wife, children and slaves. But Paul, while taking over the topic, modifies the instructions: he tells a husband not how to rule his wife, but how to love her (Eph 5:25). The wife must submit, but as a form of Christian submission that all Christians must learn to practice (Eph 5:21-22). If we read this passage as if Paul were saying exactly the same thing as Aristotle, we would miss his point

As for head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11, Keener says:

… knowing why women wore head coverings in Paul’s day helps us understand why he gives the instructions he does. Most women in the eastern Mediterranean world covered their hair in public as a sign of sexual modesty; thus the lower class women in the churches were concerned when some upper class women refused to wear them.

But would Paul solve matters of sexual modesty or class division in the same way in every culture as he did in Corinth? Would the head covering provide a solution to such issues in every culture? Could head coverings in some cultures become signs of ostentation, showing off wealth? Could they in some cultures actually become tools of seduction the way jewels and costly array sometimes were in Paul’s culture? What of a culture where only well-to-do people could afford to wear head coverings, thus introducing class division into the church? Is it possible that in churches in some parts of the world, wearing a head covering (as opposed to not wearing one) might draw attention to the wearer?

This is why it is so important for us to take into account cultural background and read Scripture consistently in light of it

Jesus claimed that what mattered most was justice, mercy and faith (Matt 23:23)–the heart of God’s word. Paul in the same way disagreed with his contemporaries on what was fundamental, arguing that it is God’s own power that saves us, not secondary issues like circumcision or food laws. This method of interpretation requires us to keep central what matters most (the gospel and obedience to God’s will), rather than becoming legalistic on secondary matters that could distract us from the heart of the gospel

You can read excerpts and find source links to all of Craig Keener’s essays on biblical hermeneutics here. They help to explain much in the Bible.

Now on to today’s reading.

Recall that Paul is responding by letter to questions that the Corinthians have been sending him. He begins by exhorting them to follow his example in all things, because he is ‘of Christ’ (verse 1). In other words, when the Corinthians are in doubt, they should do what he does.

1 Corinthians addresses difficult topics, so, in prefacing his remarks, Paul compliments the congregation for remembering his teachings and maintaining the traditions as he taught — delivered — them (verse 2).

MacArthur explains that this was Paul’s way of saying that they understood the Gospel message and Christian doctrine:

… I think what he’s saying there, and I’m not going to give you all the background, except to say if you check the word there “ordinances,” it’s the word “tradition.” And as it’s used in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, it is used to speak of doctrine. And whenever the word “delivered” is used, it is used in connection with teaching content.

And so, what he’s saying there is, “I’m glad that you at least asked me questions, and you have maintained the doctrine that I gave you.” You see, as you read the whole of 1 Corinthians, he doesn’t straighten them out on doctrine. He doesn’t have to tell them about the deity of Christ, or the truth of God, or the ministry of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t have to discuss the believer’s life pattern as it operates in the yieldedness to the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t go into those doctrinal issues. Because apparently, they were really hanging in on those. Apparently there weren’t doctrinal impurities. Chapter 15 may indicate some misunderstanding about resurrection, but for the most part, they didn’t have questions about the deity of Christ or his saving work. He doesn’t have a grace vs. works section in here.

Doctrinally, they had heard and received and maintained, and they were at least consulting him about things, and he says, “For that I just want to praise you. I just want to…” And it’s a very strong assertion of praise; a very, very strong term is used there.

The problem with the Corinthians was their personal conduct as Christians who were young in the faith. Corinth was a highly decadent city where all manner of sin was committed.

Paul began his explanation of head coverings by laying out the authority in the family unit which was common in Greek and Roman societies at that time, as explained above, but in a Christian context. Christ rules over every man, every husband is his wife’s superior and Christ submits to God the Father (verse 3).

MacArthur explains the theology behind that verse:

Think of it this way: if Christ does not submit to the Father, then redemption is not accomplished. Man is lost; he is doomed; and God is at war with Himself if the Son does not submit.

If man, on the other hand, does not submit to Christ, then man is lost. His destiny is denied, and judgment falls on him. If woman does not submit to man in the family, the family is shattered, and society is wrecked. So, God is saying, “These are the principles, everybody. There is a submission principle between man and man, between man and God, between God and God. It pervades everything.

Paul then goes into prevailing social customs whereby a man looks like a man and a woman a woman. For Gentile men — i.e. the bulk of the Corinthian congregation — that meant having one’s head uncovered in worship or prophecy (verse 4). For a woman, it meant wearing a veil for prayer or prophecy, as would be the custom outside of worship (verses 5, 6).

According to some Bible scholars, there was a social movement with women who were discarding their femininity in order to look like men. Furthermore, only prostitutes went around without veils:

In that society, when the veil was on, a woman was taking the place of submission; she was honoring the sanctity of a woman’s virtue, and of marriage. We would even go further in to say it was the custom in the Corinthian society for prostitutes to be unveiled because their business was to make sure they got seen. How could they drum up business if they had a veil on? And so, they would throw their veil aside.

There is another interesting historical note that we find in studying the Corinthian situation, Eerdman points this out; and that is that there were women in the Corinthian society, and in much of Roman society, who were making statements against the sacredness of marriage. There was a feminist movement, even on a broader base, in the Roman Empire, and women frequently would take their veils off and cut their hair. And the cutting of their hair to look like a man, and the throwing away of the veil was a protest against the inequality of men and women, and it was a statement of their antagonism toward the sacredness of marriage.

So, you see, what we’re seeing today isn’t anything new. It’s nothing new at all. You can read it in history. And so, in the Corinthian situation, the church was right in the midst of a society that was struggling with this very issue. And the word that Paul gives to the church, simply stated, is this, “Look, whatever standard your society sets up as the way in which you manifest a submissive spirit, you abide by that standard so that society knows you are following the God-ordained pattern. If it’s a veil, wear it; don’t throw it away. Last of all, don’t throw it away in the name of Christian liberty.”

Paul supports his points for the natural order of the family by referring to the creation story in Genesis. He purports that a man should not cover his head because God created him (verse 7). God created Adam.

Furthermore, woman found her creation from the man (verses 8, 11, 12). God created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Still following the creation story, Paul says that man was not created for woman, rather woman was created for man (verse 9) as a help meet to him. He explains that this is why a woman wears a veil, or a ‘symbol of authority’ on her head, because of the angels (verse 10).

To us, this sounds strange and harsh, but MacArthur says that Paul was attempting to put the order of society into a new, Christian context.

MacArthur explains why some women in ancient societies rose up and became feminists:

In the Roman and the Greek world, it takes very little study at all to determine that women were thought of purely as slaves, purely as animals and nothing more, not allowed to make any contribution beyond that of servitude.

So, when Christianity came along and announced equality of women spiritually, equality of women in personhood, equality of women in capacity and so forth, this was liberating. This was not confining. But when it maintained the distinction in role, it was also not confining women, but it was helping women and men to see their God-ordained design and therefore be able to fulfill it with a commitment

In the Roman society, for example, women were definitely abused. And out of the abuses, there grew a feminist movement. And in some senses, we would agree that it was justifiable. But when Christianity came along and truly liberated women, that feminist attitude should never have carried into the church, but it did. In fact, if you study the feminist movement of ancient Rome, you will find that they had all of the characteristics of the feminist movements of all the times in history, most all of them, and of today.

For example, women were stating their independence, in those days, by leaving home; … by refusing to have children, or if they had children, refusing to care for them; by demanding jobs always held by men; by wearing men’s clothes and discarding all signs of femininity; by violating their marriage vows; by seeking independence in general, etcetera, etcetera. All of the things that were characteristic of that time in feminist movements are pretty much what’s going on today.

And so it was that culture had brought abuses to womanhood. And womanhood was reacting to the cultural abuses. Christianity came in and truly set women free to be what God designed them to be, recognizing their equality in every dimension except in the assignment of a role within society’s framework.

Why did Paul bring angels into his reasoning? MacArthur explains:

There’s one principle angels really recognize very well. There’s one principle angels understand completely. There’s one principle they never have to ask questions about. You know what that principle is? Authority and submission. You read Hebrews chapter 1 and find how many times it tells us in there that angels are under the authority of God. It calls them ministering spirits, serving spirits. It says, “The Son is here, and the angels are here. To which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit here on My throne and rule?’” It says that Christ, in verse 4 of Hebrews 1 is a better name than angels. So, they understand the authority of God and the submissiveness of their own service.

Paul says that all things are from God (verse 12), a reference to the natural order of mankind and society. Matthew Henry offers this brief analysis of checks and balances:

The authority and subjection should be no greater than are suitable to two in such near relation and close union to each other. Note, As it is the will of God that the woman know her place, so it is his will also that the man abuse not his power.

Paul asks a question in the social context of the Corinthians (verse 13): is it proper for a Corinthian woman to pray with her head uncovered? The answer would be ‘no’. Today, it would be like asking if a woman should go to church in a swimsuit. Everyone would agree that she should not.

In the next two verses, Paul applies social convention once again. Men in that era did not have long hair. Women did. Paul asks if it would be appropriate for a man to have long hair (verse 14). He asks if a woman should have short hair, since her long hair is ‘her glory’ and ‘a covering’ (verse 15). During the Second World War, the French shaved the heads of women who were helping the Germans and forbade them from wearing a head covering. It was a humiliating, if somewhat justified, punishment for aiding and abetting the enemy.

Paul ends by saying that the Church has no provision for contentiousness (verse 16). He wants the Corinthians to obey social convention and not introduce provocation or controversy.

Henry explains:

Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency. And the common practice of the churches is what would have them govern themselves by. He does not silence the contentious by mere authority, but lets them know that they would appear to the world as very odd and singular in their humour if they would quarrel for a custom to which all the churches of Christ were at that time utter strangers, or against a custom in which they all concurred, and that upon the ground of natural decencyThose must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.

MacArthur offers a scientific explanation:

Hair grows in a three-phase cycle. Number one in the cycle is the formation and growth of new hair. Secondly is the resting stage. Thirdly is the fall-out stage with which some of you are so well acquainted. Okay? So, you have beginning the formation and growth of new hair, the resting stage, and the fall-out. And then after the fall-out the cycle starts all over again.

Now, the male hormone, testosterone – the male hormone speeds those three phases so that quickly the man gets to phase three, fall out. That’s why you see bald men but never see bald women. Aristotle said, “I have never seen a bald child, eunuch, or woman.” There’s a reason for that. Testosterone , the male hormone, causes the speed up of the steps to get you quickly to step three. And that retards the process of growth in a man. The female hormone, estrogen, in the woman causes the cycle to remain in stage one, the growth stage, longer than it does in a man. That’s why a woman’s hair will grow longer than a man’s over the same period of time.

So, does not nature teach you? Hasn’t God put right into human physiology the truth that short hair belongs to men, and long hair belongs to women. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s interesting. You all look so stunned.

All right, now listen; I’m not through with you. The second term, phusis, the second way it can be translated is by the word “instinct.” Instinct means the instinctive sense of man as he recognizes what he sees in society. So, he’s saying, “It isn’t just physiological, but it’s just plain obvious.” Look around you in society. Isn’t it obvious that men have shorter hair than women? Nature has made it so, and man has agreed to nature, and that’s the way it is. And around the world, and for all history, men have generally had hair shorter than women. You can verify that, and you can cover a lot of ground historically, and you’ll see it verified.

Now, sometimes men’s hair was long enough to be at the shoulder, but the women’s hair was down around the tops of the legs. But always there was the distinction. In ancient Rome, it was considered a mark of effeminacy to have long hair. And it was ridiculed by Roman writers. In later times, early Church councils condemned men with long hair.

He concludes:

You take to heart what the Spirit of God says to you. And please, as I said earlier, don’t go running around, because you have long hair, thinking you’re spiritual. You might be, but that isn’t it. Or because you have short hair you can’t come back to church for the next eight weeks. No, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to think about it; I want you to pray about it. I want you to deal with it as God reveals it to your own heart as He has to mine. And let’s see where the Spirit of God leads in your life. And I’ll leave that up to Him and to you. Let’s pray.

In thinking about couples today in Western countries, one cannot help but wonder if continued role reversals over the past few decades have led to fewer marriages and fewer children. Something to ponder in the week ahead.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

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