My soul is being continually renewed and refreshed as I study the life of Paul. I am well aware that in many Christian circles, Paul is a controversial biblical character. So to clarify, I begin by saying that I presuppose that “every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Therefore, I determine to examine the teachings of Paul in relation to the whole counsel of scripture in attempt to put them all together and apply them to my life. As I’ve said before, I’m very OK with the paradox that often occurs in the teachings of scripture. When something doesn’t seem to fit, I presuppose that it actually does but that I don’t understand it yet, instead of presupposing that it is incorrect. And as a recovering Pharisee (defined by me in this blog as: works-based as opposed to grace-based living), I’m willing to open my mind and heart to a change of thought if necessary, as I move through the life of Paul through Acts and his letters. In the two studies in which I’m presently involved (one on the life of Paul and one specifically going through 1 Corinthians), I’m striving to imitate Paul, as he encouraged the church at Corinth to do, as well as the Philippians … “And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Oh, how I desire the peace of God as I’m working through the present issues of the church and of our world!
Don’t judge me. Now, that’s a loaded statement! It’s also a popular mantra today. In light of this theme that permeates society, I’m becoming deeply engaged in the history of Paul’s missionary journeys, and in piecing together the timeline of his letters with those journeys. I have benefited most recently from meditating on his letter to the church at Rome (in comparison to his letter to the church at Corinth), reflecting on what seems to be such a passion for them to understand the truth of his grace message.
Even back then there appeared to be controversy over who was to be judged and who was qualified to judge. While some passages of Paul’s writing indicate that he was timid to share the truth face to face, he clearly explains in his letter that his purpose in life was to spread the gospel of grace to everyone … no exceptions. He stressed through his writing that he was in no way ashamed of the message (although in other letters, he does say that he hoped to be bolder face to face) he was to proclaim. We know from his life that he was willing to die to share it. As I study, I sense his passion for them to understand that the good news of the gospel is for all, not a select few …
“I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith.” (Romans 1)
And with that passion for the truth of the gospel to be spread, I’m inspired by what seems to be his struggle to communicate to them that while this gospel message is one of grace – scandalous grace (Romans 4) – the grace that is offered does not result in scandalous living. He speaks directly to some of my recent questions, and yet I must study carefully and wisely, asking for the Spirit to lead me into the truth of his message.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.
Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom 1)
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. 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.” (1 Cor 6)
OK. Got it! You can’t be a Christian and practice homosexuality (with no desire to change/repent).
But he continues in Romans:
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.”
And in his letter to the church at Corinth that I previously mentioned, he added other sins to the list.At first glance, I get the idea that Paul wasn’t particularly patient with sinful people. His words are hard to take. I mean … what’s not included in these lists? I for one, could not honestly say that I don’t struggle – and fail – with one or more of the sins he listed. I’m as guilty as they.
“Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things.”
So, who am I to judge someone else? Who is to be judged? Who decides what are the disqualifying sins? What about …
The lady who sits on the row next to mine in church who spent an hour on the phone last week spreading rumors and assumptions about someone in her small group (gossip).
The man praying the prayer for the offering who has said to his co-workers on more than one occasion how much he resents the people who work for him (hostility).
The youth leader broke who her marriage covenant with her husband and they are divorced (covenant-breakers).
That student in the youth band who has no respect for his parents and publicly rebels against their authority in his life (disobedient to parents).
Are we to judge only those in homosexual sin, as if that’s more serious than other sins? The truth is, how can we judge anyone knowing what we know about ourselves? Can’t we all, in one way or another, say with Paul “of whom I am the worst [of sinners].”
Holy Spirit, I really need Your wisdom … How in the world is this supposed to look?
Or more accurately. How in the church?!