Archive for November, 2012

1 Corinthians 1 (day 1063) 28 November 2012

1-3: Corinth, located on the isthmus between Greece and the Peloponnesus, was the “sin city” of Paul’s day. It was a major trading center, the Corinthian Gulf to the north and Saronic Gulf to the southeast providing ships with safe navigation away from the open sea. The church there had been founded by Paul (see Acts 18) around 50 A.D. The letter we are currently reading, which we call 1 Corinthians, is at least his second letter to the church there, for he mentions an earlier epistle (see 5:9-12). It opens with a typical greeting, purporting to be from Paul and Sosthenes. Sosthenes is the name of a synagogue official in Corinth (Acts 18:17), but we cannot be certain it is the same man. Sosthenes may be the person who actually wrote the letter at Paul’s dictation, much as had Tertius the letter to Rome.

4-9: As was the case with Romans (Romans 1:8-15), Paul begins by giving thanks for them. We note that his thanksgiving is for nothing they have done, but rather for what Christ and others have done in and for them. God’s faithfulness, not theirs, is mentioned, along with the hope that they might one day be blameless. Apparently they are not, at present.

10-17: If we found the last paragraph curiously short on applauding the congregation at Corinth, we read now the reason: there is division in the church! How unusual. The problem, as Paul sees it, is that the congregation has divided into factions, each following one of their transient teachers – Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter). At least some of them claim to follow Christ. Paul chides them for these divisions, and insists that his ministry there was not for the purpose of gathering a following for himself. In fact, Paul denigrates his own preaching, and says he did not try to be eloquent “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Preachers do sometimes think people will be saved through their eloquence instead through what God has done in Jesus.

18-25: The proclamation of a crucified Messiah is foolishness to those who demand logical proof and want to see signs (here Paul’s quote may be from several Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 29:14 or Job 5:12-13). The cross is a stumbling block to them, but to those “who are called,” that is, believers, the cross demonstrates the power of God.

26-31: More than that, God does not call people based on how important they are in the world. Paul tells his congregation to take a look at themselves; their eclectic makeup is proof that God does not play favorites based on wealth or knowledge.


1 Corinthians 2 (day 1064) 29 November 2012

1-5: The account of Paul’s visit to Corinth (Acts 18) is unremarkable. No miracles of healing are recorded, and although some converts were made there is no claim of a large number in spite of the fact that Paul’s stay there was nearly two years. Paul says here that he claimed no insights into “the mystery of God,” but only preached Christ crucified and risen. We can’t be sure what he means by that phrase, but we know that there were any number of mystery cults extant, and roaming teachers pretending to have secret knowledge.

6-13: And yet he does claim to have God’s wisdom, “secret and hidden,” by which he means it can be perceived only by faith, not by any form of human knowledge. The quote in verse 9 is loosely based on Isaiah 64:4. He contrasts human knowledge with spiritual knowledge. Human knowledge cannot fathom the things of God.

14-16: The spiritual gifts that God dispenses to believers cannot be discerned by those who rely on human wisdom. Only those who have spiritual wisdom can perceive the things of God. He loosely quotes Isaiah 40:13: we cannot know the mind of God but we can have the mind of Christ which teaches us spiritual wisdom.


1 Corinthians 3 (day 1065) 30 November 2012

1-4: Paul tells them that they are still “of the flesh,” not “of the spirit;” that is, they are living according to the whims of human nature rather than as children of God born of the Spirit of God. The whims of human nature result in jealousy and quarreling, and that is what is going on in Corinth between the different factions.

5-9: Apollos had been in Corinth after Paul (Acts 19:1), so Paul uses the metaphor of the field to illustrate their different but connected roles: Paul planted, Apollos watered. Neither of those activities is worth anything, however, unless God blesses the labor by giving the growth.

10-15: He piles imagery on imagery. Now he speaks of the Corinthian church as a building for which he, Paul, laid the foundation upon which others built. Whatever is added to the foundation will be tested, and will either survive or collapse, he says. In either case the builder will be saved, but not because he built it. What he means is that any teaching that is given contrary to his foundational teaching about Jesus Christ will be judged on the basis of that original foundation. Their petty disputes and jealousies cannot stand under the “fire,” the test of true faith.

16-17: Now his imagery shiftsagain and the church – that is, the believers who make up the church – is compared to the temple. They are warned that no teaching (or behavior) against the foundation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen will survive.

18-23: Human nature is so far from God’s nature that the “wisdom of the world” is foolishness to God; while the wisdom of God seems like foolishness to those who are trapped in the world of human nature. To the world, faith is foolishness, but to God lack of faith is foolishness (see Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 for the source of the quotes in verses 19-20). So, Paul tells them, what matters is how faithful they are, not how famous or eloquent or popular their preacher is.


1 Corinthians 4 (day 1066) 1 December 2012

1-7: Therefore, from all that was said in chapter 3, the folks at Corinth should not judge Paul or Apollos – that is, there is no need or reason to choose one over the other. We catch a glimpse in verse 6 of why Paul quotes so much scripture. It is his conviction that everything to be said about Christ can be found in the prophets and other writings in scripture. To go beyond what scripture presents is to set oneself up for either praise or rejection, and that is not the purpose of an apostle. An apostle is to open the scriptures to show that Jesus is the Christ and that the Christ must suffer and die and then be raised from the dead. There is no need to formulate any other “proof.”

8-13: Paul’s use of sarcasm is on display here. Apparently the folks at Corinth have made a big deal out of the idea that claiming Christ as king makes them all kings. Based on his description of the poverty of apostleship my guess is that they have embraced an early form of what today we call the “prosperity gospel.” Paul insists that such an idea has no place among the followers of Jesus. The followers of Jesus are to be the servants and helpers of others.

14-21: It becomes apparent in these verses that Paul has been referring to certain specific, though as yet unnamed, persons who are trying to commandeer the church at Corinth for their own selfish purposes. He asserts that they have been acting arrogantly because they think he, Paul, is not going to return. Out of sight, out of mind, you know. But Paul isn’t about to let them get away with it, and insists that he is indeed going to return to Corinth “if the Lord wills.” So far as we know, he never does make it back to them.

1 Corinthians 5 (day 1067) 2 December 2012

1-2: Paul is alarmed that the congregation in Corinth seems to look away from a situation that will bring dishonor to the church; that of a man living with his step mother. While obedience to the law (in this case Leviticus 18:8) does not lead to salvation, the law does convict wrongdoing and its value is that it points us in the right direction. More than the sin that is being committed, though, Paul is upset that the church is complacent about it.

3-5: Paul claims spiritual authority even though he is physically absent. He insists that the man (apparently his step mother is not in the church) be excommunicated (“hand this man over to Satan”). The purpose of doing so is not to punish him, though, but rather in hopes that he will thereby be convicted of his error so that he might repent and yet be saved. Paul’s concern is also that the whole congregation not be influenced by the man’s lifestyle.

6-8: Apparently the congregation has been boasting about being open-minded toward such behavior, and Paul warns them that “a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” or as we might say, “one rotten apple spoils the barrel.”

9-13: Paul’s primary concern is not with sin per se, but with sin in the church. If one commits to follow Jesus Christ, that one should live according to the will of God – yes, as revealed in the law. The church should not be concerned with judging those outside the body, but must insist on morality within the body. Part of the problem with the church today is that it is perceived as being overly judgmental, and part of that judgment has to do with the fact that the church, once but no longer representing a majority of the population, is guilty of expecting those outside the covenant to behave as though they were inside it.

1 Corinthians 6 (day 1068) 3 December 2012

1-6: It would seem that the church in Corinth is in much need of correction. Paul chides them for using the public courts rather than having their disagreements mediated by “the saints.” By “saints” (literally, “holy ones”) he means the spiritual leaders within the congregation.

7-8: He goes so far as to suggest that it would be better to simply abide whatever wrong one might suppose has been done by a fellow believer than to take that believer to court.

9-11: The list of “sinners” in verses 9 and 10 is not intended to be exhaustive, although the list may in fact represent specific complaints Paul has received concerning members of the church in Corinth. Of course, he does not mean that these people should forever be refused entry into the church, but simply that having professed faith in Jesus Christ one should stop behaving in ways that mock the gift of justification.

12-20: Paul believes that baptism makes us partners with Christ in his crucifixion so that we will be partners with Christ in his resurrection. Being partakers in the gift of life with Christ we are then become sanctuaries for the living God. The way we use our bodies, then (and particularly with regards to sexual behavior), reflects our attitude toward God.


1 Corinthians 7 (day 1069) 4 December 2012

1-7: But Paul doesn’t stop at simply denouncing the sin. He continues with some practical advice about how to avoid sexual temptations. The quote in verse 1 is not a direct quote from scripture, but we have to wonder if Paul didn’t have in mind certain passages such as Genesis 20:6, Ruth 2:9 or Proverbs 6:29. A marriage in which each party respects the other’s desire for sexual activity is the best protection against adultery and other forms of sexual immorality.

8-9: If you can’t stand the heat, why not just jump into the kitchen?

10-11: Marriage should be honored for life.

12-16: However if one is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever wishes to separate, Paul puts his stamp of approval on the separation. Verse 12 is extraordinary until you remember that when the Biblical code of law was published believers in Christ did not exist. Therefore in Paul’s mind God has nothing to say about the marriage between a believer and a non-believer and he gives the situation the best interpretation he can think of: an unbeliever might be saved by his or her marriage to a believer.

17-20: A judgment is rendered with respect to circumcision. You will remember that the Council of Jerusalem established the rule that Gentiles who converted to the faith did not have to be circumcised (Acts 15:19-20). Paul simply rules that whether one is circumcised or not is of no consequence.

21-24: He says as well that whether one is a slave or is free is of no consequence in terms of one’s relationship with God. Unfortunately, this paragraph was too often taken as a stamp of implied approval for the institution of slavery.

25-31: Paul is convinced that the current world order is on its way out, and so he summarizes their questions about marriage by saying it would be best if they simply remained as they are instead of complicating their lives by being in covenant with a spouse rather than with God only. However, he does not denounce those who wish to marry.

32-35: He offers a further explanation to the above paragraph, saying simply that it is easier to be “anxious about the affairs of the Lord” if one is single.

36-38: And so forth – engaged parties may marry if they cannot remain unmarried.

39-40: Widows can remarry if they wish, but Paul’s opinion is that they are better off if they do not.

I wonder if his ideas about marriage would be different if he himself were married.


1 Corinthians 8 (day 1070) 5 December 2012

          1-3: Another concern of the Corinthians has to do with eating food sacrificed to idols, a concern that seems odd to us. Remember, though, that Corinth was a gathering place for sailors and merchants all around the Mediterranean world, and many religions were represented there. In the market place vendors hawked their wares, including food that had been sacrificed or dedicated to some god or another. The fact that the food had been thus “honored” was thought to enhance its value. But Christians don’t worship these gods, so the Corinthians wanted to know if there was a problem with eating such food.

Paul begins his treatment of this issue with a curious approach. He first establishes the difference between knowledge and love, and we are puzzled over his direction.

4-6: But his train of thought leads steadily onward. First of all, knowledge tells us that there is but one God, although people might believe in many gods. There are also many lords, human rulers of one sort or another. We Christians know that there is one God and one Lord. So, food that has been sacrificed to idols is food that has been sacrificed to nothing. That is what knowledge tells us.

7-13: There is therefore nothing wrong with eating such food. However, not every believer has this knowledge, and for them partaking of such food is a pain to conscience. If they see Christians eating meat sacrificed to an idol, they think the Christian is acknowledging the existence of that god. Paul’s advice is that, as an act of love toward their weaker counterparts, Christians should refrain from eating such meat in order to avoid confusion among those who are still steeped in their old pagan ways and superstitions.


1 Corinthians 9 (day 1071) 6 December 2012

          1-2: Paul is getting ready to approach the issue from another direction. First he establishes his own credibility: He is a free man and an apostle who has seen Jesus (not in person, perhaps, but Acts records that Jesus did appear to him several times) and by whose witness the Corinthians became believers.

3-7: Next he asserts his rights as a free man who is an apostle: he has the right to eat and drink whatever he pleases. He has the right to marry (provided she is a believer also). He (and Barnabas) has the right to be paid for their work as apostles. After all, the Corinthian Christians are the “vineyard” he has planted.

8-14: The Law of Moses says an ox should not be muzzled when it treads the grain; it should be allowed to eat while it treads(Deuteronomy 25:4). This humane treatment of dumb animals ought to be accorded to him as well, don’t you think? He deserves material benefit for the spiritual good he has sown. Verse 12 implies that they have in fact paid others for similar work. That is as it should be, he says; “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” – a verse Methodist preachers depend on, by the way.

15-18: Paul refuses to charge for his services, though, because he sees himself as being obligated by the LORD to do so. He therefore will refuse any compensation, making a joke that to do so would deprive him of bragging rights.

19-23: His method instead is to be a “slave” to those to whom he is witnessing, whether they are Jews or Gentiles who submit to Jewish law, or Gentiles who do not. He becomes weak (that is, refrains from eating food sacrificed to idols) for the sake of those who are weak (who think it is a sin to eat such food). In all this he refrains from pleasing himself so that he might more effectively represent the gospel.

24-27: He compares himself to an athlete who exercises extreme self discipline in order to compete effectively.


1 Corinthians 10 (day 1072) 7 December 2012

1-5: It is apparent that very early in the development of Christianity the Old Testament became an important part of the instruction given to believers whether they were Jewish or Gentile. Paul is here defending his Jewish heritage, claiming that Christ was with them when they came out of Egypt and that their crossing of the Red Sea is tantamount to Christian baptism. It is an interesting position to take, but one which Paul doesn’t seem to dwell on or even to defend elsewhere. However, he notes that in spite of Christ’s presence with them most of them provoked God to anger.

6-13: Paul says that God’s rejection of the sinful Hebrews in the wilderness was an example for his readers, and urges them not to fall into the same idolatry. Verse 7 is a quote from Exodus 32:6. Verse 8 is a reference to the story in Numbers 25 where Phinehas, son of Eleazar, killed an Israelite and his Moabite lover. Numbers 25:9 says 24,000 died in the plague, not 23,000, but after a few thousand who’s counting anyway? Verse 9 references the story in Numbers 21:4-9 when God was said to have sent poisonous snakes into the camp when the people complained against God. Paul alleges again that Christ was present (some manuscripts say “the Lord” instead of “Christ.”). It’s hard to determine to what he is referring in verse 10; several incidents might fit. His point is that all these things should be examples to the Corinthian Christians, and assures them that God never tests anyone but that there is a way out, and they can endure any temptation.

14-22: Breaking bread and sharing a cup is the Christian way of participating in Christ’s suffering, an act which emphasizes their oneness in Christ. There is no reason to refrain from food sacrificed to idols, since the idols are nothing. However, food and drink from such rituals cannot be thought of as the bread and cup we share with Christ, and should be avoided as such.

23-30: The solution to “food dedicated to idols” question is simply this, he says: don’t ask too many questions. There’s nothing wrong with eating such food, but if you ask and find out it is from some pagan ritual, then avoid it.

31-33: The point seems to be that if some new believers are somewhat naïve and even superstitious in their view of things, don’t trouble them by acting in ways that they will find disturbing.


1 Corinthians 11 (day 1073) 8 December 2012

1-16: Just read verses 11 and 12 and tiptoe past the rest of this paragraph.

17-22: On to other issues. Paul chides them for the way they observe the Lord’s Supper. The reason Christians break bread is so they can share it with each other. Hoarding your own stash is not the way the followers of Jesus are supposed to act.

23-26: Another reason we observe the ritual of breaking bread and sharing a cup is to express the reality that Christ has died, but we understand that we do this in expectation that Christ will come again.

27-32: Verse 28, where he writes, “Examine yourselves, and only then …” is the reason in our liturgy we pray a prayer of confession before we come to the Lord’s table. If we would judge ourselves, he says, Christ would have no need to judge us. Still, Christ’s judgment is for the purpose of correction, not condemnation.

33-34: In summary, he tells them, share the bread and the cup not out of hunger but in fellowship with one another and with Christ.

He mentions that they have asked about other matters as well, but defers comment on them until he can visit them. (We will discover that his plans to visit will be delayed, and he will write the letter we call 2 Corinthians.)


1 Corinthians 12 (day 1074) 9 December 2012

1-3: Paul introduces the subject of spiritual gifts as if they have asked for instruction on the subject. All through the Bible the worship of idols is denigrated, and the primary reason given as proof that idols have no power is the simple fact that idols cannot speak. It is also a constant witness of the scriptures that God does speak, although God’s voice is usually heard through the messengers that God sends. The Corinthian Christians have no doubt been taught this, and so it would come as no surprise that they would be curious as to what God might say. Paul makes it clear that God would never have anyone say, “Jesus is cursed.” It is possible that this was the epithet Paul had in mind when he himself persecuted Christians and forced them under threat of torture to blaspheme (see Acts 26:11), obviously meaning to blaspheme the name of Jesus since no Jew would ever try to get someone to blaspheme God. On the other hand the Corinthians were living in a world in which Caesar was Lord, and Paul believed that the courage it would take to say “Jesus is Lord” was evidence that the Holy Spirit had to be behind such a statement.

4-13: In the Corinthian world people believed in many gods. Paul insists that, although the Spirit of the one true God is manifested in a variety of gifts, it is still the work of but one Spirit, one God. He lists here nine spiritual gifts, but the list is not intended to be exhaustive, merely representative. There are other lists of spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:6-8 and Ephesians 4:11), and the idea of spiritual gifts is by no means unique to Paul. In fact, the so-called “Seven Gifts of the Spirit” in much Christian, particularly Roman Catholic, literature are derived from Isaiah 11:2-3. Paul’s point is that the Spirit builds up the church by granting different gifts to each of us rather than all spiritual gifts to each of us. He demonstrates by using the human body as an example of how each part has a different function and yet they operate together as a whole. This idea gives rise to the metaphor of the church as the “body of Christ” (see verse 27).

14-26: Each member of the church has his or her own special place and function, just as parts of the body. Paul inserts a comedic element, picturing parts of the body arguing about which is more important. His point is that in the church each member is carrying out a function of the Holy Spirit by virtue of whatever gift the Spirit has given each one. No one in the church is more important that others, regardless of how important we might deem some gifts to be.

27-31: Each one has a function to perform, and each is important. Nevertheless, Paul tells them to “strive for the greater gifts,” leaving us no clue as to which gifts he is referring. He ends this section, though, with a tantalizing hint of “a more excellent way.” I, for one, believe that by “the greater gifts” he is referring to the three he will mention in the next section: faith, hope, and love.


1 Corinthians 13 (day 1075) 10 December 2012

          1-13: Faith, hope and love are referred to as the theological or spiritual virtues, which, added to the four “cardinal” virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage from classical literature comprise the so-called “seven catholic virtues,” referred to in the writings of some of the earliest leaders of the Church (the so-called “Church Fathers”). Other than that observationI have nothing to add to this most beautiful of treatises.


1 Corinthians 14 (day 1076) 11 December 2012

1-5: Although love is the “more excellent way” which we are to pursue, other spiritual gifts are desirable as well, and we are to strive for them. He compares the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues. Prophesy is the more helpful gift, he says, because it is a gift that will “build up the church.” The gift of tongues helps no one but the one with the gift and is thus worthless to the church unless there is someone to interpret what is said. By “tongues,” Paul means glossalalia, a kind of ecstatic gibberish. It is not the same phenomenon as that which occurred on the day of Pentecost, for on that occasion the disciples were speaking in human languages and the people in the street each heard them in their native tongue. Obviously “tongues” was considered a valid expression of spiritual fervor. Unfortunately, of all the gifts it perhaps is the one easiest to feign. Therefore such an utterance, in order to be useful in the community, must be verified by having someone actually understand what is being said – an interpreter, in other words.

6-12: Paul declares that if he spoke in tongues when he comes it wouldn’t be beneficial to them. He then launches into philosophical speculation about the nature of sound and the sounds of nature. Musical instruments are worthless unless they emit some sound that is recognizable. So with speech. The Corinthians are eager for spiritual gifts, he says, but that desire should be for the benefit of the church, not the one who has the gift. We are reminded of one Simon of Samaria who tried to purchase from Philip the power to bestow the Spirit on others (see Acts 8). It wasn’t for sale.

13-19: Still hung up on tongues, Paul continues to insist that it is a gift for the benefit of the individual only, and even claims himself to have the gift. However, he also insists that it is not a gift that benefits the church, and those gifts are more to be desired than the gift of tongues.

20-25: Pressing the point home in a classic example of overkill, Paul adds one more reason not to speak in tongues during times of community worship and meetings: it will only confuse outsiders and make it even more difficult to ever reach them.

26-33a: He gives them a brief outline to use in their gatherings, one which our modern worship services mirror, though rather loosely. Sing some hymns, give folks who have something to say time to say it, make sure everybody understands what is said, and don’t argue. The purpose is to build each other up, not engage in posturing.

33b-36: This paragraph reflects the prevailing culture of the time. Enough said.

37-40: If anybody disagrees with me on this, Paul says, don’t let them speak. Those Corinthians must have been quite a bunch.


1 Corinthians 15 (day 1077) 12 December 2012

1-11: All the preceding notwithstanding, the most important thing is: 1) that Christ died for our sins; 2) that he did so in accordance with scriptures; 3) that he was buried; 4) that he was raised on the third day (also in accordance with scriptures); and the proof of this last claim is that he appeared to a number of witnesses, including Paul himself, surely a reference to his Damascus Road experience. He is the last, he says, to see the risen Christ and therefore he has just as much authority to teach in the churches as do the others. Indeed, the fact that he is the last to have seen the risen Christ has only served to make him work harder than any of the others.

12-19: The whole thing hinges on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

20-28: Paul lays out his understanding of God’s plan to redeem all creation:

  1. Christ is raised from the dead (verses 20-22).
  2. Christ will return (verse 23).
  3. Those who belong to Christ will join him (verse 23).
  4. Christ will reign in the earth (verse 25).
  5. Every other realm – and this includes “powers,” not just human realms – will be destroyed (verse 24b).
  6. Every enemy of Christ will be subdued (verse 25).
  7. Finally, death itself will be subdued (verse 26-28), but of course the reign of Christ is for the purpose of redeeming creation for God the Father.
  8. “Then comes the end” (verse 24), although we gather from other passages that “the end” is only the end of the way things presently are in the world.

29: Although the practice of the dead being baptized by proxy has

never been encouraged or officially accepted since very early in the church’s history, it was apparently part of the worship of the Christians in Corinth. Rather than challenge the practice, Paul simply notes that they do it, and uses it to say they are already doing something that presupposes that the dead are raised.

30-32: If the dead are not raised, why should Paul bother to risk his life for the sake of the gospel? His comment that he dies every day either means that he faces constant persecution, or simply that he’s getting older every day. The “wild animals” at Ephesus were of the two-footed variety (see Acts 19:21-41).

33-34: Paul reverts back to his earlier exhortations that they should disengage themselves from those who engage in immoral behavior. They bring shame on themselves by associating with such.

35-41: Now back to the dead being raised: What will they look like? After all, you’re talking about bodies that have been decomposing for years. Paul reverts here to an ancient understanding of the generation of living things. The buried seed was thought to die, and the plant pushing up through the soil was its new manifestation. The new manifestation does not resemble that which was put in the ground, but is a new kind of reality for the original seed. The rest of this paragraph seems a little out of place, and may reflect something of the Greek (Platonic) concept of forms.

42-44: There is therefore a difference between that which has died and its new form when resurrected.

Old body:                               New body:

Perishable                              Imperishable

Dishonorable                         Glorified

Weak                                      Powerful

Physical                                  Spiritual

45-49: He again contrasts Christ with Adam (see verses 21-23). Adam represents that old type of human being whose existence is manifested physically. Jesus, the “last Adam” represents the new type of human being whose existence is manifested spiritually. The difference between the two is that the first is of earth (physical existence) and must perish; the second is from heaven (spiritual existence) and will never perish. Those who receive Christ will participate in a resurrection like his (see Romans 6:5).

50: In order for us to inherit the kingdom of God, then, we must become imperishable – born of the spirit.

51-57: Paul launches into a rising crescendo to his argument, beginning with his image of the bursting forth of life in the midst of death, heralded by a trumpet blast. Obviously, this aging body can’t survive the way it’s going, so it must take on a new nature, one that is imperishable and immortal. The quote in verse 55 is taken from Hosea 13:19, with some elaboration provided by Paul’s active imagination. He ends with a victory shout of thanksgiving.

58: So, having described the reward to come, he encourages them to keep the faith.


1 Corinthians 16 (day 1078) 13 December 2012

1-4: In the midst of all this talk about the indescribable things yet to be, let’s not forget about the all too describable suffering of many of the saints. Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem has taken on a less dangerous face since Paul presided over the stoning of Stephen, but Christians there are persecuted and discriminated against, leaving many of them in deplorable poverty. Paul wants to make sure their fellow believers in Corinth, as in Galatia, send some support, and boldly and rather blatantly asks for them to start collecting a relief offering which will be sent to Jerusalem. To protect his integrity he makes clear that he himself will not take charge of the offering, but that they will designate some of their own whom they know to be trustworthy.

5-9: Paul intends to lay over in Ephesus for a while, but will return to Corinth, he says. We will read in his next letter that he makes at least three visits to Corinth.

10-11: Timothy seems always to have been Paul’s favorite.

12: Paul apparently wanted Apollos to go to Corinth as he had decided not to go there himself immediately.

13-14: Good advice for us all.

15-18: Paul had baptized Stephanas and his household (see 1:16), and apparently they are present with him at the writing of this letter, and may be the ones who will deliver the letter to Corinth. Fortunatus and Achaicus are not mentioned elsewhere.

19-20: Aquila and Priscilla were Paul’s helpers in Ephesus (see Acts 18:24-28).

21-24: A final word of encouragement. As with the letter to the Romans (Romans 16:22)Paul is dictating this letter, not writing it himself, but signs it at the end.

Romans 1 (day 1047) 12 November 2012

          There are 22 books remaining in the Bible, and 21 of them are letters (though a couple of them read more like sermons). The majority of scholars accept the traditional designation of Romans as a genuine letter of Paul’s. It is dictated by Paul to a companion serving as his secretary whose name is Tertius (see 16:22), which means that it is not carefully composed but dictated. William Barclay pictured Paul pacing back and forth talking animatedly and Tertius trying furiously to keep up with his train of thought. This picture may or not be accurate but it certainly explains the rambling nature of the text.

1-7: One reason the letter seems genuinely to be from Paul is that the opening paragraph melds comfortably with Paul’s closing speech in Acts (Acts 28:23-29). Paul is convinced that the coming of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, was foretold by the prophets, and convinced as well that his particular calling is to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles. He found followers of the Way in Rome and in some of the nearby towns (Forum of Appius and Three Taverns are mentioned at Acts 28:14-15) when he first arrived there, and this letter purports to be for them. It was circulated widely throughout the Mediterranean world pretty quickly, though. We have seen how groups of Christians seem to have sprung up nearly everywhere Paul has traveled, and I have marveled at the mobility of the population throughout the Roman world. Verse 4 is the first time in the Bible the name “Jesus Christ our Lord” is used, and verse 7 is the first occurrence in the Bible of “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is clear that in Paul we meet the premiere theologian of the apostolic Church.

8-15: Paul gives thanks for them and tells them about his longing to come and visit them, and from that most scholars conclude that the letter is being written from Corinth or nearby just before Paul makes his final trip to Jerusalem. But his statement that he has thus far been “prevented” from traveling to Rome leads me to imagine that this letter may have been written from Caesarea where he has been held as a prisoner for a couple of years. Perhaps the reason Paul appealed his case to Caesar was for the purpose of finally getting to Rome.

16-17: The good news of Jesus Christ reveals the righteousness of God through faith, he says. In other words, the rightness of God’s plan to use the Jews to reach the rest of the world can only be discerned through faith.

18-23: Those who do not have faith have no excuse, he says, because the very existence of creation is evidence enough of God’s power. Those who deny it are fools regardless of how wise they seem to be in the ways of the world. He takes a jab at idol worship. How can a carved image of an animal replace the immortal, invisible God who created the universe?

24-25: It is this mistaken direction of worship toward idols instead of toward God that causes people to behave in ways that degrade the human spirit.

26-31: God’s reaction to their worship of no-gods is to simply give them up to their passions and allow them to give up the gift of eternal life. It is not so much that God condemns sinners; God simply allows us to choose life or death, and if we choose death he honors our choice. Paul provides a long list of the kinds of behaviors practiced by those who do not submit to God’s rule, illustrating how godlessness spreads through the whole community as those who have no morals corrupt others by encouraging them in the same sinful behaviors.


Romans 2 (day 1048) 13 November 2012

It is important to remember to whom Paul is writing and about whom he is writing. He is writing to Gentile believers (1:13) about Gentile unbelievers who form the culture in which believers must live. These unbelievers are those who worship idols (1:23), engage in all kinds of debased behaviors – sexual, financial, self-centered, antiauthoritarian, etc. Hmm … sounds strangely familiar. These people have no excuse because everyone should know something about God from the things God created (1:20).

1-11: He addresses these unbelievers as “whoever you are,” and says that they also have no integrity by which to judge others. In other words, their entire system of laws and their understanding of ethical behavior are flawed from the core, and they will suffer God’s wrath because of the evil they do. Notice that Paul does not claim eternal life only for Christians, but for all those who do good, both “Jew and Greek” (a common phrase intended to include everybody). Eternal life, it would seem, depends on one’s behavior, not on one’s belief. There will be much remaining in Paul’s and others’ letters that will call that interpretation into question – such as the insistence on faith in Christ (like 3:22-24 for instance) – but we’ll worry about those when we get there.

12-16: There will be a day of judgment, Paul says, when God will judge not only the deeds but also the secret thoughts of everyone. Jews have the benefit of God’s law to guide them, but Gentiles also instinctively know the difference between right and wrong, and when they follow their inclination to do right, they are justified just as Jews who keep the law. In verse 15 Paul is remembering what Jeremiah had written centuries before: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

17-24: Practice what you preach.

25-29: The prevailing public opinion among Jews of Paul’s day was that circumcision (combined with an Abrahamic ancestry) made one part of God’s people. Paul says that keeping God’s law – doing the right thing – is what makes one part of God’s people. After the resurrection, therefore, God’s people are known by faith and practice.


Romans 3 (day 1049) 14 November 2012

1-8: Paul is arguing here with an imaginary opponent who, based on what Paul has just said, wants to conclude that there is nothing special about being Jewish or about being circumcised. Paul counters by asserting that the people of Israel are the people whom God chose to receive his word. Just because some of them were not faithful does not mean that God is going to turn his back on the covenant he made with them. So, if their unfaithfulness or injustice serves to prove God’s faithfulness and justice, God ought to reward them, not punish them, right? We might as well sin, then, so God will do even more good. Well, no, that argument has no weight because God is just, and the wicked will ultimately be punished for their wickedness.

9-18: Still, the Jews are no better off than Gentiles because both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and broken God’s laws, an assertion that Paul backs up with multiple paraphrasesfrom the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah (Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7 and Psalm 36:1).

19-20: Here is one of the major points Paul makes in a number of places: the law cannot save; the law can only condemn.

21-26: However, everything has changed with the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ, with the shedding of his blood, made atonement for the sins of all so that all who have faith in Jesus Christ are justified – that is to say, God has dropped all charges against those who believe.

27-31: Therefore none of us have any reason or right to brag about how good we are because all of us fall short, but all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are justified by God through faith in Jesus and his atoning blood. Still, God’s law, which is known instinctively even by Gentiles (see 2:14), is not thereby diminished.


Romans 4 (day 1050) 15 November 201

          1-8: Quoting Psalm 106:31, Paul moves on to Abraham, the one with whom the covenant of circumcision was made (see Genesis 17:10), as an example of some who was justified by faith, not by works. Adding a couple of verses from one of David’s psalms (Psalm 32:1-2), he makes a strong case that God does indeed justify people because of their faith, not because they are blameless in keeping the law.

9-12: He argues further that God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham because he was reckoned as righteous by God, not in order to reckon him as righteous. He then asserts that Abraham is thus the spiritual father of all believers, circumcised and uncircumcised.

13-15: Follow closely, now: The promise of God to Abraham’s descendants (all of us who believe) is therefore not based on adherence to the law; it is based on righteousness by faith – what we call justification.

16-24: Paul continues to build on his “proof” that Abraham was justified by faith, not by adherence to the law (works), asserting that Abraham believed that he would be the “father of many nations” in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, thus proving his faith.

Romans 5 (day 1051) 16 November 2012

1-5: Continuing with the theme of justification by faith (God overlooks our sins because of our faith, not our works), Paul calls it grace and attributes it to Jesus Christ. We can boast, he says, not in our works but in our hope of sharing God’s glory and in our suffering because of that hope. Suffering results in endurance (“no pain, no gain”), endurance in character (“when the going gets tough, the tough get going”), and character in that hope which is grounded in God’s love for us.

6-11: The death of Christ was the avenue for our justification; the resurrection is the avenue for our salvation.

12-14: Because of the transgression of Adam all people became sinners and wereseparated from God. Because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ all people became reconciled to God (compare 1 Corinthians 15:21).

15-17: The term “free gift” is important to this paragraph, but only occurs 6 times in the Bible; 5 of them here and once in the next chapter where the free gift is identified as eternal life (6:23). Paul contrasts the free gift with the trespass of Adam. His point is that the blood of Jesus is more powerful than the transgression of Adam.

18-21: Verse 18 seems to confirm the idea of universal salvation – “justification and salvation for all.” Verse 19 hedges on it – “the many will be made righteous.” Verses 20-21 say the same thing, substituting law and grace for justification and condemnation in verses 18-19. We can summarize this paragraph thusly:

18:    The trespass of one (Adam) led to condemnation.

The righteous act of one (Jesus) leads to justification and life.

19:    The disobedience of one led to the many becoming sinners.

The obedience of one leads to the many becoming righteous.

20:    When the law entered sin increased but so did grace.

21:    Sin leads to death(so Adam) but grace leads to life (so Jesus).

It would appear, then, that we have a choice to make.


Romans 6 (day 1052) 17 November 2012

1-5: None of this means, however, that our sin causes grace to abound: Grace abounded in Jesus Christ because of God, not because of sin. To be baptized into Christ means that we participated in his death. To Paul it therefore stands to reason that we shall participate in his resurrection as well.

6-11: By “our old self” Paul means our unjustified self. The crucifixion brought justification to the believer. Therefore the believer is dead to sin. And because Christ was raised from the dead, we too are alive to God.

12-14: So we do not have to give in to sin. In Christ sin has been conquered, and the law does not condemn those who live in him.

15-19: This is the first time Paul has mentioned any specific curriculum for the Christian (verse 17 – “… the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”). Being obedient to these teachings, which we must assume must have the sayings of Jesus at its core, has the benefit of freeing one from sin. Paul uses the terminology of slavery to illustrate the change of allegiance that takes place in the heart of the follower of Jesus; we cease being slaves to sin and become slaves to righteousness.

20-23: Being “slaves of sin” is Paul’s way of referring to those who believe salvation consists of obedience to the law; but he has repeatedly made the point that the law can only condemn, and thus the only possible outcome is death. Being enslaved to God, however, places one in line to receive the gift of eternal life.


Romans 7 (day 1053) 18 November 2012

1-3: Forgive him, girls – please take into consideration the culture in which Paul lives and moves and has his being. Yes, there was a time when husbands “ruled” their wives (although there is evidence to suggest that this arrangement was mostly in the minds of the husbands). So, starting with that acknowledgement we can understand the point Paul is making: earthly allegiances do not survive death.

4-6: The law exists to manage this earthly life, but since being baptized into Christ means we are partners in his resurrection, we are therefore dead to the law because we are already living in that new life of faith in Christ. The law no longer holds any power to condemn us. Frankly, I’m pretty happy about that.

7-12: Of course, the law is holy because it came from God, and thus it has its place, but primarily it merely defines sin. Once we become participants in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the law no longer serves any purpose for us.

13: Paul tends to over-explain things. Okay, sin is the bad thing, not the law. But because the law reveals sin it has the effect of emphasizing our sinfulness which makes us bad.

14-20: There is, however, another primary difference between us and the law: the law is spiritual; we are flesh. For Paul, sin is of the flesh, and in the flesh we cannot but sin. Try as he might, he confesses that his physical existence causes him to do things he knows are not right even while he is in the very act of doing them. On the other hand, he realizes in his mind that what he is doing is not right, and that realization is his spiritual self. So there is within us both a principle of sin and a principle of holiness, but because we live in the flesh we cannot completely overcome the flesh, and thus sin is ever a part of our earthly lives. How can we be saved from such a calamity? We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, which faith allows us to live in the resurrection while we are still living in the flesh.


Romans 8 (day 1054) 19 November 2012

          1-8: The terms “flesh” and “spirit” are central to Paul’s understanding of the faith. “Flesh,” in the broad sense, is human nature, not just the physical body. “Spirit” is the presence of God within us, directing us toward the fullness of life. He argues here that the law could not overcome human nature. The law can only condemn sinful behavior. Since human nature cannot submit to God’s law, we must strive to live according to the spirit.

9-11: Of course we are in the flesh, but Paul’s point is that if we belong to Christ Jesus, the indwelling Spirit helps us overcome our sinful human nature to the end that we will have eternal life.

12-17: Paul introduces the concept of adoption into his understanding of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In Roman law an adoption resulted in the cancellation of all previous debts and responsibilities and the acquisition of all familial rights within the new family including the right of inheritance. In terms of Christian teaching this equates to the forgiveness of sins (cancellation of prior debts) and entry into eternal life with Christ as joint heirs.

18-25: There have been persecutions of Christians throughout the early history of the church, and that is probably what Paul is alluding to here, but it is also true that life in this “present time” is filled with disease and dis-ease. The Jews had long believed that the “present age” would one day be replaced with the “age to come,” and Paul builds on this belief with a description of the process by which God will bring it about, comparing it to childbirth. He acknowledges that it is a future that has no precedence – it cannot be “seen.” Therefore we await the glorious day and our final “adoption” with patient hope.

26-27: Since our adoption is not yet complete we still struggle with the weakness of our human nature. But while we struggle the counterbalance of our spiritual nature maintains our connection to God.

28-30: Verse 28 is one of the most quoted verses from Paul’s writings. John Calvin latched onto verses 29-30 to uphold his doctrine of predestination – that some were chosen for salvation from the beginning. That is clear enough, but Calvin went on to insist that everybody else will go to hell. We Methodists (along with the vast majority of Christians) simply point out that the word “only” does not appear here. In other words, the text does NOT say, “For only those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … and only those whom he predestined he also called; and only those whom he called he also justified; and only those whom he justified he also glorified.” So, we give Jesus’ word (“For God so loved the world … that whosoever believes …”) more weight than Paul’s in the matter. All of these arguments aside, it is clear that what Paul primarily means here is simply that God never intended for Christ to remain forever his only child, but rather that he should simply “be the firstborn within a large family.”

31-39: Paul ends this section with an eloquent depiction of the unfailing love of God for all who acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.


Romans 9 (day 1055) 20 November 2012

1-5: Paul is in anguish, however, over his own people, the people of Israel, and goes so far as to say that he would forfeit his own adoption if it would result in all of them embracing Jesus as the Messiah.

6-18: He traces Israel’s history from Abraham, acknowledging that from time to time God seemed to favor one branch of Abraham’s family tree over another. This, he says, is not because God is capricious, but because God is, well, sort of capricious. God picks and chooses as God sees fit.

19-29: And we have no ground on which to argue with the choices God has made. God is, after all, God. Paul’s point is that God isn’t calling people based on whether they are Jew or Gentile but rather on their faith in Christ. He accepts the witness of Hosea and Isaiah that only a remnant of Israel will embrace the faith.

30-33: The problem with the Jews, he says, is that they thought the law could be obeyed by works, when God’s requirement is that they have faith. He quotes the prophets (Isaiah 28:16) to show that God does not regard the law as the sole basis on which salvation is given.


Romans 10 (day 1056) 21 November 2012

1-4: Paul grieves that many of his own people still cling to the hope of righteousness through the law.

5-13: He quotes Leviticus 18:5 (”You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live.”), which appears to completely contradict what he has said so far until we remember that Paul has claimed that no one has ever been able to keep the law (see 3:10-11). He then paraphrases some passages from Deuteronomy 30 (especially verses 12-13) to bolster his argument that faith is the guarantor of salvation, not the law. It seems a weak argument – the quotes he has chosen, not his argument that we are saved through faith. Verse 11 is a quote from Isaiah 28:16, and is perhaps more appropriate to our modern minds, although Paul makes a leap in asserting that the “him” in that verse is a reference to Jesus. The final quote in verse 13 (“all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” from Joel 2:32) would have been adequate.

14-17: Of course, before you can call on the Lord you have to believe in the Lord, and before you believe in the Lord you have to have heard of the Lord, and in order for that to happen somebody has to tell you, and that somebody has to be sent by the Lord. Even so, the good news they bring is not always believed.

18-21: The people of Israel have indeed heard the good news, he says. Verse 18 is a paraphrase of Psalm 19:4. Verse 19 is from Deuteronomy 32:21. Verse 20 quotes Isaiah 65:1, more or less, and verse 21 is Isaiah 65:2. They have heard, but have been “disobedient and contrary.”


Romans 11 (day 1057) 22 November 2012

1-6: Still, God has not rejected Israel although he has made it perfectly clear that Israel, or certainly many Israelites, rejected God. Verse 2 must present problems for Calvinists because it declares that God “foreknew” the Jews, which would mean that under Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, all Jews are saved. Perhaps they are, but that is not what Paul intends to say, nor do I think that’s what John Calvin intended to prove. (John Wesley would say all of them canbe saved.) He goes on to reference a story about Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-18) in which God refers to a remnant of Israelites who had not bowed down to Baal, and using that tale surmises that there is still a remnant in Israel whom God has not rejected, but he insists that God’s acceptance of them is an act of grace, not works.

7-10: Again quoting from the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23) Paul “proves” that God knew some in Israel would persist in rejecting him.

11-12: Still, Israel is not doomed, he says. Instead, their failure has made salvation available to the Gentiles as well. Somehow I don’t think this argument went over well with his Jewish readers.

13-16: Paul declares that he is trying to make his own people jealous so some of them might be saved. Interesting approach: I can hear Dr. Phil saying, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” He reasons that if Israel’s rejection of God (Christ) has resulted in Gentiles now being reconciled to God, then if anyone in Israel accepts God (Christ) all Israel will reap the benefits.

17-24: Gentiles, however, have no right or reason to brag that they have been saved in place of those in Israel who have rejected the message. He uses the olive tree as a metaphor for God’s people. Those Israelites who reject Jesus are pruned from the tree, and those Gentiles who accept Jesus are grafted onto the branches in their place, but the fallen ones from the house of Israel are not forever lost; they can still be grafted in; and the Gentiles who have been grafted in can still be pruned away. The attitude the Christian is supposed to have, then, is not an attitude of boasting, but of gratitude.

25-32: In spite of rejecting the law, Paul is really hung up on it and keeps using legal terms – obedience and disobedience – to describe how God has worked through Christ to bring about salvation for all.

33-36: Quoting Isaiah 40:13 and Job 35:7, the wonder of God’s providence is extoled.


Romans 12 (day 1058) 23 November 2012

1-2: In other words, beware of human nature and submit to the Spirit of Christ within you, for that is the only sure way to discern God’s will.

3-8: Don’t try to do everything. Accept the gift and responsibility given you for the good of the body regardless of how unimportant it may seem to you, whether it is prophecy, administration, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, or caring for those in need.

9-21: The ideal Christian congregation is described. These verses ought to be memorized by every church member.


Romans 13 (day 1059) 24 November 2012

1-7: From the vantage point of the 21st century we have pretty strong evidence that not every governing authority can be said to have been instituted by God. Given the context of Paul’s letters, however, especially the fact that he is sending this one to the capital of the Roman Empire, it makes sense to caution his readers to obey the governing authorities.

8-10: Since love (Christian love, not romantic love) can do no wrong, learning to practice love is the fulfillment of the law, both divine and human.

11-14: All of Paul’s advice is tempered by his belief that the day of salvation is close at hand. Suffer, then – it can’t be long. Patience, then – a new day is about to dawn. Endure, then – there is a light shining and the end of the tunnel approaches. Rejoice, then – we are already children of God.


Romans 14 (day 1060) 25 November 2012

1-4: He cautions his readers not to allow their (perhaps supposed) maturity in the faith to make them have a superior attitude toward others who are struggling.

5-9: If we all will simply dedicate our lives and our actions to the Lord, then we can live together in harmony even when we disagree on the details. Life and death don’t matter, for Christ is Lord of both.

10-12: Paraphrasing Isaiah 45:23, Paul makes the point that passing judgment on each other is a meaningless exercise because all of us are under the authority of the Lord.

13-23: There was a great deal of debate in the early church about dietary restrictions. Early on the decision was made not to require Gentiles to follow the Jewish kosher laws (see Acts 15:28-29), but they were to abstain from food sacrificed to idols. Since that practice was widespread throughout the empire, and since there still was a strong element of Judaism in practices of fasting and abstinence it was surely quite confusing, especially to new converts. Paul simply tells them to lighten up. If you follow a certain diet for spiritual reasons, that doesn’t mean you should impose your diet on others. In our culture, some say a blessing before each meal, some after, some out loud, some silently, some not at all. None of them is “the” right way. Just do your thing to the glory of God.


Romans 15 (day 1061) 26 November 2012

1-6: Don’t show off to others even if you are super holy. Christ’s people are to be about the task of building one another up.

7-13: Paul’s point is that Christ came that all might be saved, both Jews and Gentiles. Beginning at verse 9 he paraphrases Psalm 18:49, Psalm 67:3-4, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:1 and 10.

14-21: Paul begins now to summarize his letter, saying that he is confident in their understanding of the faith. He emphasizes again that his primary mission is to go where no one has gone before, taking the good news to Gentiles in places where it has not yet been preached. He says he has taken the gospel as far as Illyricum, a territory on the Adriatic Sea northwest of Greece. However, there is no mention of Illyricum elsewhere in the Bible. He quotes Isaiah 52:15 as his rallying cry.

22-29: Paul tells his readers in Rome that he plans to visit them on his way to Spain, a journey of which we have no record and which may or may not have been made. For now, though, he is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver an offering for the poor from followers in Macedonia and Achaia. It is likely that this is a reference to his last trip to Jerusalem. I had speculated in the comment on 1:8-15 that this letter may have been written from Caesarea while Paul awaited his trial, but verse 25 would seem to negate that supposition.

30-33: If Paul is writing on the eve of his last trip to Jerusalem, these verses are ironic. He asks them to pray for his mission to Jerusalem, but we know it was disastrous for him. On the other hand, the ending of Acts does indeed indicate that Paul was able to stay in Rome for some time with the freedom to be in contact with the Christian community there.


Romans 16 (day 1062) 27 November 2012

1-2: Paul begins a long list of salutations to end his letter. Phoebe is not mentioned elsewhere, but Cenchreae is on the coast of Syria, and Paul made one brief stop there (Acts 18:18).

3-16: A long list of names is given, most of which are mentioned nowhere else. There was obviously a thriving Christian community in Rome long before Paul ever got there.

17-20: He casts out a final warning against “those who cause dissentions,” etc. The mention of Satan comes as somewhat of a surprise, appearing here for the first and only time in the letter. “The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet,” seems to be a figure of speech which means that if they continue to live in peace with one another the opposition of “those who cause dissentions” will be overcome. The phrase about crushing Satan “under your feet” seems to be an allusion to Genesis 3:15, or perhaps Psalm 91:13 (see also Luke 10:18-19).

21: Timothy we have met and of whom we will come to learn a great deal before we are done. Lucius may have been mentioned at Acts 13:1, although it is impossible to know if that was the same person. Jason and Sosipater are otherwise unknown.

22: Tertius is unmentioned elsewhere as well, but we learn from this verse that Paul used secretaries to pen his letters (see the opening comments from Chapter 1 above), and this letter has been dictated to one Tertius.