Posts Tagged With: sexuality

1 Thessalonians 4: Basic Ethical Teachings

You should continue more and more to behave in the manner that you received from us as the appropriate way of behaving and of pleasing God. (4:1)

Paul only had a short time with the Thessalonians before he was chased out-of-town.  Still, he had discussed how they should behave as Christians.  For Paul, ethics were fundamental to the way of Christ.

In this chapter’s discussion of basic ethics and beliefs, it is interesting what Paul discusses: sexuality, money, and death.

This is God’s will, you see: he wants you to be holy, to keep well away from fornication.  Each of you should know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not in the madness of lust like Gentiles who don’t know God. (4:3-5)

Now, about charitable concern for the whole family: I don’t really need to write to you, because you yourselves have been taught by God to show loving care for one another. . . . Work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may behave in a way which outsiders will respect, and so that none of you may be in financial difficulties. (4:9, 11b-12)

Now concerning those who have fallen asleep . . . We don’t want you to have the kind of grief that other people do, people who don’t have any hope. (4:13)

Think about it: aren’t inappropriate thinking and behaviors related to sexuality, money, and death especially dangerous?  Each can significantly alter the course of one’s life.  A life lived in immorality and licentiousness degrades and endangers others and oneself.  Greed makes the turning of a buck the most important goal and people who stand in the way a target for removal.  Laziness is contagious and makes many other vices necessary. Unchristian thinking about death may be the least obvious, but consider how life is lived when one believes the grave is the end.  There is also a common element in these three: each makes one live in the here and now with no gratification delayed and no thought to the future.

One more thought: is western society not obsessed with sex, money, and a terminal view of death?  How important it still is for us to believe that contrasting views about these three topics must be fundamental teachings for young Christians.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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1 Corinthians 7: Marriage Isn’t Easy

This is a hard chapter to know how best to understand and apply what Paul says.  Yet, because it is talking about marriage, it is one that a lot of Christians end up in with some frequency.  I am afraid I have neither the space nor knowledge necessary to unravel all of the knots.  My only goal today is to lay done two boundary lines that might help us know where a good interpretation should land.  Unfortunately, these also produce more questions.

1.  Paul makes no bones about it, a lot of what he has to say in this chapter is only his opinion, as wise as that may be (7:6, 12, 25, 40). Paul himself says that much here is not binding on the reader:

I’m not saying this as a command, but as a concession. (7:6)

Maybe it helps to remember that verse 1 indicates this was a response from Paul about a question they had asked.  Could it be that we have uninspired opinions like these in the Bible?  Well, that is a Pandora’s Box if we agree, isn’t it?  It gets right down to the roots of what we mean when we say the Bible is truth.  Maybe we should view it like this?  I take seriously what certain church leaders say when I am seeking advice from them.  I don’t assume it is unquestionable and inspired truth, but I also feel like I better have a good reason not to take seriously their wisdom.

2.  The teachings in this chapter appear to be based on a premise that did not turn out to be the case: this present world is coming to an end very soon.

Just at the moment we are in the middle of a very difficult time. . . . The present situation won’t last long. . . . The pattern of this world, you see, is passing away. (7:26, 29, 31)

Many scholars believe this indicates that Paul had a view that Jesus would be returning in the near future.  Hence, people should “remain before God in the state in which they were called” (7:24; c.f., 17, 26, 40) because soon our present relationships would be over.  Of course, it has been 2000 years since Paul said that.  That is not exactly “very soon.”  One can say, “But Jesus could come any minute, so we should live like Jesus’ return is right around the corner.”  Maybe that is what Paul meant.  The problem with that logic is that, then, we all should do what this chapter says: remain in the situation we are present in — married, unmarried, widowed, enslaved, etc.  Christians don’t do that.

So, what do we do with a chapter like this?  I guess I prefer to look for big concepts that I also find elsewhere in the Bible and hang on to those.  Such as:  Marriage is a blessing.  God has provided a partner for each of us so that a physical and sexual life can be lived with purity and blessing.  At the same time, family is not the most important thing in life if you are a Christian; practically, marriage and a family does pull a person away from preaching the gospel and ministering to churches, as Paul says here (7:34).

If you are interested in reading more about how to interpret the Bible, check out this series of posts on my other blog.  These posts won’t answer all of our questions but they will show that understanding and applying the Bible to our lives today is not always as easy as we have thought.

What do you think about this complicated chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Corinthian Letters

I imagine the church at Corinth was not an easy church to lead.  Yet, the Apostle Paul went far and beyond to help them become what God would have them be as a church.  We likely only have two of the four letters we can tell Paul wrote this church (maybe three if our Second Corinthians is actually two letters combined).  We can tell from the way Paul starts many of the sections in First Corinthians that this letter is actually a response to some sort of correspondence from the Corinthian Christians.  Next maybe only to Ephesus, Paul spent more time in Corinth during his missionary journeys than anywhere else.  As challenging as the Corinthians were to Paul, he dearly loved them and that comes out in these letters.

Paul seems to be combating several issues in these two letters, each letter quite different from the other.

Holy living in an unholy culture:  Corinth was home to many temples, not all of which were likely in use at the time of Paul.  The most famous of these was the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, in which 1000 temple prostitutes once had served.  On the north side of the city was a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing.  This background of idolatry and sexuality will appear several times in the two letters.  This may be Corinth’s most recognized vice.  There is a now-archaic English verb, “to corinthianize,” which means to engage in lewd and indecent acts of debauchery, especially unbridled and indecent sexuality.  Paul’s instructions will be unequivocal: navigate through a sinful society with purity, abstinence, and consideration for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  This point is also what makes many people say 1 Corinthians is especially relevant for today’s world.

Airs of superiority amongst the members and the division that naturally would bring:  Wisdom was key to the Greek culture.  At least in some people’s minds, one’s value was attached in part to their intellectual development.  Education, philosophy and conventional thinking would have been held in high esteem.  As we will see early in 1 Corinthians, this attitude was clearly present in the Corinthian church as well.  This thinking also seems to have shaped how they thought about the spiritual gifts they had been given by the Spirit.  A pecking order of giftedness seems to have been causing a problem, as was their penchant to group off according to which religious teacher they preferred.  Unity will be the most recurring point in these letters.

Misunderstandings about the resurrection of the dead:  There can be no misunderstandings about this all-important idea fundamental to Christianity, yet it seems the Corinthians had many.  Paul will speak to the who, when, how, and what of the resurrection from the dead.

Encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give generously to famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem:  Situated at a main commercial nexus point between the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, there would have been a good bit of wealth in the city.  Paul will encourage his Greek brothers and sisters to use that wealth to show tangible love for the Jewish brothers and sisters who started this movement they are now a part of.

Having to defend this apostolic authority:  Paul’s response to this issue composes most of Second Corinthians.  This was an especially big deal as questions of authority would have undermined everything Paul had been working for in Corinth.  The emphasis on wisdom in Corinthian culture would have contributed to this as Paul was foreign, educated in non-Greek religion and philosophy, and he did not emphasize the charisma commonplace in Greek cultural leaders.  More troubling for Paul were false teachers posing as apostles who had come to Corinth since his departure who were turning the church against him.  They painted Paul as opportunistic, greedy for their money, unreliable, and unskilled.  Paul responds will great passion and fire.  For what it’s worth, Paul’s explanation of why he is competent to be a “minister of reconciliation” has been one of my favor sections of Scripture since first training for the ministry in undergrad.

So much of the Corinthian letters has to do with church life.  This may be where we see Paul’s pastoral heart best of all.

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Matthew 19: Innocent Like Children

This chapter has an interesting pairing of stories.  One deals with sex and the other with money.  The Pharisees ask Jesus about marriage, divorce and sexuality.  Then a rich young man wants to know how to inherit eternal life and the conversation quickly turns to his wealth.

If there are any two topics that so obsess the modern American mind they would have to be sex and money.  Both are everywhere and behind many a motivation, temptation and scandal.  We have even found ways to combine the two in this culture.  What I am seeing today is that it may not have been a great deal different in ancient Palestine either.

It is interesting how many times this pairing shows up elsewhere in Scripture too.  Jacob was as intent on stealing a birthright from his brother as he was to marry Rachel.  The two biggest topics in the introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) — a book likely written to young men — were how to handle sex and money.  In the Pastoral Epistles, books written to give instructions on godly leaders, Paul has to discuss sexuality and money in each.  In Revelation, the whore of Babylon (that is, Rome) is sexually immoral and financially unjust and exploitive.  The examples could go on.

Don’t get me wrong, the issue is neither sex nor money, as if either is inherently evil.  The problems are immorality and greed, respectively.  Cover to cover in the Bible we find condemnations of these vices.

How do kingdom-people relate to both of these topics?  I believe the answer comes sandwiched between these two stories:

Then children were brought to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to them.  But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me!  Don’t stop them!  They are the sort the kingdom of heaven belongs to!”  And he laid his hands on them. (18:13-15)

Kingdom-people are child-like.  We saw that point in the last chapter too (18:3-5) and Jesus’ point there was to become humble like children.  Here the point seems to be innocence and focus.  Children still live in that wonderfully naive world of purity, at least ideally.  An awareness of sexuality and money — and with that awareness the accompanying temptation to misuse each — is still in the future.  Much like Jesus’ instructions to not be focused on sex, like a eunuch could not be (19:11-12), and like the disciples who were willing to leave all material possessions behind to follow Jesus (19:27), children are able to focus with abandon on the task before them.

Likewise, kingdom-people have a task that takes focus.  There is a world that needs them. They cannot be taken off-task by the pursuit of sexual fulfillment or the love of money.  They operate by faith knowing that God will take care of their needs, yes, even these needs.

What struck a nerve with you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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