Monday, October 31, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12

    1 Corinthians 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My friends, you asked me about spiritual gifts.
  2. I want you to remember that before you became followers of the Lord, you were led in all the wrong ways by idols that cannot even talk.
  3. Now I want you to know that if you are led by God's Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus.
  4. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit.
  5. There are different ways to serve the same Lord,
  6. and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do.
  7. The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.
  8. Some of us can speak with wisdom, while others can speak with knowledge, but these gifts come from the same Spirit.
  9. To others the Spirit has given great faith or the power to heal the sick
  10. or the power to work mighty miracles. Some of us are prophets, and some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present. Others can speak different kinds of languages, and still others can tell what these languages mean.
  11. But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us.
  12. The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does.
  13. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God's Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.
  14. Our bodies don't have just one part. They have many parts.
  15. Suppose a foot says, "I'm not a hand, and so I'm not part of the body." Wouldn't the foot still belong to the body?
  16. Or suppose an ear says, "I'm not an eye, and so I'm not part of the body." Wouldn't the ear still belong to the body?
  17. If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn't hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn't smell a thing.
  18. But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best.
  19. A body isn't really a body, unless there is more than one part.
  20. It takes many parts to make a single body.
  21. That's why the eyes cannot say they don't need the hands. That's also why the head cannot say it doesn't need the feet.
  22. In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest.
  23. We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts,
  24. but we don't have to be modest about other parts. God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable.
  25. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others.
  26. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.
  27. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.
  28. First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to work miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages.
  29. Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can work miracles.
  30. Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean.
  31. I want you to desire the best gifts. So I will show you a much better way.

    Paul, in chapter 12, addresses yet another abuse of the Corinthian Christians related to their self-indulgence. The exercise of spiritual gifts. He prefaces the subject by prividing a test by which they can discern genuine teachers. Many of them had been led astray in paganism, and having come out of that they were not equipped to discern false teachers. Besides their own self-indulgence, they were likely being fed wrong teaching by false teachers. The test of true Christian teachers and teaching is Jesus. What do they do with Jesus? Many talk about God but may not be referring to the one true God. The true God gave His Son, Jesus, as the way of salvation. Talk of God does not point to the true God unless it includes Jesus, crucified and resurrected on our behalf. Any teacher who cannot testify that "Jesus is Lord," is a false teacher.

    Now, concerning spiritual gifts. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that all spiritual gifts have the same source and purpose. That source is the Holy Spirit, and the purpose is "to produce what is beneficial" for the body, the church. Furthermore, the gifts are not given to individuals for their personal use, but for the benefit of the body. They have been "placed . . . in the church" by God. (12:28) In other words, they are the means by which God empowers the church to fulfill the disciple-making mission He has given it. At the time one receives Christ, they are "baptized by one Spirit into one body." It matters not a person's ethnicity or status in life, all are "made to drink of one Spirit." And in this baptism each receives a gift from the spirit enabling them to fulfill a function in the body of Christ - the church - thus enabling the church to fulfill its mission.

    There were those in the Corinthian church who were evidently wanting to "hijack" their spiritual gifts for their own personal benefit rather than that of the church. In so doing, they were denying that their gifts belonged to the church. Thus Paul's comment, "If the foot should say, 'Because I'm not a hand, I don't belong to the body,' in spite of this it still belongs to the body." (12:15) There were also those who discredited the gifts of others, to whom Paul said, "So the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' nor again the head to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (12:21) Still others, wanting more recognition, were pretending to have gifts they didn't have. To these Paul said, "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?" (12:17)

    It is puzzling why the church so often gives so little attention to these gifts of the spirit when it is God's gift to the church to be what He intends for it to be. The lack of attention or misuse of these gifts of the Spirit is a key reason for ineffectiveness of the church.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11

    1 Corinthians 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. You must follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
  2. I am proud of you, because you always remember me and obey the teachings I gave you.
  3. Now I want you to know that Christ is the head over all men, and a man is the head over a woman. But God is the head over Christ.
  4. This means that any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head brings shame to his head.
  5. But any woman who prays or prophesies without something on her head brings shame to her head. In fact, she may as well shave her head.
  6. A woman should wear something on her head. It is a disgrace for a woman to shave her head or cut her hair. But if she refuses to wear something on her head, let her cut off her hair.
  7. Men were created to be like God and to bring honor to God. This means that a man should not wear anything on his head. Women were created to bring honor to men.
  8. It was the woman who was made from a man, and not the man who was made from a woman.
  9. He wasn't created for her. She was created for him.
  10. And so, because of this, and also because of the angels, a woman ought to wear something on her head, as a sign of her authority.
  11. As far as the Lord is concerned, men and women need each other.
  12. It is true that the first woman came from a man, but all other men have been given birth by women. Yet God is the one who created everything.
  13. Ask yourselves if it is proper for a woman to pray without something on her head.
  14. Isn't it unnatural and disgraceful for men to have long hair?
  15. But long hair is a beautiful way for a woman to cover her head.
  16. This is how things are done in all of God's churches, and that's why none of you should argue about what I have said.
  17. Your worship services do you more harm than good. I am certainly not going to praise you for this.
  18. I am told that you can't get along with each other when you worship, and I am sure that some of what I have heard is true.
  19. You are bound to argue with each other, but it is easy to see which of you have God's approval.
  20. When you meet together, you don't really celebrate the Lord's Supper.
  21. You even start eating before everyone gets to the meeting, and some of you go hungry, while others get drunk.
  22. Don't you have homes where you can eat and drink? Do you hate God's church? Do you want to embarrass people who don't have anything? What can I say to you? I certainly cannot praise you.
  23. I have already told you what the Lord Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. And it came from the Lord himself. He took some bread in his hands.
  24. Then after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me."
  25. After the meal, Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and said, "This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me."
  26. The Lord meant that when you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about his death until he comes.
  27. But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn't worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood.
  28. That's why you must examine the way you eat and drink.
  29. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink.
  30. That's why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died.
  31. If we carefully judge ourselves, we won't be punished.
  32. But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world.
  33. My dear friends, you should wait until everyone gets there before you start eating.
  34. If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you won't condemn yourselves when you meet together. After I arrive, I will instruct you about the other matters.

    Paul continues, in chapter 11, to address the self-indulgence of the Corinthian Christians. It is important to keep in mind this context as Paul addresses the issue of women with uncovered heads and indulgences in the observance of the Lord's Supper.

    Concerning women, Paul's position is this: "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ." (11:3) Therefore, he says, "Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head." (11:5) The covering of the woman's head represent her subordination to the man and to Christ. This is controversial with many in today's society. But however one wishes to interpret this teaching and its application to the present-day church, the underriding principle remains the same. Paul's teaching that women should have their heads covered and that they should recognize their husbands as their head was the custom of his day, and the Corinthian Christians in their insistence on exercising their liberties had included this liberty. But the exercise of their liberties, this one included, was causing conflict in the church and reflecting shamefully upon the Christian community outside the church.

    Expression of personal freedoms is contradictory for a disciple of Christ who taught and practiced submission and self-sacrifice. The exercise of personal freedoms is also contradictory to the exercise of love toward one another. It was this love for one another that Paul lifted up as the guide one's behavior in all matters. One does not well reflect Christ in their actions by insisting on their right to express personal freedom. Nor will one be effective in promoting the gospel by the exercise of their personal freedoms, which will ultimately come into conflict with another's freedoms.

    Self-indulgence and the Lord's Supper are especially contradictory. But this contradiction was taking place in the Corinthian church. The wealthy were overeating and drinking to the point of becoming drunk, while the poor within the church were going hungry. How can one commemorate Christ's sacrifice on their behalf while indulging themselves? Love and submission toward others, not indulgence of self and rights, are the rule for the Christian who is a serious disciple of Christ.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 10

    1 Corinthians 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Friends, I want to remind you that all of our ancestors walked under the cloud and went through the sea.
  2. This was like being baptized and becoming followers of Moses.
  3. All of them also ate the same spiritual food
  4. and drank the same spiritual drink, which flowed from the spiritual rock that followed them. That rock was Christ.
  5. But most of them did not please God. So they died, and their bodies were scattered all over the desert.
  6. What happened to them is a warning to keep us from wanting to do the same evil things.
  7. They worshiped idols, just as the Scriptures say, "The people sat down to eat and drink. Then they got up to dance around." So don't worship idols.
  8. Some of those people did shameful things, and in a single day about twenty-three thousand of them died. Don't do shameful things as they did.
  9. And don't try to test Christ, as some of them did and were later bitten by poisonous snakes.
  10. Don't even grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel.
  11. These things happened to them as a warning to us. All this was written in the Scriptures to teach us who live in these last days.
  12. Even if you think you can stand up to temptation, be careful not to fall.
  13. You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations.
  14. My friends, you must keep away from idols.
  15. I am speaking to you as people who have enough sense to know what I am talking about.
  16. When we drink from the cup that we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread that we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?
  17. By sharing in the same loaf of bread, we become one body, even though there are many of us.
  18. Aren't the people of Israel sharing in the worship when they gather around the altar and eat the sacrifices offered there?
  19. Am I saying that either the idols or the food sacrificed to them is anything at all?
  20. No, I am not! That food is really sacrificed to demons and not to God. I don't want you to have anything to do with demons.
  21. You cannot drink from the cup of demons and still drink from the Lord's cup. You cannot eat at the table of demons and still eat at the Lord's table.
  22. We would make the Lord jealous if we did that. And we are not stronger than the Lord.
  23. Some of you say, "We can do whatever we want to!" But I tell you that not everything may be good or helpful.
  24. We should think about others and not about ourselves.
  25. However, when you buy meat in the market, go ahead and eat it. Keep your conscience clear by not asking where the meat came from.
  26. The Scriptures say, "The earth and everything in it belong to the Lord."
  27. If an unbeliever invites you to dinner, and you want to go, then go. Eat whatever you are served. Don't cause a problem for someone's conscience by asking where the food came from.
  28. But if you are told that it has been sacrificed to idols, don't cause a problem by eating it. I don't mean a problem for yourself, but for the one who told you. Why should my freedom be limited by someone else's conscience?
  29. (SEE 10:28)
  30. If I give thanks for what I eat, why should anyone accuse me of doing wrong?
  31. When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God.
  32. Don't cause problems for Jews or Greeks or anyone else who belongs to God's church.
  33. I always try to please others instead of myself, in the hope that many of them will be saved.

    After defending his apostleship in chapter 9, Paul returns to the topic of idolatry in particular, and other sinful practices in general. The Corinthian Christians were a proud bunch boasting of their spiritual prowess and competing over who was best in spiritual matters. It was likely for this reason that Paul reminded them of the experiences of the Israelites of old. They were a privileged people in a number of ways. They had divine guidance (under the cloud), had received God's miraculous deliverance from Egypt (passed through the sea), etc., but this didn't stop God from disciplining them severely: "God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert." (10:5)

    Paul then told them, "Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil as they did." (10:6) If this were true of Israel, whose standing with God was unquestionable, it was also true for the Corinthian Christians who were boasting of their spiritual standing yet still delving into idolatry and other sins. Thus Paul warned them against idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. He seemed most concerned, however, about idolatry. Many had come out of idolatry and likely had friends who were still in it, so it was tempting for them to continue to dabble in idolatry thinking there was no harm. But Paul told them that sacrifices to idols were actually sacrifices to demons, and they should not partner themselves with demons. They could not go from participating in the Lord's Supper (the Lord's Table) and the table of demons.

    Paul then repeated what he had told them before: "'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is helpful. 'Everything is permissible,' but not everything builds up." (10:23) Though participation is sacrifices to idols was off limits, eating the meat used in these sacrifices that was sold in the market could be done in good conscience. However, when buying their meat they should not raise the question of its origen. Buy the meat, no questions asked. And if invited to the home of an unbeliever they should eat the meat without raising question as to its origen. But if another person points out that the meat was offered to an idol, then they should not eat it. Why? For the benefit of the person who might point it out. It would be due to their own conscience that they should pointed it out, and it would do harm to them to go ahead and eat it. When considering our Christian liberties, I believe Paul would say, "What will it hurt?" is the wrong question when considering an action. The better question would be, "How will it help?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 9

    1 Corinthians 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am free. I am an apostle. I have seen the Lord Jesus and have led you to have faith in him.
  2. Others may think that I am not an apostle, but you are proof that I am an apostle to you.
  3. When people question me, I tell them
  4. that Barnabas and I have the right to our food and drink.
  5. We each have the right to marry one of the Lord's followers and to take her along with us, just as the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Peter do.
  6. Are we the only ones who have to support ourselves by working at another job?
  7. Do soldiers pay their own salaries? Don't people who raise grapes eat some of what they grow? Don't shepherds get milk from their own goats?
  8. I am not saying this on my own authority. The Law of Moses tells us not to muzzle an ox when it is grinding grain. But was God concerned only about an ox?
  9. (SEE 9:8)
  10. No, he wasn't! He was talking about us. This was written in the Scriptures so that all who plow and all who grind the grain will look forward to sharing in the harvest.
  11. When we told the message to you, it was like planting spiritual seed. So we have the right to accept material things as our harvest from you.
  12. If others have the right to do this, we have an even greater right. But we haven't used this right of ours. We are willing to put up with anything to keep from causing trouble for the message about Christ.
  13. Don't you know that people who work in the temple make their living from what is brought to the temple? Don't you know that a person who serves at the altar is given part of what is offered?
  14. In the same way, the Lord wants everyone who preaches the good news to make a living from preaching this message.
  15. But I have never used these privileges of mine, and I am not writing this because I want to start now. I would rather die than have someone rob me of the right to take pride in this.
  16. I don't have any reason to brag about preaching the good news. Preaching is something God told me to do, and if I don't do it, I am doomed.
  17. If I preach because I want to, I will be paid. But even if I don't want to, it is still something God has sent me to do.
  18. What pay am I given? It is the chance to preach the good news free of charge and not to use the privileges that are mine because I am a preacher.
  19. I am not anyone's slave. But I have become a slave to everyone, so that I can win as many people as possible.
  20. When I am with the Jews, I live like a Jew to win Jews. They are ruled by the Law of Moses, and I am not. But I live by the Law to win them.
  21. And when I am with people who are not ruled by the Law, I forget about the Law to win them. Of course, I never really forget about the law of God. In fact, I am ruled by the law of Christ.
  22. When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can.
  23. I do all this for the good news, because I want to share in its blessings.
  24. You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win!
  25. Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last, but we do it for a crown that will last forever.
  26. I don't run without a goal. And I don't box by beating my fists in the air.
  27. I keep my body under control and make it my slave, so I won't lose out after telling the good news to others.

    Paul is defending his apostleship in this chapter. There were some in Corinth who questioned that he was an apostle since he was not one of the twelve and had not seen Jesus. Paul's claim, though not made here, was that he had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus. In this passage, Paul's claim to apostleship was based on two factors: the Corinthians themselves, and his refusal to accept support from his ministry.

    The first factor Paul used only with the Corinthians as he pointed out in verse 2: "If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." He was their spiritual father which he saw as evidence of his appointment by the Lord. But it was the second factor that was his main defense of his apostleship: "My defense to those who examine me is this: Don't we have the right to eat and drink?" (9:3-4) To this question, could be added "at the expense of the church?" This was the first of several questions aimed at his right as a minister of the gospel to receive support from the church for his ministry as did other ministers. However, he refused support from the church choosing to support himself through tentmaking so no one could question his motives. He did not preach the gospel for personal gain.

    Though he voluntarily gave himself fully to preaching the gospel without remuneration, it was not something about which he could boast, for he had no choice. "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (9:16) He was compelled by Christ to preach. Furthermore, he said, "Although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people." (9:19) If he were not an apostle would he have any other motivation to do these things and make these personal sacrifices to preach the gospel? Not likely. His only other motive would be personal gain and he had given up any source of personal gain - both materially and in recognition. Besides material gain recognition and honor would be the other motivation, but he had chosen to be a slave to everyone instead of being served by them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 8

    1 Corinthians 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. In your letter you asked me about food offered to idols. All of us know something about this subject. But knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others.
  2. In fact, people who think they know so much don't know anything at all.
  3. But God has no doubts about who loves him.
  4. Even though food is offered to idols, we know that none of the idols in this world are alive. After all, there is only one God.
  5. Many things in heaven and on earth are called gods and lords, but none of them really are gods or lords.
  6. We have only one God, and he is the Father. He created everything, and we live for him. Jesus Christ is our only Lord. Everything was made by him, and by him life was given to us.
  7. Not everyone knows these things. In fact, many people have grown up with the belief that idols have life in them. So when they eat meat offered to idols, they are bothered by a weak conscience.
  8. But food doesn't bring us any closer to God. We are no worse off if we don't eat, and we are no better off if we do.
  9. Don't cause problems for someone with a weak conscience, just because you have the right to eat anything.
  10. You know all this, and so it doesn't bother you to eat in the temple of an idol. But suppose a person with a weak conscience sees you and decides to eat food that has been offered to idols.
  11. Then what you know has destroyed someone Christ died for.
  12. When you sin by hurting a follower with a weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
  13. So if I hurt one of the Lord's followers by what I eat, I will never eat meat as long as I live.

    Paul moves from the topic of marriage, in chapter 7, to the topic of helping those who are weaker in their faith, in chapter 8. He sets up his discussion of the topic by addressing one's motivation. Will the one stronger in their faith be motivated in their actions toward the weaker brother by their knowledge or their love? If by knowledge, then they are in danger of becoming inflated with pride and of harming the weaker brother. But if motivated by love they can build up the weaker brother. So between the two options, operating out of knowledge is a selfish and ignorant choice while operating out of love is a selfless and informed choice.

    The principle of acting out of love toward a Christian brother rather than out of our knowledge can be applied to many situations, but in this instance, Paul applied it to the situation of eating meat offered to idols. Some, if not many, of the Corinthian Christians had come out of the Roman religions that worshipped idols. Although the knowledgeable Christian knew that idols were nothing and that "Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don't eat, and we are not better if we do eat," (8:8) the conscience of those who had come out of these pagan religions was still troubled by eating this meat offered in worship to idols. The liberty of the knowledgeable Christians to eat the meat without pricking their conscience could ruin their weaker brothers. Therefore, rather than being critical of them they should exercise love and consideration toward them.

    Paul did not issue a command not to eat meat offered to idols. The Corinthians were fully within their rights to eat such meat. He did, however, say they were sinning against Christ to "wound their (the brother's) weak conscience" by eating the meat. (8:12) He also stated his own intent: "if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won't cause my brother to fall." (8:13)  It should be pointed out that this giving up of Paul's rights in consideration of another is for the benefit of a weaker brother, not the satisfaction of a religious bigot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 7

    1 Corinthians 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Now I will answer the questions that you asked in your letter. You asked, "Is it best for people not to marry?"
  2. Well, having your own husband or wife should keep you from doing something immoral.
  3. Husbands and wives should be fair with each other about having sex.
  4. A wife belongs to her husband instead of to herself, and a husband belongs to his wife instead of to himself.
  5. So don't refuse sex to each other, unless you agree not to have sex for a little while, in order to spend time in prayer. Then Satan won't be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
  6. In my opinion that is what should be done, though I don't know of anything the Lord said about this matter.
  7. I wish that all of you were like me, but God has given different gifts to each of us.
  8. Here is my advice for people who have never been married and for widows. You should stay single, just as I am.
  9. But if you don't have enough self-control, then go ahead and get married. After all, it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
  10. I instruct married couples to stay together, and this is exactly what the Lord himself taught. A wife who leaves her husband
  11. should either stay single or go back to her husband. And a husband should not leave his wife.
  12. I don't know of anything else the Lord said about marriage. All I can do is to give you my own advice. If your wife isn't a follower of the Lord, but is willing to stay with you, don't divorce her.
  13. If your husband isn't a follower, but is willing to stay with you, don't divorce him.
  14. Your husband or wife who isn't a follower is made holy by having you as a mate. This also makes your children holy and keeps them from being unclean in God's sight.
  15. If your husband or wife isn't a follower of the Lord and decides to divorce you, then you should agree to it. You are no longer bound to that person. After all, God chose you and wants you to live at peace.
  16. And besides, how do you know if you will be able to save your husband or wife who isn't a follower?
  17. In every church I tell the people to stay as they were when the Lord Jesus chose them and God called them to be his own. Now I say the same thing to you.
  18. If you are already circumcised, don't try to change it. If you are not circumcised, don't get circumcised.
  19. Being circumcised or uncircumcised isn't really what matters. The important thing is to obey God's commands.
  20. So don't try to change what you were when God chose you.
  21. Are you a slave? Don't let that bother you. But if you can win your freedom, you should.
  22. When the Lord chooses slaves, they become his free people. And when he chooses free people, they become slaves of Christ.
  23. God paid a great price for you. So don't become slaves of anyone else.
  24. Stay what you were when God chose you.
  25. I don't know of anything that the Lord said about people who have never been married. But I will tell you what I think. And you can trust me, because the Lord has treated me with kindness.
  26. We are now going through hard times, and I think it is best for you to stay as you are.
  27. If you are married, stay married. If you are not married, don't try to get married.
  28. It isn't wrong to marry, even if you have never been married before. But those who marry will have a lot of trouble, and I want to protect you from that.
  29. My friends, what I mean is that the Lord will soon come, and it won't matter if you are married or not.
  30. It will be all the same if you are crying or laughing, or if you are buying or are completely broke.
  31. It won't make any difference how much good you are getting from this world or how much you like it. This world as we know it is now passing away.
  32. I want all of you to be free from worry. An unmarried man worries about how to please the Lord.
  33. But a married man has more worries. He must worry about the things of this world, because he wants to please his wife.
  34. So he is pulled in two directions. Unmarried women and women who have never been married worry only about pleasing the Lord, and they keep their bodies and minds pure. But a married woman worries about the things of this world, because she wants to please her husband.
  35. What I am saying is for your own good--it isn't to limit your freedom. I want to help you to live right and to love the Lord above all else.
  36. But suppose you are engaged to someone old enough to be married, and you want her so much that all you can think about is getting married. Then go ahead and marry. There is nothing wrong with that.
  37. But it is better to have self-control and to make up your mind not to marry.
  38. It is perfectly all right to marry, but it is better not to get married at all.
  39. A wife should stay married to her husband until he dies. Then she is free to marry again, but only to a man who is a follower of the Lord.
  40. However, I think I am obeying God's Spirit when I say she would be happier to stay single.

    Paul, in this chapter, gives instructions concerning marriage, evidently in response to questions from the Corinthians. His instructions flow from a concern to avoid sexual immorality and a concern to serve the Lord. Out of his concern to serve the Lord, Paul recommends that one remain single if they are already single. Otherwise they have an obligation to meet the needs of their spouse and their attention is divided between their spouse and the Lord. However, not everyone has the self-control to remain single, and in such cases it is better to marry than to be drawn into sexual immorality.

    So he will not be misunderstood, Paul gives other details to clarify his instructions. First of all, if one is already married they should remain married. His position is consistent with that of Christ that divorce should be avoided among Christians couples. However, if a Christian is married to a non-Christian and the non-Christian does not want to remain in the marriage, the Christian should let them go. "God has called you to peace," Paul says. (7:15) It is not good to try to hold a marriage together with strife. On the other hand, though, if the non-Christian in such a marriage wants to remain in the marriage, then by all means, the couple should remain together.

    Paul further clarifies by saying that if one who is single chooses to marry, "you have not sinned," and if they choose to remain single, they have not sinned. (7:28) His advise to remain single is not a command but simply a recommendation to keep them from having difficulty. For in the circumstances of the time, Christians were experiencing persecution and one's choices must consider their spouse if they were married and not just their service to the Lord. One would be less encumbered if they were single. However, this is only good counsel if one is able to remain single and not "burn with desire." (7:9)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 6

    1 Corinthians 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When one of you has a complaint against another, do you take your complaint to a court of sinners? Or do you take it to God's people?
  2. Don't you know that God's people will judge the world? And if you are going to judge the world, can't you settle small problems?
  3. Don't you know that we will judge angels? And if that is so, we can surely judge everyday matters.
  4. Why do you take everyday complaints to judges who are not respected by the church?
  5. I say this to your shame. Aren't any of you wise enough to act as a judge between one follower and another?
  6. Why should one of you take another to be tried by unbelievers?
  7. When one of you takes another to court, all of you lose. It would be better to let yourselves be cheated and robbed.
  8. But instead, you cheat and rob other followers.
  9. Don't you know that evil people won't have a share in the blessings of God's kingdom? Don't fool yourselves! No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual
  10. will share in God's kingdom. Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others.
  11. Some of you used to be like that. But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God's Spirit have washed you and made you holy and acceptable to God.
  12. Some of you say, "We can do anything we want to." But I tell you that not everything is good for us. So I refuse to let anything have power over me.
  13. You also say, "Food is meant for our bodies, and our bodies are meant for food." But I tell you that God will destroy them both. We are not supposed to do indecent things with our bodies. We are to use them for the Lord who is in charge of our bodies.
  14. God will raise us from death by the same power that he used when he raised our Lord to life.
  15. Don't you know that your bodies are part of the body of Christ? Is it right for me to join part of the body of Christ to a prostitute? No, it isn't!
  16. Don't you know that a man who does that becomes part of her body? The Scriptures say, "The two of them will be like one person."
  17. But anyone who is joined to the Lord is one in spirit with him.
  18. Don't be immoral in matters of sex. That is a sin against your own body in a way that no other sin is.
  19. You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own.
  20. God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.

    Paul addressed multiple issues in this chapter with a flow that tied them all together even though they may appear on the surface to be unrelated issues. Church members taking each other to court seems unrelated to sexual immorality, idolatry, and homosexuality, but Paul ties them together. In what way? As behaviors that are unfit for the kingdom of God. The unjust, which was Paul's charge of those who could not settle their differences outside of court, had no more place in the kingdom of God than the "sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers." (6:9) It no more represented the "new command" (2 John 1:5) given Christians to love one another than did the actions of those who were sexually immoral, etc.

    Christ modeled a new lifestyle for His followers of mutual submission. But neither mutual submission nor the new command of loving one another were the practice of those Corinthian Christians who were cheating their fellow Christians. But neither were they the practice of those being cheated who took the cheaters to court for settlement. Paul asked them why they would not rather "put up with injustice" than to take their fellow Christians to court. "Why not rather be cheated?" (6:7) There were no winners in this situation. Not those who cheated nor those being cheated who took them to court nor those in the church who simply stood idly by. Paul's question to them all was, "Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who will be able to arbitrate between his brothers?" (6:5) Instead of settling such matters within the church body they selected "those who have no standing in the church to judge." (6:4) Even though "the saints will judge the world," the saints were going to the world to settle their judgments. Paul told them that in this they were already experiencing "total defeat." (6:7)

    Paul chided them with the saying, "everything is permissible for me," which was likely a common saying used by the Corinthians who considered themselves free from the law. But he also pointed out that although everything might be permissible not everything was helpful. Neither should they allow themselves to be "under the control of anything" which was happening through their permissiveness. Through their permissiveness they were allowing these behaviors to take precident over their love for one another. And of even greater concern was that they were dragging Christ into these situations with them. "Anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him," Paul says. (6:17) Whether it be sexual immorality or parading injustices in the church before the world, they, as "members of Christ" were taking Him into it with themselves.

    Those who are in Christ should never forget that we "are not your own," but have been "bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (6:19,20)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 5

    1 Corinthians 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I have heard terrible things about some of you. In fact, you are behaving worse than the Gentiles. A man is even sleeping with his own stepmother.
  2. You are proud, when you ought to feel bad enough to chase away anyone who acts like that.
  3. I am with you only in my thoughts. But in the name of our Lord Jesus I have already judged this man, as though I were with you in person. So when you meet together and the power of the Lord Jesus is with you, I will be there too.
  4. (SEE 5:3)
  5. You must then hand that man over to Satan. His body will be destroyed, but his spirit will be saved when the Lord Jesus returns.
  6. Stop being proud! Don't you know how a little yeast can spread through the whole batch of dough?
  7. Get rid of the old yeast! Then you will be like fresh bread made without yeast, and that is what you are. Our Passover lamb is Christ, who has already been sacrificed.
  8. So don't celebrate the festival by being evil and sinful, which is like serving bread made with yeast. Be pure and truthful and celebrate by using bread made without yeast.
  9. In my other letter I told you not to have anything to do with immoral people.
  10. But I wasn't talking about the people of this world. You would have to leave this world to get away from everyone who is immoral or greedy or who cheats or worships idols.
  11. I was talking about your own people who are immoral or greedy or worship idols or curse others or get drunk or cheat. Don't even eat with them!
  12. Why should I judge outsiders? Aren't we supposed to judge only church members?
  13. God judges everyone else. The Scriptures say, "Chase away any of your own people who are evil."

    Pride was at the root of the issues Paul addressed in the first four chapters, issues of thinking too highly of themselves and their spiritual status. Now pride is also at the root of this next issue Paul is addressing, that of sexual immorality in the church. How is pride related to this issue? Pride focuses one's attention on self giving little thought to others. Thus the Corinthian Christians were either ignoring the immorality in the church due to inattention beyond their own concerns or due to denial of anything that might take away from their perceived spiritual status. On the other hand, perhaps, as one commentator suggests, they were proud of their tolerance toward this offender. Regardless, both the pride and the ignoring of the immorality in their midst points to the accuracy of Paul's charge in chapter 3 that rather than being "spiritual people" they were "babies in Christ." (3:1)

    Corinth was a city noted for the immoral and vicious habits of its people. But Paul makes it clear that this is not the target of his concern, saying he was "by no means referring to this world's immoral people . . . otherwise you would have to leave the world." (5:10) His concern was immorality in the church. In particular, a church member who was living, incestously, with his stepmother. This behavior went beyond the conduct of those outside the church. It was an infraction, even, of Roman law.

    Paul gave two reasons for why the Corinthian church needed to address this issue: the potential spread of such behavior within the church, and to help the person caught up in this behavior. As for the first reason, Paul likened it to the Jewish practice of removing yeast from their houses during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. It illustrated the removal of sin. As yeast will permeate the whole batch of dough if not removed, so will be the effect of sin in the church. As for the second reason for addressing the issue, the Corinthian's ignoring of the problem was not helping the person caught up in the sin. It could even be perceived as approval of the behavior. Instead, Paul counseled them to disassociate themselves from this individual. In effect, to "turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord." (5:5) If this seems unloving, we should remind ourselves that no one benefits by ignoring the situation. If dealt with in this manner, the church will benefit and hopefully the offender will also benefit. But whether he benefits or not, that will be his choice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 4

    1 Corinthians 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Think of us as servants of Christ who have been given the work of explaining God's mysterious ways.
  2. And since our first duty is to be faithful to the one we work for,
  3. it doesn't matter to me if I am judged by you or even by a court of law. In fact, I don't judge myself.
  4. I don't know of anything against me, but that doesn't prove that I am right. The Lord is my judge.
  5. So don't judge anyone until the Lord returns. He will show what is hidden in the dark and what is in everyone's heart. Then God will be the one who praises each of us.
  6. Friends, I have used Apollos and myself as examples to teach you the meaning of the saying, "Follow the rules." I want you to stop saying that one of us is better than the other.
  7. What is so special about you? What do you have that you were not given? And if it was given to you, how can you brag?
  8. Are you already satisfied? Are you now rich? Have you become kings while we are still nobodies? I wish you were kings. Then we could have a share in your kingdom.
  9. It seems to me that God has put us apostles in the worst possible place. We are like prisoners on their way to death. Angels and the people of this world just laugh at us.
  10. Because of Christ we are thought of as fools, but Christ has made you wise. We are weak and hated, but you are powerful and respected.
  11. Even today we go hungry and thirsty and don't have anything to wear except rags. We are mistreated and don't have a place to live.
  12. We work hard with our own hands, and when people abuse us, we wish them well. When we suffer, we are patient.
  13. When someone curses us, we answer with kind words. Until now we are thought of as nothing more than the trash and garbage of this world.
  14. I am not writing to embarrass you. I want to help you, just as parents help their own dear children.
  15. Ten thousand people may teach you about Christ, but I am your only father. You became my children when I told you about Christ Jesus,
  16. and I want you to be like me.
  17. That's why I sent Timothy to you. I love him like a son, and he is a faithful servant of the Lord. Timothy will tell you what I do to follow Christ and how it agrees with what I always teach about Christ in every church.
  18. Some of you think I am not coming for a visit, and so you are bragging.
  19. But if the Lord lets me come, I will soon be there. Then I will find out if the ones who are doing all this bragging really have any power.
  20. God's kingdom isn't just a lot of words. It is power.
  21. What do you want me to do when I arrive? Do you want me to be hard on you or to be kind and gentle?

    In this chapter Paul brings to a climax the discussion regarding divisions in the church over leaders, thus becoming more direct. Using himself and Apollos as examples, he tells them that leaders are "servants of Christ and managers of God's mysteries." (4:1) As such, the expectation is that they be found faithfully executing their responsibilities as Christ's servants. Beyond that there can be no evaluation of a leader's effectiveness other than the Lord's evaluation. Any such evaluation by the Corinthians or any other Christians is premature, for when Christ returns He will bring to light things we cannot now know, including the intentions of the heart, and will give a true evaluation of one's work. Since church leaders are "managers of God's mysteries," only He knows the true effectiveness of the leaders. It cannot be measured by human standards.

    This being the case, what is there to boast about? One person cannot be praised higher than another because the effectiveness of their efforts cannot be truly evaluated. Thus they should all be considered equal. Furthermore, what abilities or spiritual gifts does anyone have that they did not receive from God? And if they are gifts, what is there about which one can boast? Yet that is what they were doing. They were acting as if they had reached the pinnacle of spiritual heights at which Paul sardonically remarks, "Already you are rich! You have begun to reign as kings without us--and I wish you did reign, so that we also could reign with you!" (4:8)

    This is not how it is with servants of Christ. Rather than being exalted they are often reviled and persecuted as was Christ. If they truly were spiritual giants, this is more likely their plight than being exalted. It was certainly Paul's plight. And as their spiritual father, he urged them to "be imitators of me." (4:16) 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 3

    1 Corinthians 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My friends, you are acting like the people of this world. That's why I could not speak to you as spiritual people. You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned.
  2. So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot,
  3. because you are not yet spiritual. You are jealous and argue with each other. This proves that you are not spiritual and that you are acting like the people of this world.
  4. Some of you say that you follow me, and others claim to follow Apollos. Isn't that how ordinary people behave?
  5. Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen.
  6. I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow.
  7. What matters isn't those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow.
  8. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do.
  9. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God's garden and God's building.
  10. God was kind and let me become an expert builder. I laid a foundation on which others have built. But we must each be careful how we build,
  11. because Christ is the only foundation.
  12. Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw.
  13. (SEE 3:12)
  14. We will be rewarded if our building is left standing.
  15. But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.
  16. All of you surely know that you are God's temple and that his Spirit lives in you.
  17. Together you are God's holy temple, and God will destroy anyone who destroys his temple.
  18. Don't fool yourselves! If any of you think you are wise in the things of this world, you will have to become foolish before you can be truly wise.
  19. This is because God considers the wisdom of this world to be foolish. It is just as the Scriptures say, "God catches the wise when they try to outsmart him."
  20. The Scriptures also say, "The Lord knows that the plans made by wise people are useless."
  21. So stop bragging about what anyone has done. Paul and Apollos and Peter all belong to you. In fact, everything is yours, including the world, life, death, the present, and the future. Everything belongs to you,
  22. (SEE 3:21)
  23. and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

    Paul came back, in chapter 3, to the subject of the Corinthian's contentions over which leader they followed. Although they were boasting about whose disciple they were, Paul pointed out that their boasting was, itself, an indication that they were still "babies in Christ." (3:1) These contentions made them no different than ordinary people - unbelievers.

    Beyond the indication of their spiritual immaturity, Paul gives at least three reasons Christians should not boast about which church leader they follow. The first is that all leaders in the church are merely "God's co-workers." Their roles are all of equal value. Though one may plant and another may water, the outcome is from God who gives the growth. Therefore, the members of the church make up the "field" in which the leaders are co-workers with God to bring growth. The field, of which each of them is a part, is God's field. Any boasting should be in Him, not the leaders.

    A second reason the members of the church should not boast was aimed at its motivation. The members of the Corinthian church were boasting about which leader they followed because they thought it showed them to be wise in their selection of a leader. But this type of wisdom is foolishness with God. If the Corinthians wanted to be wise, they needed to first become foolish concerning man's wisdom so they may become wise in the things of God.

    A third reason not to boast about leaders is that the Corinthian Christians were, above all, followers of Christ, and as such "no one should boast in men, for all things are yours." (3:21) There was no reason to position themselves over one another for they all belonged to Christ and therefore all things were theirs. There was no place for higher or lower or more or less. They were equals in Christ.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2

    1 Corinthians 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Friends, when I came and told you the mystery that God had shared with us, I didn't use big words or try to sound wise.
  2. In fact, while I was with you, I made up my mind to speak only about Jesus Christ, who had been nailed to a cross.
  3. At first, I was weak and trembling with fear.
  4. When I talked with you or preached, I didn't try to prove anything by sounding wise. I simply let God's Spirit show his power.
  5. That way you would have faith because of God's power and not because of human wisdom.
  6. We do use wisdom when speaking to people who are mature in their faith. But it isn't the wisdom of this world or of its rulers, who will soon disappear.
  7. We speak of God's hidden and mysterious wisdom that God decided to use for our glory long before the world began.
  8. The rulers of this world didn't know anything about this wisdom. If they had known about it, they would not have nailed the glorious Lord to a cross.
  9. But it is just as the Scriptures say, "What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!"
  10. God's Spirit has shown you everything. His Spirit finds out everything, even what is deep in the mind of God.
  11. You are the only one who knows what is in your own mind, and God's Spirit is the only one who knows what is in God's mind.
  12. But God has given us his Spirit. That's why we don't think the same way that the people of this world think. That's also why we can recognize the blessings that God has given us.
  13. Every word we speak was taught to us by God's Spirit, not by human wisdom. And this same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people.
  14. That's why only someone who has God's Spirit can understand spiritual blessings. Anyone who doesn't have God's Spirit thinks these blessings are foolish.
  15. People who are guided by the Spirit can make all kinds of judgments, but they cannot be judged by others.
  16. The Scriptures ask, "Has anyone ever known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice?" But we understand what Christ is thinking.

    In Paul's letter to the Romans he contrasts faith and works. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ and not by anything we do. In this first letter to the Corinthians he contrasts faith and wisdom. If salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, then it is not discerned through wisdom. Therefore, Paul did not attempt to persuade through wisdom. He did not want the faith of those who came to Christ through his preaching to be based on wisdom, but rather on "God's Power." (2:5)

    This does not mean there is no wisdom in Paul's preaching, but it is wisdom only to those who are attuned to God's Spirit. To those who are not so attuned, it is a mystery. It is foolishness to such a person. Paul says such a person "is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually." (2:14) On the other hand, the spiritual person "can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone." (2:15)

    It follows, then, that the more one pursues God through dependence on their own wisdom and intellect, the more foolish will the gospel seem to them.  If such a one continues their pursuit through wisdom, the outcome will likely be the devising of their own religious system or adoption of one devised by another. Something that suits them. But God, who can only be reached through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, will remain out of their reach.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 1

    1 Corinthians 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Sosthenes, who is also a follower.
  2. To God's church in Corinth. Christ Jesus chose you to be his very own people, and you worship in his name, as we and all others do who call him Lord.
  3. My prayer is that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  4. I never stop thanking my God for being kind enough to give you Christ Jesus,
  5. who helps you speak and understand so well.
  6. Now you are certain that everything we told you about our Lord Christ Jesus is true.
  7. You are not missing out on any blessings, as you wait for him to return.
  8. And until the day Christ does return, he will keep you completely innocent.
  9. God can be trusted, and he chose you to be partners with his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
  10. My dear friends, as a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg you to get along with each other. Don't take sides. Always try to agree in what you think.
  11. Several people from Chloe's family have already reported to me that you keep arguing with each other.
  12. They have said that some of you claim to follow me, while others claim to follow Apollos or Peter or Christ.
  13. Has Christ been divided up? Was I nailed to a cross for you? Were you baptized in my name?
  14. I thank God that I didn't baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.
  15. Not one of you can say that you were baptized in my name.
  16. I did baptize the family of Stephanas, but I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.
  17. Christ did not send me to baptize. He sent me to tell the good news without using big words that would make the cross of Christ lose its power.
  18. The message about the cross doesn't make any sense to lost people. But for those of us who are being saved, it is God's power at work.
  19. As God says in the Scriptures, "I will destroy the wisdom of all who claim to be wise. I will confuse those who think they know so much."
  20. What happened to those wise people? What happened to those experts in the Scriptures? What happened to the ones who think they have all the answers? Didn't God show that the wisdom of this world is foolish?
  21. God was wise and decided not to let the people of this world use their wisdom to learn about him. Instead, God chose to save only those who believe the foolish message we preach.
  22. Jews ask for miracles, and Greeks want something that sounds wise.
  23. But we preach that Christ was nailed to a cross. Most Jews have problems with this, and most Gentiles think it is foolish.
  24. Our message is God's power and wisdom for the Jews and the Greeks that he has chosen.
  25. Even when God is foolish, he is wiser than everyone else, and even when God is weak, he is stronger than everyone else.
  26. My dear friends, remember what you were when God chose you. The people of this world didn't think that many of you were wise. Only a few of you were in places of power, and not many of you came from important families.
  27. But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.
  28. What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important.
  29. God did all this to keep anyone from bragging to him.
  30. You are God's children. He sent Christ Jesus to save us and to make us wise, acceptable, and holy.
  31. So if you want to brag, do what the Scriptures say and brag about the Lord.

    Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth is addressed to a church that is divided in conflict over who is best. This is first observed in this chapter in the divisions over whose disciples they were or whose side they were on. Some claimed to be with Paul, others with Apollos or Cephas, and still others with Christ. All trying to claim a greater position than the others. They were also similarly positioning themselves over spiritual gifts, saying look at my gift, as if one was better than another. Paul addresses this problem later in the letter.

    Right away, in this first chapter, Paul begins to speak to this conflict by repeatedly reminding them of their common spiritual roots in Christ. It was in Christ Jesus that they were sanctified "and called as saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." (1:2) They were all members of Christ's body along with all believers everywhere. If they were to take pride in anything, it should be this and not any abilities they might have or leaders they follow. Paul said he was glad he hadn't baptized any of them except for a couple so they couldn't say they were baptized in his name. It was Christ's name in which they were baptized, not his or any other.

    There is nothing clever or slick about the gospel. Instead, to people of the world it seems like foolishness. But it is not through wisdom that we come to know God and are saved. As a result, the philosophers and scholars and debaters of the world are not frequently drawn to Him since they try to filter Him through their learning. But Paul says that instead through wisdom, "God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached." (1:21) This is in contrast to what the Corinthian Christians were doing. They were taking pride in their supposed cleverness and wisdom. They were missing the point of the gospel and did not understand Christ. If they wanted to boast about their wisdom, Paul reminded them that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (1:25) They had nothing about which to boast.

    In the closing verses of the chapter Paul tells the Corinthians to look at who they are. They will not find the powerful or those of noble birth among them. Those people are confounded by the gospel. God has intentionally chosen things viewed by the world as nothing so "He might bring to nothing the things that are viewed as something." (1:28) The only boasting that is appropriate in the church is to "boast in the Lord." (1:31)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reflections on Romans 16

    Romans 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae.
  2. Welcome her in a way that is proper for someone who has faith in the Lord and is one of God's own people. Help her in any way you can. After all, she has proved to be a respected leader for many others, including me.
  3. Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila. They have not only served Christ Jesus together with me,
  4. but they have even risked their lives for me. I am grateful for them and so are all the Gentile churches.
  5. Greet the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who was the first person in Asia to have faith in Christ.
  6. Greet Mary, who has worked so hard for you.
  7. Greet my relatives Andronicus and Junias, who were in jail with me. They are highly respected by the apostles and were followers of Christ before I was.
  8. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend whose faith is in the Lord.
  9. Greet Urbanus, who serves Christ along with us. Greet my dear friend Stachys.
  10. Greet Apelles, a faithful servant of Christ. Greet Aristobulus and his family.
  11. Greet Herodion, who is a relative of mine. Greet Narcissus and the others in his family, who have faith in the Lord.
  12. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who work hard for the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis. She also works hard for the Lord.
  13. Greet Rufus, that special servant of the Lord, and greet his mother, who has been like a mother to me.
  14. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas, as well as our friends who are with them.
  15. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all of God's people who are with them.
  16. Be sure to give each other a warm greeting. All of Christ's churches greet you.
  17. My friends, I beg you to watch out for anyone who causes trouble and divides the church by refusing to do what all of you were taught. Stay away from them!
  18. They want to serve themselves and not Christ the Lord. Their flattery and fancy talk fool people who don't know any better.
  19. I am glad that everyone knows how well you obey the Lord. But still, I want you to understand what is good and not have anything to do with evil.
  20. Then God, who gives peace, will soon crush Satan under your feet. I pray that our Lord Jesus will be kind to you.
  21. Timothy, who works with me, sends his greetings, and so do my relatives, Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater.
  22. I, Tertius, also send my greetings. I am a follower of the Lord, and I wrote this letter.
  23. Gaius welcomes me and the whole church into his home, and he sends his greetings. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our dear friend Quartus send their greetings too.
  24. (SEE 16:23)
  25. Praise God! He can make you strong by means of my good news, which is the message about Jesus Christ. For ages and ages this message was kept secret,
  26. but now at last it has been told. The eternal God commanded his prophets to write about the good news, so that all nations would obey and have faith.
  27. And now, because of Jesus Christ, we can praise the only wise God forever! Amen.

    Paul's closing of his letter to the Romans is lengthy with numerous greetings from him to people in the church at Rome that he knew from previous associations, along with greetings to them from people in Corinth from where Paul was writing the letter.

    Along with these greetings, Paul gives a couple of last exhortations in verses 17-20. First, he cautions them against people who will come into the church with the intent of causing "dissensions and pitfalls contrary to the doctrine you have learned." (16:17) What were their motives in this? Paul only says that they "do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites." (16:18) Possibly they were intent on getting their own following, but Paul does not say. Their methods, however, were deceitful, using "smooth talk and flattering words" to deceive those who are unsuspecting.

    A second exhortation Paul gave the Romans was to "be wise about what is good, yet innocent about what is evil." (16:19) This is contrary to the counsel of some who would suggest that one should rub shoulders with evil so they understand it and can avoid it. But this is not consistent with scripture. In chapter 12 Pauls says that evil is conquered with good. Therefore, it makes sense that here he would tell the Romans to be wise about what is good, and thus innocent about what is evil. It is an important spiritual principle that all sin is overcome, not by trying to overcome it, but by displacing it with what is good. By abiding in Christ and keeping our mind on Him, sin will be pushed out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections on Romans 15

    Romans 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If our faith is strong, we should be patient with the Lord's followers whose faith is weak. We should try to please them instead of ourselves.
  2. We should think of their good and try to help them by doing what pleases them.
  3. Even Christ did not try to please himself. But as the Scriptures say, "The people who insulted you also insulted me."
  4. And the Scriptures were written to teach and encourage us by giving us hope.
  5. God is the one who makes us patient and cheerful. I pray that he will help you live at peace with each other, as you follow Christ.
  6. Then all of you together will praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  7. Honor God by accepting each other, as Christ has accepted you.
  8. I tell you that Christ came as a servant of the Jews to show that God has kept the promises he made to their famous ancestors. Christ also came,
  9. so that the Gentiles would praise God for being kind to them. It is just as the Scriptures say, "I will tell the nations about you, and I will sing praises to your name."
  10. The Scriptures also say to the Gentiles, "Come and celebrate with God's people."
  11. Again the Scriptures say, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles. All you nations, come and worship him."
  12. Isaiah says, "Someone from David's family will come to power. He will rule the nations, and they will put their hope in him."
  13. I pray that God, who gives hope, will bless you with complete happiness and peace because of your faith. And may the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.
  14. My friends, I am sure that you are very good and that you have all the knowledge you need to teach each other.
  15. But I have spoken to you plainly and have tried to remind you of some things. God was so kind to me!
  16. He chose me to be a servant of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles and to do the work of a priest in the service of his good news. God did this so that the Holy Spirit could make the Gentiles into a holy offering, pleasing to him.
  17. Because of Christ Jesus, I can take pride in my service for God.
  18. In fact, all I will talk about is how Christ let me speak and work, so that the Gentiles would obey him.
  19. Indeed, I will tell how Christ worked miracles and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit. I have preached the good news about him all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum.
  20. But I have always tried to preach where people have never heard about Christ. I am like a builder who doesn't build on anyone else's foundation.
  21. It is just as the Scriptures say, "All who haven't been told about him will see him, and those who haven't heard about him will understand."
  22. My work has always kept me from coming to see you.
  23. Now there is nothing left for me to do in this part of the world, and for years I have wanted to visit you.
  24. So I plan to stop off on my way to Spain. Then after a short, but refreshing, visit with you, I hope you will quickly send me on.
  25. I am now on my way to Jerusalem to deliver the money that the Lord's followers in Macedonia and Achaia collected for God's needy people.
  26. (SEE 15:25)
  27. This is something they really wanted to do. But sharing their money with the Jews was also like paying back a debt, because the Jews had already shared their spiritual blessings with the Gentiles.
  28. After I have safely delivered this money, I will visit you and then go on to Spain.
  29. And when I do arrive in Rome, I know it will be with the full blessings of Christ.
  30. My friends, by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the love that comes from the Holy Spirit, I beg you to pray sincerely with me and for me.
  31. Pray that God will protect me from the unbelievers in Judea, and that his people in Jerusalem will be pleased with what I am doing.
  32. Ask God to let me come to you and have a pleasant and refreshing visit.
  33. I pray that God, who gives peace, will be with all of you. Amen.

    Paul continued his discussion of mutual consideration between stronger and weaker Christians into the first part of this chapter, concluding with instructions to the stronger Christians. They have an obligation, he says, "to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please" themselves (15:1) Here is a reflection of the new order to which Christ has called His followers - mutual submission to one another. In this instance, Paul is calling the stronger Christians to submit their right to worship God with more freedom than the weaker Christians so they might bear the weaknesses of these weaker Christians. As followers of Christ our concern is "not to please ourselves" (15:1) but to please our "neighbor for his good, in order to build him up." (15:2) In so doing, we are following Christ's example who "did not please Himself." (15:3)

    Paul then prays for these believers in Rome that God would grant them agreement with one another. This agreement among members of the church will bring glory to God as they speak with a unified mind and voice. This is not an artificial unity in which conflict is stuffed, leaving its embers to smolder under the surface waiting for an opportunity to burst into flame. This is a real unity in which fellow Christians respect the differences between them on issues of unimportance, respectfully submitting to their fellow Christians by altering their own practices so as not to offend another or cause them to stumble. Unfortunately, too many Christians have only a superficial relationship to Christ, lacking sufficient spiritual maturity to submit to one another. They are still seeking to please themselves which ultimately leads to conflict in the church, disrupting the unity that glorifies God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reflections on Romans 14

    Romans 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Welcome all the Lord's followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don't criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours.
  2. Some think it is all right to eat anything, while those whose faith is weak will eat only vegetables.
  3. But you should not criticize others for eating or for not eating. After all, God welcomes everyone.
  4. What right do you have to criticize someone else's servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right.
  5. Some of the Lord's followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind.
  6. Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honor their Lord. And any followers who eat meat give thanks to God, just like the ones who don't eat meat.
  7. Whether we live or die, it must be for God, rather than for ourselves.
  8. Whether we live or die, it must be for the Lord. Alive or dead, we still belong to the Lord.
  9. This is because Christ died and rose to life, so that he would be the Lord of the dead and of the living.
  10. Why do you criticize other followers of the Lord? Why do you look down on them? The day is coming when God will judge all of us.
  11. In the Scriptures God says, "I swear by my very life that everyone will kneel down and praise my name!"
  12. And so, each of us must give an account to God for what we do.
  13. We must stop judging others. We must also make up our minds not to upset anyone's faith.
  14. The Lord Jesus has made it clear to me that God considers all foods fit to eat. But if you think some foods are unfit to eat, then for you they are not fit.
  15. If you are hurting others by the foods you eat, you are not guided by love. Don't let your appetite destroy someone Christ died for.
  16. Don't let your right to eat bring shame to Christ.
  17. God's kingdom isn't about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness. All this comes from the Holy Spirit.
  18. If you serve Christ in this way, you will please God and be respected by people.
  19. We should try to live at peace and help each other have a strong faith.
  20. Don't let your appetite destroy what God has done. All foods are fit to eat, but it is wrong to cause problems for others by what you eat.
  21. It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.
  22. What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God. You are fortunate, if your actions don't make you have doubts.
  23. But if you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs. And you know that is wrong, because anything you do against your beliefs is sin.

    Previously, Paul has told his readers that the love they have within the church body should be like that of a family. That they should "Outdo one another in showing honor" for one another. (12:10) In this chapter he addresses some practical issues that can threaten that family love within the church. The dynamic of a church body in which there are people of various opinions and of various cultural and ethnic background can easily raise issues of conflict. This dynamic is heightened when those issues in question relate to matters of religious practice and people's religious convictions are threatened.

    In essence, Paul tells his readers (and us) that relating to one another in love is more important than religious practice. Furthermore, what is of importance in the kingdom of God is not matters of religious practice, such as what we do or do not eat or drink, but of importance is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." (14:17) Paul used two different examples for this discussion: convictions concerning what one should eat, and the observance of certain religious days. He placed these examples under the heading of "doubtful issues." (14:1) These were not issues central to faith in Christ and Christ-like living. Examples of "doubtful issues" in the church today would be different, but there are, nevertheless, doubtful issues over which people in the present-day church have conflict, failing to exercise proper love.

    Paul said it is not our place to correct each other over these matters of religious conviction. These matters are between an individual and the Lord. Whether one observes certain days or doesn't observe certain days, they do it "to the Lord." (14:6) It is not our place to criticize or judge another for his religious convictions. But Paul went a step further. It is not enough to withhold our judgement toward another. If our actions, due to our freedom, are offensive to another who does not feel the same freedom, we should abstain from those actions. Paul said, "If your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love." (14:15) It is good if we can observe a certain practice in faith without condemning ourselves, but if we cause another to observe that same practice whose lack of faith does condemn him, we cause that person to sin. "Everything that is not from faith," Paul says, "is sin." (14:23)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reflections on Romans 13

    Romans 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power.
  2. People who oppose the authorities are opposing what God has done, and they will be punished.
  3. Rulers are a threat to evil people, not to good people. There is no need to be afraid of the authorities. Just do right, and they will praise you for it.
  4. After all, they are God's servants, and it is their duty to help you. If you do something wrong, you ought to be afraid, because these rulers have the right to punish you. They are God's servants who punish criminals to show how angry God is.
  5. But you should obey the rulers because you know it is the right thing to do, and not just because of God's anger.
  6. You must also pay your taxes. The authorities are God's servants, and it is their duty to take care of these matters.
  7. Pay all that you owe, whether it is taxes and fees or respect and honor.
  8. Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands.
  9. In the Law there are many commands, such as, "Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others." But all of these are summed up in the command that says, "Love others as much as you love yourself."
  10. No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands.
  11. You know what sort of times we live in, and so you should live properly. It is time to wake up. You know that the day when we will be saved is nearer now than when we first put our faith in the Lord.
  12. Night is almost over, and day will soon appear. We must stop behaving as people do in the dark and be ready to live in the light.
  13. So behave properly, as people do in the day. Don't go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent. Don't quarrel or be jealous.
  14. Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won't try to satisfy your selfish desires.

    Paul covered three topics in this chapter: submission to governmental authorities, love for one another, and a Christian lifestyle.

    Our response to Paul's first topic, submission to governmental authorities, will be filtered through our own experiences with governmental authorities. Whether those experiences are good or not so good, we can think of situations which seem to take exception with Paul's exhortation to submit to these authorities. But we must remind ourselves that if we accept all scripture as being God-breathed and authoritative in our lives, we cannot embrace Paul's teaching on the subject of mutual love and reject his teaching on submission to government authority.

    Paul could have taken exception with his own teaching on this point given his personal experiences with governmental authorities. For on more than one occasion he was unjustly treated by such authorities. There were occasions that Paul, as do we, had to choose between obedience to these authorities and obedience to God when they were in opposition. But even when he chose to obey God rather than the authorities, he submitted to them, willingly accepting the repercussions of his choice. Never did Paul speak out against these authorities or attempt to stir up the Christian community against the injustices of governmental authority even in light of the persecution against Christians. He saw the authority as being instituted by God and failure to submit as disobedience to God.

    Paul, as did Jesus, summarized the law in love, saying, "Love . . .  is the fulfillment of the law." (13:10) How can this be? Because love does no wrong to another. This, then, eliminates adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, or any other such action. For each of the ten commandments is a prohibition against unloving or hateful actions against God and man.

    The chapter concludes with a reminder to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," another way of saying, "Become like Christ." (13:14)  In so doing, we will not be inclined to "deeds of darkness" such as carousing, drunkenness, sexual impurity, quarreling, or jealousy. Paul is exhorting Christians to be prepared for the Lord's return. The night - the time of His absence - is nearly over, and the daylight - the time of His coming - is near.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reflections on Romans 12

    Romans 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God.
  2. Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.
  3. I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you.
  4. A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use.
  5. That's how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.
  6. God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have.
  7. If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach.
  8. If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.
  9. Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.
  10. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.
  11. Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord.
  12. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.
  13. Take care of God's needy people and welcome strangers into your home.
  14. Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them.
  15. When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad.
  16. Be friendly with everyone. Don't be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.
  17. Don't mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others,
  18. and do your best to live at peace with everyone.
  19. Dear friends, don't try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, "I am the one to take revenge and pay them back."
  20. The Scriptures also say, "If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads."
  21. Don't let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.

    Beginning with chapter 12, Paul transitions from doctrine to practical Christianity. He begins the practical portion by urging his readers to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice." (12:1) For those coming out of a religious practice of offering dead sacrifices, this is understood as the offering of the total self to God. It is, Paul says, a spiritual worship. It is, I think, the greatest, most pleasing worship we can give God. However sincere our worship may be in singing songs and voicing praise to God, the giving of ourselves is, as they say, "what it's all about." It is the worship God truly desires. Paul says it is "holy and pleasing to God." (12:1)

    A second "urging" Paul gives his readers is to "not be conformed to this age" but rather to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." (12:2) In so doing, they will be able to discern God's will which they will find to be good and pleasing. The word transformation translates a Greek word which is like the English word "metamorphosis," a total change from inside out. It is the mind that is the key to this transformation, and the transformation is the key to discerning God's will. It comes about by focusing the mind, dwelling on, God and His word. As the mind is renewed through this process of focusing on God and His word, our actions are also transformed.

    In the following verses, Paul describes what this transformation, this giving of our bodies as living sacrifices, looks like in action. He begins with what it will look like within the church. They will not be prideful, they will embrace the diversity of the many believers and will exercise their various spiritual gifts appropriately while showing "family affection to one another," outdoing "one another in showing honor," and being "in agreement with one another." (12:10, 16) Outside the church, with unbelievers, how will this transformation look? They will not repay evil for evil. They will live at peace with everyone as much as it is within their power. They will treat their enemy with kindness and by so doing will "be heaping fiery coals on his head." (12:20)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reflections on Romans 11

    Romans 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Am I saying that God has turned his back on his people? Certainly not! I am one of the people of Israel, and I myself am a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin.
  2. God did not turn his back on his chosen people. Don't you remember reading in the Scriptures how Elijah complained to God about the people of Israel?
  3. He said, "Lord, they killed your prophets and destroyed your altars. I am the only one left, and now they want to kill me."
  4. But the Lord told Elijah, "I still have seven thousand followers who have not worshiped Baal."
  5. It is the same way now. God was kind to the people of Israel, and so a few of them are still his followers.
  6. This happened because of God's undeserved kindness and not because of anything they have done. It could not have happened except for God's kindness.
  7. This means that only a chosen few of the people of Israel found what all of them were searching for. And the rest of them were stubborn,
  8. just as the Scriptures say, "God made them so stupid that their eyes are blind, and their ears are still deaf."
  9. Then David said, "Turn their meals into bait for a trap, so that they will stumble and be given what they deserve.
  10. Blindfold their eyes! Don't let them see. Bend their backs beneath a burden that will never be lifted."
  11. Do I mean that the people of Israel fell, never to get up again? Certainly not! Their failure made it possible for the Gentiles to be saved, and this will make the people of Israel jealous.
  12. But if the rest of the world's people were helped so much by Israel's sin and loss, they will be helped even more by their full return.
  13. I am now speaking to you Gentiles, and as long as I am an apostle to you, I will take pride in my work.
  14. I hope in this way to make some of my own people jealous enough to be saved.
  15. When Israel rejected God, the rest of the people in the world were able to turn to him. So when God makes friends with Israel, it will be like bringing the dead back to life.
  16. If part of a batch of dough is made holy by being offered to God, then all of the dough is holy. If the roots of a tree are holy, the rest of the tree is holy too.
  17. You Gentiles are like branches of a wild olive tree that were made to be part of a cultivated olive tree. You have taken the place of some branches that were cut away from it. And because of this, you enjoy the blessings that come from being part of that cultivated tree.
  18. But don't think you are better than the branches that were cut away. Just remember that you are not supporting the roots of that tree. Its roots are supporting you.
  19. Maybe you think those branches were cut away, so that you could be put in their place.
  20. That's true enough. But they were cut away because they did not have faith, and you are where you are because you do have faith. So don't be proud, but be afraid.
  21. If God cut away those natural branches, couldn't he do the same to you?
  22. Now you see both how kind and how hard God can be. He was hard on those who fell, but he was kind to you. And he will keep on being kind to you, if you keep on trusting in his kindness. Otherwise, you will be cut away too.
  23. If those other branches will start having faith, they will be made a part of that tree again. God has the power to put them back.
  24. After all, it wasn't natural for branches to be cut from a wild olive tree and to be made part of a cultivated olive tree. So it is much more likely that God will join the natural branches back to the cultivated olive tree.
  25. My friends, I don't want you Gentiles to be too proud of yourselves. So I will explain the mystery of what has happened to the people of Israel. Some of them have become stubborn, and they will stay like that until the complete number of you Gentiles has come in.
  26. In this way all of Israel will be saved, as the Scriptures say, "From Zion someone will come to rescue us. Then Jacob's descendants will stop being evil.
  27. This is what the Lord has promised to do when he forgives their sins."
  28. The people of Israel are treated as God's enemies, so that the good news can come to you Gentiles. But they are still the chosen ones, and God loves them because of their famous ancestors.
  29. God doesn't take back the gifts he has given or forget about the people he has chosen.
  30. At one time you Gentiles rejected God. But now Israel has rejected God, and you have been shown mercy.
  31. And because of the mercy shown to you, they will also be shown mercy.
  32. All people have disobeyed God, and that's why he treats them as prisoners. But he does this, so that he can have mercy on all of them.
  33. Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does?
  34. "Has anyone known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice?
  35. Has anyone loaned something to the Lord that must be repaid?"
  36. Everything comes from the Lord. All things were made because of him and will return to him. Praise the Lord forever! Amen.

    The first part of chapter 11 is difficult to grasp. It, in fact, seems at certain points to be contradictory. But in the later portion of the chapter Paul's arguments become much clearer.

    The question that begins the chapter, "has God rejected His people?" is immediately answered in the negative, "Absolutely not!"  But then Paul makes references to their rejection. This seems a contradiction. He also refers to God's foreknowledge and election which leaves us wondering if he is contradicting his earlier arguments in support of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But we discover in both cases that there is no contradiction with Paul's arguments, simply a lack of understanding by the reader.

    What about God's rejection of Israel? No, God has not totally rejected Israel for all time, but there has been a partial and temporary rejection. Paul's use of the olive tree to illustrate his point helps to clear this up. The tree is sound. Its roots and trunk are well-established. The early patriarchs are the foundation. God has not uprooted the tree and discarded it, but has removed branches that have not produced the fruit of faith. This is the partial rejection. And as we come to see, it is not based on God's arbitrary choice or election, but on the hardness of the hearts of those who refuse faith in Christ. We come to discover that Paul's reference to election does not refer to salvation but to God's choice of those He uses for His purposes, such as the patriarchs.

    The removal of Jewish branches from the tree has allowed for the grafting of Gentile branches into the tree. So this partial and temporary rejection of Jews serves the purpose of bringing Gentiles into the tree - that is, including them in God's plan of redemption. In time, many Jews will also be grafted into the tree, and eventually the bulk of Israel will return. This is after the full number of Gentiles have come in or been grafted into the tree. As Paul says, "I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: a partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in." (11:25)

    Paul concludes the chapter with a doxology of praise to God "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!" (11:33) Lest we be tempted to question God's wisdom or the justice or rightness of His plans, Paul states, "For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (11:34)  We don't fully understand God's purposes or fully know what He plans to do. We do best to hold our judgement of Him and His ways in check and to trust that He is wiser and more knowledgeable that we.