You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Forbidden Bible verses’ tag.

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

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 10:23-33

Do All to the Glory of God

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 (C)Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the dangers of mixing Christianity with pagan worship, something which the Corinthian Christians were prone to doing. An admixture of Christianity and other religions is called syncretism.

After telling the Corinthians not to engage in such a practice because it might drive them away from their eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul puts his proscription in a more positive way.

Here he returns to what he said in Romans 14 and 15 about weaker and stronger Christians. The stronger should not offend the weaker, lest they drive them away from the Church. My posts on the subject follow:

Romans 14:13-19 – food, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 14:20-23 – food, alcohol, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 15:1-3 – the example of Christ, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, selflessness

Now on to today’s reading.

Paul says that, although Christians have freedom in Christ — therefore, ‘all things are lawful’ — not everything is ‘helpful’, nor does every act of freedom in Christ ‘build up’ a Christian in the faith (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the gravity of that verse (emphases in bold mine):

A Christian must not barely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and for the use of edification. A private Christian should do so even in his private conduct. He must not seek his own only, but his neighbour’s wealth. He must be concerned not to hurt his neighbour, nay, he must be concerned to promote his welfare; and must consider how to act so that he may help others, and not hinder them in their holiness, comfort, or salvation. Those who allow themselves in every thing not plainly sinful in itself will often run into what is evil by accident, and do much mischief to others. Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done. Circumstances may make that a sin which in itself is none. These must be weighed, and the expediency of an action, and its tendency to edification, must be considered before it be done. Note, The welfare of others, as well as our own convenience, must be consulted in many things we do, if we would do them well.

I highlighted that sentence in purple because I have been guilty of that in the past. Those are relatively seemingly simple things, such as going to a party. Don’t force believers to go if they do not wish to attend.

Logically, it follows that we should not seek our own good in human interaction, rather the good of our neighbour (verse 24). The Lord hates sin. Therefore, if we encourage others to sin, even in their own conscience, we have committed a sin against God. Say that one invites a friend to a Super Bowl party or to a Rugby World Cup celebration. Certainly, believers can attend both. However, those who are abstemious or are under self-imposed food restrictions might see those as wrongful gatherings. Stronger Christians — who can attend, enjoy within reason and leave — should not force weaker Christians to take part in such parties, lest they be tempted to sin — in their own conscience — with alcohol or, perhaps, food.

By the way, I’ve been to a Rugby Union party, given by a former England player. They are the best in terms of endless food and drink. Yet, there is no drunkenness, and no arguments occur. I cannot think of better hospitality. This is the dilemma: do we invite the weaker to celebrate or do we decline extending such an invitation? For some of our friends, we would have to decline such an extension, unfortunate though it is.

Paul lays out ground rules for food consumption in verses 25 to 27. Eat whatever the market sells, for God permits all His animals to be eaten, even at the house of an unbeliever.

But — and as we say today, ‘it’s a big “but”‘ — there is an exception. If someone tells you that what you are about to eat has been sacrificed, then refrain from eating it. You would not do this as much for yourself personally as for the person informing you of that fact (verses 28, 29).

Paul asks why our personal choices can offend another believer (verses 29, 30).

John MacArthur provides answers which explain those verses:

If you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian.

You say, “Hey – well – we’re trying to win them?” The way to win them is for them to see the validity and the honesty and the purity of your Christianity. Right? And if you’re sitting at the table, fighting each other, he’s not going to get a Christian message no matter what you eat. You see?

“The way to win people,” Jesus said, “is to love each other.” Isn’t that right? You love each other, and the world’s going to know we’re His disciples. So, you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian, and make sure you maintain the unity of the love of the body of Jesus Christ, because that’s the greatest testimony that we have in the world. See, that’s his point.

So, condescension rather than condemnation. Don’t do something that’s going to make your Christian brother condemn you. Verse 29, “Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?”

In other words, I certainly don’t want to say, “Well, I’m going to do this,” and have him condemn me for it. I don’t want to get in a position where my liberty, my act of liberty is going to be condemned by another man’s conscience. The word “judge” means condemn. Don’t let him condemn. Injure your host, if you will, and you know what your host will see? He will see an act of love.

And he will say, “If that man loves that other brother enough to make that sacrifice, there must be something to that. Verse 30 adds a further point, “If I by grace be a partaker” – in other words, if I recognize God has given me this food – “why would I be evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?”

Now, let me tell you what that means. It would be pretty ridiculous to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the gracious gift of this food,” and then go ahead and eat it while your brother was condemning you. That’s inconsistent. Don’t thank God and go out and do something that’s going to make some other Christian condemn you for doing it. “Lord, thank you for the marvelous liberty that you’ve given me. Lord, bless this meal,” and eat up, and drink up, and here’s a Christian brother condemning you, condemning you. That’s ridiculous. You can’t think God for something that another Christian brother is going to stumble over.

So, condescension over condemnation. If you have to choose between a Christian and a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian at that point in order that your love might be made manifest to the world. And I don’t mean that you should just run out and offend non-Christians just at will. Just in case you might think that, verse 32 says, “Give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God.” The basic rule, beloved, don’t offend – what? – anybody. But if you have to choose, offend yourself before you offend a weaker brother; and if you have to choose, offend an unbeliever before you offend a weaker brother. But if you can, don’t offend anybody. Condescension over condemnation. Don’t do anything that’s going to cause somebody else to condemn you.

Paul ends on a positive note, saying that a believer should give glory to God in whatever activity he is engaging in: eating, drinking or other things (verse 31).

Nothing that we do should offend anyone — Jew, Gentile or our fellow believers — following Paul’s own example, in order that many more can be saved (verse 32).

Henry concludes:

Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.

My next post on 1 Corinthians will appear after Easter.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

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 (as cited below).

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[a] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s perspective on congregations paying their church ministers, which he said is obligatory for the spiritual guidance they provide.

1 Corinthians 10 is about idolatry.

Some of what Paul says here appears to contradict what he wrote in Romans about stronger and weaker Christians. Stronger Christians should make sure they do not offend weaker Christians, particularly in matters of food and drink, lest the stronger drive the weaker away from the Church. That would be an act deeply displeasing to God, because those people would be driven away from the salvation that Christ brings us.

Today’s reading contradicts that as Paul says that no Christian should be eating meat sacrificed to idols, stronger believers included.

Therefore, it is useful to add context and a bit of background to the situation the Corinthians were in. Theirs was a highly idolatrous society and the Christians in Corinth thought they could dip in and out of it and still be faithful to Christ. Not so, says Paul.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning (emphases mine below):

the Corinthian society was totally overwrought with demons, manifesting themselves behind these different idols; and idolatry was a part of everything, I mean everything. There couldn’t be any kind of public occasion or anything else that wasn’t connected with idols. That was their entire society just multiple gods; and everything they did practically within the social framework of the Corinthian society had idols in it.

And so the mature Christians, the Corinthian Christians, you know, who were the smug confident ones who had been around a while, they were saying this: “Hey, look. We’re in the society; we’re mature; we’ve been well-taught, apostle Paul’s taught us; we’ve studied under him for 18 months. We know our way around. Look, we’ve got to be a part of our society. We can go to the festivals, the social occasions, the ceremonies, and we can attend the celebrations of our society. We can get involved in all of those things; and we really don’t have to fear, because we’re so confident, we’re so mature that that stuff just doesn’t really bother us. And if we have to eat idol meat, meat offered to idols, that’s really no problem; we’re able to resist the temptation. And even if there is an orgy there, why, we’ll just sit in the corner and discuss theology. We’re not going to really get involved, and we’ll be strong enough to handle it.” And so everywhere these mature, smug, confident Corinthians went, they were exposing themselves to the whole gamut of idolatry that was around them and trying to stay separated. But could they?

“Look at Israel,” – Paul says – “look at them, hardly out of Egypt. And out in the desert there weren’t even any idols around; but the first opportunity they had, the first time their leader was gone, they reverted back to Egyptian idolatry.” And here were the Corinthians not like Israel in the wilderness, but living in the middle of idolatry. And if the Corinthians continually expose themselves to idolatry, they were constantly being a part of it. Believe me, it would creep right in.

Is Paul not overstating his case by talking about ‘demons’ in this context? No.

MacArthur says that there are several references to demons and idolatry in the Old Testament:

When you go out and do what the rest of the world does, when you participate in the rest of the world’s activities, you are communing with demons. That’s Paul’s whole point here. It’s demonic. Because Satan is the prince of this world, and because he rules in this world by the use of his demons, his demons move around and impersonate all the religious systems of the world. His demons fill and maintain all of the evil systems of this world. No matter what you get into, you’re communing with them, and you can’t avoid it. It’s a serious thing.

In Psalm 96:5, the Greek translation of that verse is this: “All the gods of the heathen are demons” – that’s the Septuagint, the Greek – “All the gods of the nations” – or – “All the God’s of the heathen are demons.” If they worship a false god, a demon will impersonate it. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 say the same thing, “They sacrifice to demons.” So, they’re fellowshipping with demons.

So, here you have a Christian. He’s over here, and he’s communing with the Lord, and he’s got the cup and the bread. Then he turns around and goes to an idol feast. And as soon as he enters that idol feast and participates, he becomes a communer with demons. A communer with demons.

This can be extended to other worldly things and activities, too. MacArthur has a bit in one of his sermons about sexual temptation in this context:

You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I can handle it. I can go here and do that, and go here and do that.” You know, young people, it’s amazing. Young people always thing they’re in control of everything. “Well, you know, I can go out and park and, you know, I can handle it. I’m a Christian. We just get so far, and then we just start quoting Bible verses, you know. Yeah, we got a little program worked out, you know.” Yeah, sure. Or, listen, “It’s no problem for me. I can handle the girls in the office, no problem. I can have lunch with them and dinner with them; it doesn’t bother me a bit.” Mm-hmm, famous last words.

“Oh, yeah,” pastor says. “Oh, counseling women, no problem at all. No, none at all.” I just heard of a pastor who lost his pulpit because there were multiple dozens of women who had had sexual relations with him in counseling, I mean multiple dozens, folks. You can handle it? You better not push your freedom too far. Many Christians today have been rendered useless because they couldn’t handle sex. They’re out of the race to win people to Christ – shelved.

MacArthur discusses our society today, comparing it with that of the Corinthians:

Look at the morality of our day. The morality of the church has changed dramatically, and the reason it’s changed so dramatically is because we have been slowly brainwashed. Like fifty years ago, the morality of Christianity was much tighter, much more rigid, much more confined to the Scripture. And now, little by little, the morality of even “Christianity” begins to dissipate; and the reason is because we’re in a society that is destroying all morality, that is wiping out all morality, and consequently we find ourselves buying the bag. Just subliminally it approaches our minds, and before we know it we’ve got a watered down morality. And some of the things we would do, some of the places we would go wouldn’t even have been conceived of by Christians fifty years ago. The reason is we have slowly been brainwashed by the media.

Paul is, in a sense, saying to the Corinthians, “You can’t set yourself up as somebody who thinks he stands without potentially falling; and especially you’ll never be able to just waltz around your whole with idolatry and not have it affect you. You’re going to come up with a syncretism. You’re going to come up with a wedding between idolatry and true worship.”

Now verse 7, “Neither be idolaters, as were some of them,” notes that not all Israel worshipped at the golden calf; some of them did. It was an individual thing. Again, in dealing with Israel in the wilderness, remember everything that occurred was an individual thing. And so in Corinth the same thing was true.

Look at chapter 5, verse 11. Some Corinthian Christians were idolatrous. They had already made this wedding of Christianity to idol worship. Verse 11: “I’ve written unto you not to company if any man that is called a brother.” Now he’s talking about Christians. “Anybody called a brother” – or at least called himself a Christian – “be a fornicator,” – sexually evil – “a covetous, or an” – what? – “idolater, don’t have anything to do with him.” But apparently within the congregation of the Corinthian believers, there were some worshipping idols. You see, by fooling around with that, they couldn’t keep separated.

It slowly creeps in. It insidiously comes in. You can’t continue to expose yourself to that and not have it affect your theology and find a place there. The line gets blurred, folks. It just gets blurred he said. And idolatry suddenly creeps in when freedom is abused by getting too close to the contact.

Those are the reasons why Paul says to flee from idolatry (verse 14).

He leaves it to the Corinthians to judge for themselves the truth of that statement (verse 15).

Then he discusses Holy Communion. He asks whether taking the bread and the cup are not participation in the body and the blood of Christ (verse 16). Furthermore, do we not commune with each other when we participate in that holy sacrament together (verse 17)?

Paul is saying that Holy Communion is a solemn occasion, one that cannot be defiled with participation in idolatry later on in the day.

MacArthur explains the significance of Holy Communion:

One of the words, eucharisteō, from which you get the Eucharist, means to give thanks. It is to thank God for that cup. And so, the cup of blessing, that is the one the Lord blessed and set apart, is the one that we bless and thank God for.

Now, what is it? What is this cup? Verse 16 again, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Now, when you drink the cup at the Lord’s Table – listen to this – you are communing with the blood of Christ. Now, we have to understand something, because this is very, very misunderstood. What does this mean? What does it mean to commune? It’s more than a symbol.

We say, “Well, this is a symbol of his blood.”

Well, listen to this. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ? Is that what it says? No. It’s more than the symbol. It is the communion; it is the, if you will, in the Greek, participation, or it is the sharing. It’s an actual involvement that’s taking place when we take that cup. There is a spiritual reality going on there, far more than just a symbol.

For example, if you see a picture of somebody you love who has died, it isn’t just a picture. As soon as you look at the picture, the whole of that person is actualized in your mind. Right? All of a sudden, everything about that person is alive to you. I look at pictures of people that have gone on, and I have instant memories. My mind is flooded with reality. They are actualized. And communion is the same thing.

To partake of the elements actualizes Christ’s death; it makes it vivid; it makes it real; it intensifies my sensitivities to the reality of Christ dying for me. You see? It isn’t just a symbol; it is a symbol that is activated by the Spirit of God to make Christ’s death a living reality to me. That’s the idea of communion

Now, let’s go a step further, verse 16, “The bread” – or literally the loaf, to correspond more with cup – “The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Now, our Lord said of the bread, that last night, “This is My body, given for you.” Now body – now, I want to say something, too, that may be new to you – “body” in Hebrew thought refers to the totality of earthy life, earthiness, humanness. For example, the word for earth is adamah. The word for man is adam. It’s a form of adamah, because man was taken from the dirt. He is earthy. “And God took the dirt and formed a body.” Adam from adamah.

And that is the point that connects man to the ground, to the earth, to earthiness. We are human, and that is the significance of the body. When a Hebrew thought of the body, he thought of earthiness; he thought of man’s connection to the ground, to his humanness.

Now, note; when we commune with the bread, it is the body of Christ. This is not primarily a reference to the cross. Stick with me on it. It is not primarily a reference to the cross. By the bread we remember and commune with our Lord’s incarnation, His human life, his humanness. We remember that which makes Him a sympathetic High Priest, as well as a bleeding, dying Savior.

The communion, then, relates us to the living Christ who came and suffered and thought it not something to hold onto, to be equal with God, but found Himself in the fashion of a man, humbled Himself, and so forth. And He did it in order that He might become a sympathetic High Priest in all points, tempted like as – what? – we are. The bread reminds us of His life. The bread reminds us of His body, reminds us of His humanness.

God gave Himself to us as a human being in order that He might suffer what we suffer, in order that He might hurt where we hurt, in order that He might be tempted where we’re tempted, in order that He might succor us, in order that He might be our faithful, sympathetic, and Great High Priest

There is an actual communion that occurs. Let me show you what I mean. There is confusion about that, and there are different views of how that works. The word koinōnia there, communion in verse 16, is the word to participate. The verb means to share, or to partake of, or to participate, or to be a partner in. The noun koinōnia means participation, partnership, fellowship, communion.

As a Christian, we literally participate in Christ. First Corinthians 1:9 says we participate with the Son; 2 Corinthians 13, we participate with the Spirit; Philippians 2:1, we participate in the ministry; 2 Corinthians 8:4, we participate in the Gospel; Philippians 3, we participate in suffering. We are fellowshipping all the time with Christ, sharing Him, His Spirit, His ministry, His Gospel, His sufferings. And when we come to the Table, we participate in His death. We are sharing the benefits of His death. That’s what it means. We are sharing in the meaning of His death, the purpose of it, the point of it.

So, it’s more than just remembering; it’s sharing, fellowshipping, participating, partaking, communing. It’s like that picture I mentioned. We come to that, and you look at the cup, and you look at the bread, and they aren’t just a cup and bread. They aren’t even just symbols. All of a sudden, Christ is alive. All of a sudden, you are sensitized. And the reality of Christ is actualized in your mind, and you see His cross, and you see your union with Him, and you see His body, and you see it given in your behalf. And you see the fact that He lived, and He suffered, and He’s a sympathetic high priest. All of that is actualized

Everybody who comes to the Lord’s Table … not only enters into communion with Christ, but He enters into communion with everybody else who’s also at the Lord’s Table. Do you see what he’s saying? We all come to that one bread; we all partake of that one bread, so we all constitute one body. Communion then means we are actually communing with Christ and actually communing with everybody else who’s there.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the way the Israelites worshipped together with regard to their sacrifices (verse 18).

MacArthur says:

Israel was involved in sacrificing. They were involved with each other, and they were involved with God. So, what is he saying then? Participation in religious ri[te]s has deep, spiritual meaning. It implies a real union between the worshippers and the one being worshipped. That’s what he’s saying. So, you can’t do this with idols without having that reality take place.

Israel brought sacrifices, a portion of which were consumed by the priests, a portion of which were burned on the altar. The rest were divided between the priest and the worshipping Jew. And there was a communion between the Jew, the priest, and God as they partook of the altar. Now, that’s Paul’s point. Worship is identification, communion with whoever’s being worshipped.

So, if you’re going to be like Israel, in verse 18, communion with the altar for the Jews meant fellowship with God and everybody else at the altar. Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, for the Christian, means fellowship with Christ and everybody else at His Table.

Paul asks the question some of the Corinthians were asking: was an idol nothing at all (verse 19)? If not, then what was the problem?

Matthew Henry explains:

By following the principle on which they would argue it to be lawful, namely, that an idol was nothing. Many of them were nothing at all, none of them had any divinity in them. What was sacrificed to idols was nothing, no way changed from what it was before, but was every whit as fit for food, considered in itself. They indeed seem to argue that, because an idol was nothing, what was offered was no sacrifice, but common and ordinary food, of which they might therefore eat with as little scruple. Now the apostle allows that the food was not changed as to its nature, was as fit to be eaten as common food, where it was set before any who knew not of its having been offered to an idol.

However, Paul answers their question by saying that pagans were making sacrifices to false gods — demons — and not to God (verse 20). Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians they could not participate with demons.

Henry sums the verse up as follows:

Doing it is a token of your having fellowship with the demons to whom they are offered. I would not have you be in communion with devils.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot worship at the Lord’s Table and worship demons (verse 21). The two are completely incompatible.

Paul ends by asking the Corinthians if they wish to provoke God to jealousy and if they think they are stronger than He (verse 22). God will not put up with rivals. And if we fall into His wrath, we will be the losers in that contest.

The Bible has numerous references to God’s ‘jealousy’. MacArthur lists them:

Do you want to make the Lord jealous? And in Deuteronomy 32:21 he said, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is a no-god. They have provoked me with their idols.” If you want to stir God to jealousy, then you better be stronger than He is or you won’t be able to handle Him, because He deals very strongly with idolatry. All you got to do is read the Bible about that. You just read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 16, Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 44; just read Revelation chapter 14, chapter 21, chapter 22. There are inferences in all of those places about the vengeance of God against idols and idol worshippers. The only way you’ll ever want to provoke God to jealousy is if you’re stronger than He is. It’s offensive to the Lord. He judges idol worshippers, and you won’t escape; no one ever has. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Paul concludes his thoughts on idolatry by telling the Corinthians to focus on doing everything for God’s glory. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

The 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 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

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 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Bible openThe 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 7:36-40

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,[a] if his[b] passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s advice on marriage and celibacy.

He had been answering questions from the Christians of Corinth on which state was better. Paul replied that both were good, although celibacy afforded the ability to devote oneself entirely to God. Marriage, on the other hand, detracts from that as one is always concerned about pleasing one’s spouse, never mind raising one’s children.

The English Standard Version of today’s verses are a bit vague and read better in the King James Version (emphases mine below):

36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

The social convention at the time was for young men and women to marry. Both Jewish and Gentile parents arranged marriages for their children.

Then, as now, to a certain extent, there was always a question mark over the person who chose to remain single.

Matthew Henry says:

It was in that age, and those parts of the world, and especially among the Jews, reckoned a disgrace for a woman to remain unmarried past a certain number of years: it gave a suspicion of somewhat that was not for her reputation.

John MacArthur thinks that verse 36 is addressed to fathers with virgin daughters: try to keep them single, but, if you find they must get married, then allow a wedding.

Henry also reads it that way but allows for another interpretation, one which ties in with last week’s verses. His commentary says that Paul could equally be speaking to young adults themselves. ‘His virgin’ could refer to a celibate man’s own virginity:

But I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity.

Henry points out that confirmed bachelors were not looked upon all that kindly:

… it was a common matter of reproach among Jews and civilized heathens, for a man to continue single beyond such a term of years …

Verse 37 appears to lend itself more to fathers with regard to their daughters. If a father finds that his daughter has no desire for marriage, then he does well to keep her celibate.

Ultimately, the father who marries off a daughter who desires a husband and a family does well, but the man who has a daughter wishing to maintain her virginity does better because she can devote her life to the Lord (verse 38).

As MacArthur has pointed out before, celibacy is a gift. Most people have the desire for a sexual relationship with someone else. If a parent does not allow that young person to marry, sexual desire will out in one way or another:

The Spirit of God didn’t give her that gift, and that’s a gift the Spirit of God gives. If she doesn’t have the gift, the father’s saying, “Man, it’s obvious she doesn’t have the gift, all she talks about is this guy. And apparently there’s a guy there, or it wouldn’t say, “Let them marry.” There’s a them. Somebody’s hanging around. And, you see, he is behaving unfairly toward his daughter, because if he doesn’t let her get married, he’s going to tempt her to immorality – physically to immorality in her mind and to seduction.

And so, he realizes, “I can’t do this to my lovely little daughter. As much as I’d want to devote her to the Lord, there’s a guy here, and she’s saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and I’m saying, ‘No, no, no,’ and it’s not right.

So, dads, hey, it’s a super idea if you want to devote your daughter to being single, or your son, but if they get to the age of sexual consciousness, and they require marriage, let them marry. It’s no sin. You don’t have to keep some vow. We’re not in the vow age anymore.

In the concluding verses, Paul turns his thoughts towards widowhood.

Unfortunately, MacArthur skips these verses entirely.

Paul says that it is entirely appropriate for a widow to remarry, provided she has given careful reflection and prayer to that decision (verse 39).

Henry says:

In our choice of relations, and change of conditions, we should always have an eye to God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God’s blessing only when they are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, in the change and choice of a mate – when they can look up to God, and sincerely seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their conduct.

Paul concludes that a widow is better off not remarrying (verse 40). As with the celibates, she can better serve the Lord with no husband, who would divide her interests.

Paul ends by saying that he, too, has the Spirit of God (verse 40). That remark is addressed towards his detractors. Recall the the Corinthians had allied themselves with different pastoral leaders, some of whom were false teachers.

Henry offers this interpretation:

Whatever your false apostles may think of me, I think, and have reason to know, that I have the Spirit of God.

Ultimately:

Note, Change of condition in marriage is so important a matter that it ought not to be made but upon due deliberation, after careful consideration of circumstances, and upon very probable grounds, at least, that it will be a change to advantage in our spiritual concerns.

Agreed.

We should take our time in evaluating a prospective spouse. There is no rush. As the nuns used to say, ‘Act in haste. Repent at leisure’.

1 Corinthians 8, which concerns food offered to idols, was read in 2021 as the Epistle on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B).

1 Corinthians 9 is about personal freedom in daily activities.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 7:32-35

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s verses introduced Paul’s dissertation on one’s marital state, in which he said there was no need to be either single or married in order to serve the Lord.

He continues in that vein here, responding to questions on the subject from the Christians in Corinth.

Those who had been Jewish believed that marriage and family fulfilled God’s plan for mankind. On the other hand, the Gentiles, influenced by Greek philosophy, thought that remaining single would allow one to devote one’s life entirely to the Lord.

Above all, Paul does not want there to be anxiety about the world’s cares conflicting with serving the Lord (verse 32). To that end, he says that an unmarried man has fewer external cares and more ability to please the Lord.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Note, It is the wisdom of a Christian so to order his outward affairs, and choose such a condition in life, as to be without distracting cares, that he may attend upon the Lord with a mind at leisure and disengaged. This is the general maxim by which the apostle would have Christians govern themselves. In the application of it Christian prudence must direct. That condition of life is best for every man which is best for his soul, and keeps him most clear of the cares and snares of the world. By this maxim the apostle solves the case put to him by the Corinthians, whether it were advisable to marry? To this he says, That, by reason of the present distress, and it may be in general, at that time, when Christians were married to infidels, and perhaps under a necessity of being so, if married at all: I say, in these circumstances, to continue unmarried would be the way to free themselves from any cares and incumbrances, and allow them more vacation for the service of God. Ordinarily, the less care we have about the world the more freedom we have for the service of God.

Paul goes on to say that a husband is concerned about pleasing his wife and, therefore, has divided interests (verses 33, 34).

John MacArthur cites an example, Luke 14:20:

I think about Luke 14, verse 20, where Jesus was calling people to follow him. And he says to this one guy, “Come and follow Me.”

And the guy says, “I have married a wife, and therefore, I cannot come.”

I wonder how many times that has happened around the world in the history of the Church, that there have been ministries and opportunities open, but somebody married a wife and couldn’t go?

You say, “Well, was it wrong for them to marry?”

No, it wasn’t wrong, but maybe it would have been better, if they had the gift of singleness, to have stayed single. And then they wouldn’t have had that problem.

Similarly, with women, a single woman thinks more about serving the Lord than a wife, who is equally concerned about pleasing her husband (verse 34). Therefore, the wife, like the husband, has conflicting interests.

MacArthur explains:

what he’s saying is that the one who is not married can be separated unto God physically and spiritually. And there are no physical attachments, humanly speaking. There is no need to satisfy the physical. There are no spiritual encumbrances. There is a certain liberty and consecration, and that’s what he’s talking about.

However, celibacy is a gift. Some people are perfectly happy being single and celibate. Others hope to marry and, in most cases, have children.

Paul had always been single. He had that gift. It allowed him to go wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit directed. Paul planted churches. He travelled throughout Asia Minor and Greece, returning now and then to Jerusalem, from whence he sailed (Caesarea) to preach in Rome, eventually was imprisoned there and died a martyr.

Peter, on the other hand, was married. He and his wife eventually ended up in Rome. They were both imprisoned and, according to early Christian history, died as martyrs.

Peter and Paul met in Rome.

From their life choices, it is apparent that one can serve the Lord whether one is celibate or married.

Paul ends by saying that very thing, not in order to promote one choice over the other but to leave it up to the individual in ordering his life and his ability to serve God.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s words as follows:

It isn’t that you have to stay single. Even if you have the gift for it, it is not a command, it is not that you must do this or else, it is that you have the option; you have the liberty; you have the freedom. And I’m only telling you for your own good, if you have the gift, you’d be better off to use it.

Also:

And he’s saying simply this: if you have the gift of singleness, think about it, because if you ever choose to marry, that’s a final choice. And you can’t go back unless there is a death.

Henry offers this conclusion:

That condition of life should be chosen by the Christian in which it is most likely he will have the best helps, and the fewest hindrances, in the service of God and the affairs of his own salvation.

Paul has more to say about marriage, to be continued next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:36-40

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 7:25-28

The Unmarried and the Widowed

25 Now concerning[a] the betrothed,[b] I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present[c] distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman[d] marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction not to worry about one’s social status with regard to Christianity. The verses before that said that Christian men should not worry about whether they are circumcised.

In today’s verses, Paul says that we should not worry whether we are married.

In other words, the Lord knows our status in life and loves us just the way we are.

The word ‘betrothed’ in verses 25 and 28 does not mean ‘engaged to be married’. It means ‘virgin women’, as illustrated by the same verses from the King James Version:

25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.

28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is responding to questions that people from that congregation asked him. Marriage was one of them.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

The Corinthians were asking questions, according to verse 1 of chapter 7, “Concerning the things about which you wrote,” Paul is replying to direct questions they were asking. And the question he’s answering here is should they get married; is it better to be single, to serve God with a devoted heart and a single mind, or is it necessary to get married like the Jewish traditionalists were saying, in order to fulfill the will of God?

The Jews said you had to be married or you would violate God’s command to replenish the earth. And the Gentiles, coming out of a philosophical asceticism would say it’s better to be single, and you can devote yourself totally to God. Paul is saying both are good. Some have the gift of singleness, and if they do, that’s good. Some do not have the gift of singleness, and it’s better for them to marry, and that’s good, too.

In verse 25, Paul says that Jesus said nothing about virgins. Paul goes on to say that, in his considered judgement — one that ‘by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy’ — it is better to remain in the state in which one is (verse 26).

Paul mentions ‘distress’ (verse 26), which Matthew Henry says means persecution:

Christians, at the first planting of their religion, were grievously persecuted. Their enemies were very bitter against them, and treated them very cruelly. They were continually liable to be tossed and hurried by persecution. This being the then state of things, he did not think it so advisable for Christians that were single to change conditions. The married state would bring more care and cumber along with it (1 Corinthians 15:33, 1 Corinthians 15:34), and would therefore make persecution more terrible, and render them less able to bear it. Note, Christians, in regulating their conduct, should not barely consider what is lawful in itself, but what may be expedient for them.

Similarly, Paul said that the Corinthians who were married should not seek to separate from their spouses nor should those without spouses feel an obligation to get married (verse 27).

Paul went on to say that getting married is not sinful, although being married brings problems of its own (verse 28).

Personally, I do not find being married troublesome, but some married people do have problems and wish they were single again.

However, looking at this with regard to the Corinthians, the dangers of persecution would be magnified in a family situation.

MacArthur explains, looking at Paul’s own experiences preaching the Good News:

Now, Paul is speaking of the violence and the distress and the pain and the suffering that can come to anyone who confesses Christ. “It is difficult to be a Christian,” Paul is saying, “and it is especially difficult to be a married Christian because of the distress and the violence of the system.”

Now, Paul had had many experiences that would help us to understand this. Paul would go into a town, and they would beat him. He would go into another town, and they would stone him. He would go into another town, and they would give him stripes with a whip. He would go into another town, and they would put him in jail. On and on and on through the man’s life, there was pain and suffering, pain and suffering.

Now, can you imagine the intensity with which that problem would be magnified if the apostle Paul had had a dear wife at home and a group of little apostles running around the house? Well, that would have been much more complicated, and everything that Paul endured, he would have had in the back of his mind, “But if it happens to me, then who takes care of my wife? And who takes care of my children? And how can I keep doing this while my wife sits home in fear and the constant edge of heartbreak, and my children in fear that their father will never return? I must be home, taking care of them, and nurturing them, and raising them; that’s my primary obligation.”

Do you see, in the violence of the world in which Paul lived, marriage was a terrible encumbrance to somebody who was a Christian, at least in the sense of the ministry that he had. The Corinthian Christians could well remember what the Corinthian Jews had tried to do to Paul the very time he came to their city.

Now, Paul is saying because of the – notice this – the present or the immediate violence, Paul is anticipating something here. There is a violence that is going to come when the wholesale pagan persecution breaks out, and Paul could see it coming. He knew that a girl married, a guy married and raising children, might suffer the heartbreaking losses that can only come to those who have a family when the persecution broke out. He knew from his own life, as I said, that it was good that no wife and no children needed to weep and live with broken, fearful hearts every time he went somewhere. Hard times were coming to the Church, and Paul was aware of it. Change in the pagan attitude toward Christians was in the wind.

The Roman emperors were not entirely well disposed towards either Judaism or Christianity. Jews had to leave Rome for a time and go into exile. Under Nero, life for Christians was brutal and horrifying:

Nero refined cruelty upon cruelty and continued all manner and style of persecution. He had some Christians sown up in the skins of wild beasts, and then turned over to dogs to be torn into pieces. Others he dressed in garments that were made stiff with wax. He fixed those people to trees and then lit them like candles to light his garden. This occurred throughout the early centuries of the Roman Empire. Erastus, according to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, was one of those martyred in the first persecution, and Erastus was the chamberlain or the treasurer of the city of Corinth. What that tells us is that the persecution of Nero extended to Corinth and took the life of one of the men named in the Bible, one of the Christians of Corinth.

Now, Paul knew that this was coming to Corinthians. He could see it on the horizon. And in view of this, he says, “My advice is if you have the gift, stay single.” And, people, keep in mind that all of this advice is only to those who have the gift. Because to force somebody to be single who doesn’t have the gift is to force them to burn with desire all this life, and that isn’t accomplishing anything. But if you have the gift, he is saying, that’s the basic supposition of all of this. Don’t get married because of the pressure that is coming, the pressure of the system against the believer.

On a related note, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial. Given that we are now in 2021, he summarised a book about the year 2000:

There is an interesting book entitled The Year 2000, written by Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener. And in it, this is what they predict for the year 2000. It sounds like they’ve been reading Matthew 24, except they’re not Christians. This is what they predict: invasion and war, civil strife and revolution, famine, disease, persecution by despotism – that is by dictatorship – national disasters, and a depression or economic stagnation, etcetera.

Plus ça change … The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember all those things happening around the world in 1976, too. Every year, a lay person sounds the death knell online: ‘This is it, folks. The Lord is coming. This is what Revelation talked about. We’re in those final days’. Clearly, we’re progressing towards the end of the world, but it seems as if we still have a long way to go. There are days when I hope I am wrong.

Anyway, MacArthur mentioned the book because:

Those are the predictions of those people who look at the world analytically. And that’s precisely what Matthew 24 says. It’s a rough world. And being married only complicates it greatly because of the problem of caring for your wife and husband and caring for your children.

Paul has much more to say on marriage. For now, the next few verses that follow were read this year — 2021 — on the Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year B):

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

What Paul means is that we should not get too attached to our spouses, material things or the world in general. At some point, we may lose some or all of them. Therefore, throughout our lives, we should have Christ as our primary focus, because this world is but transitory for us. Our eternity is with Him, forever and ever. Amen.

That said, in closing, I hope that all who celebrated had a very happy St Valentine’s Day. Love is a beautiful thing, one of life’s great pleasures — and a gift from God.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Bible openThe 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 7:20-24

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant[a] when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers,[b] in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s words of comfort to Jewish and Gentile men converting to Christianity. There was no need for the Jew to fret that he had been circumcised as an infant. Similarly, there was no need for the Gentile convert to become circumcised.

These verses discuss the state of men and women converting to Christianity. Paul offers similar words of comfort, saying that God knows the circumstances in which we live and He accepts us all (verse 20). Christianity has to do with our spiritual rather than our physical state or social status.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The point is this: a relationship to Christ is compatible with any social status. You can be single, married, widowed, divorced. You can be a slave, a free man. You can be a Jew. You can be a Gentile. You can be a man. You can be a woman. You can live in any kind of society: democracy or total anarchy, or you can live in a dictatorship. You can be anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China to any place in the world, and Christianity is compatible with any social status. Why? Because it is internal, not external

Paul’s concern here is that the Christians realize that the primary business is being a Christian, not outward circumstances that are relatively or totally unimportant. Don’t ever let outward things become a major importance.

You’re saying, “This means you can’t have any progress?”

No, he isn’t saying that. He isn’t saying you can’t have a promotion, you can’t advance in your business or your education, or seek a better life, or seek to increase your income or get a better job or change employment. No.

What he is saying is don’t disrupt the social balance in the name of Christ. In other words, nobody should desire to change his status in life simply because he’s a Christian, as if Christian was incompatible with certain kinds of social positions. It isn’t. It’s compatible with anything. It’s well-suited to any man or any woman in any situation in life as long as that person realizes that the key thing is to keep the commandments of the Lord. Obedience is possible in any situation. Now you may pay a higher price for it in some than in others, but it’s possible.

You see, when the Lord saved you, He didn’t save you to change your earthly status; He saved you to change your soul and your eternal destiny.

Today’s verses concern slavery, which was widespread throughout the ancient world. To be a bondservant meant that you had no property of your own and that you were essentially your master’s property.

That’s a bad state of affairs.

However, in the ancient world, slaves could a) purchase their freedom (e.g. by working long enough to pay off their financial debt to their master) or b) become free men during a census period or c) if master and slave arranged for freedom before a provincial official.

Depending on where one lived at that time, there were closed systems and open systems regarding freed men and women. A closed system still relegated a freed person to the bottom rungs of society with limited participation in it. An open system allowed freed persons to participate much more in society with certain rights guaranteed.

Whatever the case, the good news is that Paul wants slaves to know that their status is no bar to becoming a Christian. At the end of Romans, Paul speaks of various people he has encountered during his journeys and church planting. Some of those people were slaves and they were well respected Christians (see Romans 16:7-10 and Romans 16:14-16).

MacArthur continues:

You say, “John, did the Bible say slavery doesn’t matter?”

No. No, the Bible doesn’t say slavery doesn’t matter; the Bible says if you were saved as a slave, don’t worry about it. You can be a Christian as a slave. Can’t you? You can be a Christian as an anything, socially speaking. I’m not talking about moral things, but social. Paul is not approving of slavery; he is merely saying that slavery is not an obstacle to Christian living.

We see in verse 21 that Paul encourages those slaves who can gain their freedom to do so.

Paul goes on to say that a slave on Earth is a free man as far as Christ is concerned (verse 22). We are all equal in His sight.

MacArthur says:

what he’s saying here is if you’re saved a slave, don’t worry about it. But if freedom comes along, grab it. And, you know, in Rome, there was the provision. In fact, many owners kept a nest egg, and they added money into it all the time, until finally it got to the place where the guy could buy his own freedom. So, the definition wasn’t that, necessarily, oppressive. In some cases there were cruel masters, but you could be a slave. And it could be tolerable. Don’t worry about it. But if you’re freedom comes, use it. And this just means God’s giving you that and taking you another step.

He then explains the story of the Book of Philemon, which concerns one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, who was on the run:

There’s a good illustration of this in the little book of Philemon. Philemon is an interesting little book, right after Titus and before the book of Hebrews. And Philemon was a Christian man in Colossi. He had a slave, among other slaves. He was probably a very wealthy man. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. And Onesimus decided he wanted his freedom. So, Onesimus stole some stuff out of Philemon’s house, packed his little bag, and hustled off to Rome. And what he was figuring, to lose himself in the mob at Rome.

And while he was mingling with the crowd at Rome, he ran into a very interesting man by the name of Paul, which began a very dramatic transformation in the life of Onesimus. In verse 10, Paul says, “I beseech you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Now, we don’t know how – Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner here, and somehow he got in connection with Onesimus, and led Onesimus to Christ.

Onesimus became a Christian, and oh, Paul loved him. In verse 11 he says, “This guy was profitable, and I really cared for him. And he was important to me.”

But one day, Paul and Onesimus were kind of getting down to it, and they sat down, and Onesimus says, “Hey, Paul, I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know how this is going to go over, but I’m a runaway slave.” Well, that must have really crushed Paul. What was he going to do?

“Well, who’s your master?”

“Well, he’s Philemon. You know, a Christian over at Colossi.” That even made it worse.

“Oh.” Well, what could Paul do? “Well, look, slavery’s a rotten institution anyway. Just cool it, and I’ll keep you here, and no one will ever know. That’s one thing; we’ll just hide you. The other one would be I’ll send you back with a letter telling Philemon what I think of him as a slave owner.” And Philemon could have been, “Dear Philemon, let all your slaves go. Slavery’s a rotten institution.”

Or Paul could have just said, “No, according to this society, we have a social status of masters and slaves. You’re a slave. You disobeyed the rules of society. You have to go back and make it right.”

And that’s what he did. And he sent Onesimus back with a letter. And you know what the letter says? “Hey, Philemon, here comes your slave, and he’s really been great to me, and I’ve led him to Jesus Christ. Would you accept him as a brother? Would you take him back in good graces as your good slave? I think he’ll serve you better than he’s ever served you.”

And off hustles Onesimus with a letter. And, you know, he had a lot to risk, because slaves in those days, for running away, could be killed, or at best they could have a brand on their head. They put a big F on their head for fugitīvus which meant runaway. So, he could have paid a high price. But Onesimus, now in the bonds of Christ, goes back and gives the letter, and tradition tells us Philemon embraced him with open arms, and they were accepted as brothers together, even though he continued to be his servant and his slave.

Now, in all of Philemon, Paul says nothing about slavery. He doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t tell Philemon to set Onesimus free. He just accepts the social status that Onesimus was in and knew he could go back and be a slave, and it wouldn’t have any effect on his Christian life.

Slavery in the US and in former British colonies was in the news a lot last year. Marxists have long condemned the Church for not having done enough about it. They conveniently ignore the abolitionist movement, more about which below.

However, MacArthur offers a reason why there were no Christian revolutions about slavery in the New Testament era. It would have completely taken Jesus out of the equation. Jesus came to offer us salvation, not a socio-political revolution:

Now, some people have criticized Paul for not attacking the system of slavery. But the point is this, people, if Christianity had encouraged the ending of slavery, then Christianity would have been seen as a political revolution, and Christians would have been killed in a revolution.

And I would add another thing. If Christian slaves had started to disrupt society, then the major issue would have been lost: the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, you know what’s happened in America. Every time ‘Christianity’ attaches itself to a social movement, the message of Christianity gets totally lost. Given the Christian faith, emancipation is bound to happen. At the time, it was not right. So, Paul says, don’t concern yourself with your earthly state; don’t concern yourself with a situation that is superficial. The major issue is internal.

Therefore, a slave can live as a slave and still be redeemed by Christ. To Christ, the slave is a free man (verse 22).

However, Paul adds in that verse that a free man becomes a slave to Christ upon his conversion:

All he’s simply saying is, “You may be a slave physically, but you’re a free man spiritually. And you may be a free man physically, but you’re a slave spiritually.”

In other words, he just kind of shows the fact that nothing really matters on the surface. It doesn’t matter whether you’re physically bound or free, it only matters that you’re both spiritually bound and free in the paradox of Christianity. Do you understand that paradox? That as a Christian, you’re the servant of Jesus Christ; and yet, as a Christian, you’re free from the law, from sin, from Satan, from hell, from the curse. You understand that paradox? That’s what he’s saying.

Christ has totally set you free to be His servant. Don’t worry about the superficial situation you’re in.

MacArthur reminds us that the abolitionist movement in Britain and the United States came from Christians:

Did you know that the concentration of righteousness that was in Christianity really became the catalyst that ultimately abolished slavery in the world? Christianity has done that. The important thing, you see, is to serve God. And a slave shouldn’t worry about the fact that he’s a slave; he should just serve God. And as this whole righteous kind of life begins to penetrate and spread, the downfall of an enslaving system will occur.

Where does slavery exist today? Mostly in Asia. However, in Africa, it still exists in Mauritania, even if the government says it doesn’t. It would be interesting for protesters from the US to go there and urge the Mauritanian government to get everyone to free their slaves. They could protest, riot and topple statues. One wonders what would happen.

In 2018, The Guardian published an article, ‘The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania’, which begins as follows:

In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratines forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.

Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation. For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”. Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.

On June 26, 2020, The Daily Caller published an article, ‘An African Country Still Has Slavery — Obama Awarded Them Trade Benefits, Trump Reversed It’:

There are currently an estimated 21 million to 45 million people trapped in slavery today, and an estimated 9.2 million of them are in Africa. Among these countries, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is perhaps the only place in the world where people can still be born into slavery.

But I digress.

In verse 23, Paul reminds the Corinthians that Christ paid the price for their spiritual freedom by dying on the Cross.

Therefore, Christians should not worry about their temporal condition (verse 24).

Matthew Henry sums up these verses as follows:

Note, The special presence and favour of God are not limited to any outward condition or performance. He may enjoy it who is circumcised; and so may he who is uncircumcised. He who is bound may have it as well as he who is free. In this respect there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, Colossians 3:11. The favour of God is not bound.

God knows where we are in life. Similarly, our Lord Jesus knows. Christians can fulfil God’s will by obeying the Commandments and be certain of the life of the world to come through salvation through Christ Jesus.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:25-28

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 7:17-19

Live as You Are Called

17 Only let each person lead the life[a] that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s verses were Paul’s guidelines for marriage, including between a Christian and a non-Christian.

We now begin looking at Paul’s advice to Jews and Gentiles who have converted to Christianity. The Jewish men were circumcised. The Gentile men were not.

Paul begins by saying that he has a rule for all the churches: God has called us to a certain place in life and we do not need to worry about that when we become Christians (verse 17). Following Christ is about spiritual renewal and our relationship with Him as individuals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. Whatever his circumstances or condition was when he was converted to Christianity, let him abide therein, and suit his conversation to it. The rules of Christianity reach every condition. And in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. Note, It is the duty of every Christian to suit his behaviour to his condition and the rules of religion, to be content with his lot, and conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. The apostle adds that this was a general rule, to be observed at all times and in all places; So ordain I in all churches.

In Paul’s time, the Church was made up of Jews and Gentiles alike. For the men, Paul said that the Jews, ‘already circumcised’, did not need to worry that they were. Similarly, a Gentile man did not need to think he had to become circumcised (verse 18).

God and His Son know our starting points in this life along the Christian journey. What matters is not where we’ve come from but where we are going.

John MacArthur says that Paul brought circumcision into the picture because there were social effects at that time for Jewish men who converted to Christianity:

A Jew comes to Christ; he gets saved. Who would be the most likely person that he then could lead to Christ? Another Jew, right? And somebody in his own family. So, if a Jew comes to Christ, and immediately renounces his Judaism … and totally identify with the Gentile culture, what are his Jewish friends going to say? They’re going to call him a what? Blasphemer, an apostate who isn’t fit for heaven … And he would immediately alienate himself from the harvest field that he is most capable of reaping in. You see?

So, Paul says, “Don’t do that.”

MacArthur contrasts the views then with those of our time, where a more relaxed view about Jewish conversions to Christianity prevails:

They get saved, and they don’t reject their Jewishness. They hold onto their Jewishness, and this gives them accessibility back into the Jewish community, doesn’t it? They have an open door maybe to friends and family when they maintain something of the belief and the love of the Jewish heritage, even though they have seen it fulfilled in Messiah, there’s no reason to assume that they have to deny all of that heritage. To deny it and become a Gentile would alienate them from the harvest field that God would give them the most fruit in.

I think that might be more true in North America than it is in Europe. I’m not sure European Jews converting to Christianity would still be warmly received by their own families and circle of friends. However, I could be mistaken. We have very actively Jewish communities in Britain, especially among the younger generations. I live in one such neighbourhood.

As for the situation with Gentile men converting in Corinth, perhaps Paul saw the possibility that some of the Jewish converts were Judaizers trying to convince the Gentiles to get circumcised: entering the New Covenant through the Old Covenant.

MacArthur says:

Some Gentiles came to Christ. And what would the Jews say? “Oh, it’s so nice that you’ve come to Christ. But listen, if you want to get in on the really great stuff in the kingdom, you got to have this operation.”

In addition, a Gentile man’s circumcision would have alienated him from his family and friends:

The Gentiles looked down on the circumcision and the Jews as a despised people. They really believed that the Jews were a low-class, despised people. Now, to identify with the Jews, then, would have alienated a Gentile from – what? – from all his people. And, you see, then he would have alienated himself from the harvest field that God had designed him to reach. Do you see the point? God says, “Just stay where you are; that’s where I have your for the reason that I have you there, to reach those people. Don’t worry about your social status. It doesn’t matter.”

For those reasons, Paul said that circumcision doesn’t count but obeying God’s commandments through Jesus does (verse 19).

Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of stories of disobedient Jews, all of whom, since Abraham, were circumcised. In the New Testament, the culprits were the Sanhedrin, who, with the help of the Romans, eventually ensured that Jesus died on the Cross. The Sanhedrin perversely hounded our Lord from the beginning of His ministry until the very end.

As Henry points out:

External observances without internal piety are as nothing.

MacArthur says:

The only issue is a moral issue, a spiritual issue, not an external.

The bigger issues — which still resonate today — come in next week’s reading, which is why I selected these verses to discuss separately.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:20-24

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,514 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

April 2021
S M T W T F S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,645,412 hits