Several Introductions to the Bible

This week’s reading is titled “Introductions.” We had our introductions to what the Bible is with brief readings from Hebrews and 2 Timothy.

When you read the passage in Luke you get an introduction to a way in which we can read the Bible. Jesus himself shows us that throughout all of Scripture we see him. He instructs disciples soon after the resurrection using the Old Testament and reveals all that those books say about him. Jesus didn’t come into the picture of God’s great plan late in the game. Jesus Christ was always the plan–before this world was even made we were chosen in him, as it says in Ephesians 1.

Then we turn to Genesis and are introduced to creation. Genesis has two accounts of the creation with the second one coming in chapters two and three. There we are introduced to the greatest of God’s creations, human beings, but then quickly we see how far we fall.

God made us and gave Adam clear instructions for how to live in the garden alongside God. But temptation comes when the serpent questions God’s word. “Did God really say that?… Oh, you won’t really die if you do that.” Adam and Eve do not believe the truth of God and believe the tempter. They exchange truth for a lie. The serpent wasn’t even holding something out that was an obvious treachery. The promise was for something akin to wisdom; it was to be like God. But in their pursuit of something good in the wrong way, they sin. And with sin there is consequence. There is shame, there is alienation, and there is curse.

Although God is the one who is wronged, he still seeks to provide even in the midst of passing out judgment. God is the one who clothes his children and he then in chapter three of Genesis promises one who will come for the serpent. Many see Christ as the offspring who will bruise the serpent from Genesis 3:15.

East of Eden

At the end of this introduction Adam and Eve are cast east of Eden, out of the garden and its gates are shut to them, with angels guarding the tree of life. What is next for them? Has God rejected the pinnacle of his creation, leaving humans on their own on earth? The good news that we know is that God does anything but leave us. God would one day come and be among us and there would be another tree of life. And on that tree Jesus Christ would die for us, giving us his very own life–a life abundant and eternal.

But thanks be to God for the victory we have in Jesus Christ

We’re back to having a Bible visualization this week. (I’m still trying to catch up on last week.) 1 Corinthians 15 is a powerful chapter on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for us as well. Paul puts it succinctly near the end as he lays out a great contrast. We all face death and are under the power of sin. The law could do nothing to save us from such a fate. Then Paul uses that wonderful, good news-filled, gracious phrase: but God. Or at least in this section, “but thanks be to God.” Death is not the end nor does sin have the power. God, through Jesus Christ, gives us the victory over such things in his death and resurrection.

 Memory Verse for 1 Cor 15.56-57

On Triggers that Cause Us to Stumble

This morning in a Bible study with some men someone spoke a bit about “triggers.” We’ve all got them, some sort of stimulus that can bring about a memory, an action, a feeling, etc. Sometimes they are good triggers, sometimes they are not. We can see this food that has been offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8 as a sort of trigger. For those still struggling against their old ways and old life in which they worshipped false gods and took part not only in the feasting, but in all the activities of the temple, just seeing that meat may have triggered a whole wave of associations. NT Wright puts it like this in his commentary, “Paul for Everyone”:

They knew what went on there – the dark sense of mystery and fear, the sense that in feasting at the god’s table you were really eating and drinking the god himself, taking his life to be your own life; and then the drink, the sense of casting off moral restraint, the girls and boys waiting round the back to do whatever you wanted in return for a little extra payment to the god … And once you had shared in that dark but powerful world on a regular basis, perhaps for many years, it would be difficult, in your memory and imagination, to separate part of it from the whole thing. Now that you had become a Christian you would feel you had been rescued from the world of darkness and brought out into the light. True worship wasn’t like that; truly human living wasn’t like that. You had escaped. You were free.

Paul wants those who have the knowledge that leads them to be secure in whatever they eat to, in love, think first about their Christian brother or sister. If by eating meat sacrificed to idols or going to those temples to have a meal you cause you fellow believer to conjure up all these past experiences, is it really worth it? Of course not.

It’s important for us to know our own triggers, as well. It isn’t so that we can impose new rules and restrictions, setting up our own laws. It is so that we can protect ourselves and by setting up boundaries prevent falling back into sin. When we know our triggers we can prepare ourselves against temptation. The trigger can be even mundane things like, as I mentioned in this morning’s study, someone cutting you off on your way home from work. Let’s say you notice that when this happens you’re more likely to be rude and impatient to your spouse or roommate when you get home. If you are aware of this trigger and how it makes you anxious and a bit on the grumpy side, that will help you prepare yourself and cause you to say an extra prayer before you walk in the door for the help of the Spirit to give you the strength you need.

And when we are aware of our own triggers we can be much more understanding of others around us. Something that may have no affect on you may have a huge affect on someone else. If our goal is to build one another up that may mean that we forgo our rights and freedoms and instead seek to remove the stumbling blocks from our brother or sister’s path.

The Sins Paul Warns the Church About in 1 Corinthians 6

Shifting his focus back from our response to sin within the body (and how we should not bring these matters for judgment before the unbelievers), Paul now returns to the matter of sin itself. He lists out certain behaviors that, like treating the courts as though they are the highest authority, are inconsistent with the life to which Christ has called us.

Paul has already met head on the issues of divisions, jealousy, and strife in the church. Also, the issue that everyone has reported to him of a man sleeping with his father’s wife has been addressed. Now in chapter six he presents a longer lists of sins.

It comes after a stern warning, “Do not be deceived.” We all have a great ability–great in its scope, not great in benefit–to deceive ourselves. It is an awful power that we have. We are skilled at rationalizing behaviors and thoughts, causing ourselves to believe what we do is right and appropriate. The world and its values can set the tone for what we come to think is right. There are even those in the church, in Paul’s day and in ours, that come along teaching something very different from what we see in Scripture. Paul often in his books is having to counter false teaching and warn them of its presence. So here he warns them not to be deceived and then reminds them of what is unrighteous behavior.

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

Make no mistake about the type of town Corinth was. Paul indicates the Corinthians took part in this behavior as he follows this line by saying bluntly, “such were some of you.” These would be just the types of behaviors many were familiar with and had taken part in, and now they were likely to be tempted to fall back into old patterns. But also take note that Pauls says, “such were some of you,” indicating that old patterns were broken and healing was manifest in this community. All this because of what we read in the end of verse 11, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This list is not unlike the sins that Paul lays out in Colossians 3:5,8.[1] In both places the list breaks down into two sections of five.[2] The first five in both places seem to relate to sexual sins, even with idolatry as “idolatrous worship in Corinth involved sacred prostitution with the priestesses of Aphrodite/Venus.”[3] The emphasis on sexual sin, both heterosexual sin and homosexual sin, clearly stems from the problems that are damaging the community of faith in Corinth that have come up in the previous chapter.

In both 1 Corinthians and Colossians the lists continue with another set of five. In 1 Corinthians 6 they are: thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. This is a list tailored to this church as we have already read of their defrauding each other in the courts–a form of the first and last sins in the list. We haven’t read yet, but will in a later chapter, about their issues surrounding the communion table. In chapter 11 Paul mentions that some are getting drunk at the meal while others go hungry because other greedily take all the food. We can safely assume that a church that is already factious will most likely give way to insults (revilers) when excessive drinking is thrown into the mix. Ken Bailey summarizes how this list is so well-suited for this church:

Behind this list of ten sins lie aspects of three problems in the Corinthian church: stealing and their misuse of the courts, their sexual misconduct, and irregularities at their Eucharistic meals.[4]

Again Paul wants to remind them not of their sins, but of their former sins. He wants them to remember these as their past ways and focus on who has accomplished this work in them. If we are washed, sanctified, and justified, then we can be free from this sin.


  1. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. 176-77. ↩

  2. In many translations of 1 Corinthians 6 the the first five sins listed appear as four since two items in the list are often combined into one: homosexuality. The Greek reads, oute malakoi and oute arsenokoitai, which refers to two partners in a homosexual relationship.  ↩

  3. Bailey, 178. ↩

  4. Ibid, 179. ↩

What Hinders Our Understanding God’s Truth?

Earlier in chapter one Paul mentions that the church had been having issues that caused divisions. Some were claiming to be of Paul, some followed Apollos, and still other Cephas or Christ. Having dealt with it briefly in the first chapter, Paul returns to it now in chapter three of 1 Corinthians.

With two homilies on the wisdom of God (in the cross and through the Spirit) firmly in place as a foundation, Paul is ready to take a second look at how his readers should see Paul, Apollos and Cephas.[1]

Ken Bailey summarizes what we’ve been through so concisely. Paul sees their issue and it isn’t just division. These divisions reveal a spiritual immaturity. Paul has to lay a groundwork for them to understand the wisdom of God and their actions impede such understanding. Paul says that he cannot address them as spiritual people, rather they are infants needing milk. Again Bailey is insightful here. It isn’t because the Corinthians are not smart enough that they can’t understand, it is because of their petty infightings and jealousies. Bailey writes that we tend to think that all it takes to acquire truth is “a good mind and a willingness to work hard… Paul disagrees.”[2]

When there is strife the people are acting merely human. Paul wants something more. He doesn’t want more praise or more followers for himself. He wants them to see Paul, Apollos, and Cephas for what they truly are. Once again from Bailey:

The Corinthians thought that when they declared themselves to be “of Apollos” or “of Paul” that they were making complimentary statements about their champions. No, replies Paul, be creating these divisions you are saying nothing about us–you are talking about yourselves, and what you are is not flattering! Do not imagine that we are pleased![3]

Beginning in verse five he begins to try to set them straight with two short parables.


  1. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 120. ↩
  2. Bailey, 122. ↩
  3. Bailey, 123. ↩

Can There Be Perfect Matches Between Imperfect People?

In reading Song of Songs I thought this would be an appropriate time to share an article that is just an except from a larger book, but still one of the better and more insightful pieces on marriage I’ve read recently. It may be odd to read this along with Song of Songs, in which two people gush about one another. But it is good to remember that even the ones we love the most are imperfect, just like us.

Here is the opening paragraph:

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.

You Never Marry the Right Person, Tim Keller – Relevant Magazine

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins

On many a Sunday I had the privilege to announce an “assurance of pardon” during our church service. We go through a confession of our sins and following that I draw attention to the fact that we can rest assured knowing that we are forgiven. But I’ve had the conversation a couple times about what it is I’m doing when I make such announcements. The point that I try to make explicitly clear is that I am not the one doing the forgiving. I can’t forgive someone for their sins. Nor can I make atonement for them, pardon them, nor cleanse them from those sins.

So why have this as part of a service at all? What am I doing? As I’ve written, I “announce.” Jesus Christ is the one who can forgive our sins, and I draw attention to the gracious work that he has done.

We’ve read this week in Matthew 9 that Jesus ruffles quite a few feathers when he tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. He is accused of blasphemy, as though he acting out of order. But Jesus truly is the one with the authority to do this. It says in Romans 8 that Jesus he has power to judge us, but rather than condemn, he came to this world to die for us, and even now he intercedes on our behalf.

That is a savior worthy of proclamation, and his work for us is something I have the privilege to announce. I cannot forgive sins, but Jesus Christ, Son of God, can and does, and the good news I share is that in Christ, we are forgiven.

Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12 opens with a description of past saints in the faith as a “great cloud of witnesses.” We are not in this journey alone and thank God. We are in great need of the encouragement of others, past and present. This has been on my mind since I’ll be talking about it in a class tomorrow morning, but it can’t be said enough that we are called to be a blessing to one another. We need the help, but we are also empowered to be the help for others.

The chapter goes on to urge the reader to cast off what slows us down and trips us up. We need to rid ourselves of sin and distractions. I think we can read this great cloud of witnesses as a contrast to these obstacles. On the one hand all that weighs us down. On the other we have brothers and sisters that lift us up. It is quite the gift that God has called us to be a church; that he calls us out of the world but into a new body.