Spiritual maturity has little to do with doctrine | 1 Corinthians 3.1-3


And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
1 Corinthians 3.1-3

Firstly: Oh. Snap. Knowing the issues this church deals with, that’s got to be so insulting to them in the highest degree. “You are not spiritually mature.” But notice what makes them immature: not doctrine. Paul says time and time again throughout this letter: they’ve got wisdom and doctrine. And yet they are “infants”. Why? Jealousy. Wow.

Think: Do we think that we are “spiritually immature” when we’re “simply” jealous? What of other emotional, heart things? Do we use those things to judge our “spiritual maturity”? Or do we look more to doctrinal knowledge, what podcasts we listen to, what books we read, or how good our “quiet times” are?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Sermon’s Essence & Power | 1 Corinthians 2.1-5


When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2.1-5

This encourages me so much in preaching. No matter the exegesis, eloquence, or whatever, we preach Christ and him crucified, and that makes a good sermon. We also live a life in accordance with that outside of the sermon and it supports our preaching as well. Just as in the nature of God Himself, our words and our deeds cannot be separated from one another.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Righteous Works; Wicked People | Romans 6.20


When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Romans 6.20

Those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But when they do it, it is from a place that is not their essence. I can’t think of an analogy right now. But, they are free to do righteous sings even though they are not considered righteous people. Is that a good way to put it?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does Paul Not Believe in Original Sin? | Romans 7.9-11


I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Romans 7.9-11

Hmm…is it just me, or does this does seem to go against the idea of Original Sin? It sounds like Paul is saying that he was born in purity and “alive-ness”, and it was only later that the law killed him. He does not seem to be saying here that he thinks he was born in death (yes, yes, I know Ephesians says otherwise, but I’m trying to stick to the text in question!)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does Paul Believe in a Hell that Saves? | 1 Corinthians 3.10-17


According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.10-17

Part of the problem with how we talk about Hell is the confusing diversity of images and language used to talk about it in the Bible. This is true here.

I don’t want to read too much into this few words, but at least in the first part, Paul seems to be saying that what gets burned in the fires of judgment are more the works of someone than the person themselves. In fact, it seems that the wicked come out the other side of the fire “saved”, with all their useless works and such having been burned away.

But then, the next section clearly says that God destroys “that person” (not just their works). But because it comes right after the statement of the person being saved by their wicked works being burned away, I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “yeah, that refining, restorative, salvific fire I just talked about? God will take each person through that destruction–the one that saves.”

Man, the more I’m on the lookout to see any universalistic statements by Paul, the more I’m starting to see things that could definitely be taken that way.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

A method for humility, according to St. Paul | 1 Corinthians 3:18-19


Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. For it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”
1 Corinthians 3.18-19

What a method for humility. Whenever we feel wise or smart, the best thing we can do is put ourselves in a situation where this is not valued. We must be “simplified” and lose the wisdom, else lose Christ in the process. Here I think of Lesslie Newbigin, who left his lucrative writing and tenured prestige and teaching to work with those who would never know or appreciate his brilliance. This can be a discipline that we do.

For example: Perhaps I should consider ways to stop blogging or cutting it out of my routine in those moments or seasons that I feel it is building me up too much.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Corinthian Fragments on Church Leadership & Growth | 1 Corinthians 3 & 4


What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3.5-7

There is no such thing as “church growth” methods or strategies. Just a “church growing God”. This should correct our hubris and encourage us: when a church “fails”, it need not be because of a failure of method, leadership, vision, strategy, preaching, planning, or obedience. A lot of times, it’s just that God did not give the growth, and we should move on.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3.11

Would that we embraced this as our ultimate Church “growth” philosophy!

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23

Is it just me or is this an incredibly Protestant view of Church leadership?

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
1 Corinthians 4:1

Oh what a beautiful picture of what Church leadership is! “Stewards of the mysteries of God”. I love that.

I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
1 Corinthians 4:14

What a model for leader-congregant relationships.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Fundamentalist vs. Pentecostals vs. the Cross | 1 Corinthians 1.27-31


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1.27-31

So good. And also really appropriate for this age. The fundamentalists want knowledge and certainty, and the Pentecostals want experience and signs. But we preach Christ crucified.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

You don’t own your Baptism. Jesus does. | Romans 6.3-4


Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6.3-4

Technically, there is only one baptism that has ever taken place. Christ’s. All other baptisms are baptisms in his own. He is the one that walked in newness of life. He is the one who was baptized. He is the forerunner for all of Christian life–even it’s Covenantal participation by baptism. How beautiful is that?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

On alcohol, abstinence, & the “weak in faith” | Romans 14:1-4


philly-beer-resurrection-ale-houseWelcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Romans 14:1-4

Look at that first line. What an interesting way to open this discussion. How might this apply today? Mainly, I think it shows that this goes a whole lot deeper than just “don’t drink around people that have a problem with alcohol”, or some such usual application. Growing up, this was the main way these verses were used in my life. People would say “you shouldn’t drink alcohol, because some people might have alcohol abuse problems and, seeing you drink, it might lead them into their alcoholism.” This introductory line shows us this is a lot deeper than mere behaviors or doctrinal superiority.

As for the rest of these verses, there a few other big takeaways (other than the hilarious swipe at vegetarians, haha).

First, it does not say that because some hypothetical believers out there might not feel comfortable with some things that others who otherwise feel free to do those things should abstain all together, always, in all places. The burden here is on the person who is “weak”, or who is bothered. They bear the weight to communicate this to the community. They are to let it be made known, and the body is to respond accordingly.

This is Paul teaching us how to respond to the realities and messiness of actual, particular members in the community, not to act generally in anticipation of possibilities.

Continue reading

A Random Romans Miscellany | vignettes from Romans 2


There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Romans 2.9-11

Okay, this is a little funny, right? “God shows no partiality…to the Jews first, and then to the Gentile”. Haha.

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Romans 2.12

Regarding the New Perspective on Paul. See, here: “The law” is an ethnic marker, not a bunch of stuff to do. (Otherwise, how might someone be “apart from the law”?)

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Romans 2.14-16

What the Hell? (Literally.) This definitely seems to talk about an almost salvific dimension to some people’s natural consciences, as if they’re consciences will ultimately judge them. I don’t know how you can pull anything differently from a plain reading of this.

Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Romans 2.25-26

Sorry to stop and point this out every time/em> see something like this, but again, here’s another thing in line with some of the basic ideas of the New Perspective on Paul. But here: Circumcision (ethnic markers, not legalism) = Law

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

When & How to Criticize Other People’s Pastors | 1 Corinthians 4.2-5


Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
1 Corinthians 4.2-5

What does this mean? At least right now, my instinct is to take it like this: outside of clear sin issues, we should not divide and judge other Church leaders (nor effusively favor them). If you can’t find clear sin issues in their lives, churches, or teaching, then don’t demean their doctrine, style, gifting, or missional emphases. In the same way, though, even if there are no clear sin issues going on, don’t exalt them because of their doctrine, style, gifting, or Missional emphasis.

If a church doesn’t fit for you, fine. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. But don’t bad-mouth, criticize, gossip, complain, or be overly-sensitive and judgmental at them. To both conservatives and liberals, neither of us should criticize other members of the family, no matter how kooky they are–not even for what we feel is “bad” teaching. “Sinful” teaching, however is another issue. Clear historical heresy, teaching that abuses and harms the dignity of humanity, and things like prosperity preaching are examples of things that should be judged harshly and criticized.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

For the times you want to be strong, but aren’t | 1 Corinthians 1.27-31


But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1.27-31

Oh how encouraging this is in those moments that I feel most inadequate intellectually and spiritually.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Really. What is this “Mystery” Paul is talking about? | 1 Corinthians 2.6-8


Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1 Corinthians 2.6-8

What an odd set of lines. I’ll be brutally honest. I get that “the mystery” is the inclusion of the Gentiles but in hindsight, it doesn’t seem that mysterious. From the beginning, God has promised a multitude of peoples would be counted among his people. Perhaps, the mystery was not merely the inclusion of the Gentiles as we commonly express it, but rather the way in which they are connected to God’s people? Maybe the “mystery” is more that it is no longer by becoming an ethnic group, but rather by both Jew and Gentile becoming something different and wholly other from what they have been.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Paul: Diverse Theology, Singular Mission | 1 Corinthians 1.10-11


Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
1 Corinthians 1.10-11

Notice here that Paul does not say they need to be one in doctrine or theology. Rather, he says mind and purpose. They should have the same goals for the church. They should have the same sense of mission. They should all be moving in the same direction.

They should also be of one mind. This can mean lots of things, but the sense that I get is that it’s closely related to the purpose. They are singularly focused on what is essential and have proper weight and proper priority given to the proper things. Looking at the different allegiances that Paul goes on to criticize within the Church, there does seem to be a lot of doctrinal and theological diversity in this church. Paul, in a sense, seems overjoyed about this. He has a problem, rather, with their disjointed sense of purpose and mission. So, doctrinal diversity is good. Loss of mission is bad.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.