Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Scratching the Surface of 1 & 2 Corinthians
Scratching the Surface of 1 & 2 Corinthians
I'm not hung up on franchises.
I got it from Paul in his letters to the Corinthians who got it from Jesus as recorded by the Gospelers with special emphasis on His high priestly prayer in John 17.
Really, I can't find anything in the book about Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, or any other franchise of Christendom.
All I read about with increasing longing is a Church made up of people who love Jesus by praying and trying to love like Jesus rather than a bunch of little churches/franchises elevating their traditions to something superior to the other ones yet often only coincidental to Christianity by the book.
Candidly, when I look at all of those little churches/franchises that are so peculiar and anal about their distinguishing, uh, peculiarities and analities to distinguish themselves from other little churches/franchises that are so peculiar and anal about their distinguishing, uh, peculiarities and analities, I know why Matthew included chapter 23 - and if the last few verses don't break your heart, your heart can't be close to His - and why Jesus said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
That's why Paul's letters to the Corinthians are so challenging, convicting, and, he hopes for Christ's sake, converting.
Like all letters including his own and these two, 1 & 2 Corinthians go all over the place and cover lots of things in an overlapping and sometimes hard-to-keep-up-catch-on kinda way.
Yet while I'm just scratching the surface of 'em, there seems to be two dominant themes: (1) Love Jesus enough to overcome your peculiar and anal distinctives so you can love people who love Jesus enough to overcome their peculiar and anal distinctives; and (2) Follow leaders who follow Jesus by the book.
Before scratching the surface of those themes in these letters, let's take a few more moments to consider Paul's letter-writing style.
He draws in readers with warm affirmations/affections: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ...I give thanks for your faithfulness..."
Then after drawing in the readers with warm affirmations/affections, he draws and quarters 'em: "I appeal to you...I demand your attention as women and men who say they love Jesus to start acting like it...You are acting like people who do not belong to the Lord."
I used his letter-writing technique in teaching homiletics: "Get 'em relaxed even laughing with some appropriate humor and storytelling so that you can stick in the knife of truth and twist it before they know what hit 'em."
Getting back to the two dominant themes of these letters, Paul pulls no punches after the readers have dropped their guards.
Love, to Him as reflected by him in these letters, is no sentimental, syrupy, superficial facial expression akin to a beagle begging for some of your burger.
Love is an attitude expected of people who really get it/Him; as he later wrote to the Galatians: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
The word is agape; and it can be defined so generally that almost anybody will nod with assent: praying and laboring for the highest good for others regardless of who, what, where, when, or why without the need or expectation for response, regard, or reward.
But definition is not enough for Paul because it is never enough for his Lord Jesus.
Jesus said love becomes real when we do what He says: "If you love Me, you will obey Me!"
So Paul spells it out with precision in 1 Corinthians 13.
It's not just a bunch of sentimental, syrupy, and superficial sentences for blushing brides and red-faced grooms.
Anybody who actually reads it and gets it/Him discovers that chapter is a very stern description of how to enflesh the most distinguishing personal and social ethic of Christianity in all relationships that reflects our relationship with Him: "As you do it to/for them, you do it to/for Me."
Take some time to read a few translations/paraphrases of that chapter and you'll join me on your/our knees in confession and repentance.
Paul expects that kinda agape attitude in action to be the guiding principle of all relationships as the best reflection of our relationship with Him.
That's why he was so appalled, aggravated, and antagonistic toward so-called Christians who hang onto heroes that divide so-called Christians from each other instead of coming together in/through/for the only real Hero of the faith.
That's why he was so appalled, aggravated, and antagonistic toward any idolatry - distraction from Christianity by the book - that divides, segregates, and separates people who say they love Jesus from each other which is the same thing as being divided, segregated, and separated from Him: "As you do it to/for them, you do it to/for Me."
So thinking about it some more, the second dominant theme of the letters is really an amplification of the first: "Follow leaders who follow the Leader by the book."
If we really follow Jesus, we love like Jesus to love Jesus.
That's why Paul could say, essentially, "Imitate me as I imitate Him and don't imitate me if I'm not imitating Him."
Surely, Paul often confesses his own fallings and failings as a Christian: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
In other words, no one is perfectly Christian.
Parenthetically, if that were possible, there would be no need for Jesus to save everyone from their sins.
So when Jesus prescribes perfection, He is expecting people who love Him to want to obey Him perfectly even while knowing no one will never not need Him to bridge the gap between human depravities and divine perfections.
But note this well!
Paul does not use our limitations as an excuse for not praying and trying to improve; and he knows God knows the difference between people who are really trying/praying to improve and those who are posing for the Christmas and Easter parades.
I like how he seems to sum it/Him all up at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 and 2 Corinthians: "Faith, hope, love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love...Aim at perfection and accept my encouragement. So shall the God of love and peace be ever with you. A handshake all round, please!"
...to be continued...
Blessings and Love!