No Temple? No Problem.

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:9-27 ESV

At this point in his vision, John receives a close-up look at the recently-descended New Jerusalem and his personal tour guide happens to be one of the angels who poured out the bowl judgments on Babylon. The wicked city of Babylon had been destroyed by God. And, as we saw in chapter 18, Babylon had been powerful and beautiful. It had been a city of great influence, politically, economically and spiritually. It had been a city built by the hands of men and filled with the power of Satan, but in virtually no time at all, God had brought it to an end.

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
    that was clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” – Revelation 18:16-17 ESV

But the once great Babylon has been replaced with the city of God, the New Jerusalem. And John once again describes seeing it as “coming down out of heaven from God.” This is a repeat of the very same phrase used in verse 2. Unlike Babylon, this city has not been built by the hands of men, but by God. Perhaps, this is the very place to which Jesus was referring when He told His disciples:

2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  – John 14:2-3 NLT

We are not told when the New Jerusalem came into existence. It could be that it has always been there, but makes its earthly appearance at the end of the millennium. But the important thing to note are the many words and terms used to describe its uniqueness. It comes down from heaven. It is holy and called the bride of the Lamb. It contains the glory of God Himself and it is His glory that provides all the light needed for life. There is no night in the city and no presence of anything unclean, impure, immoral, sinful or unrighteousness. This is the ideal city. And it is fascinating to note the difference between what God provides and what mankind attempt to provide on its own. One can’t help but contrast the scene recorded in Genesis 11, when the people of earth chose to disobey God and, rather than spreading across the face of the earth, being fruitful and replenishing it, they chose to stay in one place, build a city and a great tower and make a name for themselves. Moses records that “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:5 ESV). They had been successful. They had turned their dream to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) into a reality. Over and over again, we read their ambitious words, “let us make” and “let us build.” Notice that the creation of their city and its great tower were their doing. They built up. But God’s city came down. It descended from God and, as a result, it contained the glory of God.

As he has done so many times before, John attempts to provide us with a detailed description of all that he is seeing, but he’s constrained by the limits of human language and the inadequacy of earthly images as comparisons. The point of his description is not that we might have a detailed architectural rendering of the city, but that we might begin to grasp its sheer glory. This city is massive in size and magnificent in design. There is order to its every detail. There is meaning behind every aspect of its shape, size, and structure. But when it comes to the exact dimensions, it would seem that John is not trying to give us precise architectural measurements so that we might be able to recreate the city on a piece of paper. The whole chapter seems to suggest that this city is unable to be replicated by man. It is one-of-a-kind and divinely unique in nature and appearance. All the mention of gold and precious jewels are meant to provide us with some idea of just how beautiful and priceless this city will be. It will be massive in size and scope, and yet filled with precious metals and priceless stones, which happen to be used as construction materials, not simply adornments.

The other significant aspect of John’s description of the city is the inclusion of references to both the people of God, Israel, and the church. There will be 12 gates guarded by 12 angels, and above those gates will be engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. And the wall of the city will have 12 foundations upon which will be written “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14 ESV). Paul refers to this very same thing in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. – Ephesians 2:20 NLT

The people of God and the church of Jesus Christ are represented in this city. And while it is referred to as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9 ESV), that does not mean the city is a representation of the church. This is the city of God, and it will include all the people of God, including the remnant of His chosen people, the nation of Israel, as well as all those chosen or elect in Christ. And we are told that the nations of the earth will come in and out of the city, bringing their glory with them. This is not a reference to their own personal glory, but the glory they bring in order to honor God. The focus of the eternal state will be God and Him alone. No longer will men self-glorify or make much of creation. They won’t be tempted to magnify self or worship something other than God. Idolatry will have no place in the eternal state. There will be no false gods. The New Jerusalem and the new earth will be filled by all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And one of the most significant aspects of this new city is found in verse 22. In almost a flippant, throw-away sense, John simply states, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” This is hugely significant. Both the tabernacle and the temple were primary structures in the religious mindset of the Israelites. These were the places where the people came to offer their sacrifices to God. The Holy of Holies contained the mercy seat, over which the glory of God hovered, and upon which the yearly atonement was made for the sins of the people. But in the New Jerusalem, there will be no temple. There will be no holy place or holy of holies. Because, as John states, its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. No longer will men have to try and earn access into God’s presence, because His presence will permeate every aspect of life. We will have unlimited, unhindered access into the presence of God and His Son, at all times. Their glory will surround us, in the form of light. Their grace will be constantly available to us. There will be no darkness to obscure our view of them. There will be no sin to separate us from them. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this very day and his words provide us with God’s promise that the vision of John will one day become a reality.

19 The sun shall be no more
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
    that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will hasten it. – Isaiah 60:19-22 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Expecting the Unexpected.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. Acts 20:7-12 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

Paul had sent his seven sons in the faith on to Troas, while he traveled back through the region of Macedonia. When he and Luke arrived in Philippi, they set sail for Troas where they reconnected with Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In this small section of Luke’s eye-witness account, he reveals something of great significance that can easily be missed due to the remarkable nature of the day’s events. He records that they had gathered with other believers in Troas “on the first day of the week.” This is first time in Scripture where we find a reference to the early church meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, rather than on the traditional Jewish sabbath. The change in worship days was related to the believers’ desire to honor Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. It also helped separate and distinguish the Christian faith from its Hebrew roots. In the early days of Christianity, it was commonly viewed by those outside of Judaism as little more than a sub-sect of that religious tradition. But with its rapidly diversifying ethnic makeup and teaching that the traditional rite of circumcision and strict adherence to the Mosaic law were not required for its adherents, Christianity was becoming a distinct religious practice and belief system. 

One of the distinctives of the early church worship service was its practice of what the New Testament author, Jude, referred to as the “love feast.” It seems that the church made a habit of sharing a meal together as part of their worship experience and, with that meal, the Lord’s Supper was also celebrated. When Luke records that the believers in Troas had gathered to “break bread”, he is not referring simply to the celebration of communion or the Lord’s Table as we might call it, but with their sharing of common meal, part of which would include their taking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul describes just such a gather in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this! – 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NLT

In their case, they were destroying the nature of their communal gathering through acts of selfishness and insensitivity to the needs of their fellow members in the congregation. Jude refers to this meal as a love feast because it was to be an expression of their love for Christ and for one another. Paul was upset with the Corinthians because they denigrated the whole point of the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of Christ’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of man, by focusing all their attention on themselves and their own self-centered needs.

Along with the meal, the worship service of the early church included singing, prayer and instruction in the Word. Paul describes this is his letter to the Corinthians.

When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given… – 1 Corinthians 14:26 NLT

It was in just such a setting that Paul addressed the believers gathered together in Troas. And while Paul had plans to leave the next morning, his sermon extended well into the night. No doubt, he addressed many issues with the believers there, recounting his missionary travels and all that he had seen God accomplish. But there was probably a fair share of biblical instruction, with Paul unpacking Old Testament passages and prophecies regarding Jesus. Much of what Paul wrote in his letters to the congregations he had helped start in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Ephesus reveal the kinds of things Paul might have shared with the believers in Troas. As we have seen, Paul was a disciple maker. He was out to see the people in Troas grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God and His Son. He was seeking to make mature believers, not simply converts.

It was in Paul’s lengthy address to his audience that something very unfortunate and unbelievable happened. A young man named Eutychus, sitting on the sill of an open window, fell asleep and plunged three stories to his death. Most likely, the combination of the late hour, Paul’s lengthy talk, and the aftereffects of a large meal contributed to this tragic scene. It is important to note that Luke, a physician and an eye-witness to this event, pronounced the young man as being dead. The truly remarkable part of this story is not so much that the young man died and was raised back to life, but that Luke treats it with a kind of faith-filled flippancy. He reports this incredible scene with a surprising calm and sparsity of words. He simply wrote, “Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘he’s alive!’” (Acts 20:10 NLT). There is no description of the shock, sorrow and chaos that must have accompanied this tragic accident. Luke gives us no insight into how the crowd responded and he provides no sense of urgency. Paul simply went down, bent over the young man and then announced him as being alive. And then Luke matter-of-factly records, “Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left” (Acts 20:11 NLT). No rejoicing, celebrating, praising of God or description of shock, wonder or awe on the part of the people. This has led many to conclude that Eutychus had not been dead, but had just swooned and had been misdiagnosed as dead by those who first examined him. But again, Luke the physician seems to indicate that the prognosis was clear – Eutychus had died as a result of his fall.

Why else would Luke have included this story? What benefit is there in describing a young man who fell asleep, plunged out of a third-story window and was mistakenly pronounced to be dead? Why does Luke describe Paul bending over the young man and holding him in his arms? He described another, very similar scene, in his gospel. It involved Jesus and His miraculous raising of a young girl from death.

51 When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. 52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

53 But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. 54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. – Luke 8:51-55 NLT

In this account, it is clear that the crowd knew that the girl was dead. They had already begun to mourn her death. But Jesus described her as being asleep. Was He contradicting their prognosis? Was He claiming that they had been wrong in pronouncing her dead? No. He was revealing that the power of death was nothing to Him. It was no more dangerous than sleep. He would revive her from death as easy as one awakens someone from a deep sleep. Jesus took her hand and she revived. Paul took Eutychus in his arms and he was restored to life.

Luke’s rather blasé description of this scene reveals his growing sense of expectancy and the lack of surprise he felt at witnessing these kinds of remarkable miracles. He was becoming used to such scenarios and tended to describe them as if they were simply a part of doing business as a follower of Christ. In his travels with Paul, he had seen some incredible things take place. He was no longer shocked or surprised at what he saw God going through Paul. The raising of Eutychus from the dead, while spectacular in nature, was not unexpected. And the fact that the entire congregation returned to the third floor and continued their time of worship, listening to Paul teach, reveals that, even they were growing to expect the unexpected.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 ESV

This is one of the more familiar passages in the book of Acts. In it, we have a brief description of what the newly founded church in Jerusalem looked like in the early days following the events of Pentecost. Things had begun to change rapidly and dramatically. After a single sermon, more than 3,000 converts were added to the original number of 120 disciples or followers of Christ. The Holy Spirit had come, the disciples had been empowered with the ability to speak in foreign languages, Peter had given a Spirit-inspired message to the assembled crowd, and thousands accepted his offer of redemption through Jesus Christ. Then, the next thing we read is that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” There are many who believe that what we find written by Luke in the verses that follow is a description of the true New Testament church. In other words, he is providing us with a prescription or required mode of operation for every church in every age. Signs, wonders, communal living, sharing of goods, and breaking of bread in homes are said to be evidences of a legitimate New Testament church.

But are the characteristics Luke provides meant to be prescriptive or merely descriptive? Is he attempting to give us a divinely inspired and required methodology for church practice? Or is he simply describing the unique, point-in-time manifestations of the early days of the church as it exploded onto the scene among the Jews living in Jerusalem? It would seem that Luke, the detail-oriented physician/historian, was most interested in describing and chronicling what he had seen take place. What he witnessed and recorded were once-in-time, never-to-be-repeated events that accompanied the coming of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the church age. The truth is, in the book of Acts there is little in the way of actual instruction given regarding how the church was to operate on a daily basis. We are given no mandatory, clearly defined order of worship. When you consider the amount of detail God provided to the Israelites regarding worship in the Old Testament, it is surprising how little information is given about things like order of worship, music, dress, sermon content, church government, or ordinances. What Luke seemed most interested in detailing was the external expansion of the church. Everything was happening within the unique confines of Jerusalem, among a predominantly Jewish population. And the early converts to Christianity after the events of Pentecost were, for the most part, Jews. In the crowd that gathered outside the upper room and who heard the message delivered by Peter, Luke describes people from a wide range of provinces with the Roman Empire…

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome – Acts 2:9-10 ESV

But he also describe them as “Jews and proselytes.” In other words, they were either native-born Jews or converts to Judaism. But for the most part, they were all worshipers of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. So, what Luke describes in these verses is the immediate result of the 3,000 Jewish converts coming to faith in Christ and how they responded to their newfound faith. The church went from 120 to more than 3,000 in less than an hour, creating a unique problem for the apostles. How were they going to minister to this many people and begin the process of teaching so large a number of disciples? It must be assumed that there were those in the group who were not residents of Jerusalem. They had come to town for the celebration of Passover and Pentecost. But now that they had been saved, there was no doubt a desire among them to remain under the care and training of the apostles. But where would they stay? Who would feed and provide for them? Luke describes the scene:

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. – Acts 2:44-45 NLT

They gathered together in order to hear the teaching of the apostles. There was instruction involved. Peter’s sermon, while impactful, was not exhaustive in nature. There was far more these new believers needed to know. One of the things Jesus had commanded the apostles to do was to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20 ESV). There was much that needed to be conveyed to these new converts. And the Holy Spirit was providing the apostles with new insights into all that Jesus had taught them over the three years they had spent with Him. Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit would act as a divine interpreter, opening their eyes to the truths contained in all that He had said and taught.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. – John 14:25-26 ESV

Not only could they remember things Jesus had said, they could understand what He meant when He had said them. His words, at one time cryptic and difficult to comprehend, suddenly made sense. So, they taught them to the new converts, explaining what life in the Kingdom of God was meant to be. And Luke tells us, “They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity” (Acts 2:46 NLT). There was no church building. They had no facilities. So, being Jews, they gathered together at the Temple grounds, and they did so daily. Luke describes them as celebrating the Lord’s Supper in homes and as sharing communal meals together marked by joy and generosity. Again, what Luke provides us is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. He is not demanding that all worship take place at the Temple. He is not dictating that the Lord’s Supper only be celebrated within a home context. These were situations unique to the setting. They took place out of necessity. By the time the church began to spread beyond Jerusalem, we see it taking on new forms depending upon the surrounding environment. In his letters, the apostle Paul will spend far more time discussing the internal structure and organization of the church. But at this point in time, in the early days of the church in Jerusalem, the apostles and the growing number of new converts found themselves dealing with some very unique circumstances that required one-of-a-kind solutions.
And Luke tells us that “each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NLT). The church continued to grow. And many of these new believers, having come from the various Roman provinces listed in the early verses of this chapter. eventually returned to their homes. And when they made their way to their respective towns and villages, they took their newfound faith in Christ with them. They became ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, spreading the good news of Jesus far beyond the city walls of Jerusalem, and out among the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia.
What we have in these verses is a description of the work of the Spirit of God. He had come just as Jesus had promised and, with His arrival, the message of Jesus had taken on new life. The original disciples of Jesus had been transformed and their understanding of Jesus’ words became suddenly clear and concise. The Spirit was convicting and converting. The disciples were boldly proclaiming and proselytizing. The church was just beginning, and it would soon be spreading. The gospel would quickly move beyond the streets of Jerusalem and out into the world. And the church would continue to evolve and expand, developing a more formal infrastructure designed to meet the growing demands of a richly diverse and rapidly expanding network of community based congregations. Love, fellowship, teaching, sharing, community, prayer, worship, and evangelism will always mark the life of the church. But Luke was less interested in telling us what we should be doing as the local church, than emphasizing what the Holy Spirit was doing to make the growth of the church possible. Without the Spirit of God, the church does not exist. Without the power provided by the Spirit of God, true life change cannot take place. If Luke was prescribing anything, it was the non-negotiable necessity of God’s Spirit in order for God’s work to be done.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Individuality and Community.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ESV

God’s goal for us is oneness. It was one of the primary requests in Jesus’ prayer in the garden on that infamous night just moments before He was betrayed.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me John 17:20-23 ESV

Jesus knew that the oneness or unity of His followers would be the greatest expression of the heart transformation that comes only as result of salvation. It is the Spirit-produced oneness of believers that proves to the world that Jesus was who He said He was and actually accomplished all that He claimed He would do. Paul picked up on the theme of Jesus’ prayer and echoed those same sentiments to the believers in Corinth. Their brand of spirituality was not working. Rather than leading to unity and reflecting the oneness of Christ and the Father, it was leading to arrogance, pride and division within the church. Even their view of the gifts of the Spirit were dividing rather than unifying the body. So Paul gives them a lengthy primer on the spiritual life, with special emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit.

Paul emphasizes that they are all one, but they are not all the same. There is still diversity in unity. That is what makes the body of Christ so unique and a reflection of God’s power. He takes people of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, backgrounds and tradition, and molds them into a single entity called the Body of Christ – His church. The unifying factor of the church is not our shared ethnicity or ancestry, our common cultural background or country of birth. It is our mutually shared calling by God and our redemption as a result of faith in the death of His Son. We are one because God has made us so. He has placed us in the Body of Christ. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul described Jesus as, “the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it” (Colossians 2:19 ESV). It is our common faith in Christ that holds us together, and He does so through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. That is Paul’s point to the believers in Corinth, and to make it clear, he uses the analogy of the human body. Each of us has just one body, but it is made up of many parts. There are muscles, ligaments, organs, limbs – each with a different assigned purpose and designated function. Some operate behind the scenes, unseen and unrecognized for the role in the functioning of the body. Others are more obvious and seemingly important. We even place greater importance on them because we can’t imagine life without them. Paul emphasizes the ears and the eyes, the hands and feet.

If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
1 Corinthians 12:15-17 NLT

It is the diversity and unity of the human body that makes it so incredibly amazing. Each part, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is necessary to the functionality of the whole. In fact, Paul states, “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22 NLT). There is a God-ordained design to the human body that causes it to operate most effectively when it is unified and each part is accomplishing its assigned role. And the same thing is to be true of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). No one is more important than anyone else. No spiritual gift is more essential than another. And the spiritual gift you have was not given to elevate your importance but to build up the Body of Christ.

Paul lists all kinds of spiritual gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, even tongues. His point behind the list is the variety, not the order or importance of the gifts. We tend to focus on which gift appears to be the most significant and spectacular. But Paul would have us remember that it is the Spirit who gives out the gifts – as He sees fit. We need to spend our time using the gift we have been given, rather than obsessing over a gift we think is more valuable. The goal is unity. And it is our God-ordained uniqueness that makes it possible. Our individual gifts, assigned to us by the Spirit of God, are intended for the mutual edification of the entire church. Our spirituality is not to be a badge of honor or a source of pride. Our giftedness is not intended to stroke our ego or prioritize our importance within the church. We have been gifted by God for the good of the Body of Christ. God’s goal behind our calling and our giftedness is “harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NLT). Individuality and community. Uniqueness and unity. Giftedness and shared good. That is what makes the Body of Christ function and proves that the faith we claim is real and our Savior is alive.

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Order Amidst the Chaos.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NLT

I would by lying or delusional if I said this was not a difficult passage. There has been much debate and confusion regarding the words of Paul found in these verses and, I for one, am not sure I am the one to bring clear insight into their meaning or application for 21st-Century Christians. These verses are controversial and, while some use them to justify their particular denomination’s modern-day practices, others simply write them off as admonitions from Paul that had a limited-time, cultural significance that does not apply today. And yet, God chose to include these verses as a part of His inerrant, infallible Scriptures. So what are we to do with them.

I think we have to consider the cultural context, as you do when you read any of the books of the Bible. You have to remember who Paul was talking to and what was going on in their particular community and context. Paul’s letters are specific and general in their content and application. Some of the things he wrote were meant to address very specific issues that were unique to that particular fellowship. While there may be principles that can be applied to today’s modern context, the specifics do not. For instance, we do not struggle with the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols. That was unique to the believers living in Corinth. But there are underlying principles that apply to us today. In the verses for today, we must look carefully for what it is that God would have us take away and apply to our current cultural context.

He deals with everything from headship and authority to women’s head coverings. What is his main point? What is the real problem going on in Corinth? What are we to take away as the lesson or spiritual insight for the modern church? There is no doubt that Paul is addressing an underlying problem of the lack of order within the church. If you recall, there were those among the Corinthian believers who were embracing the idea that, because of their new found freedom in Christ, they were free to do things as they wished. Their attitude had become, “I am allowed to do anything!” Under the context of personal rights and freedoms, they were beginning to determine their own rules of behavior within the body of Christ. This included eating meat sacrificed to idols and, according to these verses, it seems that some of the women began to question the whole idea of authority. This was symbolized culturally by the use of the head covering. Evidently, some of the women were choosing to NOT cover their heads, as was the custom of their society. Even among the Greeks of their day, a woman usually covered her hair and head when out in public. It would seem that some of the women in the Corinthian fellowship had decided that they didn’t have to adhere to this cultural mandate any more. But Paul raised a much more basic and fundamental issue: The biblical concept of authority and headship. He reminded them, “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Even within the Godhead, the Trinity, submission and headship was practiced. This was God’s divine plan and His order for mankind. The real problem, as far as Paul was concerned, was the danger of rejecting God’s divine order. The removal of the head covering was a cultural symptom of a much greater issue. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was not the primary problem. It was that individuals in the church were using their so-called rights to cause their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. Think of what it would have been like if the believers in the church in Corinth had begun to throw off all the accepted cultural norms within their society. Those outside the church would have looked in and questioned the validity and value of the church and its practices. For Paul, everything always revolved around making sure that he did nothing to prevent the spread of the gospel. So if the women in the church suddenly decided to stop wearing their head coverings, it would have been a turn-off to those outside the church and been viewed as too radical and revolutionary; thus preventing them from ever entering into a relationship with the Corinthian believers and thereby hearing the gospel message.

It would see to me that much of what Paul was addressing had to do with accepted cultural norms. It would have been shocking for a woman to go out in public with her hair uncovered. It would have been even more disturbing for a woman to pray in a public worship service with her head uncovered. The real issue for Paul seems to be the confusion and chaos these acts would cause both inside and outside of the church. To not wear a head covering would have been as shocking in that day as a woman shaving her head – unthinkable and unacceptable. But what Paul really seems to be addressing is the need for order within the local body. Anything that would detract from the unity of the body or the spread of the gospel was to be avoided at all costs. Anything that gave the impression that there was no accepted order or need for authority or submission was to be rejected. Rather than seek our rights and demand our way, we need to always keep in mind that we exist for God’s glory. It is not about us. It is about the overall health of the body of Christ, the spread of the Gospel and the cause of the Kingdom of God. We are to do things God’s way, not ours. We are to be willing to die to our rights if it will benefit the body of Christ. We are to give up our freedoms if it will help others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Father, this is a difficult passage, but it is even more difficult to live out our lives with a sense of otherness rather than selfishness. It would be so much easier to make these verses all about head coverings and hair cuts. But it seems you are calling us to live in unity and humble submission to one another. Our pride is to take a back seat to the well being of the body of Christ. Open our eyes and help us see the lessons You have for us in these verses. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org