Saturday, August 20, 2011

Moving Towards Maturity


Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

There has been no end of debate regarding what is exactly being referred to by "when the perfect comes." Some have asserted that the perfect is Jesus Christ. This argument is used support the necessity of spiritual gifts to this day that others maintain have vanished. The reasoning is that Jesus has not returned and set every thing aright, therefore the gifts are still required. 

But, as others maintain, there may be reasons to believe that the scripture is not referring to the Messiah. Textually, the argument is made that in all other cases, Christ is referred to in the masculine whereas perfect in this instance is in the neuter.

These other people believe that perfect refers to the Bible. This argument is used to support the notion that many of the spiritual gifts have vanished. The crux of the argument is that we have the Bible and that's all we need. But since the first century Christians didn't have the entire canon of scripture (which could be reasonable debated, given Paul's view), they needed miracles, visions, tongues and healings in order to authenticate what the apostles were teaching was the truth. Apparently these people would have us believe, according to their reasoning and logic, that the spoken word is not as effective as the written word.  And even in a culture rich with the tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation with with nary a deviation, the spoken word needed additional proofs. Maybe that's why the Prophets of old were not effective in their preaching and Israel refused to repent?

But is there a third option? Of course there is. Someone once told me that scripture without context is pretext. I have to agree, and I call both parties on the carpet for committing a pretext, an eisegesis of scripture.

Let us therefore add some context.

Just prior to the dissertation on love, Paul said, "But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." And that greater, more excellent way is love. Which makes sense, given the context and content of the previous chapters wherein Paul rebukes the Corinthians self centered attitudes regarding their teachers (Paul and Apollos), idolatry, immorality, lawsuits, food and communion. In all of these things, Paul had something to say which generally revolved around selfishness - attending to their own desires rather than attending to the needs of others. What Paul encouraged them to do in all cases was move away from their sinful attitudes and actions and move into position where they could act in accordance with the grace of God. All of this instruction comes to a head in chapters 12, 13 and 14. These chapters contain the culmination of what it looks like to move away from the selfishness of man and into the expression and edification of love focused on others. And indeed, "love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1).

What is Perfect?

So, what is this perfect we see in chapter 13? In the Greek, it is 'teleion'. In it's most basic form, it means maturity. It comes from a word which means "the point aimed at as a limit" or by implication, "the conclusion of an act or state." If you're one who thinks this mature thing is the Bible, then you're probably thinking I just confirmed your argument. Not so fast, because there is more. 

What is Subjunctive?

In English, the definition of subjunctive is "relating to or denoting a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible", and "the mood of the verb that indicates possibility, conditionality or probability." According to New Testament Greek, the subjunctive is the same in Greek ans it is in English: it indicates probability or objective possibility. The indication of the verb is an action that will "possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances." What we find then in this scripture ("when the perfect comes"), is that the word "comes" is in the aorist subjunctive mood. Which means the perfect is seen as a possibility that has not started or is a continual process, as opposed to something being set in stone and finished.

So, what does this mean? More than some people are willing to consider or admit.

For if you maintain that "when the the perfect comes" refers the return of Christ, then you must also adhere to the possibility that He might not come back at all, rather it's just a possibility.

But on the other hand, if you maintain that "the perfect" refers to the Bible, then you must also admit that what you hold in your hands may not be the entirety of God's word, that it could in fact, be very incomplete. 

In either case, that of the return of Christ or that of the Bible, you just don't know with any certainty that either is factually valid because of the "certain objective factors or circumstances" which are merely "possible" may not have occurred, seeing that they (the return of Christ, the authenticity of the Scripture) are out of your view and out of your control.

You may be thinking, "well, they're not out of God's view, nor out of His control." And you would be correct. But you still must deal with the uncertainty factor - they may or may not be truths nor started, nor will come to pass - that's the mood of the text and there's just no getting around it.

Face Value
 
But what happens when we take scripture at face value, and let "the perfect" be "the maturity?" Then things begin to make a lot more sense, both in local context and with scripture as a whole.

Just prior to these words Paul says:
 "but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." One of the keys to understanding this scripture is properly applying the phrases "in part" and "partial." Notice that the "in part" and "partial" refers back to knowledge, tongues and prophecy. And don't fail to keep these concepts in context with the prior discussions of Paul, regarding the selfishness of the Corinthians.
Consider how the Corinthians were living out their faith. In some aspects, they were doing it quite poorly - like adults who were acting as children. But in other aspects, they were doing it quite well. You could say that they were living out their faith "in part" or "partially." But isn't that true of everyone? Don't we all grow and mature throughout life? Could it not be said of us all that "when I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."

When one considers that Paul generally views the Corinthians as children, then the phrase "knowledge and prophecy in part", and the possibility of maturity coming, begins to make more sense. Previously, Paul told them they were immature:
brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?" 
But faith hope and love are the abiding actuaries, the abiding truths from which must flow all of our actions towards one another. They are the foundations of the fruit of the Spirit. Anything less is only occurring in part, or part-time, because of immaturity. In Ephesians (which just happens to also be in a context of spiritual gifts) we see Paul's similar encouragement:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints {unto} the work of service, {unto} the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Would you be surprised to know that mature (above in bold) is the same word use for perfect (teleion) in Corinthians? This specific tense of the word is used 17 other times in scripture, such as follows:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory... 
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete {mature}, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Being the Brick Builder


Most of my family and my close friends are aware that I'm not a big fan of church. More to the point, I'm not a big fan of what we, as humans, have made church.

We have turned it into three songs and a sermon and have manufactured both venues and services that are designed solely around one person and two ministries: the music and the Preacher. We have so loved, honored and desired our earthly pastoral kings that we have even changed the scripture to suit our preferences. Case in point, Ephesians 4:12, regarding the purpose of the pastor/teacher:
... for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 
What's wrong with this translation, you ask? Plenty.

One quick look at a Greek interlinear (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/eph4.pdf)


will show the corruption. There are two different Greek words used to translate into the prepositions 'for' and 'unto': 'for' comes from the Greek word 'pros', and 'unto' from the Greek 'eis'. Based upon this information you would assume that the Greek structure of the Ephesians 4:12 is "pros ... pros ... pros", but you would be wrong, the prepositional structure is actually "pros ... eis ... eis". How much of a difference does that make? It makes a huge difference.

Lets review the scripture again with some additional context, and with the prepositions properly applied:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Most pastors will tell you, based upon this scripture, that the pastor/teacher is the hub of all ministry in the church, the CEO of the local representation of the body of Christ, which helps explain how our churches are designed, both physically and organizationally. They get there through their traditions, as follows:
  • There are no more gifts of apostles (they're all dead), hence, apostles are no longer needed for the Church / Body of Christ.
  • Prophecy has ended (we have the Bible and that's all we need), hence prophecy is no longer needed for the Church.
  • Evangelists are not necessary for the Church since the Church/body of Christ is comprised of believers only, hence, the Church does not need Evangelists. 
  • And lastly, since there's only one thing left, and due to the proximity of "pastor and teacher" to that which comes after, the pastor/teacher is the supreme fitter, joiner and effectual minster to the Church on earth.
It's disturbing to see how some change the Word of God to suit their needs, isn't it?

So, ignoring the fallacies of their arguments in their self-constructed doctrine lets simply observe how applying the proper translation of "eis" (twice) in the given scripture changes the meaning:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Who's doing the majority of the work now? The "we" are, all of the saints are. Now consider again the rest of the thought and argument that Paul makes, based upon the entire body of Christ doing the majority of the work:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine ... but speaking the truth in love, {we} may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.  Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 1:15-25)
So then, based upon these scriptures (and others, such as 1 Corinthians 2-3, and 12-14), where is the emphasis on a single ministry, or as Paul would put it, a single "body part?" It is not there, it does not exist in a single person. Why then do we suppose that the edification of the entire body of Christ happens through the single ministry of one man and his deacons, the pastor and his professional staff?

There is simply no scriptural support for our traditional, organizational structure of the local church with one minister, and his band of deacons, supplying and fitting the needs of the many. The only reason there appears to be such support is because of two things: careful manipulation and obfuscation of truth by the teaching of such pastor/teachers, and secondly, the eisegesis of the translators, whereby they imputed their world view of the church into their translation of the KJV.

Building the Temple

So, what does all of this have to do with being a brick maker? Well, consider 1 Corinthians 3:
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
While Paul is referring here to the work of him and Apollos, he is in the bigger picture, referring to work of the Corinthians - "you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?" What he is telling them is this: that as they walk through life - just as Paul and Apollos walked through their own lives, building into the Corinthians - they too (the Corinthians) are building to each other: "if any man builds on the foundation ... " In other words Paul hasn’t discarded the previous thoughts: jealousy and strife are wood, hay and straw in this context. And as building materials into another persons’ life, they’re worthless – that is the point Paul is making. He further brings home the point of them thinking themselves something they aren’t when they say “I’m of Apollos” or “I’m of Paul”, when he says:
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise … So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
And what makes this a tad bit scary is the relevance of “all things belong to you”, in the context of one of those things being us, a temple of God:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
Which is precisely what happened to Ananias and Sapphria. (Acts 4-5)

So, are jealousy and strife, lying and stealing holy? Then why do we build them into our lives by not dying to self and discarding them? Why do we build them into others by repeatedly exposing and encouraging such things? There is a warning for these things: they are called wood, hay, straw and such things will be destroyed by God, just as will a person who tries to destroy a temple of God with such things.

Making Bricks

A lot of times, we simply do not see the results of our work, but that does not mean our work has no value. Consider the brick maker. Day in and day out he makes bricks and trusts that they will be used to create wonderful and elegant buildings. Yet, he never constructs the buildings, nor does he see them. And yet again, what he does has value.

Just because you’re a brick maker doesn’t mean what you do does not have value. Just because you can’t see the results of your efforts and your work into the Kingdom of God, does not mean what you do doesn’t have value. Your only encouragement is to not build with wood, hay and straw. Die to self, trust God and build with gold, silver and precious stones. You are a member of the Body of Christ, of whom God has gifted. Find your purpose, exercise your gifts and love (build up) one another.









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