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3 John – Encouragement for Gaius

Welcome to the shortest book in the New Testament! This very traditional letter was addressed to “Gaius” which is a fairly common name and it is unlikely that we know much about him with any certainty. Whoever he is, he and John shared a warm relationship, mutually bound in Christian love (v 1,6). They are also bound by the truth (v 1, 3, 4, 8, 12).

The person carrying this letter to Gaius is possibly Demetrius. He would have arrived with a packet of at least two epistles and handed them to Gaius. When John wrote, “I have written something to the church” (v 9), Gaius would have understood it to be 2 John.

Third John is written to warn Gaius of Diotrephes, who opposes John (v 10) and who may cause problems when Second John is read to the church. If Diotrephes does in fact cause problems, Gaius is encouraged by John to take heart and stand his ground (v 11), for John will come quickly to sort things out (v 10, 14).

What we get out of this letter is not what we get out of most others. We do not gain any new insights about Jesus Christ or the Spirit. It isn’t likely that you will receive a card from someone where they would quote a verse from this letter. So, what do we get out of this letter?

This is a letter written from one seasoned minister to another. The reality, identity, and expectations of the God they both serve is not the issue. This is a note of encouragement written to a trusted and well-grounded coworker. There are times in ministry when there are potentially hard situations ahead and I’ve had ministers give me a call or write me a note of encouragement when I’ve gone through some of those times. It is encouraging to me that this same kind of encouragement happened then between those who are working in the faith. “I know this is going to be hard but stand firm in what is right.” It is always reassuring to know there are others standing with you when it seems so many are standing against you.

Third John also shows us potentially how some of this correspondence took place. I picture Demetrius handing Gaius Second John, telling him it is to read it to the church, and then handing him Third John and telling him it is addressed to him. Gaius is now prepared for the potential conflicts he might have with Diotrephes and knows that John is with him in this conflict and will be by his side soon.

Third John makes the early church come to life a little bit more for me. There isn’t a lot that is overly profound but what it does reveal about the early Church reminds me that we are part of something real that has been going on for two thousand years.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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John 21 – Fishers of….fish?

This is an odd chapter to me for several reasons.  First, let’s review what we know about what all is going on around this story.  We know that Jesus was with the Apostles for several years during his ministry.  Jesus, as he predicted, went to Jerusalem and was arrested by the chief priests and religious leaders and handed over to the Romans, who crucified him.  Three days later he was resurrected and shortly after appeared to the women in the Garden and the disciples in the upper room where they were gathered.  Jesus spent some part of 40 days with the disciples and Apostles explaining things to them.  He then ascended to prepare a place for his followers to go.  About 40 days later the Spirit is going to come upon the Apostles with power and they will preach the Gospel in every language and 3,000 will be baptized and begin the church.

So John 21 falls somewhere in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.  He has already appeared to the disciples twice before (v. 13).  And here is what I find interesting…the Apostles seem to lack any sense of purpose or direction.  It appears that they are sitting around one day and Peter says to a couple of the others, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I am going fishing tonight.”  And not just casual vacation fishing; this is occupational catching fish in nets for money fishing.  They aren’t out preaching or teaching.  They aren’t in prayer or even meeting in an upper room any more.  There are only a few of them there.  It seems like they don’t really know what’s next.

There is an interesting thing here that we see in almost every text where Jesus appears to people after his resurrection: they sort of recognize him.  There is always this suggestion that they recognize him and can tell that he is who they know he is, but also an implication that he looks a little different.  Jesus, as the firstborn of among the dead is in his resurrection body and we, as Christians can look forward to our own resurrection body someday.  And what seems to be the case is that we will be different yet recognizable.

It’s also weird to me that Peter puts his outer garment on and then jumps in the water.  Apparently a strong swimmer to swim fully clothed.  I also like that we are told exactly how many fish they caught, which is apparently far beyond what nets can usually hold without breaking.  Perhaps this should be known more as the miracle of the super strong nets.

The story then moves to the three part questioning of Peter’s love for Jesus.  Of course, by the third questioning Peter is hurt.  His best friend and the one who he proclaimed to be the Messiah is questioning his loyalty and love for him.  It’s hard to know if Jesus is showing some undoing of the three denials in way that is getting back at Peter or has some redemptive force.  It’s also possible that Jesus is just really trying to drive home the importance of taking care of the “sheep” or followers of Jesus.

And then, just as we come to the end of that somehow redemptive, somehow commissioning conversation Jesus tells Peter in some cryptic way how he is going to die.  Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down on a cross.  What’s really somewhat humorous is that Peter looks over at the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably the Apostle John and author of this Gospel), and he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  This is a grown up version of a conversation I have with my toddler children on a fairly consistent basis…”How come I have to _______ while she gets to __________?  That’s not fair.”  Jesus simply responds, “What business is that of yours?”  Good answer Jesus.

Finally, the entire Gospel ends with John stating that this is simply a snapshot of the endless volumes that could be written about all of the things Jesus did and said during his lifetime, which is a pretty powerful conclusion to the book.  On the other hand, it’s almost that John just said, “Well, I guess that’s enough.  I couldn’t ever tell you everything, but that’s enough.”

And on that note…the end.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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Carter on Old Testament Violence in a Modern World

So I am taking a graduate class at Oklahoma Christian University on Old Testament Theology.  After months of spending hours reading, studying, and discussing topics ranging from the mercy of God, the justice of God, the violence in the Old Testament and even whether or not God changes his mind I am certainly qualified to answer theological questions about Old Testament texts.  At least, that’s what I thought.  Until Carter applied an Old Testament text (David and Goliath) to a very modern reality (the awesomeness that is Manchester United soccer).

An actual conversation in my car the other day:

Carter: So Dad, what did you do today?

Me: Uh…I watched the Manchester United soccer game.  Remember…you watched part of it with me?  Oh right…I made you go take a nap before it was over.

Carter: …yeah.

Me:  Well United won.

Carter: Awesome!  They are gonna practice and keep trying and kicking those guys in the white shirts and knocking them over and beating them and cutting off their heads!

(If Manchester United had been playing City this week, I might have just agreed with him, but since it was somebody else, I felt compelled to discourage beheading.)

Me: Carter, we don’t cut off people’s heads and we don’t talk about cutting off people’s heads.

Carter: But David cut off Goliath’s head.

Me: ……………

Carter: Dad, David cut off Goliath’s head.

Me:  Yeah…..but….Goliath was a really bad guy.

Carter:  Oh.  Is he still a really bad guy?

Me:  Well…I guess not.

Carter:  Where is Goliath now?

Me:  Well I’m not sure.

Carter:  So do you think he’s in outer space or earth?

Me:  Uh….earth.

Carter:  Our earth, like the one we live in?

Me:  So…uh….did you have fun today?

I sure hope the questions don’t get harder.  Carter is three and I was pretty much stumped.  I am doomed.  I guess it just goes to show that the Bible truly is a wonderful and mysterious text that will forever invite new generations to enter conversations about what it meant, what it means, and what kind of a difference it makes in our world today.  Or it just means I am doomed to a lifetime of knowing less while trying to seem to know more than my kids.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

John 9 – Oh No He Didn’t

Okay…so…whaaaaat?

Q: Did this man sin or his parents that caused his blindness?  A: Neither.

Phwew…that would have been uncomfortable.  Then Jesus says that the man was born blind and has had a terrible life of blindness so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  And now I am really uncomfortable.    Jesus makes it sound like God made somebody blind for their entire life for God’s benefit.  I don’t think that’s really what Jesus means, but his statement is at least troubling.  Personally, I think he’s refuting the idea that all illness is tied to sin (in contrast with John 5) and stating that instead of having evil in him (as many assumed at that time), he will have God working in him.

So Jesus spits on the ground, makes a mud pie, and sticks it on the guy’s blind eyes.  Wait…what?  Did Jesus need the spit, the dirt, the combination, or was this for the guy’s benefit (as in “You’ll know you’ve washed enough to get all the blindness off when there’s no more mud)?  Okay…ready for my opinion?  In John’s Gospel, when Jesus heals on the Sabbath he always does something or commands the healed person to do something that the Pharisees will consider “work.”  In this case, it’s making mud pies for the eyes.  Earlier it was picking up a mat.  Either way, it’s picking a fight with the Pharisees.  Again…this is my opinion.  But if it is what Jesus is going for…well it works.  And now for the awesome conversations:

  • Isn’t that the blind beggar?
  • No, that isn’t him.
  • How can you tell?
  • Because he isn’t blind.
  • Hey, you over there with the seeing-eyes.  Are you the blind guy?
  • I am…I mean I was…er…yes.
  • Then why are you seeing?
  • Jesus put some mud on my eyes and I washed it off and now I can see.
  • Where did Jesus go?
  • I don’t know.

Enter Pharisees:

  • Hey blind guy, how can you see?
  • He put mud on my eyes.  I washed.  Now I see.
  • Whoever did this cannot be from God.  He breaks the Sabbath.  How can a Sabbath-breaking sinner perform signs like this?
  • Hey blind man, what do you think?  It was your eyes he opened.
  • He is a prophet.
  • You weren’t blind.  This guy is faking.  Somebody go find this guy’s parents.

Enter Parents

  • Hey parents, is this your son?  Is this your blind son who was born blind?  How can he see?
  • Well first, he is our son.  We know that.  Secondly, he was born blind.  We are quite sure of that.  But we don’t know how he can see or who did it.  Please don’t kick us out of synagogue.  You should ask him.  He is a grown man after all.
  • Hey blind man, come back over here.  Hey, seriously…tell us the truth.  We already know this guy is a sinner.  What did he do?  How can you see?
  • I already told you and you didn’t listen.  Why do you want to hear again?  So you can become his disciples?
  • (Pharisees’ heads explode in anger/insults follow)  We aren’t his disciple…you are his disciple.  We follow Moses.  We don’t even know where this guy is from!
  • You’re kidding.  I mean…you are kidding, right?  He healed my blindness.  God listens to him and God doesn’t listen to sinners.  Only people from God can do things like healing a man born blind.  Therefore…
  • You were such a sinner at birth you were born blind…what do you know?  Get out of here!

Enter Jesus:

  • Heard you got thrown out.  Do you believe in the Son of Man?
  • Who is he?  If you tell me I will believe.
  • You’ve SEEN him; in fact, it’s me.
  • Lord, I believe.
  • I have come to judge people.  The blind will see and those who see will become blind.
  • (Pharisees nearby)  Hey, are you calling us blind?
  • If you were blind, there would be an excuse for the way you are.  But you say you can see, so what could be your excuse?  You must be held responsible.

This is one of my favorite chapters in the Gospel of John.  It is so clear who is in control.  It is so clear who cares about people.  It is so clear how foolish those who are opposed to Jesus really are.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 6 – Why Do You Want Jesus?

Jesus gains a few thousand followers and John is quick to emphasize that they are following him because of the miraculous signs that he did. This will be key throughout this chapter. I have often wondered how frustrating following Jesus could have been when Jesus says some of the things he says to the apostles. Jesus looks at Philip and asks where they are going to buy food for everyone. He gives the logical response but Jesus wants to make sure they understand that their logic isn’t going to do much for them.

Andrew walks up with a kid and some food and says, “Look what I found!” and the kid gets to go home and say to his parents, “You’ll never guess what happened today!” After everyone has had their fill, Jesus cleans up after himself and has the Apostles pick up the leftovers. This sets the stage for the Twelve Tribes wandering through the wilderness, grumbling the entire way.

They want to make him king by force because someone who can heal the sick and feed everyone would be a great person to have as King when you have an overwhelming desire to overthrow Rome. They like the benefits of Jesus but they don’t really know yet what kind of king he really is. Jesus slips away and they find him again later after he’s walked on water. They are a bit confused as to how he got there but it doesn’t seem to come up. These events continue to shape the Apostles’ view of him.

The dialogue in v25 picks up their following him because of his miraculous signs and in v26 I saw something in the text today that I’m not sure I’ve connected before. They have seen the signs and miracles of Jesus (v2 and 14) but they have missed who Jesus is. The connection to today that I saw this morning that I hadn’t really picked up on before is that they wanted Jesus for the benefits that he would give them. They wanted to use Jesus for what would benefit them. We sometimes become so consumed with our desire to “go to heaven” that we bypass relationship with Jesus (and his church) because we only want the benefits of the two. We “go to church” rather than being the church. We desire the benefits of being associated with the church but without giving of ourselves. We want the benefits of Jesus, of being forgiven, of going to heaven, but we don’t want to take his call seriously when he calls us to change.

Using God to “get to heaven” is to fail to realize that being in God is the reality of heaven. If God is not there then it is not heaven. You cannot have heaven without being one with God. We need to make sure we are desiring the right things. Keep your motivations in check. We can’t follow God in order to get heaven or we have missed what heaven really is. Jesus’ promise is that those who know him will be raised up at the last day. Knowing Jesus brings about a transformation that is recognizable.

They reject Jesus because they “know where he is from” though they see these miracles that he does. In case there was any confusion about the ambiguity of Jesus’ comments he then makes it more clear for them…”Eat my flesh and drink my blood and you will live forever.” This seems pretty clear to us since we gather every week to join in the two thousand year practice of eating and drinking Christ together. This is a hard teaching and many walk away.

The imagery John is pointing to with all of this is Israel being lost in the wilderness. While in the wilderness God provided manna, bread from heaven, for them to eat. John continually points out their grumbling showing that they are the people lost in the wilderness in need of God but this bread that they now have is greater than ever. This bread gives eternal life!

The people in the wilderness grumbled and wanted to turn back to slavery. Jesus gives these grumblers that option. When they choose to walk away, Jesus turned to the 12 and asked if they would walk away as well. Peter then answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

There are a lot of things that Jesus taught that are easily considered hard teachings. Our response too often is to explain away why he didn’t mean what he said or we justify our actions and how it is impossible to live up to Christ’s call. When Christ calls us to these hard teachings, come and die; turn the other cheek; bless those who curse; etc., our response should be the same as the apostles, “You have the words of eternal life. To whom shall we go?”

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Bible Blog, John, Uncategorized

 

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Holidays Off

As you may have noticed, Ryan and I took a break from blogging over the holidays.  We were both able to spend some valuable time away from the office (and the blog) and enjoyed being with our families.  We will resume the blog starting on Tuesday with Matthew 16.

I hope your holidays were a blessing to you and thanks for being a part of this venture as we continue exploring God’s Word.  Since we started this a little over 20 months ago, the blog has been viewed over 28,000 times.  And in the last 7 days alone its been viewed by people in over 24 countries, and that’s in a week when we weren’t posting new material.  We continue to be blessed by the reading of the Word and hope others do too.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Matthew 11 – A Message We Don’t Want to Hear

“Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples…” is in Matthew five times in some kind of variation (7:28; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), and seem to act as organizational markers for his readers. Continuing the parallels between Jesus and Moses, this could be Matthew’s was of relating his gospel to the five books of Moses. This isn’t something I have studied in much depth but I ran across the idea in my reading and it intrigued me.

Why is John worried as to whether or not Jesus is actually the Messiah? John and Jesus are both preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” but we see in 11:20-24 that many have remained unresponsive and unrepentant to their call. John, being faced with failure because of these unrepentant cities understandably sends his disciples to talk to Jesus.

Another interesting look at what John might be thinking when he sends his disciples to Jesus: He is in prison. Which is an interesting place to be for someone who has paved the way for the Messiah. He’s in prison for holding Herod accountable to the law (14:1-11), but when you look at Jesus’ life and actions it is not clear that Jesus, the would be Messiah, and John have the same understanding of the law. John thought it was necessary to fast regularly (9:14-17) but Jesus does not require his disciples to fast. He has also befriended sinners and tax collectors. It could be possible that John has sent his disciples to double check Jesus because Jesus’ behavior might not look to John as measuring up to the repentance that he preached in the wilderness. John is in need of some reassurance.

Jesus then helps the crowds and John understand who John is. John is a prophet, and a very special one at that. No one really liked prophets because they came with a message from God and that usually meant that you were going to have to change something. They didn’t go to the wilderness to hear John say that they were doing well. John didn’t give the par on the back along with encouraging words that they wanted to hear. John, like the prophets before him, challenged the order of the culture they were speaking to and called them to repentance. This never goes quite well with those who are comfortable with their lives.

This proclamation from John is the same message Jesus embodied. The Kingdom is not an ideal of peace that requires the use of violence to bring it about. The Kingdom is in fact Jesus himself, the one who has the power to overcome violence through love. As Christians today, we are called to embody this Kingdom and this message. People who do not have power are eager to join Jesus but those who have power in this world struggle to accept the full message of Christ. We need to be careful not to point the finger at others here. We are Americans and have all the power in the world. How eager are we really to fully embody the Sermon on the Mount? Love your enemies? It’s tough and doesn’t make much sense really.

After pronouncing judgment on the cities that refuse to repent, Jesus then adds insult to injury by thanking God for hiding the secrets of the Kingdom from the wise and the wicked but revealing it to the infants. He then invites his listeners to take his yoke upon them, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” While I believe this to honestly be true, I also look back to the yoke of the Sermon on the Mount and I scratch my head a bit about the “easy” and “light” part.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Matthew 7 – Stop Judging! Wait, Did I Just Judge?

I remember reading Matthew 7 early in life and jumping to the conclusion that if the measure we use in judgment against others will therefore be used against us then we should not make any kind of judgments about anything and we’ll all get to heaven based on a lack of measuring rod! Seems logical, right? I’m continually enjoying Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew and really liked his opening to chapter 7.

“Those formed to live trusting in God’s abundance will not find it odd that Jesus tells us not to judge. Yet no teaching of Jesus seems more paradoxical than his prohibition against judging. Any attempt to avoid judging is defeated by the judgment against those who judge. Moreover, Jesus obviously is in the business of judgment, particularly judgments against the scribes and the Pharisees who “sit on Moses’ seat” (Matt 23:2). Any attempt to avoid judging seems self-defeating. Yet the paradoxical character of Jesus’ admonition against judging is the result of our attempt to separate Jesus’ teaching from the teacher and the community he has come to establish.”

We, as Christians, have been called to become a disciple of Jesus. This means that we are to learn to see and accept the world as God’s world. We do not need to confuse this with being God. We are not called to be God but to see that world as God does and learn to be a creature of God.

The Sermon on the Mount is broken down into three chapters. Chapter 5 shows us that to be a follower of Jesus we must be a visible alternative to the world. We do things differently from the world. When you look at Christians and then look at the world and don’t see a difference, you know something is wrong. Chapter 6 displays the simple and hidden character of the life to we as disciples are called. Both of these chapters were designed to help us see that we have been called to separate from the community we once belonged and join the community we have been called to in Jesus. The boundaries between those of us who follow Jesus and the rest of the world is unambiguously clear, but permeable nonetheless. Matthew 7 is where Jesus shows us how to negotiate the permeable nature of that boundary.

When we were called into this new community, we were not called to a “higher standard” within this world but a different way of living all together. We live drastically different from the world around us but are we to hold the world to the same standard that we have been given in Christ? I struggle with this to be honest. I want to make sure the world knows that they way they are living is wrong. They need to know this. When someone asks me for my opinion about a situation, or a stance on a subject, I tell them. Judging is a touchy subject right now. The main point I want to get across is that the “standard” we live by, and that we are tempted to judge the world by, has been given to us in Christ and is a completely different way of living from those who are around us. The problem is, we often fail to live out that standard because it is hard. It requires picking up the cross.

As a community of Christians, living in an increasingly critical society, let me put forth a challenge from Matthew 7 this morning. Lets be known by the community surrounding us for how the see us live and less by what they hear us judge. They know what we stand against. Lets now show them the love of Christ from the cross.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Ephesians 3 – A Mystery to Die For

A mystery?  The mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Whatever could it be?  Whenever Paul uses this phrase, he is always talking about how the Kingdom of God is now open to all people off all nations through Christ Jesus.  The mystery is that Jesus destroys all divisions and unites all people in the church. And Paul doesn’t see this as some additional teaching or suggestion for good Christian living.  Paul recognizes that the end to prejudice and division and the call to complete unity is central the the Gospel message itself.  If you deny this call to unity you deny the power of the cross.

In fact, it was this very message of unity and inclusion for Gentiles that landed Paul in the prison that he is now writing this letter from.  When he arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21) he had a fellow believer from Ephesus travelling with him.  This Ephesian was named Trophimus.  Additionally, some from Asia followed Paul to raise up opposition against him.  They did this by starting a rumor…only a rumor that Paul had taken Trophimus into the Temple (against Jewish custom and law).  Simply this rumor started a huge riot that had to be broken up by Roman guards.  When Paul spoke to the guards in Greek they were impressed and agreed to let him address the crowd.  When he spoke to the crowd in Hebrew they were impressed and begin listening to his testimony.  Then he says that God send him to Gentiles since Jews wouldn’t listen…and the riot started right back up where it left off.  After these rumors about taking an Ephesian into the Temple and Paul’s commitment to preaching the Gospel to people of all races, Paul would spend the rest of his life going from one prison and trial to another.  That is how committed Paul was to unifying peoples and nations in the church.

So when Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians he recognizes the history of racial issues that plague this church and community.  He needs the Gentiles to feel like insiders and not outsiders.  He needs there to be equality of freedom and similar demands placed on people of both groups.  He wants everybody to recognize how empowered they are through Jesus.  You have power and authority and you completely belong here, so act like it.  Or, said differently and like we have been tracking through the blog (and our Sunday morning classes at church) Paul wanted them to recognize the importance of Power, Placement and Purity.

This chapter focuses pretty heavily on power and placement.  The mystery Paul speaks of is the uniting of all people in Christ (placement) so that all belong.  Then Paul says a lot towards the end about the power and strength that they all have.  He isn’t very subtle and should cause us to recognize that the church today is still called to have authority and influence in the world we live in and that we are still called to tear down any barriers which divide people.

Unfortunately, church culture today often promotes people attending churches that are made up almost entirely of people who look, act and think just like they do.  We have given up the vision Paul had of a church where every member walked in as a minority in the group because there was so much diversity, but understood themselves to be part of the majority because they were one in Christ and in their love for each other.

This is a huge challenge.  It’s not easy.  It goes against everything the world says about the walls that divide us.  That’s why Paul reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.  So go forward courageously loving those you would normally ignore.  Change everything.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

2 Corinthians 13 – A Time For Self Reflection

What will happen when Paul visits? It all depends on how the church in Corinth handles the problems that are going on. He gives strong warning that he will be coming with the judgment of Christ if he has to. Paul would rather use his authority to build them up but will tear them down if needed. All things are done to bring them to full restoration.

Paul’s final warnings remind us of how we are to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. It seems odd to question whether or not we are in the faith. This could be because we just assume we are without self-examination. The question seems to simply be, do you do what is right? Do we spend more time justifying our actions instead of asking if we are doing what is right?

Paul’s final greeting to the church also calls for some reflection. Rejoice! Strive for full restoration. Encourage one another. Be of one mind. Live in peace. Do these things and the God of love and peace will be with you. How are we doing with these things? I don’t really even want to ask this question for all of Christendom but for our local congregations. Are we people who are characterized by rejoicing? Do we continue to strive for full restoration? Do we even know what that means? Do others perceive us as encouraging towards one another? Are we of one mind, focused on Christ and His call for us? Are we functioning in the reality of peace?

We should always approach Scripture with a mindset of self reflection, asking how we need to change based on what we read in the text. Paul has called the Corinthian church to raise the bar. It is tempting to look at other people in the church and tell them how they need to rise to this calling. We each need to embody the change that needs to happen in the church calling one another to a deeper calling through the example we show to one another in how we live.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized