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An Eye for an Eye December 2, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:38-42.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the principle of exact retribution – as stated in Exodus 21:22-25 and Deuteronomy 19:15-21. He then interprets that principle, asserting that believers should not retaliate against those who wrong them. He provides four practical applications of this principle; these examples illustrate the importance of forbearance, even to the point of allowing the offender to double the injustice that they have committed.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder why we naturally resist those who attempt to wrong us. One thought is that evolution favored this response, in that:

  • early humans who failed to defend themselves against aggressive neighbors effectively surrendered territory – and food – to them
  • early humans who did defend themselves against aggressive neighbors were able to protect their territory – and food – from them.

If this (admittedly speculative) theory has a kernel of truth, then it would help explain the difficulties that we experience in attempting to obey Jesus’ command in this passage. Rejecting a response that could be hardwired into our DNA would be difficult – if not impossible. Thus, we need assistance from the Holy Spirit when we sense that God has called us to display forbearance in a particular situation.

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Final Warnings February 28, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 13:1-10.

Summary: Paul begins by reiterating that he will visit Corinth for the third time; on that occasion he will address all accusations against alleged offenders in the Corinthian church, and each of these accusations must be legally proved by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Now he has warned the Corinthians – on his second visit – that when he returns, he will discipline both those who are known sinners and all of the other offenders. Indeed, he will discipline them, as they are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through him; they should take heed of his warning, as Christ is not weak – but powerful. While the crucifixion of Christ shows His mortal nature, His life shows God’s power; similarly, while Paul is meek and forbearing, God has given him power for him to exercise.

Now Paul returns to addressing the Corinthians’ demand of proof that Christ is speaking through him; he exhorts them to obtain this proof by testing themselves and evaluating the genuineness of their Christianity. Indeed, they should find that Christ dwells in each of them – except for those who are not Christians. Moreover, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit will still see that Christ is speaking through him. Yet he does not want to exercise his supernatural power to discipline them in order to prove this fact; his primary objective is not to prove that Christ is in him – but for their good to be displayed even if that implies that he cannot exercise his supernatural power. In fact, he cannot exercise his supernatural power against God’s revelation of proper faith and practice; he can only use his supernatural power in concert with that revelation. He is glad whenever he cannot exercise his supernatural power, as that implies that they are good; moreover, he prays that they will be perfectly restored from their present evil state. Paul concludes by stating that he makes these exhortations and warnings so that when he arrives, he will not have to punish any offenders in their midst; Christ has given him authority to do good – not to inflict unmerited punishment.

Thoughts: In verse 2, Paul promises to punish all of the impenitent sinners in the Corinthian church. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts on this point:

The second thing made clear here is that the apostle as an individual possessed the right of excommunication…Paul could cast out of their communion anyone he wished. He was indeed clothed with supernatural power that enabled him to deliver offenders “to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 5:5). This presupposed the power of excommunication. It was the ability to punish miraculously with physical evils those whom he cut off from the church.

From this, we see that God worked very dramatically during the rise of the early church to promote the spread of the Gospel. One can only imagine what it must have been like to attend church at that time and watch one of the apostles punish another member – who happened to be a resolute sinner – by causing them physical pain. This dramatic action would have shocked the other believers in attendance into obedience, at least for some time. Now I wonder if God still works very dramatically in the modern church, i.e. can hardened sinners in the modern church be excommunicated in a shocking manner? My hunch is that this situation arises in areas where powerful spiritual forces are working to oppose the Gospel.

In verse 5, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to test themselves to evaluate the reality of their Christianity. Hodge offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

This exhortation to self-examination supposes, on the one hand, that faith is self-manifesting, that it reveals itself in the consciousness and by its fruits, and on the other hand, that it may exist and be genuine and yet not be known as true faith by the believer himself. Only what is doubtful needs to be determined by examination. The fact, therefore, that we are commanded to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith proves that a true believer may doubt whether his state is good. In other words, it proves that assurance is not essential to faith.

This reminds me of the uproar that was triggered by the revelation of Mother Teresa’s “crisis of faith” over the last half-century of her life. As for my standing before God, I am fully convinced that I belong to the body of Christ. Now could I fall away at some point down the road? I think this is something that many Christians struggle to grasp – albeit to varying degrees. On a related note, the speaker at our recent youth retreat noted that as one progresses in their Christian walk, they have a greater awareness of their own weakness and sinfulness. Many Christians who are acutely aware of their sinfulness will naturally ponder the question of whether one can be saved and yet fall away, which has been the focus of sharp debate among Christians for centuries. When we ponder this question, we must trust in God’s providence and direction for the future, asking for His will to guide us.