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Instructions on Worship August 6, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 2.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting believers – since they should worship God and love their neighbors – to pray fervently and constantly for believers and unbelievers; they should also give thanks for their general welfare. They should pray for princes and magistrates so that they can keep the peace and promote religion. By praying in this way, they will do what is right and lawful. Moreover, their prayers will be devoted to God’s goal – the salvation of everyone – as He calls everyone to acknowledge His truth. There is one God of both Jews and Gentiles, and they all have access to God through Jesus Christ, who is the bond between God and man. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ has redeemed Jews and Gentiles; God had planned to reveal His grace in this regard at the proper time. Thus, He appointed Paul to bring the Gentiles into taking part in the Gospel; he adds an oath to underline the importance of his calling, as he is assured about God’s will in this matter.

Paul then exhorts all believers to exercise their faith by praying with a good conscience, avoiding any arguments between Jewish and Gentile believers. He also exhorts female believers to dress with moderation; they should dress as godly and honorable women.

Now Paul tells female believers to refrain from speaking in public. Also, they should not teach because they are subject to men. Indeed, women are subject to men because:

  • God gave a law from the beginning that this should be so
  • God made women live in this way as a punishment.

Paul concludes by stating that although women are subject to men, their hope of salvation is secure, as long as they accept God’s will by happily embracing childbearing, childbirth and parenting; moreover, all women should live pure lives.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that Paul exhorts all believers to pray for their political and judicial leaders. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

God appointed princes and magistrates to preserve mankind. No matter how much they fail to do this, we must not stop supporting what God willed. We must positively want it to be preserved. So believers must, in whatever country they live, obey the laws and wishes of magistrates. They should also commend their welfare to God in their prayers…We should want the peaceful continuation of the governments of this world, which have been appointed by God.

This is a challenging exhortation, particularly for modern-day believers whose governments condone the persecution of Christians; examples in this regard include China, Egypt and Nigeria. As for believers who are fortunate to live in the United States, I think we are often displeased with at least one (and possibly both) of the dominant political parties, causing us to refrain from praying for our political leaders. Perhaps we should pray that our leaders will – through their actions – preserve the rights that we often take for granted, such as the freedom to gather in a house of worship on Sundays. We should also pray that our leaders will not enact any legislation that curbs these rights. Moreover, we should pray that God will work through our leaders to advance His kingdom plan and bring more glory to Himself through their actions.

In verses 9 and 10, we see that Paul exhorts female believers in Ephesus to refrain from dressing immodestly. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

How we dress is very important, just like other external things, and as it is so hard to lay down precise regulations, moderation should be our yardstick…What is beyond dispute is that any fashions that go beyond the bounds of moderation are to be condemned. However, we should concentrate on inner motivation. There can never be chastity where sexual immorality reigns inside a person, and where self-seeking rules within, there will be no modesty in outer dress.

I think it is safe to say that some clothing choices are relatively provocative and immodest, so Paul’s teaching on this point would address those who adopt these clothing choices. This teaching, though, becomes more difficult to apply in more nuanced situations. For example, I once chatted with a Texan who remarked that Southern churchgoers typically adopt relatively colorful attire – compared to the drab attire of churchgoers in New England. This may be true, at least to some extent; now what if a native of New England visited a Southern church and thought, “since these people are so focused on their appearance, they must be self-seeking?” As another example, consider a church located in an affluent community; it is fair to assume that many, if not most, of its members would dress according to their economic status. Would they be dressing “beyond the bounds of moderation” in that case? If they did not give much thought to their attire, would God be pleased by their “inner motivation?”

In the latter part of this passage, Paul states that women should not be allowed to teach in the church. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

Women are forbidden to teach because this is incompatible with their being subject to men. To teach implies that the teacher has a superior authority and status over the pupil…women, who, by nature (that is, through God’s normal laws), are born to obey. The government of women is rejected by all wise men, as it is monstrous and goes against nature. For a woman to usurp a man’s right to teach is like mixing up heaven and earth. So, Paul tells women to be silent and to stay within the bounds of their own sex.

Clearly this is one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and Christians through the ages have wrestled with Paul’s teaching on this topic. Now I am quite sure that my church adopts a rather liberal position on this point, as we have a female youth pastor and a female junior high minister (along with several female Sunday School teachers). Moreover, our sermons have occasionally be delivered by female speakers. Thus, I am curious as to why my church has chosen its interpretation of this passage. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for me to read through another commentary on 1 Timothy to get a different perspective on this passage, as Calvin apparently has no qualms about prohibiting women from assuming teaching roles in the church. On a related note, I suspect that debate on this issue in American churches increased with the adoption of the 19th Amendment.

Unity in the Body of Christ May 12, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Ephesians 4:1-16.

Summary: Paul – as a prisoner due to his being a Christian – begins by exhorting the Ephesians to be 1) conformed to the image of Christ, 2) exalted and glorified with Him, and 3) united as God’s children. He exhorts them to:

  • be meek and mild
  • exercise mutual forbearance stemming from love.

They should strive to maintain the unity of the body of Christ – which is based on peace – via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He states that their unity stems from there being one:

  • body of Christ
  • Holy Spirit
  • expectation of future glory
  • Lord
  • creed
  • baptism
  • God and Father of all believers, who is over them, pervades them and abides in them.

Paul then notes that the Ephesians’ unity is consistent with the fact that Christ has given them a variety of spiritual gifts according to His good pleasure. To illustrate this point, he quotes from Psalm 68:18, which states that Christ – after defeating Satan, sin and death – leads His defeated enemies as captives and distributes the spoils of His victory to His followers.

Now Paul bolsters his use of this quotation by noting that since Christ ascended from the grave, He must have descended to the earth. Christ has now ascended above the entire universe and pervades it with His presence and power. Moreover, Christ has given gifts that allow some to:

  • be His immediate messengers
  • speak on His behalf
  • preach the Gospel where it has not been preached
  • guide and instruct believers.

These gifts are given to certain believers in order that all believers can be made perfect – building up the body of Christ until all believers are united by attaining the mindset that 1) apprehends Christ’s glory and 2) is devoted to Him; at that time all believers will be perfect as He is perfect.

Paul then notes that the above-mentioned gifts help believers avoid:

  • instability in their faith – which stems from false teachings
  • being seduced and captured by false teachers.

On the other hand, these gifts help believers speak and live by the Gospel – in love – and progress to their goal of conforming to Christ. Paul concludes by stating that the church derives its life and power from Christ, and its members are divinely united by Him, enabling it to grow and be edified in love.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live according to the “calling” that God has given them. Hodge offers some insights on this point:

That calling was to sonship (Ephesians 1:5). This includes three things: holiness, exaltation, and unity. They were called to be conformed to the image of Christ, to share in his exaltation and glory, and to constitute one family, since they are all God’s children.

This verse was actually the theme of the Urbana conference in 2006 that I attended and blogged about. It has been more than five years since I went to Urbana, and I must admit that it has been difficult to live according to God’s “calling to sonship.” Often I have failed to live in holiness, failed to comprehend the glory of Christ, and harbored vengeful thoughts towards fellow believers. In spite of all these failures, I am glad that Paul challenged his readers in this regard; without an excellent goal that we will someday attain, how would we be motivated to glorify God in this life? Indeed, over the past five years, I have made some positive strides in my Christian walk – yet I know that I have a lot of room for improvement.

In verse 8, we see that Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 to support his point that Christ is able to distribute a variety of spiritual gifts to His ministers. Hodge offers some illuminating thoughts on this quotation:

There are two serious difficulties about this quotation from Psalm 68:18. The first is that the quotation does not agree with the original. The Psalm reads, “You received gifts from men.” Paul says, “He…gave gifts to men.”…The second difficulty connected with this quotation is that Psalm 68 is not messianic. It does not refer to the Messiah but to the triumphs of God over his enemies. Yet the apostle not only applies it to Christ but argues that it must refer to him.

Hodge then addresses these issues. For the first difficulty, he quotes from Addison Alexander to support his inference that “a conqueror always distributes the spoils he takes; he receives to give.” As for the second difficulty, he addresses it as follows:

This difficulty is resolved in three ways which apply not only to this but to many similar passages. The first is the typology found in the old dispensation. It was a shadow of good things to come…The second principle applicable to this and similar cases is the identity of the Logos or Son, revealed in the flesh under the new dispensation, with the revealed Jehovah of the old economy. Hence, what is said of the one can correctly be said of the other…There is still a third principle to consider. Many of the historical and prophetic descriptions of the Old Testament are not exhausted by any one application or fulfillment.

This is just one of many examples of the issues that one must address when interpreting Old Testament quotations that arise in the New Testament. I must admit that I am curious as to whether the psalmist and Paul discussed this passage when they first met in heaven; did they engage in a friendly debate over Paul’s interpretation of it?

One of Paul’s main points in this passage is that Christ has given certain believers certain spiritual gifts so that all believers can be perfect as Christ is perfect. Hodge offers some rather startling thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

Ministers, therefore – apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers – were given to edify the church by communicating that truth with which alone the Holy Spirit is given. All this is perverted by the Roman Catholic Church. She says that prelates, whom she calls apostles, are the channels of the Holy Spirit first for the priests and then for the people, and that this communication is not by the truth but by touch, by the laying on of hands. No one, therefore, can be united to Christ except through them or live except in communion with them. Thus error is always the caricature of truth.

Now this is a rather sharp rebuke of Catholicism; in fact, based on the four commentaries that I have read, Hodge appears to have an aversion to the Catholic Church and occasionally highlights some of its perceived faults. I am curious as to whether the role of prelates in the Catholic Church has changed since Hodge wrote this commentary in the 19th Century; perhaps some Catholic readers of this blog would care to weigh in here. Does Hodge completely misunderstand the role of prelates in Catholicism, or does he have a legitimate point?

Final Greetings March 2, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 13:11-14.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians – as fellow Christians – to:

  • rejoice in the Lord
  • reform themselves
  • exhort one another
  • exhibit a common faith
  • stop quarreling

so that God will dwell with them, producing love and peace. He tells them to greet one another in a way that expresses Christian communion and love. Also, all of the believers where he currently resides wish them salvation. Paul concludes by praying that they will receive the unmerited favor of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Reading through 2 Corinthians was an interesting experience – to say the least – and I definitely gained a greater appreciation for Paul in the process. I’ve now blogged about three of Paul’s epistles; the first two were:

  • Romans – which is a masterful exposition of Christian theory and practice
  • 1 Corinthians – where Paul briefly talks about himself, but mainly consists of a series of instructions and corrections.

2 Corinthians, though, is an intensely personal epistle; to me, it has two themes:

  • Paul’s acute awareness of his unity with Christ
  • Paul’s ardent desire to completely live out this unity – despite the attendant difficulties that beset him from within and from without.

Hodge describes the personal aspect of this epistle at the outset of his commentary:

Though it is perhaps the least methodical of Paul’s writings, it is among the most interesting, bringing out the man to the reader and revealing his intimate relationship with the people for whom he labored.

Yet we cannot forget that while Paul – to his repeated mortification – threatens to overshadow this epistle with his need to justify himself in the eyes of his opponents, he repeatedly glories in Christ. This is characteristic of all of his letters, and J.I. Packer puts it quite nicely in the introduction to Hodge’s commentary:

Second Corinthians is a Christ-centered letter, and what sticks in the reader’s mind most vividly is Paul’s celebration of divine sovereign grace and supernatural empowering. This overarches all his references to the hazards and headaches of his apostolic service.

I’m definitely looking forward to meeting Paul and the Corinthians in the next life and learning how they responded to this letter.