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The Teachings of Paul, Part 4

The second letter to the Corinthians was probably written shortly after the first, and once again we note that it is addressed to all the people instead of a ruling class or “head pastor”. And in vs. 24 of that first chapter, Paul explicitly states that not even he would “lord it over your faith”, repeating the principle that any perceived privilege and authority must be laid down and replaced with the heart of a servant.

Chapter two gives us more insight into the way Paul uses grammar. Note the pattern in vs. 5-8: “If anyone… he… him…”. We do not see any mixing of singular and plural such as the “she… they” of 1 Tim. 2:15, and that Paul has a specific man in mind is clear, especially when we remember what he wrote before about the man sinning with his stepmother. They evidently followed Paul’s instruction to throw the man out of their fellowship, and now that he has repented, they are to welcome him back. This also proves that he was never considered lost, since there is no hint here of the man having ever lost or regained his salvation, but only that he was to be punished for his sin. And it shows us how we should be handling such things. But instead we have been unwilling to throw people out, such that they are never brought to the point of great sorrow that would lead to repentance.

At the end of the chapter Paul repeats the principle that servants of the gospel must not use it for profit. But I really think this goes with ch. 2, which begins with Paul defending himself against false charges, this time of both conceit and of claiming false credentials. Yet he still appeals to God, not to his own authority, and always refers to himself as a servant and not a boss. One can be bold without claiming supremacy, if that boldness comes from confidence in God.

Paul goes on in ch. four to show that his motives are pure and in line with all the qualities he keeps urging every believer to have. And if, as he points out in vs. 7, God puts His power into us lowly “jars of clay” in order for all the glory to go to Him, then who would even try or desire to boss other believers? What kind of example is that? And for all believers, as Paul states in 2 Cor. 5:9, our motivation should never be earthly comfort or praise, or even the rewards we are promised in heaven, but “to please Him”. Service done for any other reason has already been given its reward.

In 2 Cor. 6:11-12 we see the heart of a true servant, as Paul pours out his heart to the people and begs them to reconcile with him. He is, as he states plainly, appealing to them as a mother to her children, not as a boss to his employees. How many times must Paul give this example before everyone with alleged “ecclesiastical” or flesh-based authority understands this?

Then in vs. 14 we see a phrase that is almost universally ripped from context and applied to so-called mixed-race marriage: “Do not be unequally yoked”. But what is the rest of the sentence? “with unbelievers”. Paul is not talking about marriage at all, even remotely, but about believers teaming up with unbelievers. How we have forgotten this today! We have instead adopted the lie that “the end justifies the means”, joining forces with the heathen for a “greater good”, convincing ourselves that Paul really didn’t have a clue about how much more good could result when people form larger groups and pool their resources. And we barely raise an eyebrow when a believer marries an unbeliever, while throwing a tantrum if their skin colors don’t match closely enough. But remember what Paul wrote before: he does not mean for us to withdraw from the world and thus fail to be a witness, but to refrain from forming teams with unbelievers.

Paul continues in ch. seven on the theme of reconciliation. But note what he is saying there: he had to be blunt with them because he loves them. Today, most congregations forbid such confrontation and label it divisive, mean, negative, etc. They cannot see past the initial pain which is necessary for the end result of restoration. Paul goes on to express the fact that it hurt him as well, but that his joy is even greater now because the rebuke caused them to turn from sin.

The topic changes in ch. 8 to that of giving to the needy, but even this is turned into a weapon of legalistic guilt by the controlling spirit. How often we hear sermons on “giving beyond your means”, citing this passage as justification. But notice the critical difference: nobody pressured them to do so! They did it of their own free will, from their hearts; that is true giving. Starting in vs. 8, Paul even states in his gentle encouragement for the Corinthians to follow suit, that he is not commanding them. Again Jesus is held up as the Example to follow, that of one with wealth, power, and privilege giving up everything to serve others. All Paul is asking them to do is to follow through on their promises.

I don’t know how it could be stated any more clearly than Paul does in vs. 13-15, that the whole purpose of Christian giving is “that there might be equality”. This is the community of believers in action; this is a family caring first of all for its own. And this, as Paul states, is all done willingly. But in spite of his explicit statement in vs. 12, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have”, many preachers today pressure people to give more than they have, some even to the point of telling them to charge their credit cards!

The last two verses show some interesting translation choices in the TNIV. Titus is called a “partner and co-worker”, from the Greek words koinonos and sunergos. The first is typically translated as “fellowship” when a noun (1 Cor. 1:9), or “communion” in some versions, but it really is more accurate to call it a partnership. The second, interestingly, is also used of Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche (Rom. 16:3, Phil. 4:3), along with Paul himself and many others. And once again, even though the Greek says only “them”, the TNIV has “these men”.

In ch. nine Paul returns to urging the people to give generously so as to make his boasting about them true. But again he goes into detail about proper Christian motives for giving. In vs. 6-7 he states explicitly that “each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It is utterly impossible for any true Christian giving to happen as a result of sermons dripping with guilt and shame! This cannot be forced or coerced. Some preachers even twist the “cheerful” part into saying we must give more than we have and do it with a smile our our faces! And the poor listeners try their very best to comply, thinking there is something wrong with them for not being happy about it (which is what said preachers want). Like the ancient Pharisees, they heap layer after layer of guilt upon people and whip them if they don’t keep up.

Or, picking up on Paul’s statement in vs. 8-11, the preachers promise riches and paybacks from God. But that is not giving at all, it is investing Curiously, the preachers who make such claims never seem to practice them themselves. Why do they demand money from the people instead of giving it out for that fabulous return? There is a world of difference between what Paul is saying here about trusting the God in whose Name we give, and giving solely for the promise of a return. Remember that part about being motivated by the desire to please Jesus? That still holds true. We must not let the prize become more important to us than the One who awards it.

Another point needs to be made here: Do not look through the Bible for formulas. It is not a book of incantations but a series of letters to you from God. To read the Bible seeking methods or practices to invoke God’s blessings, whether for riches or healing or whatever it might be, is to only seek the gift and not the Giver. This is not to say we cannot look there for comfort, or to find out what pleases our Master and Savior, but that we cannot take a verse or passage as a formula for success or some kind of magic wand. Seek the Author.

Notice in vs. 12 that the purpose of giving, as mentioned before, is to supply the needs of the Master’s people. It is not to supply a pulpit, new choir robes, pew cushions, jets, cars, buildings, or anything else typically justified by the rationale that “it is for the Lord’s work”. God doesn’t need any of that, and neither do His people. We need food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and instruction in the Word.

Chapter ten has Paul returning to self-defense, and to the charge that he is only bold from a distance. Apparently some have accused him of worldly ambition and ulterior motives, most likely in an effort to turn people away from him and toward them, because they crave rule and popularity. But in spite of the context, some take the statements there about “demolishing strongholds” as a mandate for an almost superstitious attitude towards the demonic. They go around making claims and performing rituals to exorcise demons from an area, based primarily on this passage. Paul states that it is argument and pretension that he battles, taking captive his own thoughts into service for Christ.

But some of the people at Corinth had been judging only by the external. Yet we are no different today. We decree that matters of the flesh such as sex or personality are what God values and uses to determine who can serve Him and how. We presume someone to be spiritually mature just because they obtained a seminary degree. We are easily impressed by those with skill at public speaking. We presume that whatever teachings come from large organizations must be true and that any who dare to question them are only causing division. Where is individual responsibility? Where is discernment? Where is the Spirit? Why do we not heed Paul’s warning in vs. 13 about false apostles, about those who seem to be sincere and holy (“angels of light”) but are of Satan?

Paul really hits the nail on the head in vs. 20: they were willing to put up with those who wanted to enslave them, no matter how shamefully they were treated. We do this today! We allow ourselves to be pressured into tithing, we accept rebuke for questioning perceived authority; we the sheep are pressed into the service of these self-proclaimed shepherds. We go into debt to “give”, we serve the organization till we burn out, we beat our fellow servants if they step out of line, and we keep coming back for more. Enough is never enough for the controllers, no matter how well or how long we serve them.

In 2 Cor. 12:10 we see Paul’s famous statement, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” But why do some still want to be in charge of others? How does that show the glory of God instead of their own glory? Why not be seen as weak so that God is better seen as strong? Instead, today we have preachers boasting about their being “alpha males” and demanding blind obedience. They glory in their strength and power, they brag about the numbers they pull in, they compare each other by the size of staff in their service. How is it possible to follow Paul in his teaching here about being weak? Even in this, Paul uses sarcasm to get his point across. But the point is still that leaders are not to be supported by followers, just as children do not save up for their parents.

Paul begins the next chapter with a curious statement: his three visits to them qualify as having three witnesses to establish valid testimony. This is another support for the claim that Paul does not make up new laws, especially if they are to be justified by the OT. So if Paul wishes to establish something as a fact based upon the testimony of witnesses, he repeats it. This is an important part of context which we cannot ignore, as it has bearing on various controversial topics.

There are no tribunals or offices of inquisition for believers to stand before in any matters of faith and practice, only the Word of God. That is why, in vs. 5, Paul says “examine yourselves”. He is telling the people to make sure that the reason they’re having all these problems is not because they were never saved. And his purpose in writing has not been to rule from a distance, but to give them a chance to discipline themselves before someone else has to do it. He seeks, as any good leader, to build up and not tear down— quite the opposite of many today who seem to never tire of berating their followers.

A few years later, Paul wrote what is easily his weightiest theological dissertation: the letter to the Romans. But it focuses mostly on law and judgment and the technical aspects of our salvation. It is laid out as a formal argument, building to a central point (about ch. 9 through 11, concerning the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ) and then working back from there. But regardless of the content, Paul follows his usual custom and identifies himself as a slave of Jesus.

He is also an apostle, which is a transliteration of the Greek word meaning one who is sent out or commissioned by another to perform some task. It really does mean the same as our word “missionary”, and it was never an exclusively Christian title. But we observe from the way the word is used of various people in the NT, that it carries the connotation of one who starts new congregations after bringing the gospel to places it had not yet been. That is why there is mention of many with that designation, so understanding what it means can clear up some confusion— as well as help us identify those who falsely claim it. There have been many reports of missionaries who testified to the miraculous accompanying them on their travels, which is in keeping with what we see in the NT.

While there is much in this letter we could study, we have already seen in the letter to the Hebrews how believers now relate to the Law. Paul does not contradict any of that here, but reinforces it in great detail, with emphasis on Jewish believers. But there is still plenty to look at for our topic of control and power in Christianity.

In Rom. 5:12-15 we come across a statement about Adam, and we see there that Paul lays blame for the entrance of sin into the world at his feet alone. This is significant as we recall our study of Genesis. Clearly Paul sees the same thing in Genesis that we saw: Adam’s sin was different from Eve’s in a very significant way. His direct rebellion is what brought sin into the world, while Eve is not even mentioned here because she did not rebel as Adam did. It was her Seed that paid for the sin of Adam, which is why Paul makes a contrast between Jesus and Adam, not Jesus and Eve or both of them, and why Paul referred to Jesus as “the last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:45.

Chapter six is where Paul argues forcefully against our freedom in Jesus being mistaken for a license to sin. There is no point in expending so much effort to extricate people from the old law without attaching them to the new one, and making sure they understand that this law of love means pleasing our Savior. But in vs. 4 is he talking about water baptism? Not at all; the topic is our unity in Christ, and he is still in a discussion of law and grace. This is the same Paul who keeps fighting against any sort of legalism while being sure that it is balanced by our desire to live a life that pleases God.

Chapter seven serves as a good example of the grammatical style of Paul as he discusses a hypothetical woman. He uses the singular throughout, never mixing “she” and “they”. It is clear that he is not talking about a real person, but it is singular nonetheless, and consistently so. Compare vs. 1-3 with vs. 4-6 to see the contrast between a hypothetical singular and a real group. Paul is consistent and unambiguous, an important point we will encounter later in his letters to Timothy. And chapter nine gives us an example of another of Paul’s habits. When he anticipates an objection to an argument, he prefaces it with something like we see in vs. 19: “One of you will say to me…”. We recall the discussion in Part Five about how Paul did not use such an introduction concerning the issue of women keeping silent in the meetings.

Chapter ten is where we see Paul’s famous, simple, and controller-defying definition of the gospel: declare that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead. But note that it does not say “Jesus is my Lord”, per the “Lordship Salvation” understanding by which a person must sincerely intend to “make Jesus my Lord” by doing some undefined level of good deeds. It is the acknowledgement that Jesus is The Lord, the Messiah. But to be saved includes also the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is what it means to “call on the name of the Lord”. As for works or good deeds, scripture never draws a line with specified actions or levels of holiness required for salvation, but only genuine faith in the risen Lord Jesus. If works are also required, it not only defies what Paul teaches about salvation by faith, but there is no consensus among Lordship Salvationists on exactly what or how many works are required. And again, this does not lead to a license to sin; we have made that point already.

Chapter eleven is an important one for answering the claim of some that the ekklesia replaced Israel. This is known as Replacement Theology; there is also an opposite version where Israel replaces the ekklesia, or more accurately, where the ekklesia is absorbed into Israel. Paul states point blank that God has not rejected Israel, offering himself as proof. Note that he knows his lineage and tribe, which would be impossible if the “lost tribes” theory were right. Paul backs up his claim with a little historical reminder as well. And we can consult the OT for example after example of Israel becoming unfaithful and being expelled from the land, only to see a remnant return after years of exile. And who would think that the ekklesia has been any more faithful than Israel? Are we only to appropriate her blessings and not her curses? Rest assured that God keeps His promises, which do not depend upon the faithfulness of Israel.

The discussion there about wild and natural branches is one that leads some to believe that the ekklesia is “grafted into” Israel, but that is not what it says. The branches, natural or not, are not the vine. Natural branches are made of the same substance, but they can be broken off; it is the vine that both natural and wild are attached to. So both Jews and Gentiles, when they accept Jesus, are made a part of the Vine which is Jesus. And though there is much more to say about all that, our purpose here is to know what the ekklesia is, and what it is not, so we know how to interpret the teachings concerning it. Note vs. 28-32 that Paul is saying that though God has set Israel aside for the time being, they are still loved, and God will honor His promises to the patriarchs of Israel. This must be considered carefully by those who claim God is finished with Israel and that we are under no obligation to support them since they are in unbelief.

There is an abrupt shift in tone beginning in chapter twelve, but notice vs. 3, which repeats Paul’s theme of humility for all believers. And this is said to preface another human body analogy, reinforcing the teaching that there is no chain of command among the various parts (1 Cor. 12, The Teachings, Part Five). This is repeated in vs. 10 and 16, and I would ask those who still support a clergy/laity class distinction or male over female hierarchy, how do you “honor one another above yourselves” while thinking others are beneath you in some spiritual way?

Then in vs. 14 we see something that seems to conflict with Paul’s own examples in these letters: bless, not curse, those who persecute you. How do we resolve this apparent conflict? By remembering who Paul is talking about. Persecution comes from without (non-believers), while false teachings and destructive heresies come from within. Paul shows that we are to strongly refute and oppose anything that would infiltrate the Body and eat it up from the inside, but that persecution from the unbelieving world is to be met with the same attitude God has shown to all who are lost. As Paul told the Corinthians when confronting them about the man sinning with his stepmother, it is our business to judge those on the inside, and let God judge those on the outside. We must remind those who try to silence any believer who confronts another believer over falsehood that scripture distinguishes between the two groups.

Who is Paul talking about in ch. thirteen? Secular government, as shown by the fact that these authorities “bear the sword”, that is, they are armed. God instituted government to restrain sin and allow people to live peaceful lives, as much as possible. Paul, as did Jesus, teaches believers to be model citizens and so honor the name of Jesus. And vs. 10 is another strong rebuttal to any who would put believers under the Law: love fulfills the law. Ironically, many who espouse Lordship Salvation come across as mean-spirited and controlling instead of loving.

Now to chapter fourteen, about “disputable matters”. From the teachings of some, one would think that all of scripture is so very obvious that there is no such thing as a disputable matter. But of course they mistake personal conviction for divine ordinance. Here Paul tries to get the idea across that there are areas in which sincere believers can disagree, and that our reaction to this says a lot more about our hearts than which side we take in a given controversy. In spite of the convictions of many through the centuries, Paul states clearly that there is no divine mandate for a day of rest or worship, a particular diet, or any such thing. We are parts of one Body, not disjointed blobs of tissue! So we must be careful with our personal convictions. And that means not mandating on one side or the other for the entire ekklesia. How can people practice this spiritual discipline if some presumed authorities mandate it over them? Would they not be violating what Paul says in this passage, since they may force some believers to violate their conscience?

Paul begins the final chapter in this letter with a request to honor a woman named Phoebe. He describes her as a diaconon, the same root word transliterated as “deacon” for many men in the NT, including Paul. It should always be translated “servant” since it denotes one who waits tables (Acts 6:2). But as we will see in subsequent letters, there was evidently a group within the ekklesia that were called by this term but apparently had a special kind of service. Technically, all believers are diaconoi, but there was a kind of service that required higher standards.

The context here, meaning the wording Paul chose, seems to indicate that Phoebe is among those who meet that higher standard. We can see this from the phrase, “she has been a prostatis of many, including me”. This word means “a woman set over others; a female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” (see this source). Does this not describe an elder, a pastor, a shepherd? And who is to say that elders and “servants” are mutually exclusive terms? Historically, it may indicate one who was a public benefactor, and for the believers, may have been one who protected them by means of their influence or standing in society. Regardless, we must not treat her differently than we would treat a man so designated by Paul; if there would be no dispute as to the person’s standing were this a male, then there is no grammatical or contextual excuse to dispute it when it is a female, or we are guilty of the logical fallacy of “special pleading”. From this source:

Special Pleading is a fallacy in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption. This sort of reasoning has the following form:

  1. Person A accepts standard(s) S and applies them to others in circumstance(s) C.
  2. Person A is in circumstance(s) C.
  3. Therefore A is exempt from S.

In this case, the pleading is reversed:

  1. Anyone called a deacon has an authoritative office, unless it is a female..
  2. Phoebe is a deacon..
  3. Therefore Phoebe must not have an authoritative office.).

That Paul would entrust this woman with delivering the letter to the Romans, and tell them to serve her needs, is in itself a testimony to her status even if all the preceding is ignored. Note also that she is the servant to the whole ekklesia in Cenchrea.

Then Paul mentions the familiar Priscilla and Aquila, calling both of them co-workers who risked their lives for him. And he adds that an ekklesia meets in their home, which we mentioned earlier. Then after naming others, including another woman, Paul mentions a couple named Andronicus and Junia. They are described as “outstanding among the apostles”, a statement that has been no small source of controversy, including a deliberate cover-up by those charged with providing the most accurate Greek text for translators. From this source:

Epp shows that earlier editions of the UBS actually gave the unattested name Junias an A rating, claiming majuscule support for that ruling (when majuscules are unaccented!). Epp reveals (on p. 54) that, by Bruce Metzger’s own admission in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed), the UBS committee made their ruling based on the gender assumptions imposed by some members of the committee (Textual Commentary, p. 475). Also notable is the persistence of lexicons and other reference works in locating the name under the nominative masculine.

An indictment is made: ”In broad terms, it is fair to say that to a large extent our modern lexica, grammars, and many commentaries, especially during the past century, have carried forward— indeed, have aided and abetted— the tradition of ’Junias,’ masculine“ (p. 58). Chapters 9 and 10 provide helpful charts (pp. 62, 63, 66) which offer appalling visual confirmation that an arbitrary shift away from seeing Junia as a woman took place in the histories of Greek texts and English translations. (Regrettably, Epp does not mention the TNIV’s correction of the NIV’s masculine mistake.)

Here we have clear proof of a female apostle, yet untold damage has been done by those who would dare to put their presumption (that God would never call a female an apostle) over inspired scripture, because this “gender bender” on Junia has stood for a very long time.

After listing many others whose names God saw fit to preserve in scripture, Paul warns against those who cause divisions. He had much to say about that to the Corinthians concerning whose followers they were, but here he connects it with any teachings that differ from what they had learned from him. Those pushing such teachings are using flattery and smooth talk to deceive people. But when it comes to dividing up the Body, what has been more destructive than the clergy/laity class distinction? Close on its heels would be the male/female division, followed by denominational splits and various factions over the centuries. Paul tells us to keep away from any who promote teachings that dismember the Body. Will we heed Paul’s warning or not?

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