Archive for the ‘Misused Bible verses’ Category

True Feminism is not about special privileges for women, but about equal dignity, value and opportunity for all people, regardless of gender.

Last week it was claimed on national television that ‘Islam is the most feminist religion.’ Since that claim, many have been debating its accuracy.

Sometimes that best way to disprove a claim is not to show why it’s wrong, but simply to point out an alternative that clearly trumps it.

So, here’s a few things Biblical Christianity gives women:

  1. A knowledge that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This means women and men may equally be representatives of God – ambassadors of His authority in ruling over creation, and communicators of His character in their love and care for other creatures and fellow human beings. No other religion contains the concept of ‘The Image of God,’ being applied to all people.
  2. As ‘Daughters of Eve,’ women have a wonderful and unique privilege of giving life in a way a man cannot. ‘The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.’ (Genesis 3:20). It’s significant to see that this statement is made immediately after the man is told that because of the curse of sin, he will labour and toil, and eventually die and return to the dust. As an act of faith, he knew that this was not a final word, since God would show His ongoing patience, care and love for humanity through Even and all her daughters; and ultimately in her descendant who would be the saviour of the world (Genesis 3:15).
  3. In Old Testament Israel, women were often given special protection under the law, in recognition of the fact that they were more likely to be the victims of violence from men (eg. Deuteronomy 22:25-29). To our modern 21st century western ears some of these laws seem patriarchal, however if we understand them in the cultural context of the time, they are laws that are pro-woman. These laws have provided some basis for the Western legal system that allows liberty, equality and protection for all citizens.
  4. Jesus welcomed, healed, taught, ate and drank with women, may of whom were considered outcasts by the culture of the time. (John 4:1-45) His confrontation of a gang of men about to stone a woman caught in adultery exposed their hypocrisy in assuming her guilt, and their moral superiority. (John 8:2-10) As far as Jesus is concerned, women and men are to be given equal opportunities to receive grace and forgiveness; as well as in the gracious call to repent and turn from a sinful lifestyle.
  5. In Christian gatherings men and women sit together. This may not sound significant to us today, but in the first century it was a radical departure from the Synagogue practice of separating men and women. Not only this, but women were active participants in the worship, both praying and prophesying in church – also a radical liberation of women (1 Corinthians 11:5-16 – The caveats in this passage about head coverings are to do with cultural sensitivities, as well as honouring the God-given distinctives between genders.)
  6. In Christ, women and men are ‘Joint heirs of the grace of life,’ (1 Peter 3:7) and ‘all one in Jesus Christ,’ (Galatians 3:28). Neither gender deserves grace any more or less than the other, since grace is not about deserving, but about God giving freely without partiality.
  7. The Christian hope for the New Creation is that many aspects of this world that give rise to discrimination, bigotry and oppression (not just between genders, but also between race, class, role, etc.) will pass away. ‘Heaven’ will not be populated by men served by virgins (Islam) or women as child-producers for new worlds (Mormonism); neither will it be populated by homogeneous, gender-neutral angels (A culturally popular idea, started by Swedenborgianism, the religion of Helen Keller). Rather, the New Heavens and Earth will be filled with the glory of God as Men and Women, both transformed into the image of Jesus, love and serve God and one another in full freedom and holiness. Adam’s words of Genesis 3:20 will be somewhat reflected in that this renewed humanity will be called ‘The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:9) An incredible dignity and honour will be bestowed on women by having attributes of their gender bestowed on this redeemed, eternal community.

So I wonder. Which religion is the most feminist?

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“Not another blog post on this question!” I hear you say.

Initially I decided that I would not post anything in response to the current debate in the US about the potential dismissal of a professor from a leading Evangelical college over her claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Many people have written on this, a large number defending the college’s evangelical commitment. Many have pointed out that trinitarian Christians and unitarian Muslims do not worship the same God, since each of their affirmations and denials about the nature of God are an anathema to the other (eg. Christians affirm the divinity of Jesus, which is blasphemy to a Muslim; Muslims deny that God can have a son, which is heresy to Christians.)

However to date, I have not seen (maybe I have missed it) a writer wrestling with two verses in the New Testament which on the face of it may seem to lend support for the professor’s statement:

‘You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.’ (John 4:22)

‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ (Acts 17:23)

I have singled these two out because both of them use the word ‘worship’ – implying that both the Samaritans’ and the Athenian’s approach is not merely about conceptual knowledge or confession of beliefs, but also about devotion and piety. They don’t simply have an idea in their heads about God, but practice it in acts of devotion and worship.

Similarly, both make a statement about the worshipper being ignorant in some way, and needing a fuller, correct revelation; this fuller revelation will bring a reformation of their worship.

All this may sound like the professor is onto something. Maybe even the Pope was onto something when he said the Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters.

However, when we take a closer look at these verses, we will see that they do not, in fact, support the idea that there are non-Christians who worship God, albeit in a faulty or deficient way.

The first thing to notice is that the two words translated in our English Bibles as ‘worship’ and ‘know’ are different in each verse. This reflects the two different contexts: in one (John 4:22) Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan, and in the other (Acts 17:23) Paul is speaking to Greek philosophers. Straight away that should indicate to us that we cannot take these two verses out of their context and throw them together as if they are identical in their meaning.

John 4:22

Jesus has been speaking to the Samaritan woman, and she has raised the issue of where true worship of God is supposed to take place – since the Jews had the temple in Jerusalem, and Samaritans had their own alternative temple in Samaria, which they set up after the retuning exiles from Babylon in the 5th century BC rejected their help in rebuilding the Jerusalem temple.

Jesus dismisses this as the key issue, instead saying that true worship of his Father will be in the power of the Spirit, and is not tied to location or architecture. His statement ‘salvation is from the Jews’ is an affirmation that, up to this point, Jerusalem is the correct location for the Temple and therefore worship of God; it is the centre of His presence with His people. However, this is about to change now that the true temple, priest and sacrifice has appeared in his person. The coming of Jesus does away with both right places of worship (such as the Samaritan temple) and the right place of worship (the Jerusalem temple) as people now come to the Father through faith in Jesus.

Jesus however is not invalidating all that the Samaritans did in their worship. They held firmly to the first five books of the Scriptures, and so both their theology (understanding of who God is) and form of worship was orthodox. However their understanding of God’s purposes was deficient since they did not acknowledge the rest of the Old Testament – the Prophets, Psalms and historical books.

When Jesus says, ‘you worship what you do not know,’ the word here for worship refers to the physical act of bowing down or prostrating oneself (and is sometimes used in this literal sense) that forms part of a worshipper’s actions. And the word for ‘know’ means a knowledge that comes from seeing and experiencing – rather than a conceptual knowledge. In other words, the Samaritans go through the motions, but their experience of God is lacking, because they do not come to the true seat of His presence in Jerusalem.

Jesus on several occasions, both in practice and in his teaching, appeared to be affirming the Samaritans in their identity as the ten Northern tribes of Israel, who were one day to be reunited with their Southern Jewish brothers (See Ezekiel 37). This is fulfilled when Samaritans are included in the experience of Pentecost in Acts 8. In that sense, the Samaritans were ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ whom Jesus the Good Shepherd has regathered into the flock through his death and resurrection. The Gospel has dispelled their ignorance, and brought them into the full revelation of the Father and His plan so that they may be one with their Jewish brothers in worshipping Him.

Acts 17:23

Paul’s address in Athens begins with an acknowledgement that the Athenians are ‘very religious’ – and he uses a word that may also be translated, ‘superstitious’. The word he uses for ‘worship’ (twice in 23) is one that means ‘pious’ or ‘devoted’ – which ties in with his description of Athenian religion as superstitious. It’s a word often associated with idolatry.

When he says that they ‘worship’ that which is ‘unknown,’ he uses a word from their own philosophical vocabulary – the word from which we get our English word ‘agnostic’. This is an ignorance that comes either from lack of learning, or from the sheer incomprehensibility  of the thing that is unknown. It’s a statement of conceptual knowledge, rather than experiential knowledge.

The Athenians took pride in the fact that they were able to acknowledge the reality of something of which they had no knowledge. They knew they did not know everything, and so  there was a distinct possibility that there was, out there, an ‘unknown god.’ This was a ‘dark matter’ god – one deduced by human reason, yet not encountered in human experience. Paul devastates their intellectual pride by equating this lofty philosophical learning with superstitious religion.

Paul’s claim is that the message he brings of Jesus and the Resurrection is one that will cut through this superstitious ignorance, replacing it with a clear and present truth that will call for a response of repentance. The God he describes to the Athenians is one that demolishes and replaced both the superstitious god of paganism and the deistic, conceptual god of the philosophers.

Conclusion

Neither John 4:22 nor Acts 17:23 can be used to support the claim that adherents of the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity worship the same God. The former refers to those who, in a sense, were already ‘in’ the true people of God; the latter refers to those whose worship is false, arrogant and idolatrous.

A ‘secondary’ issue

How we interpret, view or experience the gifts of the Spirit are not, in the end, what defines whether we are Christian or not. However, it is possible for teaching on this topic to be done and practiced in a way that obscures the Gospel, and gives more glory to leaders than to Jesus. This was something that Paul was seeking to address in his first letter to the Corinthians, when he demolishes the notion of spiritual elitism among leaders (Chapters 1-4). The focus of a Christian as they gather with other Christians is not to be, ‘How can I have a great worship experience and receive some spiritual blessing?’ but, ‘How can I glorify God by loving my brothers and sisters and speaking the word of Christ to them?’

Churches can abuse spiritual gifts by either ignoring and neglecting them altogether, or by going to extremes and attributing to the Holy Spirit things that are actually the working of the flesh – or worse. However, your church’s position on and practice of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 should not be the ultimate decider for you on whether to join, stay or go; rather their position and practice of the Gospel should. Is the Gospel of the cross of Jesus proclaimed clearly, regularly and faithfully, or is it ignored, distorted or obscured by other things?

Paul spends most of his time in 1 Corinthians 12-14 discussing the two gifts of Tongues and Prophecy.

Speaking in Tongues

The issue of tongues (among other ‘spiritual gifts’) is dealt with in depth by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In his letter, Paul is confronting a culture based very much on experience, with a call to the church to have a culture based on the Word of God. And so in this discussion about tongues, he calls the Corinthians to look maturely at the Scripture the see what the biblical teaching is:

20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. (1 Corinthians 14:20-22)

Paul quotes Isaiah 28 here, which we will look at in a moment; however behind the Isaiah passage is an earlier reference in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 28:47-50

Moses predicts the time when Israel/Judah, because of their hard hearts and idolatry, will be overrun by a foreign nation, surrounded by people speaking a language they do not understand.

Language was very important to the Hebrews, because God had entered into relationship with them by speaking His word and His Law, calling them to listen and obey. God spoke their language. His words were written down, and accessible to them so they could hear, obey and have life. (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)

So a sign of God’s judgement upon His people was when all around them were speaking unintelligible languages; to be in a place where you are not hearing God’s words, but words of foreigners that you don’t even understand.

Isaiah 28:7-13

By the time of Isaiah (around 700 BC) the revelation of God had been reduced by the priests – who were corrupt and drunkards – essentially to simplistic, infantile babbling. The Hebrew reads, ‘sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav, ze-er sam ze-er sam’ and while these are real Hebrew words, they are most likely the prophet mocking the teaching of the priests – an equivalent of the English, ‘Blah, blah, blah…’

God’s judgement upon this people who want to neither teach or hear the truth, is that God will speak to his people through other languages – ie. the word of God will become unintelligible to them not just because of their own hard hearts, but because God will obscure it through judgement. People outside Israel will be hearing, understanding and speaking God’s word, while His own people will not.

This prophecy was partly fulfilled in the exile, through which most of the scattered Jews lost their Hebrew language over several generations. (Eventually the Scriptures were translated into Greek – the Septuagint – so that non Hebrew-speaking Jews could read them.)

Israel was called to be a blessing and light to the nations. Instead, by their disobedience they were misrepresenting God to the nations. God’s intention is to keep his promises to Abraham, and so the blessing will still go out to the nations, but it will be through the action of judgement upon Israel that it will happen. The way Paul describes it is, ‘“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.’ (Romans 11:8), and ’Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in…’ (Romans 11:25). So, tongues is to be a sign of both judgement and blessing, depending on where you stand!

Mark 16:17

While this is doubtful that this is an original part of Mark’s Gospel, we can nevertheless take it as an indication of the understanding and experience of the early church. One thing characterising believers is that they will ‘speak in new tongues’ – ie. that they will not be only ethically/linguistically Hebrews. This conforms with the command in 15 to preach the Gospel in the whole world.

Acts 2:1-8, 12-13

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. People from other nations who spoke other languages were hearing God’s words spoken in their language, while others (13) couldn’t understand them, and assumed they were drunk. It’s to this second group that Peter appears to address his speech (15), and his message is primarily one of judgement than Gospel! (23, 36, 40). It’s important to note that the languages the Apostles spoke were known human languages, understandable by those who were native speakers, not a mysterious, angelic language that no human being could comprehend. This sets the precedent for the rest of the cases of tongues in Acts – it’s what we are to understand in the two other places where tongues are recorded to have occurred.

Acts 10:44-48

This is essentially the ‘Gentile Pentecost’ – Peter affirms that his Gentile listeners have received the Holy Spirit because they were praising God in their own language – The Gospel was ‘indigenised’ in that the Gentiles did not use Hebrew or Aramaic in their language of worship.

Acts 19:1-7

This is another ‘mini Pentecost’, for people who were disciples of John the Baptist (‘disciple’ here doesn’t automatically equal ‘Christian’). Luke hints a this being a pentecostal event by mentioning that there were ‘about twelve men in all’ (7) – he would have no real reason to mention this number apart from its resonance with the twelve Apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14). More significant though than these men being followers of John the Baptist, was the location – Ephesus – which became a key centre for spreading the Gospel across Asia (modern day Western Turkey).

1 Corinthians 12-14

The only other book in the New Testament that mentions the phenomenon of tongues is 1 Corinthians. Some important background is helpful for understanding why the issue needs to be addressed for the Corinthians: Firstly, Corinth was known as a very multicultural city. The church there was correspondingly dominated by Gentiles – most if not all of whom would not have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic. Secondly, Corinth prided itself on its spirituality, and pagan worship, particularly involving sensuality, sexuality, and ecstatic spiritual experiences. Some of the pagan worship involved ‘speaking in tongues,’ in which the worshipper claimed to be communicating with gods, angels or spirits. For the pagans, truth and enlightenment came through experience, rather than revelation; through their own engagement in rituals rather than by God speaking clearly to their minds and hearts through the words of Apostles, Prophets or Scripture. This led to a ‘spiritual elitism’ in which participation in these ecstatic rituals were a mark of deeper spirituality.

Some of this had translated into the church, to the extent that some Christians were considered more spiritual than others because they manifested the ‘spirituals’ (translated ‘gifts of the Spirit’ or ‘spiritual gifts’ in English bibles, even though the word ‘gift’ is not in the text). In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul makes the key points that a ‘spiritual’ person is not someone with greater spiritual capacity, but one through whom the Holy Spirit is at work, manifesting Himself in ways that glorify Jesus – ie. by enabling someone to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (12:3) and build up Jesus’ church, which is what Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18:

 ‘On this rock [Peter, who confesses Jesus to be the Christ] I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it.’

The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work is ultimately love (Chapter 13), not spiritual power or prestige, nor the ability to perform miraculous acts. The way the Corinthians were to show love in the context of their public gatherings was to ensure that all who came would be able to hear God’s word spoken clearly, so that even non-believers there would know the reality of God’s presence and would worship Him (14:25).

Three correctives for Corinth… and us?

So Paul gives some correctives to the Corinthian practice of tongues, by referring back to the Old Testament teaching about tongues that we looked at earlier.

  1. ‘Tongues’ are not an ecstatic, trancelike experience of communicating with angels, but speaking in a human language that the speaker at least can understand. The popular idea of tongues being a  ‘personal prayer language’ is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Some may feel this is discounting the miraculous work of the Spirit; however such a view does not rule out someone speaking in a language they have not learned (as on the day of Pentecost), of someone being enabled by the Spirit to translate the words, or of the speaker being empowered by the Spirit in what they say – which is Paul’s main point – ie. that it is the Spirit at work, not the people, which makes all of it ‘miraculous’.
  2. Spiritual maturity is demonstrated not in being able to manifest the Spirit in spectacular ways, but in clearly communicating God’s word in a way that all can understand. So, in the case when a member of the congregation speaks in a language that is not commonly spoken by the rest of the church, they have a few options: have someone else interpret (12:10), interpret themselves (14:13), or not speak publicly in that language (14:28). By not following these principles, a person who speaks publicly in tongues is essentially being selfish (14:4) rather than loving (13:1). If something brings division and damage to the body of Christ, it is not a work of the Spirit, no matter how much the person insists it is.
  3. Speaking in tongues when there are non-believers or enquirers present will not communicate the Gospel, but rather judgement, since the original Biblical purpose of tongues was a pronouncement of judgement upon people who refuse to hear! The non-believer will come away from the meeting with the truth hidden from them since they didn’t understand what was being said, and their conclusion will be ‘these Christians are out of their minds!’ (14:22-23) Speaking in tongues without interpretation will hinder, not facilitate the spread of the Gospel. So out of love for these enquirers, all that is spoken in church should be done so it can be clearly understood by all who are present.

 

Spiritual gifts are for the body, not individuals

The picture Paul is painting for the Corinthians in chapters 12-14 is not one where each individual has their own ‘package’ of gifts, dispensed to them by the Holy Spirit, which then becomes their special ‘ministry’. Rather, it is of the church as a corporate body, to which God gives the Holy Spirit, who manifests Himself in the context of the community in various ways (12:7). The whole setting of chapters 11-14 is ‘when you come together’ (11:17,18,20,33, 14:26), and in this context the Triune God is present, with the Spirit giving (4), the Lord Jesus serving (5) and the Father working (6). Each of these words touches on the unique roles of each member of the Trinity in salvation, yet all are a united work of the one Triune God, and because the work of the Holy Spirit in this age is to make known to us the Son and the Father, we can use the overall title ‘gifts of the Spirit.’ This is important to see: the Holy Spirit does not work in a way that does not bring to us the full reality of the Triune God’s presence among us as His people.

Prophecy: ‘Speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15)

The other implication of this passage is that as God – who is Love – is giving, serving and working amongst us, this is primarily demonstrated in us giving, serving and working in love. Chapter 13 is a picture of God’s people truly reflecting His own character. ‘Love never fails…’ (13:8), whereas prophecies, tongues and knowledge will cease/be stilled/pass away. Some have taken this to be a reference to a point in history when these ‘sign gifts’ stopped; but Paul is rather referring to the transient nature of these gifts – they are words spoken in a set time, which apply for a certain context and moment in time; love, however, is universal and timeless in its application. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge serve their limited purpose and then become obsolete, but love, as an expression of faith and hope, continues and will have the real eternal impact.

So God wants the Corinthians (and us) to consider how these ‘transient’ gifts may best be used to express that which is lasting – faith, hope and love. And because the central activity of the church gathering together is to hear the Word of God, it become a no brainer that the most loving way a person can contribute to the meeting is to ensure that God’s Word is clearly spoken, heard and understood. We must put aside and personal ambition to be seen as ‘spiritual’ – as if somehow God’s powerful work amongst His people is somehow because of our piety or ability to be in touch with God more than others. Our first ambition should be to be practicing love in the form of chapter 13, and only then, if appropriate, to seek to exercise the ‘gifts’ that we believe the Spirit is giving us – and even then, He gives the gifts only to extend our action of loving one another.

This is why Paul gives primacy to prophecy over tongues. Tongues serve a specific purpose, yet to exercise them could easily be unloving for both our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as any non-believers present. Prophecy, however, is a clear speaking forth of the Word of God in the ‘lingua franca’ so that everyone present can understand.

So, what is prophecy?

1. The foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20)

The Jews understood that all that was spoken by the godly people of their history – ie. the Old Testament scriptures – was prophecy. The most common reference to prophets and prophecy in the New Testament is in this sense – the Word of God given in the scriptures. This is a form of prophetic ministry that has finished. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, who came in fulfilment of the last words of Malachi, the last of the ‘inscripturated’ Prophets:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

John the Baptist, as the ‘returned Elijah’ stood as a representative of all the prophets, and pointed people to Jesus as The Prophet of whom all the prophets spoke – Jesus is not merely the last prophet, but he is also the last prophecy through whom God has spoken completely and finally. The prophets told us about God; if we have seen Jesus we have seen God face to face. Jesus then sent his disciples out and called them not prophets but ’Apostles,’ commanding them to teach not a new revelation, but simply ‘all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:20). This is the content of the New Testament – the Apostles’ teaching put into writing for future generations.

So this aspect of prophecy – the revelation of God, and all that He wants us to know about His plan of salvation, and how it is completed in Jesus Christ – has come to an end with the completion of the New Testament canon. And so many take the final words of Revelation to be applicable to the whole of the Bible:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Some argue that this type of prophecy was what was occurring in the Corinthian church (and possibly other New Testament churches). Most of the New Testament documents had not been written yet, and they may not have had access to those that had. During this period, God kept His church in the truth through the live teaching of the Apostles, and through ‘word gifts’ such as prophecy, tongues, knowledge, etc. These gifts became less vital as the scriptures – OT and NT – were distributed throughout the churches. We know that the early church placed great emphasis on the written scriptures because we currently have tens of thousands of ancient New Testament manuscripts – around 1000 time more than any other ancient document.

2. ’Speaking the very words of God’ (1 Peter 4:11)

Joel’s prophecy, fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21) promises that all of God’s people – young and old, male and female – will be commissioned to prophesy:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’ (Acts 2:17-18)

No longer will it be a seperate group or ‘class’ of people who have the Holy Spirit, but anyone who calls on the Name of the Lord through faith in Jesus is drawn into the ministry of the Kingdom, where they become,

…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

An individual believer is caught up into the royal, priestly and prophetic ministry of the church; in the context of the church community we are involved in preaching, teaching, singing, encouraging and proclaiming – all things which involve speaking the Word of God. In this sense, the ministry of prophecy is alive and well whenever we do these things; we are ‘prophesying’.

William Perkins, an English Puritan, described what he understood a prophet to be in his 1606 book, ‘The Art of Prophesying:

“First of all he is someone who can expound and explain the covenant of grace, and rightly lay down how this reconciliation is accomplished. Secondly, he is someone who can properly and accurately apply the means for its outworking. Thirdly, he is someone who has authority to proclaim and declare it when it is effected. In these three ways he is God’s interpreter to the people.”

3. ’The Holy Spirit said…’ (Acts 13:2)

The New Testament also allows for and records another type of prophecy.

In Acts 11:27-30 some prophets predicted a famine, which spurred the church in Antioch to take up a collection to help their fellow Christians in Judea. In Acts 13:1-4 God uses prophets to communicate that Paul and Barnabas should be set apart and sent into mission. In Acts 15:30-33 two prophets, Judas and Silas, encouraged gentile Christians when they received a letter with special instructions from the Apostles in Jerusalem. And in Acts 21:10-11 the prophet Agabus predicts Paul’s arrest.

This appears to be a form of prophecy in which God spoke specifically and practically into the the church for a given time and situation in a way that enabled them to be on about the work of the Kingdom. They were occasions in which the church needed a word that was more precise than the general Biblical revelation, in order to help them discern God’s will for them in a specific context.

Some also believe that this form of prophecy has also become obsolete with the completion of the New Testament; I believe the biblical case for this claim is weak. As we saw, Paul’s description of prophecies as transient in 13:8 highlights the limitation of a prophetic word given in a church meeting to both time and application; it’s a stretch to say that all prophetic ministry must have ceased since the end of the first century.

Love and order (1 Cor. 14:26-40)

Paul’s emphasis in these chapters is not so much on the nature of prophecy, as on its appropriate use in the church. Prophecy (along with tongues and other gifts) should not dominate, but be part of the various ways the Holy Spirit enables people to serve (26-29). Prophecies should be given with humility and a sense of accountability and collegiality (29-33). Prophets and their prophecies should be submitted to the authority of Christ and the revelation of the Gospel given to the church through the Apostles (which for us is the New Testament) (36-37). And it should be done in a way that is ‘fitting and orderly’ (34-35, 40) – ie. not causing chaos, confusion or offense for believers or non-believers.

There are four wise responses we should have to anyone who claims to have a ‘prophetic word’ either for us personally or for the church:

  1. Test what they say with the Scripture.
    God will not give a revelation that adds to, takes away from or changes His revelation given in the Bible and in Jesus Christ; and ultimately it should point clearly to Jesus and lead people to honour Him. Hold onto it loosely until you have been able to affirm this; this is often best done by speaking with others who know the Bible well.
  2. Wait.
    If a prophecy is given as a prediction of something to happen, the proof of the truth of the prediction is in its fulfilment. This was the Old Testament test of a true prophet (Deuteronomy 28:20-22, Jeremiah 28:9). Be prepared to see God at work, but don’t pin all your hopes on the prophecy; and ask yourself, ‘How can this encourage and enable me to serve and glorify God more faithfully, and love His people more earnestly?’
  3. Move on.
    Remember that prophecy is limited, but faith hope and love continue forever. God may be speaking to you in a way that is for this time and place, but the definition and design of your life and calling is found in the truth already revealed in the Bible, which is as living and active as any ‘life’ prophecy. Don’t build your life’s foundation on one incident of prophecy, but on the sure and certain revelation of the Gospel of Jesus.
  4. Rejoice.
    If this is truly God’s word to you or your church, then it demonstrates that God cares for you such that He brings His word ‘up close and personal’ in order to build you up and make you more like Jesus, and also that someone in the church is willing to love you by bringing this word to you (even if it is difficult or scary for them). Whatever the outcome of their ‘prophecy’, be ready to acknowledge the positive of their desire to see you moving forward in God’s purposes for you.

prawns?

Cherrypicking the Bible?

On face value, it can seem that Christians pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to obey, and which parts they want to ignore. The issue has come to the fore because of the current debate over same sex marriage, in which Christians can be accused of hypocrisy in claiming the Bible is God’s inspired Word, but not obeying all of it, including the many ‘obscure’ laws in the Old Testament. We may be told that if we no longer observe food laws, we should also be willing to change on sexuality laws, which are in the same book.

So what is going on? Is it true that Christians choose to conveniently ignore these laws, while only holding to those that serve their own moral agenda? Sadly, that can be true.

However any Christian who does not seek to follow all the laws of the Old Testament needs to have a sound reason for doing so, especially if they are going to not only properly understand the Bible, but also explain their faith to those who question.

A simple answer to question of why Christians are allowed to eat shellfish even though it is prohibited in Leviticus 11:9-12 is the teaching of Jesus:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:14-23)

On what basis could Jesus seemingly overturn the Old Testament laws about clean and unclean foods, and turn it instead into an issue of what is going on in a person’t heart? Did he actually overturn them, or is there something else happening?

‘Abrogation’ vs. ‘fulfilment’

Abrogation is the idea that one idea or rule is overturned and replaced by another, newer idea or rule. In religious terms, it means that God says something new that replaces something He said previously, simply because it’s His prerogative as God to change His mind. Or, as some ‘progressives’ would say, our primitive and limited understanding of what God was saying in the past has been replaced by a fuller, more enlightened understanding; so we no longer need to take notice of things in the Bible that are outdated.

Abrogation is not a Biblical idea. The Biblical writers are clear that God does not change His mind like a human being does (Numbers 23:19). Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law or what the prophets had said (Matthew 5:17). Paul says that the Gospel does not ‘nullify’ the law, but rather ‘upholds’ it (Romans 3:31).

So Jesus was not simply saying, ‘Times have changed, and so a new rule applies.’ Nor was he claiming some kind of divine ‘Son of God’ right to take away from or add to the Bible.

Fulfilment is the idea that earlier rules or ideas are given by God not as end in themselves, but in anticipation of something that is to come later. They point to, foreshadow and prepare people for what is textboxto come. (Something like the prompting message, ‘type to enter text’ in a word processing  textbox – it creates the space for the intended text to be entered.)

What that means is when the fulfilment comes, along with the new thing, the fulfilment doesn’t abolish the earlier rules and ideas, but actually affirms, honours and completes them. Fulfilment takes the principle behind the rule or idea, and gives it its fullest expression.

The Bible presents Jesus as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets – the rules and messages of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of patterns and structures that point to Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, those patterns and structures are ‘obsolete’ in the sense that anyone whose faith is in Jesus does not need to observe them literally, because their full meaning is found in a relationship with Jesus; however Christians do not remove them from the Bible because they stand there as a way to understand who Jesus is and what He did in a fuller, richer way.

All the laws about clean and unclean foods, practices, and even the seemingly obscures laws about clothing, haircuts and washing were all things that made the Israelites distinctly different to all the nations around them. They were also a constant reminder to them that the creation is not the way it is supposed to be – it has been tainted with sin and death and disease. While many of the laws had a practical use in terms of health and hygiene, they primarily existed to highlight the difference between the way the world (including us) is, and the way it was meant to be before human sin spoiled things.

So, these laws pointed to something beyond themselves: the promise of God that one day the world we live in – and we along with it – will be restored to its original creational design.

How to know what to keep

Why does this mean that Christians continue to uphold Leviticus 18:22 but not Leviticus 11:9-12? It’s because the law about eating shellfish was one of those rules that foreshadowed Jesus, whereas the law about homosexuality was based on a moral principle of sexual and marital purity, that Jesus repeatedly affirmed as still standing (along with the rest of the Ten Commandments – for example, see Matthew 5-7 and 19:18).

FulfilmentThe Ten Commandments were the moral code upon which the laws of Israel were built. All of the more than 600 laws on the Old Testament can be traced back to its foundation in one or more of the Ten Commandments. Now that structure has been removed by the coming of Jesus, the foundation still remains. So, instructions given to Christians in the New Testament are also built on this same moral code; the key difference being that Christians, through faith in Jesus, have been given a freedom to obey this moral code not from a fear of punishment, but as an expression of a restored relationship with God. So a Christian’s motivation for not practising homosexuality is not primarily because it is forbidden, but because they see that it is a distortion of something with is far better and life-giving. A Christian seeks to obey God’s design with a joyful heart rather than outward conformity.

(Image from sacredsandwich.com)

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

The images of salt and light are often referred to by preachers who are trying to spur their people into action by living out their faith in the world. Salt and light are a reference to our good living, they say, which will serve to proclaim the Gospel even if we don’t get to use words.

The connection between light and works is there – although I don’t think it means, ‘Do your good works in a way that people will notice them.’ It’s more about the Father getting the credit, not us.

But salt?

I’ve never been convinced by the two most common explanations for this reference to salt: That it adds flavour, and that it is a preservative. Both are used to teach that Christians, by having a faithful presence in the world, will have a ‘flavoursome’ and ‘preserving’ effect on our culture, and that our good work will contribute to the common good.

It is certainly true that the Judeo-Christian ethic has had a positive effect on cultures in which the Gospel has been preached and received. And this positive effect is often referred to by those seeking to defend our society against the current moral decay.

But I’m still not convinced that this is what Jesus meant. I feel a little as if it’s imposing our modern experiences – after 2000 years of western history – on the text.

Looking through the Old Testament (Jesus’ primary text – on which he based all his teaching!), there are multiple references to salt. If we ignore those that are references to geography (eg. the ‘Salt Sea’, the ‘Valley of Salt’), there are two main types of references to salt:

1. As a picture of judgement. We are all familiar with Lot’s wife who turned into salt at the judgement of Sodom. (Genesis 19:26). A salty land unable to grow crops was considered cursed (Deuteronomy 29:23), and defeated cities were ‘sown with salt’ (Judges 9:45) to signify their barrenness.

2. As a sign of the covenant. Salt was used throughout the Tabernacle sacrificial system. It was in the incense (Exodus 30:35) that symbolised the prayers of the people; and all offerings were to be seasoned with salt, from grain right through to animals; it was, ‘the salt of the covenant with your God,’ which was not to, ‘be missing.’ (Leviticus 2:13, cf. Ezekiel 43:24). The Priests were told that the parts of sacrifices they were to eat were, ‘…a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.’ (Numbers 18:19). David and his descendants’ position of kingship over Israel was given, ‘by a covenant of salt.’ (2 Chronicles 13:5). Elisha, in his first miraculous act after succeeding Elijah, put salt into the water supply of Jericho to heal the water and make it fresh (1 Kings 2:19-22) – one of the signs demonstrating that he was a Man of God, bringing the Word of the Lord to His people.

We’re not told exactly why salt was to be used in this way, but it’s fair enough to assume that if the only other significance of salt was judgement & curse, then its use in the sacrificial system signified the judgement that was to fall upon the sacrifice in the worshipper’s place; in that sense, salt signifies the work of atonement that is at the heart of the establishment of the covenant between God and His people.


Back to Jesus now, on the side of a hill, telling Jewish people – whose faith was centred around the sacrificial system in the temple – that they are to be ‘salt of the earth’. What would their minds immediately have gone to, if not the, ‘salt of the covenant with your God’?

They were to be the means by which the covenant made with Abraham their father, would become a covenant with those from every tribe, tongue and nation. When God told Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him, he was talking about covenant – since blessing is a covenantal term.

Their very existence as an ethnic, political and religious group was for the purpose of the covenant coming to you and me – or should I say, you and I being brought into the covenant, to be included along with Abraham and all his children. ‘The Earth’ and ‘The World’ are references to the Gentiles who would be gathered from every nation through the Gospel going out in the Spirit’s power. So the two pictures of salt of the earth, and light of the world, convey this sense that the blessing Israel knew was to pervade the world like salt does food and light a dark room. (In Isaiah 42:6 tells God’s people that they are to be a light to the nations – a sign of the covenant.)

Israel was supposed to be this covenant salt, but failed in their mandate. And they were always going to fail – it was God’s purpose that they as a nation should fail, because His plan from the beginning was to bring forth from this broken, failed and sinful people the True Israelite, His Beloved First Born Son (see Exodus 4:22), the Great High Priest who would offer the perfect sacrifice, seasoned with the real – not symbolic – salt of God’s judgement, in order to confirm the ‘covenant of salt’ not only with Jews but with all who would have faith in Him.

Doug Wilson is a great pastor and Bible scholar. I deeply respect him, and have appreciated his teaching ever since I subscribed to Credenda Agenda back in 1997.

As a young(er) upstart from backwater of the Evangelical world, I am reluctant to call out prominent Christian leaders when I disagree with them; and it’s extremely unlikely that he will read this anyway. However I want to point out an error that he made recently, not to make myself out to be smarter than him, but because it touched a raw nerve of mine: the need to be consistent when doing exegesis, and to avoid at all costs having our use of Bible texts influenced by our own Creed or Agenda.

Doug’s article Until Someone Unsettles It, posted on Feb 2, is a defence of young earth, 6 day creationism. I’m not going to tackle him on the big issues of this debate, but simply pick up on a text he uses where he argues for universal death (ie. humans and animals) entering the world at the point of Adam’s sin:

First, the Bible teaches from beginning to end that the plan of salvation is intended to restore the entire created order. In Genesis, we were banished from Eden and the tree of life, and at the end of Revelation, the tree of life is there beckoning us, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And in that return to the Edenic state, God includes the creatures, which means that these creatures were included in the bliss we fell from. Why would they be restored with us if they didn’t fall with us?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25).

Wilson uses Isaiah 65:25 to support the notion that animals will also be renewed in the new creation, with all their predatory and carnivorous instincts removed. So, he is reading this verse literally, using it as evidence that 1. animals will be in the new creation, 2. The way animals behave now in a fallen creation is a result of Adam’s sin that introduced death, and therefore 3. The scenario painted in this verse is what we will actually experience in the new creation.

Here’s where the problem comes in. This verse is plucked from a wider passage (17-24) in which God promises a new heavens and a new earth:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,and their descendants with them.24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25 ESV)

We see that our verse in question is a part of a bigger portrait of peace, prosperity and joy that God is promising His people as the fruit of the redemption he will be accomplishing through the work of his Servant (Isaiah 53).

The big question is: Are we to take this as a literal, actual description of the new creation – what we as Christians will actually experience, or is it to be taken as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation?

See, if we are to take verse 25 literally, we need to be consistent and take the whole passage literally. That includes:

  •  Confining the new Creation to the city of Jerusalem, or at most to the Holy Land (if ‘Jerusalem’ represents the nation) (18,19)
  • Old men dying at 100 years (20)
  • Sinners who are cursed for living up to 100 years (20)
  • People still marrying and producing more children (23)
  • Snakes remaining under a curse (25)
  • A specific mountain (probably Zion) being holy in distinction from the rest of creation (25)

All of these things, we know, need to be read in light of the coming of Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s promises in Him, for the Church, who are the continuation of God’s chosen people. We know that in the New Creation there will be no more death, no curse, no sin, and no human marriage (with the implication of no procreation). We also know that all of creation will be renewed, not just a pocket surrounding geographical Jerusalem. In fact, the New Testament presents the ‘New Jerusalem’ not as a geographic or architectural structure, but as the community of God’s family among whom He dwells forever.

What does this mean for our interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25? I believe it means we must read it in the second sense I described above: as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation.

I actually agree with Wilson that there will be animals in this new creation, and that they will be peaceable and not to be feared. I just think this is the wrong verse to substantiate this claim, because to do so requires us to then take the whole passage literally on things that the New Testament requires us to take figuratively.  To take it one step further and present it as evidence that there was no non-human death before the fall is digging the hole even deeper.

To be consistent, if we are to take verse 25 as an indication of the result of God’s renewal of creation on animals, then we must also take verse 20 as meaning that this renewal will result in us all living to 100 years and then dying. Which kinda contradicts his thesis (which I agree with wholeheartedly) that there will be no death.

What it comes down to is that Wilson has taken a text out of context to become a prooftext for his pretext; something that he, with his usual passion for biblical truth and integrity, would reject wholeheartedly.

 

1 Corinthians 7:25-31, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Our world recently has had no shortage of crises that have had some impact on us.

The Christians during the first century were no stranger to crises; in fact a significant proportion of the New Testament exists to some extent because of various crises happening either in the church, in the world, or both. Jesus was very clear that the time between his first and second coming – what we call ‘the Last Days’ would be a time of turmoil and tribulation, with God’s people by no means being immune from trouble. Christians are assured that we will be in a battle – a battle with a world which is hostile to Him; a battle with circumstances that comes from living in a world that is under a curse and is full of chaos, danger and confusion; a battle with others within the church who distort or water down the Gospel, or grasp for power; and a battle with the devil and with our own sin.

We are in a privileged position at the moment in Australia, where by and large life feels pretty stable. We all have access to our basic human rights, and can feel relatively secure with a stable government system, a wealthy economy, good law and order, and no major conflicts with our neighbours. For the majority of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world this is not necessarily the case. Many of them are born into crisis situations, and will die never having left them.

We should not become complacent to think that our comfort is going to continue forever for us or for our children or grandchildren. Recent events with terrorism happening on our own shores have reminded us that we live in a bubble – and some are fearful that this bubble will burst more easily and sooner than we might think.

And all of us also, no doubt, have experienced – or are experiencing – crises on a more personal level – in our family, work, community, finances or health. So, how should we view – and respond to – crises?

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

In our first passage, Paul is having a conversation with the Corinthians about the place of marriage. In the midst of this conversation he refers to a principle that should not only shape their approach to marriage, but to all of life:

‘The present form of this world is passing away.’ (31)

This is the reason he gives for why, ‘those who have wives [should] live as though they have none, 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…’ (7:30) summed up I with the phrase, ‘…those who deal with the world as though they have no dealings with it.’ (31)

At first glance Paul’s words here might seem a little extreme. Is he calling for Christians to dissolve all their marriages, get rid of all their possessions, and live a life of complete detachment from all desires – as if there is something wrong with this physical world and bodies in which we live? When he says ‘the appointed time has grown very short,’ is he implying that Jesus will return within their lifetimes – even within the next week or so, and so they should simply sit and wait for His appearing, and to make any plans for the future is pointless and wrong?

A look at the context of Paul’s comments – both within the letter of 1 Corinthians and in the historical setting – will help us to understand not only what Paul was saying to the Corinthians, but also what God is saying to us, particularly at times of crisis.

What is ‘the world’?

Firstly, we need to understand what he means when he uses the word, ‘world’. Today this word can tend to mean simply the physical reality of the planet in which we live – our location within the universe. Sometimes the Bible uses it in this sense. But in this context, ‘the world’ is referring to the human world, the reality of human life and civilisation and its social, political, religious and moral systems. In and of itself it is not necessarily a negative term, however because of sin and human rebellion it most often is negative – ‘the World’ is a humanity that is living in organised, sophisticated rebellion against God, and whose culture – despite occasional glimpses of goodness and truth and beauty – is by and large striving to topple God from His throne and to set itself up as the masters of the universe. This is the world about which Jesus warned his disciples, ‘in this world you will have trouble,’ but then immediately comforted them by saying, ‘but take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) It is the world about which one day we will see the truth that, ‘the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 11:15)

‘The present crisis’

Secondly, in verse 26 Paul mentions ‘the present distress (or crisis)’. The Corinthians were facing some kind of crisis that was having a significant impact on their lives, causing them to have to think carefully and wisely in their decisions about what would normally be ‘everyday things’ such as marriage, business and leisure. Most likely, this ‘crisis’ was a famine which we know impacted this region around the time that Paul wrote this letter. With a shortage of food also came a degree of social unrest, as people developed uncertainty about their future, mistrust of authorities, and competition with their neighbours. Corinth was a wealthy city, but would nevertheless have been impacted by this famine.

The ‘world’ in which the Corinthians lived was, it seemed, crumbling.

So Paul’s advice about who should and shouldn’t get married is in the context of a particular time of crisis. Getting married was a big event, one that required many resources and much time. The Corinthians were to remember what it meant for them to live as God’s people, and how this living reflected the power of the Gospel. At the end of chapter 15 Paul tells them to ‘be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ He goes on in 16:1 to straightaway talk about the need for them to make a collection to help their much poorer brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He is calling them to be other-person-centred, to think of the needs of others before their own, and so to put on hold some of their own activities for the moment in order to demonstrate God’s generosity to others.

A wake-up call

It is in times of crisis that we are called to reassess our priorities. God’s actions of judgement upon the world are also a mercy and a gift, designed to shake us out of our complacency; to make us wake up to how much we have become engrossed in the things of the world instead of the things of the Lord.

I have recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where we did a tour of Christchurch and heard stories of the 2012 earthquake. We heard of neighbours developing a closer sense of community as they were drawn to work together to support one another. Apparently some people who used to sleep naked now wear pyjamas, since when an earthquake strikes at night you don’t even have time to put your clothes on. We also heard of the controversies that have arisen as people debate how the city should be rebuilt, with many complaining about the Anglican church not being willing to spend nearly 200 million dollars and 6 years to repair the cathedral (maybe some of those people might also complain that the church has too much money and should be spending their resources on feeding the poor instead of making moral judgements and trying to convert people.)

We had boarded the plane for New Zealand unsure of what was going to happen with bushfires burning in the Mt Lofty Ranges just 20 km from our own home. But even at that time, there was an almost overwhelming response of generosity from people offering accommodation and assistance to those affected by the fires. Possibly the magnitude of this response had something to do with the shock we had felt as a nation just weeks earlier with the Martin Place siege; people realised the importance of standing together as neighbours.

Now, these are examples are of non-Christian communities! These are people who do not necessarily know anything of the power of the Gospel to transform and reconcile. Yet these people are nevertheless people made in the image of God, and while crises can often bring out the worst of people’s selfishness and sinfulness, they are also marked by glimpses of how we should be. God, in what theologians call ‘common grace’ at times enables people to act in a way that is contrary to their own sinfulness, maybe so that people will stop and take stock, and say to themselves, ‘Hey! What just happened – what I did, or what someone did for me – seems to resonate with my humanity. I know that this is the way I should be all the time – so what am I not like it all the time? Why do I by default operate out of selfishness and greed? Is there any way that I might be able, somehow, to attain to this picture of goodness and generosity that I have just glimpsed?’

So we should be willing to welcome crises, knowing that the Father only ever gives good and perfect gifts; and our first response in these times should be, ‘Father, what are you teaching me in this? How are you using this time of trouble to make me more like your Son?’

Looking towards the End

While Paul is referring to this very specific situation here, he deliberately uses the kind of language that is also used to refer to the end of the age, the time of Jesus’ return. ‘distress’ is often associated with the last days. ‘The appointed time has grown very short’ and the present form of this world is passing away’ speak of the expectancy of a soon to come resolution to the turmoil of this life; the kind of language used by someone who is expecting Jesus’ return to be just around the corner. Paul wants them to think not just of their immediate situation, but in light of eternity. Times of crisis remind us that this world does indeed have a ‘use by date’. It is a kingdom that is being shaken, and will one day be completely overtaken by the reign of God the Father through His Son. Crises remind of who is truly King, and enable us to look forward with hope to the goal He has for us and His creation.

And so the reason for the Corinthians to make wise choices about how they live their lives is not simply a moral or ethical one on its own – as if there is some abstract moral standard that makes something right or wrong in itself. Rather, it is about Who deserves – and receives – the glory. And the One who deserves the glory is the One who is the true King of all things. This is a big focus in this letter – and in fact in the whole scriptures. We are created to be for the praise of the glory of God. Ethics and morality is not about conforming to a certain standard; it is about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – or in short, doing all things to the glory of God. Loving God is not about a warm mushy sentiment, but living in such a way that makes much of him, so that people see our lives and say, ‘God is good! God is love! God is gracious! God is my Father who is working all things together for good! God is worthy of all my worship!’

The power of the Cross

We will only be enabled to live such lives when we are able to say, ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14) And we will only be able to say such thing when we have a vision of the cross of Christ. This leads us to our second passage.

1 Peter 1:13-25

In this passage Peter sums up some general principles that Paul applied when giving advice to the Corinthians about marriage: being prepared for action, making wise, sober decisions, all in the light of the promise of Jesus’ return. (13) We are to desire to be holy – not for the sake of holiness in and of itself, but because ‘he who called you is holy’ – in other words, we should desire to have lives that bring glory to God be reflecting His character in our actions. And he reminds us that this world is not our home – we are to see ourselves as ‘exiles’ living temporarily living in the kingdom of this world until we see His kingdom break in.

What is the secret to living this kind of life – one of integrity, love and certainty in hope? It is simply knowing something: verse 18-20 We have been ‘ransomed… by the precious blood of Christ.’ This phrase in itself contains enough significance for a whole series of sermons, but we will look briefly at it, to see what kind of vision of the cross enables us to face crises with a confidence and hope that far outweighs anything this world has to offer.

Firstly, we have been ransomed.

This means that we were once slaves. This is terminology that comes from the slave market; a slave could be given their freedom by having someone pay all the debts they owed, effectively purchasing them and then setting them free. We were once slaves – slaves to sin and to our sinful desires, and slaves to the world and its systems, unable to resist all the empty promises of happiness and power and self-fulfilment that it offers. The world, the flesh and the devil – our three greatest enemies were once our masters, and when they said, ‘jump’ we said, ‘how high?’. Jesus has set us free from these masters by cancelling the debt that stood against us, and for which God, in His justice, had rightfully handed us over to. He has come and fought against the strong man, and has overcome him, and he now has possession of all that is in his household, including us. We are now free. Our citizenship in this world has been replaced with citizenship in heaven, and we no longer have to conform to this world and its demands and desires because we know that the world is passing away.

Secondly, the ransom was at the cost of his own blood.

Jesus taught his disciples, ‘…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’(Mark 8:35-36) He said these words as the one who had already stood in front of the devil, who had offered him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him, and said, ‘“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’ (Luke 4:8). He then did just that – lived a life of total obedience to the Father, that took him to the cross to make that redeeming payment for our sin. This not only shows us the magnitude of our sinfulness – that it requires the blood of the eternal Son to atone for it – but also the great assurance we can have in our freedom, that we have truly been crucified to the world and the world to us. It is not just a metaphor; it actually happened that day at Calvary.

Thirdly, this blood bought ransom is precious.

It was not merely sufficient, something that just got the job done. And it was not just costly – worth a lot. It is precious – a word that means honourable, or held in high esteem. The Father looks at the obedience of the Son culminating in his willing death on a cross and says, ‘That is precious to me! This is the thing that I hold as supremely important over all things, that my Son has given himself as a ransom for sinners.’ That is what is meant in part by the phrase, ‘He was foreknown before the foundation of the world’ (20a). The Father created the world, knowing – in fact pre-ordaining –  the corruption and turmoil that would enter into it, because His goal was that His Son would be honoured and glorified above all things because of his willing incarnation and death to save sinners. Knowing the inestimable worth of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father should make it of inestimable worth to us also. It should make the crises of this world fall into their proper perspective, when knowing him is far more precious to us than anything in this world that we may lose.