Friday, September 19, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 12)

The language of honor and shame should heavily influence any reading of these passages in the Corinthian letter.  Also, one must take note that it is Paul’s treatment of the standard division-inducing practices that were common to their world, and their being unfortunately put on display at the Christian meal gathering that included an honoring of Jesus while also hearkening to His meal practices that were designed to show forth the messianic banquet that denoted the coming of the Creator God’s kingdom and rule, that precedes Paul’s going on to deal with “spiritual gifts” (12:1). 

An observer should most definitely hear Paul, through his treatment of meal practice and his decrial of division and giving weight to those considered more honorable, forming the basis for what comes next in his letter.  One cannot underestimate the importance of that to which Paul has been building in this letter.  To be sure, he has dealt with a number of issues, but there is nothing that takes up more of his attention than the issue of spiritual gifts, and they take up a large measure of his attention within a letter directed to a church that is overly concerned with issues of honor and shame and are allowing that construct to dictate the functioning of the church.  The “spiritual gifts” are the subject of chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen---the largest section of the letter by far.  The practices of the church, and the way that honor was being assigned within the church loom large when delving into chapter twelve. 

This study has prepared for this special attunement by all that has been covered to this point, especially so that Paul can be heard doing more than offering a list of spiritual gifts in the first part of the chapter.  It is now possible to join the Corinthian believers at their meal gathering that has been stratified based on honor concerns, fully realizing the potential honor gathering opportunities linked to public speech acts, and hear Paul say “With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idols, however you were led.  So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (12:1-2). 

Paul makes it clear that everyone, without exception, who refers to Jesus as Lord (a public speech act) is somehow motivated to do so by the Spirit of the Creator God (the confession of Jesus as Lord is said to be evidence of the work of this Spirit, however that takes place).  This can then be heard as a leveling out of the church body.  Regardless of the quantity or type of speech acts that Paul will go on to detail, it is clear that the entire body of believers stands on equal footing, both spiritually speaking (in the area of gifts) and when it comes to honor---all have the Spirit of the covenant God operable within them---when they call Jesus “Lord.” 

Now an observer is in a position to be able to hear about the “gifts of the Spirit” in a different and perhaps more enlightened way than has perhaps been previously experienced.  Honor and shame constructs must be held in mind.  There must be an awareness of the role of ecstatic speech (glossolalia), along with a rudimentary historical knowledge of the practice.  There are divisions and factions within the church, with these factions linked to speech acts.  There are concerns regarding the meal practice, and that this meal practice, more than anything else, was a lamentable demonstration of the importation of the societal values of the surrounding culture into the life of the body of the Christ. 

It is incumbent upon the reader to bear these things in mind and to hear the words of the apostle from the position of being seated at a meal table.  Seated at that meal table, it is possible to look around and mentally register the results of the functioning of the honor and shame culture, the value placed on ecstatic speech, the divisions that Paul has referenced, and the fact that this meal practice looks quite a bit different from that of the Jesus tradition (and apparently, from that which Paul first taught them).    

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