Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, December 1. Galatians 6 – Ephesians 2

    The most obscene act Christians can perform is to fight over which of them is most righteous.  Unfortunately, that act is all too common in Christendom.

    Even Christians tire of it.  That’s why many of them would rather be in the company of their pagan friends than their brethren in Christ.  Well . . . that’s one reason anyway.  Another reason might be they themselves have more in common with the pagans than with their brethren – but that’s a subject for another day.

    This fight in the Galatian churches had pitted brother against brother.  Paul accused them of “biting and devouring one another” (5:15).  This, he maintains in the Galatian letter, is not Christianity; it’s not what it means to be led by the Spirit of God.  That leading will result in love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  Christians following the Spirit will watch out for one another and do good to one another.  Christians seeking their own agenda are destined to be destroyed.

    It was true then.  It remains true now.

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, November 30. Galatians 3 – 5

    The book of Galatians is the earliest letter we have from Paul.  It was written on his second missionary journey, probably from Corinth, and addresses Christians in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe in Asia Minor.  Galatians is also the book theologians most often go to when opposing “legalism” in Christianity.

     “Legalism” is a “quid pro quo” religion that says if you keep the commands, God owes you blessing.  Two items are significant in this thinking: First, that God’s blessing is “up to you.”  Second, is that you can put God in your debt by the way you live.

    A “quid pro quo” religion is easy if you define the commands narrowly: do you go to church on Sunday?  Are you faithful to your spouse?  Do you tell the truth? If we could narrow the important commands to these, we’d be good.

    In Galatia, the commands had been narrowed to three: keeping certain religious holidays, observing Jewish dietary laws, and practicing circumcision.  These had been staples in the Jewish faith for a long time and since Christianity grew out of Judaism, the carryover was obvious.  By doing these three, you certified you were one of God’s people, you “observed the law” and God owed you blessing.

    But that, of course, left out faith.  It also left out holy living.

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, November 29. 2 Corinthians 13 – Galatians 2

    As I read through the final chapter of 2 Corinthians, I cannot help but wonder what Paul was going to do to his opponents when he arrived in Corinth.

    Of course, Paul was hoping he wouldn’t have to do anything to them; that they would repent.  That comes through very clearly in the chapter.  It was in their best interest to stop their opposition to him and their worldliness.

    Still . . . what if they didn’t?

    In all likelihood, Paul would have simply declared they were no longer in fellowship with the body of Christ, and demand that no one have anything to do with them.

    But so what?  In today’s society, there would be a fight over who keeps the building, who keeps the church bank account, and the losing side would simply go across town to build another church.  That is, after all, the way so many churches have begun in this country.

    One point however is certain: it is possible for Christian people to no longer be “in the faith.”  Their lives simply do not exhibit Jesus any more.  Their brethren will urge them to repent, and encourage them to do so, but if they do not, they cannot be treated as a part of the body of Christ any more.

    It reminds me really of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem.  Sanballat and Tobiah were his opponents.  Both were worshipers of God, and yet, because they had chosen to mix so much of the world in their lifestyle, Nehemiah excluded them from God’s people – and the exclusion was obvious.

    All of us should regularly ask: “Am I in the faith?  Does my life show Christ to the world, or is it just a magnification of the world?”  Whatever our answer, Jesus is not fooled.  He knows the truth, and it is truth that determines eternity.

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, November 28. 2 Corinthians 10 – 12

For the sheer volume of his writings, and the success God gave him in establishing churches throughout Europe in the first century, the apostle Paul is regarded as the greatest of the apostles. Itís difficult to believe that anyone could turn on him and deliberately undertake to destroy his reputation, but that is precisely what some of the Christians in Corinth were doing.
In this letter, his most personal of all the letters, Paul opens his heart to this church.
* ìIf we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation,î he writes (1:6).
* He writes to let them know ìthe depth of [his] loveî for them (2:4).
* In chapter 11 he writes ìGod knowsî I love you (verse 11).
* At the end of the book, he writes plaintively: ìSo I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?î
But make no mistake. Paulís love is not that of an irresponsible parent who is afraid to take charge of his wayward children lest they not like him more. He is coming to Corinth, and when he arrives, he will deal with the opposition and punish every act of disobedience.
Church leadership is the most difficult of leadership, and also the most important. Leaders must be worthy of the respect due them, not just because they are leaders, but because their lives are exemplary in and of themselves. They are able to lead because those they lead feel known and loved. They know their leaders have their best interests at heart, and will sacrifice themselves for those they are leading. Leaders inspire others to follow, they donít have to command it. Throughout this letter, Paul has, reluctantly, given the evidence that he is that kind of leader. And when he arrives in Corinth, he will deal with those who dared to divide his family ñ Godís family. Like parents, sometimes church leaders have to do the very difficult task of being candid and frank. Does it hurt? Yes, but such parenting is critical for the health of the family ñ especially the family of God.

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, November 27. 2 Corinthians 6 – 9.

    2 Corinthians 6:14 – 18 is often applied by Christian interpreters to marriage: Christians should not marry non-Christians.  But before you accept that view, there are some things to consider:

    First, Paul is adamant about whatever he means by being “yoked together” with unbelievers.  He says “don’t do it,” and if you have done it, separate!

    Second, the Corinthian church did have members who were married to non-Christians.  And yet, when Paul specifically addresses these religiously mixed marriages, he specifically forbids a Christian to divorce the non-Christian spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

    So what are we to make of this?

    We should make of it that Paul is not specifically addressing the business of marriage in 2 Corinthians 6.  Rather, he has in mind general relationships (business, social) that might cause a Christian to compromise faith because of the relationship.

    But isn’t this precisely what marriage with non-Christians does?

    Yes, but my point is that Paul does not specifically have this relationship in mind.  Perhaps the best thing we can get from this relative to marriage is that the spiritual dimension ought to be considered when looking for a life-partner.  To leave out how such a relationship might affect your life with God – not even give it a moment’s notice – is unspiritual and short-sighted.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of other relationships in life with the pagan world that challenge our spirituality.  Consider our occupation, perhaps the second greatest challenge to spirituality.  Few people, when considering a job, will ask how this might affect their walk with the Lord – and that ought to be the first question we ask — even before we ask how it will affect our family.

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, November 26. 2 Corinthians 1 – 5

    At the writing of 2 Corinthians, the Christians in Judea were struggling economically.  There had been a famine.  Also, by accepting Christ, they had been cut off from family and friends, and likely even had their businesses shunned.  Paul believed that Christians from other churches could, and should, help.  There was a spiritual dimension to this idea as well: If gentile churches would help Jewish churches, that would further reinforce the intent of Jesus that all God’s people regard themselves as one – free from ethnic, social and political boundariesl barriers.

    At the end of First Corinthians Paul asked the Christians there to take up collections for this cause.  They weren’t the only ones he asked.  He also petitioned churches in Asia Minor, as well as other churches throughout Greece.

    Everywhere Paul asked, the response was overwhelming; everywhere except Corinth.  At first, they responded favorably.  But then, they lagged in getting it done.  The Corinthian Christians objected to Paul telling them what to do.  He did not, after all, fit their notion of a successful person.  He was not the sort of polished speaker they were accustomed to.  And what gave him the right to speak so boldly to them about how they should be living and conducting their worship assemblies?  He wasn’t even one of “the twelve” disciples of Jesus!

    Paul had written to them intending to meet his co-worker Titus in Troas and then come straight to Corinth.  But Titus didn’t show.  Worried about him, Paul changed his travel plans to go look for Titus in Macedonia.  The Corinthians, not knowing the whole story, mistakenly construed this to mean Paul wasn’t very organized and couldn’t follow through on his plans, further alienating him from them.

    Second Corinthians can be divided into parts:

1)    Paul’s reminder to them of what it means to live the Christian life  Chapters 1-7

2)    Paul’s explanation of the collection for the poor in Judea Chapters 8-9

3)    Paul’s defense of his ministry Chapters 10-13

    This letter is a reminder to Christians in all times that our perspective should be different from the world’s.  Our’s is not a “surface” perspective, and our standards are not those of the world (2 Corinthians 10:2,7).  We must purge our lives of everything that keeps us from seeing with the perspective of God.

    How did the Corinthians respond?  My opinion is, not well.  When Paul finally delivers the collection to Jerusalem, there are representatives from every contributing church . . . with the exception of Corinth.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, November 25. 1 Corinthians 15 – 2 Corinthians 1.

    Often called the “resurrection chapter of the Bible,” 1 Corinthians 15 presents Paul’s defense of the resurrection.

    To non-Christians, the very notion that there could be a resurrection of the dead was more than undesirable.  The called it a “hope of worms, a detestable thing which God cannot and will not do.”  The very idea that bodies, long decayed, could be brought back to life simply made no sense.

    Paul addresses this matter in three points:

    First, the resurrection is a crucial doctrine of Christianity.

    Second, Jesus was resurrected, and there are eyewitnesses to back up that truth.

    Third, the resurrection is not the breathing to life of a decayed body, but the recreation of a spiritual body that differs from the decayed one in that the new one can never die again.

    Why is this so important?

    Because the resurrection speaks to the very hope of Christianity.  If there is no resurrection, then there is no judgment, and certainly nothing to look forward to.  Jesus died for nothing.

    But also because the resurrection is a figure of what God intends for our lives here.  Raised with Christ through faith and baptism, we are called to live no longer like decaying people, but like people who will live forever.

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, November 24. 1 Corinthians 12 – 14

    To want what we want when we want it is, unfortunately, common to us all.  To expect to get what we want when we want it, or insist on it, is the heart of selfishness.  This self-centeredness is at the heart of the trouble in the Corinthians church.  You see it in their desire to “fit in” and sacrifice to idols.  You see it in the disorders of the worship assembly in chapter 11.  And you see it again in chapters 12-14 as Paul discusses the exercise of “spiritual gifts.”

    The early Church was characterized by abilities given and empowered by God’s Spirit.  Some were miraculous and commanded the attention of others.  Unfortunately, they also fed the self-centeredness of the Corinthian church.

    In chapter 12, Paul makes points: First, that while everyone has different gifts from God, they all come from the same God and are dependent solely on God’s choice – so no one should elevate himself above another just because he has a particular gift.  Second, these gifts are not given to distinguish Christians from one another, but to empower them to serve one another.  Finally, all the gifts are equally important because each is simply a part of a whole.  For the body of Christ to be what it needs to be, all the gifts God gives are important.

    Each of us has a place in the body of Christ.  While some of us might get more “air time” (face time), all are important and none are dispensable.  If you feel you are not being valued, it may be that your church is overlooking you.  On the other hand, it is more likely that you are not living up to the potential God has given you.

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, November 23. 1 Corinthians 9 – 11

    I Corinthians 8 begins a new section of this letter noted with the opening words “Now about . . .”  (you will see this repeated in 7:1; 8:1; 12:1 and 16:1).

    Chapters 8-10 deal with food that is offered to idols, which, on the surface, has next to nothing to do with us in 21st century America.  But more deeply, it applies to us in a very real way.  Ancient Greco-Roman society was very religious.  Every trade had its own god, as did every major city.  There was tremendous pressure on Christians to at least acknowledge these gods and give them respect – if you were going to fit in popular culture.

    The Corinthians maintain that they know these gods are false and “nothing,” and therefore paying them at least a nodding homage is not sinful – they’re just trying to “get along” in the world.

    Paul maintains that in giving any credence to these gods at all opens the door to allowing people to believe in their credibility, and Paul says ‘that won’t do.’  Sometimes you have to deprive your own rights in order to avoid a false impression.

    In chapter 9, Paul asserts that he has done this in his own personal life.  Whereas he has the right to be supported by the churches he serves, he does not use that right so that no one might ever be able to accuse him of ‘ministering for profit.’

    The lesson for us is that our ‘rights’ must always be tempered by how the exercise of those rights might adversely affect the spirituality of others.

    But don’t miss the point.  Sometimes this text is used to keep Christians from behaviors that are not sinful, but which other Christians find “offensive” (they don’t like them).  That’s not what Paul had in mind.

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, November 22. 1 Corinthians 6 – 8

    The books of First and Second Corinthians comprise the largest body of Paul’s writings. 

    Paul wrote First Corinthians on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1 – 21:16) while still in Ephesus (1 Corinthians16:8).  It was written to the Christians in Corinth, a major city of Greece.  The metropolis was decidedly Roman in its customs, and decidedly worldly in everything.  It was impressive with its architecture and, as one of three banking centers in Greece, exceedingly rich. One writer puts it like this: “The only Corinthian tradition . . . respected was commercial success. It was every man for himself and the weak went to the wall.”  Additionally, like all metropolises, it was a city filled with vice.

    Honor and respect were hugely important.  Ben Witherington writes: “The Corinthian people lived within an honor-shame cultural orientation, where public recognition was often more important than facts and where the worst thing that could happen was for one’s reputation to be publicly tarnished.  In such a culture a person’s sense of worth is based on recognition of one’s accomplishments.”  Interestingly, of the 1553 monuments recovered from the ancient world, 1200 of them are from Corinth.

    The church was deeply divided along lines of worldly status.  Some believed they could get away with anything, even if they were Christians, because of their status.  Others, of lower status, made it their aim to “get back” at the uppercrust.  Dr. Richard Oster writes that the church of the Corinthians “had become world based, glory motivated, and grounded in immorality.”

    But, Oster continues, “there was hope, found in a detailed plan by Paul intended to bring the Corinthian church back to repentance, unity, and, most importantly, back to God. We call this plan 1 Corinthians, a letter written for the sake of restoration. . . .”

    The book may be outlined as follows:

1)    The importance of unity, and the status that comes from God (chapters 1-4).

2)    Dealing with sin in inter-personal relationships (chapters 5-6)

3)    Matters dealing with marriage (chapter 7).

4)    Getting along with one another (chapters 8-10).

5)    Disorders in the worship assembly (chapters 11 – 14).

6)    The Resurrection (chapter 15).

7)    Plans for the future (chapter 16).