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The Lord’s Supper September 10, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that while he has just criticized the Corinthians for allowing women to flout the prevailing customs while worshiping publicly, their worship services fail to honor the Lord in other ways. He has heard of schisms in the Corinthian church – hearing enough for them to earn his disapproval. Indeed, God has allowed these dissensions in order to test them and determine who will remain faithful to Him. Now when the Corinthians gather for their worship services – for the stated purpose of celebrating the Eucharist – they are actually failing in this regard. This stems from the fact that when they gather for worship, the rich eat the food that they have brought without sharing it with the poor, who generally arrive later; thus, the poor remain hungry while the rich are satisfied. Paul remarks that the Corinthians can satisfy their hunger in their homes – yet their actions show contempt for their disadvantaged brothers and make them conscious of their poverty; thus, he cannot praise them. His lack of praise arises from the fact that their manner of celebrating the Eucharist is inconsistent with what the Lord Jesus has directly communicated to him concerning it; while Jesus was being betrayed, He took some of the bread that was on the table at the Last Supper. After He consecrated that bread, He broke it and stated that the bread symbolized His body, and its life-giving power was applied to His disciples; they should repeat His actions at that meal to commemorate His sacrifice for their sins. Similarly, after the Last Supper He took a cup of wine, consecrated it, and stated that the cup symbolized His blood that sealed God’s new covenant of grace with His disciples; they should repeat His actions at that meal – whenever they celebrate the Eucharist – to commemorate His sacrifice for their sins. Indeed, the Eucharist inherently proclaims the reality of the Lord’s sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Thus, if anybody celebrates the Eucharist without desiring to:

  • commemorate the Lord’s sacrifice for their sins
  • bind themselves to God’s new covenant of grace

they are guilty of dishonoring Christ Himself. Before anybody celebrates the Eucharist, they should determine whether they understand its true nature and purpose and whether they genuinely desire to observe it. Anybody who celebrates the Eucharist without understanding that the bread and the cup symbolize Christ’s body and blood, respectively, will be judged by God. This warning explains why many of the Corinthians are either wasting away naturally or falling ill, while some of them have died. Now if those Corinthians had prepared themselves to properly celebrate the Eucharist, they would not have been judged by God. Indeed, God’s judgments in this regard are meant to bring them to repentance so that they will not be condemned with unbelievers. Paul concludes by reminding the Corinthians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by waiting for their disadvantaged brothers to arrive so that they can share their food with them; they should also satisfy their hunger at home before worshiping publicly, so that God will not judge them (there are some other minor issues connected with the Corinthians’ observance of the Eucharist that Paul will address and correct during his next visit to Corinth).

Thoughts: One of the two problems with the Corinthians’ observance of the Eucharist concerned how well-to-do believers humiliated their disadvantaged brothers. Hodge offers some insights in his commentary on verse 17:

The nature of these schisms is described in what follows. They were cliques – not sects, but parties, separated from each other by alienation of feeling. It is clear that the rich formed one of these parties, as opposed to the poor. And probably there were many other grounds of division. The Jewish converts separated from the Gentiles; those having one gift exalted themselves over those having another. It is not outward separation but inward alienation that is complained of here.

For me, this motivated the following question: how would communion be celebrated in the modern church if we combined it with an ordinary potluck meal (Hodge notes that such feasts were eventually prohibited by the Council of Carthage)? It is rather difficult to picture believers hoarding food for themselves at such potluck meals and not sharing it with their less well-off brothers – especially since I haven’t attended many churches where poverty was an issue for at least some of their members. Of course, this brings up the rather thorny issue of how churches segregate – especially along economic lines – but that’s a topic for another day.

In verse 32, we see that God has judged some of the Corinthians for not properly observing the Eucharist so that they will not be condemned with unbelievers. Hodge offers his thoughts on this issue:

These judgments were chastisements designed for the benefit of those who suffered, to bring them to repentance, that they might not be finally condemned with the world – that is, with unbelievers…What Paul says of the purpose of these judgments proves that even the extreme irreverence with which he charges the Corinthians in reference to the Lord’s Supper was not an unpardonable sin.

This is an interesting take on God’s judgments in this regard – especially since it is noted in verse 30 that some of the Corinthians have died as a result of their irreverence. For those Corinthians, would repentance and pardon by God be possible? The notion of judgment for the purpose of inspiring repentance and pardon is relatively easy to understand in reference to those who “are weak and sick,” but death seems to offer no opportunities for repentance. Perhaps the Corinthians who died had hardened their hearts, and they refused to repent; unfortunately Hodge does not address that possibility.

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Idol Feasts and the Lord’s Supper August 23, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians – given the preceding discussion – to avoid idolatry by fleeing from it. He notes that they are capable of understanding his argument in this regard; thus he allows them to decide for themselves how to respond. Now when the Corinthians celebrate communion and share the eucharistic cup for which they give thanks, they are sharing in the benefits of the blood of Christ; also, when they celebrate communion and break bread, they are sharing in the benefits of the broken body of Christ. Indeed, the concept of communion arises from the fact that all who participate in it share the same loaf of bread. Also, when the Jews offer their sacrifices, they partake in a portion of them and worship Jehovah – as their sacrifices are offered on His altar. Now Paul notes that given these facts, the Corinthians should neither infer that the heathen gods are divine nor conclude that the sacrifices offered to them are effective. He does assert that the heathen sacrifices are actually offered to evil spirits – and not to God; those who participate in idol feasts are brought into union with these evil spirits via their actions. In fact, the Corinthians cannot celebrate communion with the eucharistic cup and then drink from the cup that is passed between the guests at idol feasts; they cannot celebrate at the table at which the Lord presides and then eat at the table at which evil spirits preside. Paul concludes by stating that if the Corinthians persist in attending idol feasts, they must ensure that they are stronger than Christ, as these actions will provoke His fierce jealousy.

Thoughts: This passage reminded me of the time that I visited a shrine in a Taoist temple that my relatives in Macau had set up for my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. I recall my relatives burning some joss sticks at the temple; each of them then bowed three times before the pictures of my great-grandparents. They asked me to bow three times before the pictures of my great-grandparents, and I acquiesced in a desire to show respect to my great-grandparents. After reading this passage, I’m now convinced that my actions that day could be construed as idol worship. Even though I had noble intentions at that time, this passage makes it clear that my intentions are superseded by how others perceive my actions. In this case, the general view of my actions would probably be that I was engaging in ancestor worship. If I happen to find myself in a similar situation in the future, I would adopt the following course of action:

  • before going to the temple, I would tell my relatives that as a Christian, I would not want to enter the temple – not out of a desire to insult my ancestors, but out of a desire to honor my God
  • if my relatives strongly insisted that I go to the temple, I would accompany them there, but I would try to honor my ancestors in my own way – probably via entertaining pleasant thoughts of them – instead of bowing before their pictures.

Under no circumstances would I go to the temple in the future and actually bow before the pictures of my ancestors. Of course, this is a thorny topic, especially for Asian believers, and I’m sure that my proposed approach is not the only way to honor God in this situation. Any thoughts on the issue of honoring one’s ancestors – as a Christian – are welcome.

Expel the Immoral Brother! July 9, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 5.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that in general, sexual immorality is prevalent in the Corinthian church; in particular, one of the church members has married his step-mother – even the Gentiles abhorred this act. Now the Corinthians are puffed up regarding their spiritual condition even though they tolerated this offense in their church body; Paul then states that instead, they should have been humbled and saddened by this event. Although Paul is not physically present in Corinth, his knowledge, authority and power are with them – allowing him to resolve to act on Christ’s behalf and deliver the offender over to Satan without waiting for their decision in this matter. Thus, when the church is convened (Paul will be spiritually present at that time), and the power of Christ is with them, they must allow Satan to inflict bodily evils on their incestuous brother so that his soul will be saved at the second coming of Christ. Now the Corinthians should not be puffed up regarding their spiritual condition, as the tolerance of a single evil will eventually ruin their moral fabric. Paul exhorts them to be pure and without sin, and he appeals to the Old Testament example of the Passover – and its connection with Christ – to drive home the necessity of heeding his commands. In fact, Paul wants them to devote their entire lives to God – not by living in order to delight in evil and persist in committing it, but to live in order to delight in purity and conform to God’s moral law. Now in a previous letter, he has told them not to have church communion with those who are sexually immoral. By no means is he stating that they cannot associate with non-believers who

  • are immoral
  • make gain the primary object of their lives
  • take what is not rightfully theirs
  • essentially worship false gods

as heeding that command would force them to leave this world. Instead, he commands them to not recognize as believers those who commit the above-mentioned sins; if those people claim to be believers, they should not be acknowledged as believers by the Corinthians. It is not their prerogative to judge non-believers, yet they are to discipline any wicked member of their church body. It is actually God’s prerogative to judge non-believers; the Corinthians must exercise their prerogative and judge their incestuous brother as directed by Paul in this passage.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that the offense that is the focus of this passage is “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans.” Hodge weighs in as follows:

Such a marriage, Paul says, was unheard of among the Gentiles – that is, it was regarded by them with abhorrence. Cicero speaks of such a connection as an incredible crime and as, with one exception, unheard of. It is probable from 2 Corinthians 7:12 that the father of the offender was still alive. The crime, however, was not adultery, but incest; otherwise the apostle would not have spoken of it as an unheard of offense and made the atrocity of it to arise out of the relationship between the woman and the offender’s father.

Given what we know about the moral depravity and licentiousness that reigned in Corinth at the time of the writing of this letter, this act of incest in the church must have been a major news item in the entire city. Not only was incest uncommon among the Gentiles at that time, it had actually occurred in the church – the last place that one would expect to hear of such an offense. My thought is that this act of incest must have hindered the spread of the Gospel message in Corinth – leading Paul to nip it in the bud.

In verse 11, Paul commands the Corinthians, “with such a man do not even eat” regarding their immoral brother. Hodge offers some insights on this command:

It is not the act of eating with such persons that is forbidden. Our Lord ate with tax collectors and “sinners,” but he did not thereby recognize them as his followers. So we may eat with people of the sort described here, provided we do not thereby recognize their Christian character. This is not a command to enforce the sentence of excommunication pronounced by the church by a denial of all social relations with the excommunicated. The command is simply that we are not in any way to recognize openly wicked people as Christians.

I thought about this command, wondering if the act of not recognizing the immoral brother as a Christian would have the desired effect of bringing him back to Christ – as opposed to having the Corinthians cut off all social contact with him. Eventually I figured that ostracizing the immoral brother would probably have made him more defiant and entrenched in his sin, driving him further from restoration to the church body and peace with God. On the other hand, not recognizing the immoral brother as a believer would probably have put him to shame, softening his heart and helping him ask for forgiveness.