Friday, October 31, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 17)

Despite what could be viewed as the short-sightedness of the disciples with their statements about the ministry of the word of God and praying, and their setting that against their own taking up of the role of slaves at the church’s meal tables, the church prospered.  Luke writes that “The proposal pleased the entire group” (Acts 6:5a).  Seven men were chosen as deacons (diakonous in the Greek, which means “servants”).  “They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands upon them” (6:6).

Not surprisingly then, with service at the root of the church’s witness, and men chosen specifically to serve food to widows (and all who came to the table, with no distinctions or divisions), “The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7).  With this success in mind, and this success much owing to the counter-cultural witness of servanthood by the ambassadors of the kingdom of the Creator God, it is possible to step back and wonder if it is possible to imagine Jesus creating this division of labor.  While believers stand in the stream of that Spirit-led success, can they dream about the church that may have developed had the very men that were looked to as the pillars and foundation of the church, been the ones that had served all, in full equality, at the church’s meal table?  What divisions may have been avoided had the church of the Christ had this example from which to draw?

Luke moves directly from the ordination of the group that came to be referred to as deacons, to the particular story of one of those men---a man by the name of Stephen.  Stephen, who is said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5b), which was one of the requirements as suggested by the disciples, served admirably.  One goes on to read that “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (6:8).

As this performance of wonders and signs was undoubtedly linked to the fact of his service at the church’s meal table, and as it was owing to the covenant God’s special attention to widows as revealed by the Hebrew Scriptures, his service to widows must figure prominently in the Spirit’s growing presence in his ministry.  Might it also be presumed that the people wondered at what they were seeing from Stephen, which was his willful service to the least, eschewing both honor and shame?

While many are transfixed on signs and wonders, looking to such things as the evidence of the Spirit’s working, the working of the Spirit is just as present and just as powerful when a widow is served.  When that widow is served in a way that stands in sharp distinction from the way that she would normally be treated by her culture, with somebody sacrificing their own honor and prestige in order to see to it that she is served, then that is just as great a wonder and sign of the in-breaking kingdom of the Creator God as would be someone being raised from the dead.

However, rather than receiving honor and praise, Stephen would come to be accused of blasphemy, of speaking against the Temple and Moses, and was ultimately sentenced to death, experiencing the pain and shame of stoning.  This was the honor that one could come to expect from being a deacon---a servant of the church’s table.  This is the example that Paul, if indeed he is the author of this letter, would have in mind when writing to Timothy concerning deacons.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 16)

So this study has gone to Acts six, talked about widows (clarifying some unhelpful mental misconceptions in the process), mentioned divisions, made its way to Galatians, back to Timothy, and then on to Corinthians, all related to the mention of “deacons.”  This process has been necessary, and it has all been connected to food, thus allowing an observer to firmly link talk of deacons in the letter to Timothy with the church’s meal table, which also allows for the placing of talk of “overseers” within a meal table context as well.  Frankly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the meal for the church, as it is a vital component of the Jesus tradition, a defining aspect of culture, and combined with talk of food in the letters of the New Testament, a repetitive element in the conversation related to the life of the body of Christ.

Returning then to Acts, what is the response to the complaint about the way that food is being distributed at the church’s gathering?  “The twelve called the whole group of disciples together and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2).  Now this could be a point of contention.  With the centrality of the meal assembly for the church, and the value placed on service by Jesus Himself, can the disciples rightly insist that this is the case? 

Would it not be most appropriate, in following the example of their Lord, who came not to be served but to serve, for these disciples to do this very thing?  Could having a hand in the distribution of the food, which would mean their being the ones that served the food to the assembled church, possibly be conceived of as neglecting the word of the Creator God?  One might very well lament this response of the twelve, as its enshrinement in Scripture handily created what very well may have been a dichotomy between preaching and service that Jesus never intended, thus furthering the construction of hierarchies within the church. 

Luke opens his account in Acts by stating that “I wrote the former account,” referring to the Gospel of Luke, “Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).  Here, Jesus’ own disciples have opened up a disconnect between doing and teaching.  That divide becomes evident in what has become the standard, contemporary reading of the letter to Timothy.  It is not evident because overseers and deacons, and the qualifications for such are discussed.  Rather, it is evident because one reads “overseer” and think of an authority figure, doing the same with “deacon,” though obviously to a lesser extent.  Regardless, it is obvious that, owing to the proclamation and example of the disciples of Jesus, that the church quickly fell into these practical and hierarchical divisions, and these divisions immediately began to have honor assigned to them.  This is more than comprehensible, as humanity is certainly prone to such things.

Since, unfortunately, they were not going to be waiting on tables, as they would later make clear that their plan was to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4), the disciples went on to say “But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task” (6:3).  One could say that here things went from bad to worse, as the disciples, prone to affectation by a culture that was almost completely dismissive of women (even though women had been charged with the initial proclamations concerning the Resurrection of Jesus), limited that which would become a hierarchical position in the church to men only. 

One could say that, or one could look at it another way, realizing that they were not intent upon creating a spiritual hierarchy, but that this was an unintended by-product brought about by a lack of faithfulness to the mission and vision of Jesus, and chose men specifically to serve at the church’s tables, giving them the responsibility of being sure that all shared equally in the food and drink on offer because this is a job that would normally have fallen to women and to slaves.  Perhaps this is the genius of the disciples, but with so many set at such a distance from the culture of the day, it is quite easy to miss what is going on here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 15)

Now, when one considers a daily distribution of food to widows, there is probably an idea of people going house to house, delivering meals to those that are shut-in and who are too old and frail to serve themselves.  Though this may have been part of what was occurring, it is best to keep oneself culturally and historically grounded, while also keeping the regular assembly around the meal table front and center. 

One must also bear in mind that, due to much shorter life expectancies, these widows could have been relatively young.  Though this study will later be dealing with this in greater detail, it is possible to get a glimpse of the treatment of widows in the letter to Timothy (thus causing the reference to widows in Acts to have an even greater bearing on a study of Timothy), when Timothy is instructed that “no widow is to be put on the list unless she is at least sixty years old” (1 Timothy 5:9a). 

As it relates to the physical capabilities of widows and to being sure that they are being viewed through an appropriate lens, Paul writes that there is a bit of a problem in widows “going around from house to house” (5:13a).  In response then, Paul’s directive is “I want younger women to marry, raise children, and manage a household, in order to give the adversary no opportunity to vilify us” (5:14).  More on this anon, but in that statement, widows are the “young women” and therefore the subject.  

So again, one must put the idea of the frail, sickly, shut-in widow, who can barely lift her head or feed herself (though there were certainly some of these attached to the church), out of mind and see these widows referenced here and in Acts as capable and perhaps vibrant members of the community, who are able to participate in the regular table gatherings of the church. 

That said, it is probable that it was at the coming together of the church around a common meal that these widows were being neglected in the distribution of food.  If so, this sounds terribly like the situation that Paul addresses in Corinth, where he writes “when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it…  Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper.  For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper.  One is hungry and another becomes drunk.  Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink?  Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:18,20-22a) 

It becomes clear that the honor-based arrangements around the meal tables to which Jesus was regularly invited, and which He regularly criticized, were alive and well and being used at the meal tables of the church in Jerusalem.  Widows, as would have been quite common owing to a lack of a living husband and therefore a lack of honor or even the ability to accrue honor (a wife’s honor was dependent on that of her husband), were being neglected---relegated to the positions in which they were served last.   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 14)

Observers can be assured that hierarchical structures, which, in that day, were thoroughly wrapped up in the very competition for honor that is rejected by the church of the crucified Messiah, is nowhere in sight in this treatment of the qualifications for those that aspire to the position of overseer.    

Lest it be presumed that an unwarranted step is being here taken by linking “overseer” with the meal assembly that was the regular setting of the gathering of the church in its earliest days, and lest it be deemed that too much weight is being put on actions centered upon the meal as an effective counter-cultural witness, it is possible to bolster this position by acknowledging the letter’s movement directly from “overseer” to “deacon.” 

In verse eight of the third chapter Paul writes “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain” (1 Timothy 3:8).  This allusion to drinking cannot be looked upon as a general principle, plucked out of mid-air as an ideal.  Rather, it must be understood to be concretely connected to the eating and drinking of the church at its meal table.  That meal table, to be sure, in its arrangement and in the way it was conducted, as it was rooted in the meal culture that was foundational for society in general, and as it held to the witness of the meal tables of Jesus and the way in which He conducted Himself and spoke at those tables, was a powerful image of the kingdom that the Christians proclaimed, and of the God that was being honored and worshiped at the gatherings of their association.

Along with this, it is incumbent to add to an investigation of the letter a perusal of the introduction of the “deacon” to the church.  To do so it is necessary to look to the book of Acts.  Now, it is highly unlikely that Timothy had access to the book of Acts as the church has it today, but it is certainly plausible that Timothy would have been familiar with the story that described the advent of the position.  Since deacons are referenced, it is a given that the recipient of the letter did not need to have the position explained to him, being well aware of the “how” and the “why” of their function within the church.  

So what was that function?  Why was the position in existence?  In the sixth chapter of Acts Luke writes that “in those days,” which were some of the very earliest days of the church, “when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews” (6:1a).  Here, one encounters the all-too-familiar divide between Jew and Gentile within the church, though it is somewhat masked by the fact that both sides of this divide were said to be Jews. 

What was the source of this particular division?  Division between the Gentiles that were Jews by conversion and those that were ethnic and national Jews came about “because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1b).  This food-related divide is probably best illustrated by the experience that Paul recounts from his time in Antioch.  This record is found in Galatians, where Paul writes “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he has clearly done wrong.  Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision” (Galatians 2:11-12).  What Paul describes in Antioch, which is from a time period after the events recorded here in chapter six of Acts, first played itself out within the church at an intra-Jew level before playing itself out at an intra-church (between Jew and Gentile, and between Gentile and Gentile) level.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 13)

Paul writes that “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money.  He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity” (1 Timothy 3:2-4).  Putting flesh and blood on these words and remembering that this is a letter to a real person in a real church full of real people in a real community that would have functioned according to the ideals of honor and shame, then this list of “requirements” appear to be a way to screen out those that would, according to accepted customs and practices of the wider community, normally be expected to preside over the meal assemblies of the church. 

Indeed, Paul may very well have specific people in mind that are subtly addressed and ruled out as overseers by what is here insisted upon.  One may think this harsh, but the primary concern is the strengthening of the church body, and those who are possessive of honor and standing outside the church are those that most need to understand the humility and the embracing of shame demanded by the way of the cross and the kingdom of the Creator God.  One way for such people to experience shame is for their honor to mean nothing inside the assembled church. 

Conversely, it might very well be the case that Paul is less concerned with making sure that the most holy or least sinful person (by the popular and not overly helpful way of thinking) is overseeing the church’s gathering (again, this is not about an overseer in the way so many are programmed to think), and more concerned that those that would normally be considered less honorable are the ones that take up this function, thus making the point that those that society considers to be more honorable are to be subject, at least inside the assembly that is supposed to represent the kingdom of Israel’s God to those that are considered less honorable by that same society.  This subjection is not one of a heavy hand, but it is a subjection rooted in the counter-cultural egalitarianism of the church.  It is by these instructions that the culture is countered, and through which Timothy and the church are forced to broaden their scope and manner of thinking. 

The directive is expounded upon, and one can be further convinced that there are, in fact, specific individuals in mind when going on to read “But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?  He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact.  And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap” (3:5-7). 

It is helpful to look at these as being person-specific---directed towards an individuals or small group of individuals, rather than as ideals left up to subjective analysis.  Since it has been established that Paul is not writing about pastors or church leaders in the traditional sense of the term or of those that meet specific qualifications as determined by a council of elders, but rather, those that are overseeing the meal-based gathering of the church in the home of one of the believers, functioning as the host of the meal (with this rotating regularly so that one person does not accrue undue honor or prestige), it is possible to glean the principle and make the application that is so very prevalent in the Pauline corpus, which is that of equality amongst believers and the need for the church to be strengthened, with self-sacrificial love and the preferring of one another (eschewing honor and embracing shame, as demanded by the cross) the transcendent ideal to be embodied in the assembly.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 12)

To this way of thinking, Paul insists that “there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, revealing God’s purpose at His appointed time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Therefore, it is faith in Jesus (fides/pistis/loyalty) that makes He and He alone the intermediary between the Creator God and man, rather than the works of the law (those previously mentioned covenant markers that then served to set God’s covenant people apart from all other peoples). 

Just in case there may be a thought that this ongoing disputation between Jew and Gentile is a component of Paul’s address here when he makes mention of “all people,” one can look to what follows the sixth verse, which is “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle---I am telling the truth; I am not lying---and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  So I want the men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without anger or dispute” (2:7-8).     

Chapter three opens with “This saying is trustworthy: ‘If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.’” (3:1)  What is this “office of overseer”?  The Greek word that is translated as “overseer” is “episcopes,” which is transliterated into “episcopate” and therefore “Episcopal,” which is likely to cause a reader to consider the hierarchical church structures and the hierarchically structured church with which we are all quite familiar in our own day. 

Though many that are reading this study may not be a part of a traditional, denominational church, it must be said that even non-traditional and non-denominational churches have authoritarian structures, whether implicit or explicit.  Thus one must be careful to avoid the importation of anachronistic thinking, in which the position of “overseer” in question here in the letter to Timothy becomes equated with the person that oversees a church in the modern sense, whether that be a pastor, a bishop, an area supervisor, or any such similar idea.  This type of relatively rigid church structuring would not be a settled feature or widespread component of the first century church that gathered in private homes as a meal association that saw themselves as the ambassadors and harbingers of the kingdom of the covenant God, and as a renewed humanity defined by their hope of resurrection, with worship of Jesus as the embodiment of the Creator God as the focus of their meal-based assembly. 

A ready awareness that the church assembled around a common meal forces one to understand that this “overseer” was, more than likely, the person that presided over the meal.  This meal presidency, which was a familiar feature of Hellenistic meal practices, would rotate among a number of people.  Ideally, it would rotate amongst the entirety of the assembly, with each member of the body taking their turn to perform the role; but naturally, not everybody would feel comfortable in such a role. 

Understandably then, those that undertook to serve in this capacity would be those that were comfortable presiding over meals, which would generally be those of higher social status and who would be viewed as having more honor.  Understanding this, the last thing that Paul would want is for the socially accepted systems of honor to determine the functioning of the body of the Christ, so certain expectations are set for those that will enter into this role. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 11)

Not only would the Roman governors look upon Christians with suspicious eyes, it would be difficult to doubt that Christians would happily return the favor.  While there is certainly an element of Christianity that rightly and responsibly challenges the power of governments, calls the world’s rulers to account, challenges arrogant actions and arrogations of power, and regularly holds up restraining hands that tell governments that “you go here and no further,” there is, of course, a legitimate role for governments.  For balance and a response, those same hands that are held up in attempts to restrain governments, insisting that they not go beyond their rightful place as the church says “we’ll take it from here,” are then to be turned outwards, with arms extended wide to embrace and deal with the issues to which the church of Christ must address itself.   

Naturally, Paul recognizes the potential for unhelpful and unhealthy conflict between the members of the church and temporal powers.  Concordantly, he urges that ‘requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quite life in all godliness and dignity.  Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1a-4).  Though at one level this may appear to be an acquiescence, is it not an effective counter-cultural witness?  Christians, of course, are to be the greatest of earthly citizens because they are also citizens of the kingdom of heaven that looks to the renewal of the whole of creation (not an escape to heaven). 

Now, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Christians, who, owing to their “atheism” (because they did not worship the Roman gods or Caesar), their “cannibalism” (for the words that accompanied their communal meals), and their lack of participation at the temples (which were also the markets and the center of public activity) that was taken to portend a destruction of social cohesiveness, experienced persecution at the hands of governing authorities, would look upon those persecutors as their enemies.  Therefore, this prayer for all people, including kings and governing authorities, was a strict following of the teachings of Jesus, who demanded His disciples to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45a – realizing that Matthew was probably not in circulation and may not yet have taken the shape in which it is now to be found at the time of the composition of the letter, and therefore, the passing along of the words of Jesus would have been based upon Paul’s knowledge of the Jesus tradition). 

These words reach a second level in the face of the Jew and Gentile divisions in Ephesus (and other cities whose churches may have been recipients of the letter now called Ephesians), with these divisions addressed in the second chapter of Ephesians.  The insistence that the Creator God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” speaks to the lingering hesitation on the part of ethnic Israel to grant Gentiles status as full and legitimate members of the covenant people of the Creator God. 

So while praying for those that may potentially be perceived or actually be enemies is counter-cultural, so too is Paul’s insistence that Israel’s God wants all people groups to be saved (come under the provisions of His covenant), with this running counter to the Jewish culture that wanted to continue to reserve their God’s blessings to Israel alone, and who attempted to enforce this restriction by insisting that Gentiles needed to adopt the covenant markers of Judaism (primarily circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath-keeping) to indicate their participation under their God’s covenant. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 10)

Condemnation, attempts at heavy-handed transformation, or a mission-denying withdrawal and separation are not the means by which either Paul or Jesus asked for or expected the culture to be countered.  Remember, Jesus saved his denouncements for the leaders of the people.  Rather, the culture is countered, and the  transformation into a culture that comes closer to living as the true humanity originally intended by the Creator, through the kingdom-modeling, sacrificial, love-motivated and service-oriented activities of the members of the body of Christ, as they demonstrably and tangibly live out, in imitation of Jesus their claim that Jesus is Lord, and that He is Lord even over the Caesar that bears the title of “son of god.” 

What appearance will be taken by these activities?  Naturally, one can find the answer on nearly every page of Scripture.  Believers can look to the Jesus tradition as embodied by the Gospel accounts.  They can look at Acts.  When it comes to Paul, an observer can look at the entire body of work that is attributed to him in order to formulate an answer to this question.  However, this study is focusing in on a letter to Timothy, to whom Paul refers as his genuine child in the faith, seeing there what can be understood to be, regardless of Timothy’s “position” in the church, a personally directed letter that demands a personal response of a single member of the body of Christ, who is presumably attempting to live and to serve as part of a community that is yet one small component of a global kingdom.  Thus, realizing that there is a helpful counter-cultural message in the text of the letter may show the letter to be even more useful than some have previously imagined.   

When one thinks about countering the culture, it is almost inevitable that the first thoughts run to laws and to government.  In many ways and in many places, humans are brought up to think in such ways, believing governments to be either the source of problems or of solutions to problems, and are thereby ingrained with an almost unshakeable desire to effect changes that they would like to see through the coercive power of laws and regulations.  Government is recognized as the locus of power for the enforcement of laws.  By extension then, a government is an entity that has the power to regulate behavioral changes.  Such thinking was probably just as true in the days of Paul and Timothy as it is now. 

As the church presented a counter-imperial and counter-cultural ethic, it would be quite easy for the members of the body of Christ, who saw themselves (and should still see themselves) as representative of a kingdom to which all other kingdoms are subservient, to slip into a mindset that being counter-imperial or counter-cultural also meant that they were to be anti-government, especially if that government was actively oppressive towards Christians.  It is quite understandable why their Roman rulers were suspicious of so many Christians, considering the fact that Christians claimed to serve a Lord that was far superior to the emperor, while at the same time affirming their loyalty to a kingdom that was not Rome. 

It was one thing to maintain loyalty to tribal deities and to long-standing territorial power structures that could be taken advantage of by Rome as a means of preserving order and extending its reach, and which could stand side-by-side with Roman imperial ideology and worship, but it was quite another to take a position that ran contrary to that ideology that also served to discount the worship of Caesar, and even going so far as to place a criminal that was executed by Rome at the center of its worship and allegiance.  This was a direct affront to the power of Rome and to all community and civic sensibilities. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 9)

These heralding words from the letter to the Ephesians, and more importantly for purposes of this study, the heralding words that are employed in the first letter to Timothy, are so much more than words that a client would use in honor of his patron.  They are words, as already indicated, that would be reserved for the honoring of the world’s patron (the patron of patrons), who was Caesar.  It serves as yet another indication to an alert listener or reader, that Paul, and those communities being formed around the claims of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), stand in opposition to much of the prevailing culture of the day and are intended to be a transformative element within that culture. 

This transformation will not occur through denouncing the surrounding culture as hell-bound, perverse, or any number of adjectives that do much to polarize and little to effect change.  While there is certainly a mystical power in the pronouncement that Jesus is Lord, one can certainly agree that the power is magnified if the life of the speaker accords with the claim.  This goes well beyond the avoidance of things that are determined to be “sins” or that which is to be avoided by Christians, having much more to do with an active engagement with the culture that demonstrates the Lordship of Jesus over every area of life. 

The pronouncement of condemnation on anything and everything that does not align with one’s personal viewpoint is hardly effective, and the condoning of such activities would have to be read into the Scriptures in a way that lacks context or coherence.  This approach would probably fail to take into account the historical movement of Scripture, the over-arching meta-narrative of exile and exodus by which the Scriptures ask to be read, and the covenant and covenant-people framework on offer throughout the whole of the Bible that defines the people of the Creator God and that God’s mission in and for His world. 

Attempts to use Jesus’ harsh words against the leaders of the people, His actions in the Temple, or the sharp words of the prophets and the apostles as justification for harshness or ugliness that is merely cloaked in the veil of a pseudo-love, would be to abuse and misuse those words and actions, especially considering the fact that the harshness is so often directed to the covenant God’s covenant people.  Though one can look through the prophets and certainly find words of the Creator God’s condemnation directed towards the nations that surrounded and often mistreated Israel, not only is there a need to remember that such words were subsequent to the Creator God’s judgment of His people, but also to remember that this God’s taking up of human flesh and going to a cross in order to die for His enemies (after telling His people to pray for and love their enemies) pretty much changes everything.   

Distance from the text, both historically and culturally, especially for those in the western world, should lead away from dogmatism in engagement with respective cultures, and towards a compassionate, inquisitive, and mercy-tinged engagement that recognizes shortcomings and a lack of complete knowledge.  When one looks at the New Testament, what must be seen behind the text are communities that are struggling to come to terms with what is implied by the life of Jesus and the kingdom of the Creator God that has been inaugurated by His Resurrection, especially considering that said kingdom has been inaugurated in a way that was completely unexpected. 

This struggle, which can be seen in the New Testament and in the records and writings of the early church, encouragingly informs those that care to see that there has never been a monolithic “orthodoxy” at any point in time in the history of Christianity.  Therefore, any believer’s struggles, in attempting come to terms with the message of Jesus and His kingdom so that it might be possible to effectively, correctly, and faithfully engage the cultures in which the believers finds himself immersed, should inspire humility and a compassion for others, as the believers both depends upon and attempts to reflect the compassion of their covenant God as embodied by the Christ.     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 8)

Continuing, Paul grandly celebrates this patronage that he enjoys, writing “our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).  Creating something of an inscription minus the monument or the building (though it has no real bearing on the point that is being made, one can think about Peter’s insistence, as he operates within the same cultural milieu as Paul, that the members of the body of Christ are “living stones… built up as a spiritual house” on which the Gospel is inscribed in both word and deed) , he goes on to write “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’---and I am the worst of them!”  (1:15) 

Overflowing with praises, Paul continues with “But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate His utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in Him for eternal life” (1:16).  Concluding the heralding of his patron and utilizing the words that were reserved for the Caesar (and thus standing counter to the culture): “Now to the eternal King, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!  Amen” (1:17).  

The brief mention of Ephesians previously, and the Jew/Gentile issues that were present in that community, serves as a reminder that Timothy was himself in Ephesus.  Therefore, church-related issues with which Paul specifically deals in his personal letter to Timothy are the same types of church-related issues with which Paul will deal in the letter to the Ephesians.  Strangely enough, the first letter to Timothy and the letter to Ephesus share a stark similarity that sets them apart from Paul’s other writings, as these two letters contain obvious and easily recognizable odes from a client to a patron as part of their introductions.  Combined (and whether or not the two letters are Pauline, deutero-Pauline, or pseudo-Pauline---it matters not in this case), this certainly says something about the culture of Ephesus, and that culture (the knowledge of which is bolstered by the record of Acts) stands as a backdrop to the way one must hear the patron-directed praise. 

Though other church letters contain very short doxologies from Paul in their introductions, Ephesians exceeds them all, and one can Paul’s words with everything that has been said to this point in this study firmly in mind (with the patron-client relationship and counter-cultural/imperial concerns serving to enlighten this reading in a new and significant way, in the midst of heavy doctrinal, covenant-with-Israel-dependent, and Scripturally-derived thematic elements): “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  For He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in His sight in love.  He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of His will---to the praise of the glory of His grace that He has freely bestowed on us in His dearly loved Son.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.  He did this when He revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ---the things in heaven and the things on earth.” 

Paul continues: “In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of His glory… I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of Him---since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened---so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of His power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of His immense strength.  This power He exercised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And God put all things under Christ’s feet and He gave Him to the church as head over all things.  Now the church is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:3-12,17-23). 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 7)

In the same letter, however, Paul can be seen engaging in what appears to be a client-like heralding of the “churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1b), stressing “that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity” (8:2).  On the surface, this appears to be Paul subordinating himself to this particular church, speaking of them as a client would a patron.  Of significance though, is that “they gave according to their means and beyond their means” (8:3a).  So on the contrary, this is not the act of a patron. 

In that day, a patron did not diminish his own comfort and standing to serve a client.  With that world’s ultimate patron, that being Caesar, always looming in the background as Paul continually operates in a counter-imperial mindset (as does Jesus as well-demonstrated by the Gospel-authors presentation of Him), a distinction between the patronage of Caesar and Jesus is drawn, as Paul writes “For you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, He became poor for your sakes, so that you by His poverty could become rich” (8:9).  Jesus is an altogether different type of patron. 

This is precisely what Paul has described as the actions of the churches of Macedonia.  Indeed, this is the act of a community vested by the Spirit of the Creator God.  Beyond that, “They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints” (8:3b-4).  Patron’s did not act voluntarily, but rather, they acted upon request, calculating how fulfilling the request and meeting a need would impact their honor standing.  Not only is this not what has occurred with the Macedonian churches, but they went to the other end, to the end of shame, begging Paul to allow them to participate.  It’s almost as if there are no definitions or culturally recognized categories for what Paul is describing.  Conceivably, this can be viewed as something entirely new in the world, and if one takes the position that the incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection changed everything, then it is difficult to disagree with that assessment. 

Paul did not wish to be viewed, on a human and cultural level, as either patron or client.  On a cosmic level things were different.  He had a patron (Jesus) and he was most certainly a client, and this impacted every area of life, while also going against the cultural grain of the Greco-Roman world.  This even went against the grain of his own culture, as the popular (generalized) opinion within the world of Israel was that when their God took it upon Himself to act as Messiah, that the Gentiles would then become the clients of Jews, with the Gentiles relying on Israel and Israel’s special relationship with the Creator God that they might derive the obvious benefits that had been reserved to national Israel.  Something like this attitude is on display when Paul is dealing with Jew/Gentile issues in the churches (Ephesians, Galatians and Romans particularly, and also in the record of the book of Acts). 

Paul was perfectly content with divesting all presumed honor so that he might be looked upon as a client to the cosmic King and the Creator God.  This becomes obvious as one moves forward in the first chapter of the letter to Timothy.  Paul speaks in the voice of a client, heralding his supreme patron, and can be heard to say “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13).  Here, it is good to be aware that the celebration of the compassion and mercy (along with the loyalty, patience, and humility) of one’s patron was a standard feature of clientele praise. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 6)

So what does all of this patron-client talk have to do with Paul’s first letter to Timothy?  What’s the point of the examples of clients honoring their patrons, be it by heralding, inscriptions, or some other manner?  Is Paul to be viewed as Timothy’s patron?  Is one to somehow perceive Timothy as being Paul’s client?  Though something like that could certainly be gleaned from the introduction to the letter, when Paul writes “to Timothy, my genuine child in the faith.  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!” (1:2), it would be a stretch to assert this as being true to the situation.  Observers, however, could possibly infer such a relationship, and it is possible that Paul has this potentiality in mind.  With that in mind, Timothy will be considered in short order, but another detour is most necessary.    

Paul, much like Jesus, does not wish to be viewed as a patron.  At the same time, Paul took steps during the course of his ministry to make sure that he is not looked upon as being a client either, as this, according to his way of thinking, would diminish his effectiveness and run contrary to what needs to happen in the communities envisioned by the messianic mission and the kingdom of the covenant God.  Thus there is a stark emphasis on this aversion in what is looked to as Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. 

In the eleventh chapter Paul can be heard asking “did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you could be exalted, because I proclaimed the Gospel to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so that I could serve you!  When I was with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone…  I kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so…  And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9a,9c,12). 

Not only is Paul expressing his independence from this church, while also diminishing the patron-client relationship into which others might naturally enter in their service of the church, one must notice that Paul also debases himself by referring to himself as a robber.  Such words, along with the other rhetorically oriented words of debasement, demonstrate that Paul is not attempting to elevate himself in any way, but that he truly desires to serve the churches for their edification. 

In chapter twelve, he reiterates and emphasizes his eschewing of patronage and clientage, writing “I will not be a burden to you, because I do not want your possessions, but you.  For children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.   Now I will most gladly spend and be spent for your lives…  I have not burdened you” (12:14b-15a,16b).  If Paul’s words are heard merely as some type of erection of spiritual laws and the relationship between children and parents, dismissing the patron-client constructs of his world and forgetting the significant amount of time and attention this congregation received from Paul, a great deal of what is being communicated to the Corinthian church will be missed.  The reader do himself a tremendous service by gaining familiarity with the cultural dynamics of Paul’s world, which, of course, were the same cultural dynamics at work in the world of Jesus.  This opens up the world of the Gospel, making the mental application in vastly different worlds that much easier, while at the same time making the application of the message of the Gospel even more challenging. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 5)

A client would also be expected to publicly attest to the honor of their patron.  If and when possible, a client would expend the effort to make a lasting, public pronouncement of said honor by having an inscription placed on a public monument of a public building, that all may see and realize the honor and generosity of their patron.  On a monument in Corinth that dates from the middle of the first century, one can read an inscription in honor of a man named Julius Spartiaticus, who was looked upon and acknowledged as an important patron to the tribe of Calpurnia.  He too would have been a contemporary of Paul. 

The inscription, offered by his clients, reads: “Gaius Julius, Son of Laco, Grandson of Eurycles, [of the tribe] Fabia, Spartiaticus, Procurator of Caesar and Augusta Agrippina, Tribume of the Soldiers, Awarded a Public Horse By the Deified Claudius, Flamen Of the Deified Julius, Pontifex, Duovir Quinquennalis twice, Agonthete of the Isthmian and Caesar-Augustan Games, High Priest of the House of Augustus In Perpetuity, First of the Achaeans.  Because of his Virtue and Eager and all-encompassing munificence toward the Divine House And toward our Colony, the tribesmen Of the Tribe Calpurnia [Dedicated this] to their Patron.”

Apart from inscriptions on monuments and buildings which, understandably, could be quite expensive and therefore limited only to being provided by the wealthier clients of even wealthier patrons (remembering that, apart from the Caesar himself, everybody was a client of somebody at some level), the honor of a patron could be expressed through the employment of a herald.  It is possible to find some excellent Scriptural example of somebody being heralded in the book of Esther.  There, Mordecai is heralded by Haman.  “He led him about on the horse throughout the city, calling before him, ‘So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” (6:11b)  Though this is certainly not an instance of a client heralding a patron, it is an example of somebody being honored through the employment of a herald---albeit in this case an unwilling herald. 

The Gospel of Luke presents a record of something that would have been understood as a clear instance of heralding.  Given the early church’s position concerning who Jesus was and how He was worshiped in the years between His Resurrection and the composition of Luke’s Gospel, the angel of the Lord making an appearance to the shepherds in the field and telling them to “Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David.  He is Christ the Lord” (2:10b-11), would have been perceived as an instance of a patron (the Creator God manifest) being heralded (by one of His angels).  This is not a ground-breaking thought, especially considering the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  However, the activity being referenced by the song asks to be comprehended according to a world defined by honor, the role of heralding, and the governing dynamics of the patron-client relationship. 

Speaking to this activity, and doing so from the basis of a clear knowledge of and undoubted participation in the patron-client system, along with a thoroughgoing knowledge of the role of honor in his world, Dio Chrysostom, an orator, writer, philosopher, and historian of the Roman Empire who was also contemporary with the Apostle Paul, wrote: “But when we come to men, they require crowns, images, the right of precedence, and being kept in remembrance; and many in times past have even given up their lives just in order that they might get a statue and have their name announced by the herald or receive some other honor and leave to succeeding generations a fair name and remembrance of themselves.” 

One could even take these words and compose an imaginary speech by a client, in honor of a patron, hearing something like “This man deserves crowns upon his head.  He should have images erected in his honor.  He and his family should have precedence of place at all public functions.  His name should be kept in remembrance.  With complete disregard for his own safety, he risked his life, though he expected no statues.  He placed himself at the mercy of the gods, though the idea of a herald announcing his exploits was far from his mind.  Because he had acted in complete altruism, with no regard for honor, he should be honored, as should his progeny, for generations to come.”       

Friday, October 17, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 4)

Though the patron-client system functioned at multiple levels, in which the client of one patron could also have clients of his own, it would be obvious that the most noble of families could have large numbers of clients supporting them in their endeavors.  Along the same lines, entire kingdoms or nations, once conquered and made subservient, could become clients to the Roman commander that had conquered them.  Such was the way of the world. 

Of course, if clients had clients, and if this reached all the way down to the basest level of society, it would also hold true for the other side of the ladder.  Even a noble family would be the clients of a more honorable family, with this being the case all the way up to, in the days of Jesus and subsequently of the Apostle Paul, the Caesar himself.  Ultimately, all were looked upon as clients of Caesar, who was faithful and loyal to his subjects.  Those subjects, in turn, were to be faithful and loyal to Caesar.  This ideal was embodied in the common phrase “ek pistis eis pistin,” which is often translated as “from faith to faith”.  The Apostle Paul borrowed this common and well-known phraseology and subversively put it to use in his letter to the Romans (1:17).

It is this system of patronage that truly formed the foundation of the Roman state.  Not only did it serve to create stability, but the unwavering loyalty of clients could aid certain families in retaining power for extended periods of time.  At the same time, it created something of a welfare network, which was especially useful within an empire that lacked the means (or, at least, did not direct those means) to support those most in need and incapable of providing for themselves. 

The client system that surrounded a patron would look out for its members, ensuring that no harm would come to its own.  If one member of the client group would be struck down by poverty, the other clients, and most likely the patron as well, would see to it that the one in need could get a loan.  In the worst case, they would see to it that their fellow client would receive a decent funeral.  If the patron was unable to provide assistance personally, he would orchestrate the assistance (gaining honor), perhaps asking other clients to come to the aid of another that had fallen on hard time. 

In continuing to explore the patron-client dynamic of Paul’s day, one can look to Seneca---a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist that was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul.  Seneca wrote: “Let us, therefore, show how acceptable a gift is by loudly expressing our gratitude for it; and let us do so, not only in the hearing of the giver, but everywhere.  He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it.”  This statement would reflect the general attitude of a client towards his patron, who would be looked upon as the source of gifts.  For what it’s worth, Seneca himself was a tutor of the Emperor Nero, later becoming an advisor.  Most assuredly, he would have considered Nero to be his patron, so though these words would be generally reflective of the patron-client relationship, they would most likely be penned with the Caesar in mind.    

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 3)

If one does not operate from within an awareness of the patron-client system of the ancient world, one will undoubtedly miss what would have been obvious to the witnesses of these things and to those to whom these stories came, whether in oral or written form.  That is not to say that it will not be possible to understand the overarching Gospel message (Jesus is Lord), but rather, that readings and the ability to apply that which is gleaned and learned from those readings will be richer by orders of great magnitude if one approaches the Scriptural text within appropriate historical and contextual boundaries. 

Moving forward then, it is incumbent upon an observer to realize that the world into which the Gospel narratives were introduced would have been more than well-versed in the dynamics of the patron-client relationship, as would those that came to identify themselves as Christians.  This cultural dynamic would certainly be put to good use, especially since, in that time, it was very much the case that all positive relationships with any god were rooted in the perception of the patron-client relationship. 

So, even though it may seem quite extraneous to a perusal of a letter of Paul, it is quite important to have a strong grasp of this underlying cultural principle of the patron-client system so that it is possible to correctly hear what Paul is communicating to Timothy.  As indicated by the title of this study, there is a strong counter-cultural bent in the first letter to Timothy, as is largely the case for Paul; and the patron-client system seems to be a useful jumping off point.  To that end, said system will continue to be explored, with that exploration providing a few more details that can serve as cultural keys in an exegesis of the letter. 

A client was a loyal supporter to a high standing Roman family, and it is the head of that higher-standing family that would ultimately be known as “patronus,” or “patron.”  The clients of the patron functioned as an extended family to the patron---something like a clan.  They would be expected to loyally support him (offer fides or pistis) in any venture upon which he chose to embark, be that military, political, or commercial.  Meanwhile, the patron would aid his clients through representing their political interests through the office that he held, or by defending them in the courts as their advocate if such became necessary. 

This bond between patron and client was one of the bedrock foundations of Roman society.  This reciprocal loyalty (again, fides or pistis) was a highly prized virtue, and it served to hold together families while serving as the unifying nexus of the social order.  The loyalty of the client would be expected to extend beyond the patron and to the patron’s family as well.  If a patron were to die, a client would be expected to offer the patron’s heir the same loyalty as had been offered to the original patron.  Likewise for the client.  Should the client die, his heir would be expected to stand in for the head of that family, continuing the clientele loyalty to their benefactor. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 2)

In the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus heals a demoniac by casting a “Legion” of demons out of him and into a herd of pigs.  At the conclusion of this story, it is reported that “As He was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with Him.  But Jesus did not permit him to do so.  Instead, He said to him, ‘Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that He had mercy on you.’” (Mark 5:18-19) 

At first glance, it appears that Jesus is in fact telling this man to engage in activity that would be standard for a client, that of telling others about the benefaction of a patron.  However, on second glance, Jesus, as was customary, is pointing away from Himself and to the Creator God of Israel as the source of healing.  At the same time, the Gospel author wants the reader to see the way in which Jesus act of mercy is received against the known background of the patron-client dynamic, as he goes on to write “So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed” (5:20).  This would have been standard practice for a client.  Though it has not been requested nor demanded of him, he has made Jesus his patron.  Though the earthly Jesus clearly did not desire this, especially when considering His constant insistence on keeping His activities or identity secret, in a cosmic sense this is entirely appropriate.

The story of “Blind Bartimaeus,” as recorded in the tenth chapter of Mark, also fits well into the patron-client dynamic.  Commencing with verse forty-six: “They came to Jericho.  As Jesus and His disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.  When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (10:46-47)  By this, Bartimaeus is attempting to gain Jesus’ attention and ultimately His patronage, offering Jesus praise, requesting mercy, and so attempting to take the position of client. 

Reading further then, it is said that “Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’  So they called the blind man and said to him, ‘Have courage!  Get up!  He is calling you.’  He threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  The blind man replied, “Rabbi, let me see again.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your faith has healed you.’  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the road” (10:48-52). 

In this story, Bartimaeus is undeterred by the scolding.  He desires Jesus’ patronage.  He is willing to become Jesus’ client.  He throws off his cloak (likely his only cloak), thus signifying a complete reliance on this patron (further debasing himself as a nod to the honor of the potential patron).  He also uses the honorific title of “Rabbi.”  Jesus’ response is not what one would expect from a patron, in that He does not take credit for the healing, but rather, Jesus tells the man that he has been healed by his own faith (fides, pistis - loyalty).  The now healed man, desirous of showing forth his loyalty and of having a role in increasing Jesus’ public honor, takes up the position of a client, by following Jesus on the road. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 1)

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!  Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17  (NET)

Before one can commence with an exegesis of the text of Paul’s first letter to Timothy (this study will take the position that the letter comes from the mind and hand of the Apostle Paul, though for the purposes of this study, it really makes no difference whether the letter is Pauline or deutero-Pauline), there is an obligation to take steps to construct the social framework in which the letter will be composed, in which it will be read by its recipient, and in which it may have been shared with an assembly of Christians.  Specifically, one must be aware of the patron-client relationship of the Roman world. 

The patron-client relationship was one which tied persons of significantly different social status together in a reciprocal exchange of goods and services.  The relationship is asymmetrical, in that the two sides are not social equals and will never make any pretense whatsoever of equality.  The patron-client contract, especially in a world heavily divided between free and slave or citizen and subject, as was the Roman world, provides the client with things that would not normally be available to them, whether that be material things or even something nebulous and subjectively defined, such as justice.  Whatever it is that is provided to the client by the patron, it is understood that the client badly needs these things, and that the client cannot obtain such things on his own.  

In return for the benefaction of the patron, the client gives the patron honor and loyalty.  In a world defined by the system of the limited good of honor, the client does not confer his own honor upon the patron.  Rather, the patron is accorded greater honor in the court of public reputation by amassing a network of clients that, ipso facto, demonstrates the largesse of the patron and serves to signify how truly honorable and worthy of honor the patron is. 

The honor of the patron is then noised abroad by the client (the client speaks in honorific language about his patron), so that all may hear of the deeds of the patron on behalf of the client, which is part and parcel of his demonstration of loyalty.  In Latin, this loyalty is known as “fides,” whereas in Greek it is known as “pistis.”  Translated to English, such is read as “faith.”  The denizens of the world into which Jesus and the announcement of His Gospel came would have largely heard “faith” as a response of loyalty within the parameters of the patron-client system.    

Interestingly, the existence and prevalence of the patron-client relationship seem to be implied in many accounts within the Gospels of Jesus’ interaction with those that came to Him seeking some good thing that they could not obtain for themselves.  Those that came to Jesus in search of the good that He could provide would be fully aware of the patron-client relationship, and would often expect the demand for or exhibit the desire to treat Jesus as their patron, offering their services or their selves to Him as their client.  Jesus, however, during His earthly ministry, rejects clientage, and resists becoming a patron in the accepted sense.  To demonstrate this, a couple of brief examples from the Gospels will suffice. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 34)

Subjection to another, that seeking and taking out of the lowest place, which was spoken of and modeled by Jesus, with the strengthening of the church and the emanation of justice as the Creator God sees it (supremely concerned for orphans and widows and lepers and children and all of those considered to be the lowest of all) that flows from one’s spirit-led activities as the measuring stick for true spirituality (not speaking in tongues or the exercise of other specific gifts in isolation, as constructed by one particular church community), is a vital and crucial element of true worship of Jesus and of the Father. 

Therefore, with the ceaseless and nearly inescapable striving for honor in mind, it is finally possible to hear Paul say “If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:38).  By now, it should be realized that the language of “recognition” is the language of the court of public opinion, of reputation, and of honor.  Again, true recognition, and therefore true honor within the body of the Christ, belongs solely to the Lord of the body.  This is displayed when the one that would sit in the place of honor in the surrounding world or in any other type of association, actively subjects himself or herself to those that would be deemed less honorable outside the body of Christ, serving them with the same type of love and compassion that was displayed by the Creator God’s action of venturing forth to join and serve His creation, and the venturing forth to the cross as the summation and climax of that service.

“So then, brother and sisters,” as Paul writes in the hopes that his message about this particular issue has been properly conveyed, received, and understood, “be eager to prophesy” (14:39a), for this, engaged in by all, will encourage, console, and strengthen the church, while convicting and calling all, even the unbeliever and uninformed, to account for failures to rightly bear the divine image.  “And,” furthermore, Paul tells them that even though it has been problematic and has created a situation that has been antithetical to the true nature of the church, now that you better understand how best to put this ancient religious practice to proper use within the church, and now that you better understand the way that believers are supposed to manifest the Spirit of the covenant God and to respond to activities that manifest the Spirit of that God among you, “do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues” (14:39b). 

Effectively, having been given their instructions by Paul, and hopefully waking away from this time of gathering with a better grasp on the world-shaking and shaping nature of the activities of the church of the Christ and of its effect on the way that the Creator God intends His world to work, Paul concludes this portion of his heavily rhetorical yet applicable dissertation with “And do everything in a decent and orderly manner” (14:40).     

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 33)

Closing out his treatment of the religious exercise of speaking in tongues as it was being practiced by the Corinthian church, Paul, with a strenuous focus on the need for unity, sharing, preferring of others, and service to the body, begins his conclusion with “If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Corinthians 14:37).  Here, based on the remote possibility that his message has not been duly received, and with a precise placement in the stream of thought that has been at least partially constructed by the need for mutual subjection (14:32), Paul seems to direct his words to those that either look upon themselves or are looked upon as spiritually superior, emphasizing their subjection to him and to the Lord. 

If the idea of subjection to Paul is on offer, then it is incumbent upon an observer to see how that fits within the movement of the letter, as Paul would most certainly not go to these lengths to emphasize unity within an egalitarian assembly (no divisions, no stratifications, no authoritarian structures based on the prevalent honor code), and then at the last second turn the tables and attempt to place himself in the seat of honor.  An effective guide becomes what Paul has written about himself in the fourth chapter. 

Beginning in verse nine there Paul writes: “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people.  We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!  To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads.  We do hard work, toiling with our own hands.  When we are verbally abused, we respond with a blessing, when persecuted, we endure, when people lie about us, we answer in a friendly manner.  We are the world’s dirt and scum, even now” (4:9-13). 

With this rhetorical deployment, Paul takes up the language of a slave---of one possessive of no rights and no honor---applying it to himself.  Indeed, in an ironic twist, this is confirmed by what follows, which is “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children” (4:14).  Paul presents himself as a person that sits at the “shame” end of the honor and shame spectrum.  This then, returning to the fourteenth chapter, is the one to whom those considered by themselves to be spiritually superior (prophets or spiritual persons) are to submit. 

Naturally, Paul points beyond himself to the presumptive Lord of this church---to the One that experienced the ultimate shame as the One to whom subjection is owed.  Accepting these words from Paul is akin to hearing them from the crucified One, who not only experienced the place and act of ultimate shame in that day, but who went there willingly and purposefully, to create a people that would follow the leading example of what they understood to be true of both His manner of life and His manner of death (with the attendant honor and shame related sensibilities at play throughout). 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 32)

Skipping past what appears to be an interpolation that does not seem to fit at all with the ethos of Paul’s letters (verses 33b-35, which is sometimes found in manuscripts at the conclusion of verse forty, with this fluid placement indicative of its potentially extraneous nature, not unlike the story of the woman taken in adultery of John chapter eight, which is not found in many early manuscripts and sometimes shows up after Luke 21:38), this study picks up with Paul asking the question “Did the word of God begin with you, or did it come to you alone?” (1 Corinthians 14:36)  This is a rather pointed question, and seems to flow quite naturally from the statement concerning disorder and peace.  It is clear that the question is directed to the wider church, but one is forced to wonder why. 

Though dogma-level assertions are probably not possible, considering the regular competitions for honor that took place amidst the meal associations of the day, it is possible that here Paul speaks to the possibility of multiple church bodies within the same community entering into some type of similar honor competition that pitted body against body in their attempts to honor their object of worship (namely Jesus).  As it is quite easy to see churches effectively competing against each other for members, for recognition, and for the types of public honors that are available in our own time, this possibility does not seem overtly remote. 

Closer to home, an individual member of the body that was the primary recipient of this message (leaving open the possibility that this letter was directed to multiple assemblies of Christ-worshipers) could hear these words in a more personal manner, as they follow hard upon Paul’s insistence that participation within the church should be widespread, with all exercises attributed to the influence of the Spirit accorded equal value. 

This equal valuation of the Spirit’s presence and the person through whom the Spirit is active (with whether or not Jesus’ Lordship, which can be declared in any number of ways, and especially in ways that are derived from the understanding of the Jesus tradition that was then in circulation prior to the formation of the Gospels as we have them, is affirmed as the sole determiner of the activity of the Spirit of the Creator God), along with the insistence upon mutual subjection (preferring one another in humility) in the exercise of the gift that Paul most highly encouraged, provides a helpful framework in which a hearer could understand the words of verse thirty-six, making it possible to understand it as Paul’s continued encouragement for individuals to continually disavow the personal accumulation of honor. 

Hearing these words in this way could lead to seeking opportunities for community affirming mutual subjection that is based upon the desire to emulate the one to whom they look as Lord (who consistently sought out the lowest place rather than the highest place while instructing His disciples to do the same, who performed the role of a slave, and who set Himself amidst those considered to be possessive of shame or who stood completely outside the system of honor and shame, such as children) and who is deserving of all honor.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 31)

Along with these things, in an act of preferring one another and valuing all participation equally, though it will be subject to evaluation by the whole of the assembly as they mull over the words within the framework of what they have been taught by Paul and the Jesus tradition that is to shape their modeling out of the kingdom of their God, Paul adds “And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude” (1 Corinthians 14:30), giving no thought to their own honor or standing. 

With thoughts of selflessness and a shame-embracing love ringing in the background, one can then read “For you can all prophesy one after another” (14:31a), with the now ubiquitous and completely expected directive in regards to the exercise of spiritual gifts, “so all can learn and be encouraged” (14:31a), and presumably strengthened.         

Paul reinforces the social leveling that he desires to see happening within the church when, after putting brackets around the usage of ecstatic speech and again encouraging prophecy as something that is encouraging and strengthening, by adding “Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (14:32a).  When encountering this, it would behoove an observer to focus less on the “spirits of the prophets,” as this most likely is simply a reference to the Spirit being at work within the assembly through those engaging in body-strengthening words of prophecy, and more on the side of being “subject.”  This subjection serves as a reminder that one person is not going to vaunt themselves over or be vaunted over the community of believers. 

Any type of movement related to the activity of prophecy being used as an elevating factor within the body, as glossolalia was apparently being inappropriately used, wherein those that prophesy began to be afforded certain honors or by which a certain class of individuals within the church body began to appear, would be very much out of order.  Thus, rounding out his thought about the mutual subjection of those that engage in prophetic activity (which Paul hopes to be as widespread as reasonably possible in the assembly because of the purpose that it serves --- reminder: prophesy is NOT about predicting the future), Paul concludes with “for God is nor characterized by disorder but by peace” (14:33a). 

It cannot be repeated enough that honor competitions had no place in the church that is to be the visible representative of the One who eschewed being honored at every turn, and instead embraced suffering, shame, and the lowest places (including the lowest place ever devised, that being the cross).  These honor competitions, as can be gleaned from this letter to Corinth, were conducive of animosity and productive of factions.  This would unfortunately and decidedly militate against the order and well-being of the body of Christ, damaging its ability to engage in true fellowship for and among believers, while also damaging its ability to witness to a King and a kingdom to which all are subordinate. 

Indeed, if the members of the body of Christ are pre-occupied with participating in social systems that result in the subordinating of one believer to another, is there going to be a focus on all being completely subordinate to their Lord that subordinated Himself by going shamefully to a cross?   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 30)

Paul is placing what he hopes to be effective boundaries around the particular religious exercise of speaking in tongues, as he continues his extensive and specific dealing with the issue.  He underscores the universal recognition that ecstatic speech, through all of the recorded history of the practice that preceded the Christian church, demands interpretation as part of its functionality, and for both components of the act (speaking and interpretation) to be put to good use for the strengthening of the church (its most important role). 

Without interpretation, the act most likely serves to draw attention to oneself, rather than to the god that is attempting to speak through the ecstatic speaker.  Plus, the interpreter allows for joint participation with another person (or perhaps more than one person?), thus achieving the goal of strengthening and encouraging, while not allowing for honor to accrue to just one individual through whom the god is speaking. 

Accordingly, Paul insists that “if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church.  Let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28).  Can one not see that this deals quite effectively with the issue of competition and the honoring of self?  To this, with the strengthening of the church, along with its fellowship, equality of station, and universal participation in mind (with the always ongoing competition for honor also in mind), Paul adds “Two or three prophets should speak (prophecy calling authorities to account or offering commentary about the actions of the covenant people, sometimes speaking apocalyptically) and the others should evaluate what is said” (14:29).   

Prophets, of course, are those that prophesy, which Paul encourages all to do, so this is certainly not to be hailed as a special class of people within the church.  Plus, one must catch the flow of the thought.  “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others,” presumably the rest of the assembly who also function as prophets (as Paul encourages the entire assembly to engage in speaking forth the words that attempt to reveal the Creator God’s character for the purpose of shaping the response of a people, or shaping a people into a responsive people), “should evaluate what is said.” 

Again, the entire church assembly is engaged, with speakers that come from the entire societal range of the body, and the words of those speakers subject to the entire body that also encompasses the entire range of society.  This once again devalues the honor system (though one must confess to the possibility that this analysis represents an over-reaching and over-reading of the impact of the honor and shame system and Paul’s thoughts and concerns related to that system and its unfortunate and undesirable functionality inside the church) and disregards the social standing that one may have outside of the Christian body as irrelevant to one’s standing within the body of Christ. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 29)

Fifteen thousand words of foundational material in this study allow for what comes next from Paul to be quite readily consumed, grasped, and comprehended, with proper conclusions readily drawn.  So moving along then, Paul writes “What should you do then, brothers and sisters?  When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation” (1 Corinthians 14:26a). 

Here, Paul again deploys “brothers and sisters,” which feels like a way for him, as this is discerned from the contextual and textual flow of the entire letter, to produce unity of mind and of purpose within the congregation gathered at their standard assembly to hear this letter read in its entirety and as a group.  With this, one cannot escape the fact any more than the divided and possibly stratified Corinthian believers could escape the fact, that Paul emphasizes and expects an equal participation by all in the events of the assembly. 

One must not take it lightly when Paul says that “each one” should have a song, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  This does not mean that each should have the ability to demonstrate all of these things, though this would not be problematic and could certainly be encouraged as long as it did not result in an unwarranted accrual of honor to anybody but the Creator God and His Christ, but that each one is encouraged to participate at some level, doing so, at least initially one would expect, in one of the ways that is being recognized as being influenced and directed by the covenant God through the Holy Spirit. 

Of course, the rest of verse twenty-six falls directly in line with all that Paul has said concerning tongues to this point, which is “Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church” (14:26b).  This is always the crux of the matter for Paul in his letter to Corinth.  The strengthening of the church is the matter at hand in this letter.  What they have been doing, which is what Paul is criticizing on multiple levels, apparently exacerbated with the elevation of the speech act of glossolalia, has led to, in his opinion, the weakening of the church.  One is then able to come to the conclusion that Paul sees a weakened and discouraged church through his constant exhortation that expresses the need for strengthening and encouraging. 

If the church is weakened, then by definition the kingdom of the Creator God (the bringing of heaven to earth---causing the overlap of God’s realm of existence with man’s realm of existence, manifested whenever selfless and sacrificial love that reveals the character of God that is also to be the calling card of those that are His image-bearers is being put on display) is damaged, as it is the church that functions as the ambassadorial arm of that kingdom. 

It is with such thoughts (including in these thoughts that there were problems, including the bestowal of honor in competition with other spiritual gifts or other factions within the church, being created and exacerbated through the displays of speaking in tongues) under consideration that one then goes on to hear “If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret” (14:27).  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 28)

The assembly in which none go hungry and in which the needs of all are met, with a conscientious and attentive eye cast towards the wider community for the purpose of meeting the needs of those outside their association, and not for the purpose of gaining honor for their assembly but because of the example of their God that went to a cross and was said to have suffered on behalf of His people and to establish His kingdom, and as a component of their expressed desire to go to the lowest places and people in order to share in their suffering and shame (taking it upon themselves in a sense, as such an association would cause them to be viewed more shamefully as well), would certainly serve to bring a level of conviction. 

Such a person, witnessing the activity of the gathered church of the Christ, could very well be called to account by all, especially if that calling to account is not a condemnation of his or her sin as some tend to think of it (those things referred to as “activities of the flesh”), but rather a calling to account that causes that person to reflect on what it means to be truly human and one’s obvious failures in this area. 

The heretofore uninstructed observer would be witnessing that which the Creator God has intended for His divine image-bearers.  The true working of the Spirit, rather than being seen as something that results in a personal display of Spirit-led activity, takes place as the covenant God’s Spirit flows through the kingdom-modeling activities of His body and calls one more person to conviction and account.  As the Spirit works, gifting a man or woman to participate in the kingdom of their God, re-shaping mindsets and transforming the heart so that it stands in opposition to the values of a fallen world, while also being ready to engage in ways to effectively impact and re-shape the values of those that inhabit a fallen world, “The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring ‘God is really among you.’” (1 Corinthians 14:25) 

That deep-seated knowledge of the responsibility to bear the divine image, along with the failure to do so, springs to life.  Without doing so as a means of proof-texting, one can borrow from the letter to the Romans in order to buttress the statement and the ideas that stand behind verse twenty-five to possibly understand Paul’s thinking, as there he writes “because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributed---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.  So people are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).  The Creator God is put on (puts Himself on?) display through His kingdom community.

As part of this same process of understanding this portion of Paul’s communication, it is possible to look to one of his speeches recorded in Acts, as he speaks about the “Unknown God” of Athens, and about His power, His presence, and His purpose of revealing Himself in the manner in which He has revealed Himself (His Christ and His church), “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).  Through the gift of His Spirit, which is meant to shape an ever-increasing portion of humanity into conformity to His own image, with this occurring by certain but not limited manifestations of that Spirit that can be referred to as individual gifts, conviction is brought about, and the Creator God receives the glory that is due to Him.  Bringing this about has always been part of the required role of His people. 

Speaking In Tongues (part 27)

Bearing in mind the way that an assembly-wide engagement in ecstatic speech would be viewed by the outsider, along with the importance attached to public speech acts (as those deemed to be most honorable are those that would be permitted to speak in the assembly of an association), and building on his statement that “Prophecy… is not for unbelievers, but for believers” (1 Corinthians 14:22b), Paul goes on to write “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all” (14:24a). 

Does this mean that those prophesying are convicting the unbelieving or uninformed visitor to the association of their sins, of their immoral lifestyle, or of their need to “get saved”?  Perhaps, but these would most likely be secondary convictions, discussed as fellowship and relationship is established. 

As the Christian assembly is to be a lived-out model of the kingdom of the Creator God in the world (a free association of equality as a mutually beneficial fellowship of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slave, and free that actively disavows honor and the pursuit of the world’s ideal of honor, with the only “competition” geared to taking the lowest place as others are preferred above oneself), the unbeliever or uninformed will enter upon the Christian assembly and see something with which they are entirely unfamiliar. 

They would experience that which they could experience in no other place and in no other setting (apart from other Christian assemblies), for the Christians there gathered were worshiping a Lord like no other.  This worship extended beyond the pouring out of a drink offering to their god, and beyond a performance (or multiple performances) of ecstatic speech with interpretation, but extended to the point that those that are serving and those that are sitting at the lowest places are those that the unbeliever or uninformed person would, based upon knowledge of the position of certain individuals within their community, expect to see seated at the places of honor, receiving the best food and drink, presiding over the assembly, being listened to attentively as purveyors of wisdom and knowledge through eloquent speech, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues.  This, however, most assuredly to their surprised eyes, would not be the case. 

The church would provide a living, breathing, counter-cultural witness to the claims that those same Christians would be making outside of their assemblies and in interaction with the members of their community.  The church body, in which all prophesy regardless of their social standing (without even getting in to what exactly constitutes prophecy), engaging in what would generally be considered to be an honor-based or honor-gathering public speech act, without distinction or division, from what would be perceived to be the lowest place to the highest place, with all given equal standing and equal attention within the community, would certainly bring conviction.  In addition, the assembly in which all share equally in food and drink, which would be the most common indicator, apart from seating position, of social status, would certainly convict an untrained onlooker.