Two Thoughts from 1 Corinthians

I was reading 1 Corinthians 1-2 this morning and ran across a couple of passages that really stuck out to me. They speak fairly well for themselves (isn’t Scripture good about that?), but I will highlight the basic thoughts in them that I found so compelling.

The first passage is 1 Corinthians 1:17-31. But I won’t quote all of that here, which would be rather long. So I’ll just present the heart of it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

From the beginning, the Gospel has appeared foolish or even blasphemous to the rest of the world. The Jews thought it absolutely unacceptable that their Messiah would suffer crucifixion, much more so in the impossible situation of Him being God Incarnate. The Greeks, well, just thought the whole story was kind of dumb. But today it is little different. Christ crucified is a stumbling block to those who are all about success and self-advancement (*cough*Trump*cough*), a group increasingly large in our increasingly corporate world. The idea that a man who lived 2000 years ago spoke truths which carry divine authority even today is ridiculous to self-styled intellectuals. The claim that there is only one name given under heaven by which men may be saved sounds like blasphemy to a culture all about inclusion and multiculturalism. All of the Gospel, if you’re not just too used to it to noticed, sounds completely insane apart from the experience of its power. This is just something I keep noticing all of the time in relation to so many philosophies and politics and worldviews. Democrat or Republican, atheist or theist, rich or poor, Jesus sounds ridiculous and contradictory to all of the cultural defaults.

The other passage I notice is at the end of 1 Corinthians 2. People often get the meaning of verse 9 wrong. What do I mean?

But as it is written:

What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind — God prepared this for those who love Him.

Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. For

who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him?

But we have the mind of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 2:9-16

This passage comes right after Paul’s further argument about human vs. divine wisdom, and the power of the Spirit over and against the persuasive power of rhetoric. Verse 9 is often treated as a statement about the unimaginability of heaven. No eye or hear or head has a clue what’s coming! But that’s exactly not the point Paul is making. He’s making a point about the divine wisdom of the Gospel and its foolishness to men. This verse shows that no one was ever expecting what God did in Christ for us. God’s plans for us in the Gospel had never been seen before, heard before, or imagined by a human mind. If they had, as per verse 8, no one would have killed Jesus. But instead, Paul goes on to argue that even though this stuff was hidden before, we now know it. We have the Spirit of God, who is the only one to know the deep secrets of God. Because we have the Spirit, we know the secrets of the Gospel, not because we had seen or heard or known before, but because we have been taught the truths of the Spirit. We now have the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, which means that we are those who know the Lord’s mind and understand what God has prepared for us. We know by revelation. There is nothing hidden anymore.

Two Thoughts from 1 Corinthians

Life Is about the Trinity

In the wake of recent Trinitarian controversies on the Christian blogosphere, I’ve been given to some very interesting study on the topic of the Trinity. (If such controversy interests you, Alastair Roberts has been working on a round-up of the debate at Reformation 21.) I’m not going to bore you with much of it, even if I don’t find this boring at all, but I would like to offer some thoughts.

In my studies about the Trinity recently, I have been reminded of one crucial fact. This is ultimately what life is all about. By that I don’t refer to technical debates about the finer details of orthodox Trinitarianism. Rather, I mean coming to know God. And the true God is Trinity. As St. Gregory Nazianzen once said, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Yet this God who is Triune is the only God, the God who loves us, the God who created us, the God who saves us, and the God for whom and from whom and to whom are all things, including our lives.

This is the subject which I have been thinking about lately. Life is about the Trinity. Life is about God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son. It is about the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life. In all things, then, our faith calls us to bear in mind not just that there is a God, but that this God is Father-Son-Spirit. 

The struggle, however, is to see this not as a detail of Christian dogmatics. We must instead recall that this is the living reality of the God to whom we pray and whom we serve on a daily basis. In our devotion, in our prayers, in our walks before God and man we somehow must live out a Trinitarian reality. This can’t be merely abstract, of course. We must recognize in their individual ways the works and persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We must live and worship accordingly.

But what does this look like practically? How do we will all of our life with the recognition that knowing the Triune God is the meaning of it? Ultimately, it requires intense training, constant reminders to ourselves of who God is. This is why Scripture leads the way for us by teaching us to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), by blessing us with the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13), by imploring us through Christ and the Spirit’s love to pray to the Father (Rom. 15:30). It is why in our churches many of sing a doxology which concludes with “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Many songs and hymns reflect such a structure. The Apostles’ Creed, which many churches recite each Sunday, is ordered around God the Father almighty, Jesus Christ His only Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In our personal lives, we would do well to consume as much of this as we can. Read Scripture and see the shape of the Father-Son-Spirit works and relations. Pray to the Father in the name of the Son in the Spirit. Acknowledge each of the members of the Godhead in your prayer and devotion every day.

Of course, one might still wonder. Can this really matter that much? But the truth is that it can. It does. For life is all about the Triune God, about knowing and worshiping Him. In fact, this vision of Father, Son, and Spirit is eternity, the destiny of the universe. Everything is from Him and to Him and for Him forever. Amen.

Life Is about the Trinity

Is the Lord’s Prayer for Jesus to Return?

Is the Lord’s Prayer really an eschatological prayer, a wish for God to usher in the Kingdom and finish all things? Some people have suggested so, and it actually seems likely enough. So here is a possible way to read the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer for Christ to return:

Our Father in heaven – The prayer starts off by acknowledging that God is in heaven, where things are already right and where the authority over earth lies. God alone has the power and right to bring in the age to come, and since He is our Father, we can approach and ask this of Him.

Hallowed be your name – This is the ultimate goal of creation: the worship and glorification of God. To pray “hallowed be your name” is to ask God to finally bring the world to its conclusion where all is prayer and praise, and God alone is known as holy.

Your kingdom come – This is the key and obvious point of asking for God to finish the story and send Christ back to us, but I would also argue that this is in a way the intended context and meaning of the rest of the prayer. We pray for the Kingdom to come because that is what life is ultimately all about and is the only hope for the world.

Your will be done – This is what God’s Kingdom looks like, and what we pray for God to accomplish by sending Jesus back. We want a world which is in conformity to His will, where lies and lust and licentiousness are once and for all done with and instead, the world works in the perfect harmony it was created for under people who live as God designed humans to live.

On earth as it is in heaven – Heaven is the control room and the place of God’s throne where His will is actually executed supremely. The goal of all things is that earth should come fully into conformity to God’s will, just as heaven already is. Essentially, we pray for heaven and earth to finally become one.

Give us today our (daily?) bread – This does not sound eschatological at first, but the consensus these days is that the Greek word translated “daily” does not mean “daily” at all. This word appears nowhere else in ancient Greek texts but here. One theory which has gained some ground is that it means “tomorrow” or “the next day.” In essence, it could be taken to mean, “Give us today the bread of tomorrow,” i.e. the bread of the eschatological feast, the wedding feast of Christ’s union with His bride. Give us, as it were, eternal life. (As a side note, another possible translation might lead to a Communion connection, which would make sense as well since Communion is fundamentally eschatological.)

Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors – While we think of forgiveness of sins as primarily a present or past reality, there is an important future dimension. While our sins are forgiven in Christ, we still bear the earthly consequences of our sins and must submit to death, the original punishment for sin. Our forgiveness of sins in the present anticipates the last day, when we will be delivered from all of sin’s consequences, death will be undone, and shame and guilt will be relegated to this passing age. Yet Christ also reminds us that the forgiveness we receive then will be in alignment with the forgiveness we give out now, a pressing reminder to live a life of forgiveness.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – The word translated “temptation” is also frequently translated “trial” or “tribulation,” and it is in this sense we can see an eschatological dimension here. The Jews expected (just as many Christians do) a severe time of trial and tribulation immediately preceding the end. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to be preserved and protected, not subject to grueling trials but delivered from the evil powers which cause them.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever – In concluding, we ascribe to God all that we ask of Him in this prayer. We want God to bring in the Kingdom using His power and fill the earth with His glory, and so we acknowledge these perfections of God and praise Him for them. By adding “forever,” we call to mind the eternal bliss which waits on the other side of Christ’s return. His reign will never end.

Is the Lord’s Prayer for Jesus to Return?

Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer

I’ve been in the habit for some time now of praying the Lord’s prayer first in my devotions. I know that not all people do this; many people think of it more as a general model not necessarily meant to be prayed exactly as is. Yet historically praying the Lord’s prayer has been a common and unifying part of Christian devotion, and so I do.

Anyway, my actual purpose in this post is to simply offer some thoughts on the lines of the prayer given by Christ, and so I will waste no more time and do that:

Our Father in heaven
God is Father. This is key to approaching Him. He has been known in many ways and by many names, but when we come into His presence we must remember that He has adopted us graciously as sons and daughters. Because we are united by faith with His only-begotten Son, we are fully and truly His children, and so we can expect Him to listen patiently and lovingly to our prayers. We can trust Him to respond with bread, no snakes or stones.
Hallowed be Your name
This comes first for good reason. God is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Life-giver. The Son upholds the universe by the word of His power. For this reason alone, even if there was nothing else, God deserves His name to be known and cherished. Praying that God’s name is hallowed is essentially to pray, “Let the whole world know who You are and worship in that knowledge.” But why so important? Is God simply vain? Is He merely a selfish monarch demanding praises just because He can? By no means! Rather, God is light, love, and salvation itself. Jesus Christ is eternal life. Therefore there is absolutely nothing more conducive to human flourishing than the global hallowing of the name of God. It is for love that God wants to fill the earth with knowledge of Him, just as love compels a father to announce his presence and saving abilities when he finds his children alone and in danger.
Your kingdom come
There is no greater hope for Christians and the world we live in than the kingdom of God. This is not, as some imagine, spiritual heaven people go to when they die. Rather, the kingdom of God is His rule in the world, redeeming and transforming it to make it into the kind of world He desires. It is God subjecting all things to Christ, and putting all His enemies under His feet. The kingdom was officially established in the world in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and now expands after His ascension through the advance of the Church. Ultimately, the kingdom’s coming will be complete when Christ returns Himself to rule in person. When we pray for the kingdom to come, we are asking God to advance the work of His Church in the present and bring Christ’s return ever closer from the future, so that finally the world may submit fully to the gracious design of God.
Your will be done
I believe people generally misunderstand this phrase. People tend to use it as, “God, I pray for all of these things, but just in case You want to do something different that’s okay with me.” That’s not a wrong attitude to have, and can be expressed in such a way (see Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), but I do not believe that is what we are praying for in this case. Coming right after the request for the coming kingdom, I believe that this is a prayer for the world to come into alignment with what Scripture reveals to us is God’s will. It is a prayer not for a secret series of events, known only to God as His will, but for what God has told us is His will. This means salvation, healing for the sick, freedom for those in bondage, help for the poor, good works from God’s people, missions around the world, peace on earth, life for the unborn, and the defeat of sin, death, and Satan’s hordes. We can pray boldly for these things. We can pray for them without adding, “if it be Your will,” because all of them are God’s will.
On earth as it is in heaven
Heaven, as the word is used in Scripture, refers to God’s domain, apart from our world. In God’s sphere, the angels minister perpetually, keeping things in accord with God’s will. We pray on earth that God will extend that grace by the ministry of angels and His Church He will extend His will into our world, making earth more like heaven. The ultimate goal of this process is the new creation, where God’s heaven and man’s earth become one in perfection.
Give us this day our daily bread
Sometimes the hardest thing is to simply trust God for our provisions. It is easy not to worry sometimes, but it is difficult to not worry because we’re trusting God. We usually trust our jobs, our families, or the government or anything else, confident that they will keep us fed and sheltered. “Give us this day our daily bread” both invokes on God to provide and reminds us that He, not whatever else, is ultimately the source of what we live on,
Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors
We ask God daily for forgiveness, because of our clear sinfulness. Yet in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to only expect forgiveness inasmuch as we give forgiveness, something Jesus makes more explicit right after providing this prayer. Yet this is not making our salvation something we earn by forgiving people. Rather, our forgiveness and our ability to forgive others have one source: the life of Christ imparted to us by His Spirit. Only by grace can we be forgiven and can we forgive us successfully. This prayer, then, holds us accountable to that fact. We ask for forgiveness, recognizing that it comes as part of a package which spreads forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one
This sentence can also be translated, “lead us not into trial, but deliver us from evil.” Both are probably correct, English just letting us down by not having a good way to say both meanings. The point is that we, especially as God’s people, find ourselves subject to many trials and temptations, days of testing by evil forces, people, and events. We pray to God to deliver us from them all, bringing us safely around, through, or beyond the troubles of this life. Evil is ever present, wishing to hurt us, yet we plead with God not to let it, or even to give it an opportunity.
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Amen!
Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer

Another Morning Prayer

I ran across a great new morning prayer today, and though I’d share it for the benefit of all. It opens with the Lord’s Prayer, and then goes on thus:

Almighty and everlasting God, in whom I live and move and have my being; I, Your needy creature, render You my humble praises, for Your preservation of me from the beginning of my life to this day, and especially for having delivered me from the dangers of the past night. For these Your mercies, I bless and magnify Your glorious Name; humbly beseeching You to accept this my morning sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; for his sake who lay down in the grave, and rose again for us, Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

And since it is of Your mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to my life; I here dedicate both my soul and my body to You and Your service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen me; that, as I grow in age, I may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

But, O God, who knows the weakness and corruption of my nature, and the manifold temptations which I daily meet with; I humbly beseech You to have compassion on my infirmities, and to give me the constant assistance of Your Holy Spirit; that I may be effectually restrained from sin, and incited to my duty. Imprint upon my heart such a dread of Your judgments, and such a grateful sense of Your goodness to me, as may make me both afraid and ashamed to offend You. And, above all, keep in my mind a lively remembrance of that great day, in which I must give a strict account of my thoughts, words, and actions to him whom You have appointed the Judge of quick and dead, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

In particular, I implore Your grace and protection for the ensuing day. Keep me temperate in all things, and diligent in my calling. Grant me patience under my afflictions. Give me grace to be just and upright in all my dealings; quiet and peaceable; full of compassion; and ready to do good to all men, according to my abilities and opportunities. Direct me in all my ways. Defend me from all dangers and adversities; and be graciously pleased to take me, and all who are dear to me, under Your fatherly care and protection. These things, and whatever else You shalt see to be necessary and convenient to me, I humbly beg, through the merits and mediation of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Amen.

May the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with me and all who pray in the name of Christ, this day and evermore.
Amen.

Another Morning Prayer

Very Short Thoughts on the Tower of Babel

These are just the quick notes I took on the Tower of Babel incident while reading through Genesis 10-11 this morning.

  • The motivation for the tower of Babel is interesting. The one people wanted to unite in glory in resistance to God’s intention to bless the earth through their filling and diversification. It appears there was some clear awareness on their part that they were resisting this call.
  • God’s motivation is just as peculiar, if not more so. On one hand, at a prima facie level it appears that God feels threatened by humanity’s united power and wishes to stop them from what powerful things they could accomplish as one people. Yet this reading seems problematic, theology proper aside. It does not take into account what the people said in the previous verse, nor is it coherent. Why would a God who already performed creation and was able to confuse human languages feel threatened by mere mortals? I suspect God was more concerned with their particular plans to build a single metropolitan and continue resisting the call to spread out and diversify. As long as they had one language, nothing would be able to convince them to give up on this project and separate.
  • If we take Babel as mostly the story of God’s plans for blessing and humanity’s ongoing resistance (which would fit well into the Pentateuch as a whole), then there is clear application. God often calls us to do hard and uncomfortable things for our own good; indeed, this is mostly all He says to us! He may ask us to break certain cherished ties and go places, just as He will do to Abram in the next chapter. Yet the plan is always for the consummation and redemption of creation, and so every step is ultimately designed to bless us. The question on our part is if we will have the faith to simply do what He calls us to do, trusting that He actually does have our best interests at heart.
Very Short Thoughts on the Tower of Babel

You Should Really All Know About Lectio Divina

I just got through the Spiritual Formation 101 course at the Baptist College of Florida. It was a good and useful course, which has, in combination with a few other factors, actually done wonders for my devotional life and prayer life. I was, however, disappointed that in all of our discussions on prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading the topic of lectio divina never came up. This traditional practice has lots of a long history in Christian devotion and, from my initial experiences with it, is quite beneficial. Yet for some reason in the world I’ve grown up in (evangelical Protestant/Baptist) I’ve never heard it mentioned.

So what is lectio divina? It is a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading,” and it refers to a specific practice combining Scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. Its origins can be traced back as far as Origen (3rd century), but it its current form it goes back to medieval monasteries, where it was finally put into four steps. The goal of lectio divina is to commune with God personally while/by reading Scripture. My explanations will be mostly pointless without giving the details, so I’ll just jump into the four steps:

  1. Read — The first step of lectio divina is to read Scripture. Usually, you will not want a very long passage for this. Generally a verse or two will be plenty, though of course you are not limited and depending on how long you want to spend and how much focus you have you might read much more. A great longer text might be psalm, for example. I like to pick out a verse or two that particularly strikes me from whatever large reading I am doing at the time.
    Anyway, once you’ve chosen your text you read it slowly and carefully, focusing on it as exclusively as you can. You will probably want to read it multiple times, traditionally four. Pay close attention to words and phrases that stick out to you, and try different emphases each time you read it.
  2. Meditate — The next step is to meditate on what you’ve read. This is not a time for technical analysis or study, but more personal reflection with Christ as the central concern. You want to remove anything but the text and how it relates to Jesus from your mind, and focus on that alone. What does God want this word to show you about His only begotten Word through His Spirit? Stop and reflect on all of this for a few moments, minutes, or I suppose even hours if you’re hardcore enough. Don’t stop the answer to that question, but instead if an answer comes to mind focus on the reality in Christ. Does this text reveal that Christ brings peace for weary sinners? Then rest in His peace during this time.
  3. Pray — Having reflected on the text and listened to God in Christ through the Spirit, you then respond to Him in prayer. Whatever you have gathered from your time of meditation, respond to God in an appropriate way. Did His glory impress itself on you? Then respond, “Glory to You, God!” Was your sin exposed to you? Repent and ask for forgiveness. Whatever you have heard in reading God’s word and meditating on it, pray to the Author about it.
  4. Contemplate — Finally, the last step in lectio divina is to stop and be silent. You’ve read, meditated, and prayed. By this point you should just rest and listen. Do not try to move on yet, but rather spend a few moments, as it were, resting in the arms of God. Anything God has said, let it sink in further. Whatever you have said back to Him, let it stand unadulterated and unqualified for a moment. Just be silent, and sit with Your Father.

If the appeal and potential benefits of this practice are not obvious to you, then I don’t really know what to tell you. This is, as I mentioned, a traditional part of Christian devotion, which is quite intimate and fruitful. If you want to try something new, which is nonetheless ancient, in your walk with God, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I pray someone will benefit from it.

You Should Really All Know About Lectio Divina