THE DIVINITY OF LOVE

 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1Cor13:4-8a)

The previous post focused on love as being the supreme human quality (13:13); here we affirm its divine origins . The Apostle John wrote eloquently about the subject in his epistles, especially his statement that “Love is OF GOD, and everyone who loves is born of God and has knowledge of God whereas he that does not love does not know God, for God IS love” (1Jn4:7,8). It also needs to be affirmed that human love is the same IN NATURE to that which God possesses, having been displayed to perfection in the earthly ministry of Christ. When asked by disciple Philip to “show us the Father and it will satisfy us”, Jesus’ replied, “Have I BEEN WITH YOU ALL THIS TIME and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father ?” (Jn14:9). This affirms that even during His earthly ministry, Jesus was the exact image of His Father (Heb1:3). And that image related to nature, not appearance – “being the image of THE INVISIBLE GOD” (Col1:15). Likewise, when God created man “in His own image”, that must also relate to nature. Of course, in man’s case that image has become tarnished by sin, but in the Christian at least it is being restored. For following Jesus’s retort to Philip, the Lord went on to say in the next verse, “For I am in the Father and the Father is in Me”. But the Christian can say, “I am in Christ and Christ is in me”. And if something of Christ’s nature is not already reflected in our lives and behavior, we are none of His.

The quality Paul describes when he writes “Love is patient, love is kind” etc. (v4) whether human or divine, cannot by its very nature be selective or exclusive. A loving earthly father may have a special affection for his wife and family but will show kindness and tolerance towards all, FOR THAT IS HIS NATURE; likewise our Father in heaven. Equally, the instincts that a Christ-like person should possess concerning what he or she knows to be right and just are not mere human reasoning but the outworking of a God-given human spirit. And instinctively, all right-minded people know in their hearts that it would be cruel and hateful to punish a living creature for not doing what it is innately incapable of doing, let alone banish its soul to eternal misery. And yet traditional (Augustinian-derived) Western theology implies just that concerning the Creator’s intentions towards much of humanity – the only explanation offered being that the divine nature is entirely beyond human comprehension and comparison. But as we have just shown, that contradicts the teaching of Christ concerning Himself as God-incarnate, and His beloved apostle John’s teaching concerning the nature and origin of love. Apart from which, if you do not already partake of the divine nature YOURSELF, you cannot be a Christian (2Pet1:4). For it is not God’s nature but His WAYS that are currently incomprehensible (Rom11:33-34). Consequently, it is no surprise that anyone reviewing human history and perceiving the world around them poses the question: “How could a loving God possibly allow such suffering and injustice to prevail so extensively and enduringly?” Well, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews in particular have dropped clues (Rom8:20-21; Heb2:10), whilst the book that these posts are promoting fills them out in more detail according to what I understand the Spirit to have revealed to me on the subject.

In terms of doctrine, satanic agencies that hate God and resent his plans for humanity know that it is virtually impossible to love, delight and whole-heartedly worship One whose nature appears to oppose the noblest instincts of one’s own. The best one can do is to offer praise to such a Being for electing to be merciful TO ME, even if, as in my case, the majority of people I have ever loved and known must face a lost eternity “to satisfy God’s perfect justice” or “in view of God’s holiness” as if that holiness did not primarily comprise the sublime quality we have been considering. It is no wonder such a perspective has been rejected or watered down by so many. Aware of God’s loving nature, especially as it has been revealed in Jesus, many mistakenly assume that human beings have the innate capability of responding to the Gospel and that God wishes as many as possible to do so. In both respects, this is a contradiction of the teaching of Jesus (Jn6:44), Luke (Acts13:48), John (Jn1:13) and more comprehensively, the epistles of Paul. As was the case with God’s choice of Israel in the Old Testament, Christian salvation has been prepared for those appointed to it and God’s sovereign choice in the matter is on the basis of unmerited grace. That is virtually impossible to reconcile with the equitable and loving nature of the Divinity presented in the bible in the context of the traditional Western binary all-of-grace soteriological model. Hence the prevalence of Arminian dilution or liberal wholesale rejection of the bible’s irrefutable teaching on election. But all makes perfect sense within the broader providential context I have been outlining, affirming Paul’s own description of God’s elect as those “redeemed from all iniquity, purified to be CHRIST’S OWN SPECIAL PEOPLE, filled with a zeal to do good works” (Tit2:14). As such they become the agents of God’s loving purposes for the world, not the sole beneficiaries.

However extraordinary God’s strategy may appear, especially the seemingly avoidable admittance of sin and suffering into the world, God’s will, whether perfect or permissive, is bound to be motivated BY LOVE. As hinted at in the two cryptic verses referred to earlier, human sin and its resultant suffering have actually been a positive, providing the grist required to raise mere children of dust to a glory that is likely to transcend the angels (previous post). Allowing Satan his victory at Eden was actually the ultimate expression of divine love in view of God’s foreknowledge of the cost to Himself and His Son in remedying the situation. It also paved the way for the humiliating defeat of His enemy, who having lost his exalted place in heaven through his resentment of God’s plans for humanity has actually facilitated their development through the suffering he has inflicted upon them (Heb2:10 again). And the remedy needed required God’s Word to take on HUMAN flesh – by Whom the world could be redeemed and individuals sanctified to become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, suffering with Him in the present in order to be glorified with Him in the future” (Rom8:17). Albeit feebly and inadequately, “The Little Book of Providence” goes on to expound God’s kindly intentions towards every member of the human race who can demonstrate by their love that they are in John’s words born of God (1Jn4:7), and by their acts of compassion that they already serve “Christ” (Mt25:37-40). I am careful to differentiate such “sheep” from those just referred to above who according to Christ “shall sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne (Rev3:21). Such unspeakable glory could hardly be reserved for the proverbial “world and his wife”, but it is for Christ and His (Rev19:7).

Why should there be such a disclosure at this time? I believe it is hinted at in Revelation (chapter 10), and more explicitly in the ex-canonical book of Enoch (Charles edition ch93:10 & ch104:11-13). An earlier post explained how that writing was regarded as inspired by many in the early Church and how its opening verse suggests it was never intended as a reference source for the Church throughout her history but for Christians living in the last days, hence its exclusion from the biblical canon. I would not dare presume that I or my writing directly pertain to these references, for prophets are generally clear that they are what they are, whilst I have received no such assurances. Yet if the venture is of God and genuinely Spirit-inspired it will prosper in due course. Alternatively, it may pave the way for someone clearly anointed to the task who can communicate effectively and with divine authority – a true “Elijah” that shall restore all things (Mt17:11), “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk1:17). That is to complete the task that John Baptist could never fulfil through no fault of his own. It was simply not his time in view of the Father’s secret plan for the Gentile nations that Paul outlined in Eph3:1-11 and referred to again in Rom11:11-12, the dispensational and providential implications of which have not been grasped (the focus of my first book, but reiterated in condensed form in the second, available at the link below).

But why should such a prophet be needed in anticipation of Christ’s SECOND coming, and how could polemical writing like mine, finding as it does error in every quarter, contribute to a united Church or the unified gospel presentation the world needs to hear prior to Christ’s return? Mt24:14(NASB) may offer a clue, the key phrase being “this gospel”, i.e. the demands and rewards of heirship to God’s Kingdom that Jesus and His disciples had been heralding. Also, some final thoughts from my first book:

“Reconciliation (of the churches) could never be accomplished from a one-sided position of “Told you so” but rather by the acknowledgement of ERROR BY ALL PARTIES. Such would be an effectual predisposition for the separated children in the churches to be reconciled with their Catholic/Orthodox fathers in the Faith, whilst the Jewish Fathers of the Faith may be reconciled with their Gentile children of the Kingdom who had been grafted in to provoke them to jealousy (Rom11). Prevarication may prolong what the Church and the world have to endure (Mal4:6b) so woe to any who would engender it by their failure to acknowledge error, frustrating the process of reconciliation. With such a warning were the Scriptures of the Old Testament dispensation concluded” – [Extract from “Fellowship of the Secret” – chapter 7] ***********************************************************

THE LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE” – Paperback, e-book and free PDF HERE

THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE

If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1Cor13:1-13)

It may surprise many that Paul teaches that genuine spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues are of no value to the practitioner if they are not accompanied by love. Likewise, seemingly selfless spiritual acts such as charitable giving, even a willingness to give oneself to martyrdom will do the individual no good unless the action has been motivated by love (v3). Yet this is entirely in accordance with what I have been testifying, namely that love is supreme to everything else, even our faith and hope for the future (v13). And whilst some of the distinctly spiritual gifts Paul has been outlining are exclusive to the Christian, love as he describes it here (vv4-7) assuredly is not. All (bar a certain category of human – see below) possess this Quality to a degree. And wherever true charity and love are to be found, God is there. All who love are born of God, know Him and are responding positively to that knowledge (cf. 1Jn4:7; Jn1:9KJV). God and His Son before whom they shall be judged delight in their acts of kindness and shall receive them into His Kingdom (Mt25:40). All who love and show compassion to others are justified in God’s sight – not in view of the works themselves which, as in the case of the Mt25 “sheep” are bound to be inconsistent and incomplete, but because of the “faith” from which they spring. For faith works through love (Greek;: πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη – Gal5:6). Love stems from faith; there cannot be the one without the other.

At the universal level, utilizing the language of second century Clement of Alexandria “it is that COMMON FAITH which lies beneath as a foundation that is built upon and consummated in those who come to faith in Christ”[note 1]. Such concepts of natural law were later set aside by the Catholic Church [note 2], especially through the influence of 5th century Augustine, and rejected altogether by the 16th century Protestant Reformers. Thereby has the breadth of God’s benign providence and the scope of Christ’s saving work been diminished. For as I have frequently pointed out, “natural law” is something of a misnomer for it pertains to innate spiritual faculties and to Christ’s identity as Logos and His activity as Savior of the world [note 3]. [No doubt to the displeasure of some readers, I have frequently had to return to this subject for it is an essential piece of the providential jigsaw].

 But I make no apology for returning to the subject of “ἀγάπη” (compassionate love), for it is both the essence of God (1Jn4:8) and the defining marker for the bulk of humanity who have retained His image in their hearts – and the relative few who have not, being devoid of a functioning conscience to prompt or motivate them, they lack any caring compassion or empathy towards the rest of humanity – especially the weakest, aka Christ (Mt25:37-40). As for the equally substantial distinction between the many (Mt25 “sheep”) who through their acts of compassion show that they are born of God, and the proportional few incorporated into the body of Christ (previous post), it is only the latter who can receive the necessary preparation for betrothal to the Lord of Glory and share His domain through eternity (Rev19:7).

Prophecy and words of knowledge, including any I have proffered, shall pass away. For they are at best incomplete: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (v12). What remains and endures at the individual level is faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.

NOTES

[1] Clement of Alexandria (A.D.153-217) The Stromata Book V chap. 1

2] The Catholic Church has subsequently and formally incorporated dogma regarding God’s gracious dealings with those outside the Church at its Second Vatican Council (1960s). The constitutions were framed in such a way as to try to avoid conflicting with earlier conciliar pronouncements, especially those which had warned of the perilous state of those outside the Catholic Church, Christian or otherwise. Though much to be welcomed, the about-face presents something of a problem for the Church whilst she continues to insist upon the immutability or infallibility of all earlier conciliar/papal decrees. And in the context of this exercise, statements such as “Divine providence shall not deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who without any fault of theirs have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life [Lumen Gentium 16]” will cut little ice with Evangelicals who rightly demand such decrees be clearly underpinned from Scripture. Regrettably, this cannot be achieved without some substantial deconstruction – particularly with respect to some of 5th century Augustine’s distinctive biblical interpretations, many of which became foundational to Western theology. Hence “The Little Book of Providence” and the measure of vexation it must unavoidably cause to some Christian traditions if God’s intelligible goodness and boundless benevolence is to be proclaimed and explained by the Church to the world – especially in anticipation of the imminent return of the One whom heaven has received until the period of the restoration of all things” (Acts3:21).

[3] Earlier posts most relevant to this subject:

https://richard777.blog/2021/03/20/conscience-and-the-cosmic-christ

https://richard777.blog/2021/01/11/love-fulfils-the-law

CHURCH: THE BODY OF CHRIST

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And yet, I am going to show you a far better way (1Cor12:27-31).

Having just celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we remember that His ascension soon followed. For He was the One whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things, about which God spoke by the mouths of His holy prophets from ancient times”(Acts3:21). Yet Christ has not entirely departed from the planet for the Church remains as “the body of Christ” as Paul outlines here. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (v27). “For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ (v12). Note how Paul describes the Church here simply as “Christ”. That has providential implications to what he relates later in his epistle concerning the Lord’s coming again: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive23 But each in his own order: firstly Christ the first fruitsNote 1 , after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (15:22-23NASB).

For as I am in the business of demonstrating, Christ’s mystical body does not comprise the totality of those God loves and towards whom His intentions are benevolent; rather they are the agency for a continuation of His saving work on earth as well as the company of people being fitted through the Holy Spirit’s energies and their own self discipline to become His Son’s corporate Spouse in the ages to come (1Cor9:27; Rev19:7). In the present, this mystical body is intended to show the Way, reveal the Truth and provide the means of Life to the rest of the world; the latter (spiritual life) only being provided to those who themselves become incorporated into that body. That is especially so that the latter might partake of the “cup of blessing” that Paul referred to earlier in his epistle (10:16) which I examined in my previous post. To this end, God’s Spirit has provided gifts to the various members of the body so that she may function effectively. Whilst it is by no means wrong for individual members to desire the greater gifts, Paul is about to demonstrate a still better way (v31). He shall explain in the next chapter that even the greatest gifts of the Spirit shall be of no avail unless their outworking is motivated by  “ἀγάπη” (compassionate love).

Note

  1. God’s elect (the Church) as well as Jesus Himself being referred to as “Christ” and also the “firstfruits of creation” (James1:18; 1Cor15:23)

1cor11 THE LORD’S SUPPER

20 When you come together it is hardly befitting of the Lord’s Supper, 21 for when you eat, each one takes his own supper first; one goes hungry while another gets drunk! 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What am I to say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord28 But a person must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, have him eat at home, so that you do not come together for judgment. As to the remaining matters, I will give instructions when I come (1Cor11:20-34).

Whilst the first part of 1Cor11 dealt with the intriguing subject of why women should wear head coverings in religious assemblies (previous post) we now move on to the more crucial issue of the Lord’s supper and its precise nature. Paul doesn’t elucidate too much on the latter here; he is more concerned with how the Corinthians were conducting themselves at the Lord’s Supper – disgracefully in some cases, the narrative largely speaking for itself. But why are the penalties for partaking unworthily so drastic? “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased” (v30). Such would hardly be the penalty for half-hearted hymn singing or insincere praying – No, the Lord’s Supper is quite different and special.

A few chapters back Paul described the chalice as “the cup of blessing that we bless, being the communion of the blood of Christ” (10:16). For the first 25 years of my Christian life, I understood the bread and wine to be merely symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. My understanding has changed, particularly since the spiritual encounter that led to my book and these posts. That is especially in view of Jesus’ teaching in John 6, not least where He states:

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. THIS IS THE BREAD THAT HAS COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (Jn6:49-52)

This harks back to the previous chapter of Paul’s epistle currently being considered (1Cor10) in which he warned the Corinthian Church that they were no more spiritually secure than their Jewish forefathers who were as much “the people of God” as they were. However, there is a difference, for as the text from Jn6 indicates, until Jesus was incarnated, lived, died and was resurrected, the bread of Life and cup of salvation were not available. Yet if the latter were merely symbolic, why would that have mattered? But it did matter: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I AM THE LIVING BREAD THAT HAS (ONLY NOW) COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN” (Jn6:49). Likewise, the symbolic “drinking from the rock that represented Christ” (1Cor10) did not result in the spiritual life to which Jesus referred. Neither did the animal sacrifices: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually every year, make those who approach perfect” (Heb10:1), whereas the blood of Christ can provide both pardon and sanctification to the participant. Again, if the latter were merely symbolic why would the animal’s blood and sacrifice that prefigured Christ’s atoning death not have been equally efficacious?

But then there is the witness of the earliest Christian writers and that is what ratified the issue for me. The matter is of such importance that I suggest you read my earlier post focusing on this subject. Then if (and only if) after perhaps months and years of prayerful research your understanding changes concerning “the real presence”, then regrettably you are likely to have to do as I did some years ago – reconsider your denominational allegiance.

FOR THE SAKE OF THE ANGELS

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I handed them down to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well cut her hair off. However, given that clearly it is disgraceful for a woman to shave her hair, she must surely cover her head. For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman needs to have authority on her head because of the angels11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originated from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman, whilst all things originate from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does even nature itself not teach you that if a man has long hair, it dishonors him, 15 whereas if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her as a covering. 16 But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1Cor11:2-16)

Firstly, a brief comment on Paul’s opening commendation of the Corinthians for “holding firmly to the traditions, just as I handed them down to you”. Παραδόσεις should rightly be translated “traditions” (as in the NASB) since it relates to that which has been handed down. Elsewhere Paul writes “Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (2Thes2:15 New King James Version). It must be remembered that the earliest Christians were not reliant upon biblical text but also verbal instruction which no doubt provided clarification on that text, not least the decidedly intricate teachings of the apostle Paul, which, even in apostolic times, Peter observed were being dangerously misinterpreted (2Pet3:15-16). That is why, given the fragmented state of the Church, the writings of the earliest Church Fathers are an important reference sauce, especially concerning vital issues such as the true nature of the Eucharist which we will come to later in this chapter (next post). That is surely more crucial than whether women should wear hats in Church which is the concern of the current passage., Nevertheless, Paul’s teaching here raises some intriguing issues upon which I shall now briefly comment.

The apostle sets out the divine order of things: “Christ is the head of every man” (v3), Note: “every man”, not just Christian men, for in that case He would equally be the head of every Christian woman, for in Christ there is no distinction between male and female (Gal3:28). No, this pertains to humanity as a whole: “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; so man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (vv8-9). Likewise, Paul teaches that God is the head of Christ (v3). But that is in the same sense that man is the head of woman. Is a woman any less human than a man? The same applies to Christ and His Father. However, Paul routinely indicates by his language that there is a distinct order within the Godhead. And it does not just relate to the fact that the Word became flesh, i.e. that God’s only begotten Son became a man for humanity’s sake. Carefully observe Paul’s words: “There is only one God and He is the Father FROM whom are all things, and we exist FOR Him, and there is one Lord who is Jesus Christ, BY whom are all things, and we exist THROUGH Him” (1Cor8:6). Paul always refers to Jesus as “Christ” which is not a surname but a title meaning the Anointed or Chosen One. Yet he also writes: “(Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn over every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and by Him all things consist” (Col1:15-17). So, regardless of the supreme monarchical status of the Father, one must surely bow down and worship His Son – and with disciple Thomas proclaim: “my Lord and my God” (Jn20:28).

Coming to women’s head coverings in public prayer and worship, there are various theories concerning what Paul is teaching here. But firstly, note how Paul describes man as the image and glory of God. This applies even to man in his fallen state, especially (but not exclusively – Gen9:6) in the case of one who is born again of the Spirit. But, says Paul, woman is the glory of man, for woman was created for man, not vice versa – therefore men’s heads should be uncovered whilst women need a covering. Clearly, the anatomical head is representative of being in charge, such as the head of a company or household or family. But the key issues in this passage pertain to authority and to angels. Paul understands in accordance with Jewish tradition that angels are invisibly present when the people of God meet to pray or worship. Some believe Paul to be alluding back to the fallen watchers referred to in Genesis 6 and Jude 6 who “left their appointed place” to have illicit relations with women – that the attending angels might be tempted to stray once more at the sight of women with their heads uncovered. Surely it is the men in attendance, still in mortal flesh, who would be more likely to have a problem in that area than the sanctified spirits of angels. Then there are those who understand the head covering to pertain to the fact that woman were under the subjection of men represented by the fact that the latter may bare their heads. The problem there is that Paul is saying women need to RECEIVE authority or a symbol of authority and that it is because of the angels. A few posts ago I commented on Paul’s teaching that God’s elect were to judge the world and angels (1Cor6:3). That may seem extraordinary to some, for currently humankind are to be considered a little lower than the angels (Heb2:7). After all, they were created first, they have heavenly bodies, they dwell in God’s immediate presence and minister to Him directly. But it is that extraordinary passage in Hebrews (2:5-10) that provides the clue to the solution. For it is not angels but mankind who shall rule the world to come (v5). Humanity’s destiny, in particular those chosen for Christ, is to rule with Christ through the ages.

Going back to Christ’s supremacy over the created order, that same writer to the Hebrews enquired: “To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son, Today I have fathered You”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him and He will be a Son to Me”? (Heb1:5). And “To which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? (Heb1:13).  But now I shall pose some further questions: To which of the angels did Jesus ever say: “I regard you as My own kith and kin” (cf. Mt12:50); “I who sanctify you and you who are being sanctified ARE ONE, therefore I am not ashamed to call you my brothers and sisters (Heb2:11). And to which of the angels has Christ ever said, “My Father has chosen you to become my corporate Bride through eternity” (cf. Rev19:7). Need I go on?   It pertains to the fact that the Word of God has been incarnated as a Man, not an Angel. And if Jesus Christ has authority over the angels, then so shall those He regards as His corporate Bride who must surely share His domain.  That applies to Christian women as much as to men, so given the current order of things in terms of the created order, marriage and the ordering of the Church, particularly as Paul has decreed these matters, men and women’s equal status in Christ needs to be manifested. That is not least, for the sake of the angels – some of whom rebelled when they learnt of God’s plans for humanity’s apotheosis whilst the rest still desire to look into these matters (1Pet1:12). The supreme irony at Satan’s expense is that the rebellion he led and the damage he inflicted on the world has enabled humanity rather than the angels to be ideally prepared for future glory. Paul provides a hint to this mystery in Rom8:20-21; the writer to the Hebrews still more so in Heb2:10, whilst the matter is worked out in detail in “The Little Book of Providence”: free PDF HERE

PAUL’S WARNING TO THE COMPLACENT

 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the Shekinah and they all had passed through the (Red) Sea; and they all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and they all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which accompanied them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased; for their dead bodies were spread out in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they indeed craved them. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Nor are we to commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor are we to put the Lord to the test, as some of them did, and were killed by the snakes. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the purpose of the ages are being fulfilled. 12 Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall. (1Cor10:1-12)

The opening conjunction “for” (Greek: γὰρ) indicates that Paul is about to provide a reason or develop the point he had just made at the end of chapter 9. That had concerned his disciplining of his own body (and its sensual instincts), otherwise there was a danger that “having preached to others I might myself be disqualified” (9:27). He sensed that some within the Corinthian church were in danger of complacency. After all, thought they, we have all been baptized into Christ and been delivered from the spiritual exile of the world to be brought into the company of God’s people, and had partaken of spiritual food and drunk at the Lord’s table. But as Paul reminded them, that had similarly applied to their Jewish forbears of the Old Testament. They likewise had been led out of slavery across the Red Sea to freedom as the children of God; they had been under the protection of the Shekinah/Cloud that represented God’s presence amongst them. They had been “baptized into Moses” just as the Corinthian believers had been baptized into Christ. Their Jewish forbears had also “drunk from a spiritual rock”, which figuratively speaking had represented and prefigured Christ and the Eucharist. In terms of their status and privileges as God’s chosen people, these Jews had been no less spiritually provided for and were just as much “the people of God” as the Corinthian believers. And yet God had been mightily displeased with many of them to the point of the physical destruction of thousands of their number (v5). Why? Because of their sexual immorality and idolatry (cf. Ex32:5-7). As the offspring of Isaac, they had been the intended children of the kingdom (cf. Mt8:11-12), being members of the Covenant of Promise. And such now is the Church (Gal4:28).

So, was Paul speaking hypothetically about something that in reality could never happen to a Christian? Those believing in “the guaranteed perseverance of the saints” might wish that to be the case but it is not so. For this warning is in line with several others Paul has issued. Writing concerning the Gentiles being likened to a wild olive plant grafted into the rich root that was the Jewish nation the apostle concluded: “(The Jews) were broken off for their unbelief whilst you stand by your faith. But do not be conceited, rather fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either” (Rom11:20-21). And again, writing to Christians at Rome: “If you live according to the flesh you shall die, but if by the spirit you put to death the passionate instincts of the body you shall live” (Rom8:13). The only sense in which a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints holds true is that God already knows who shall marry His Son! (cf. Rev19:7) But that divine foreknowledge has no relevance to the believer in terms of their earthly pilgrimage. Hence Paul’s warning: “Therefore, let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (v12). Taken in context of the broader benign providence being outlined, such a caveat need not detract from Paul’s overall message which is still wondrously good news.

PAUL – GOD’S ATHLETE

24 Do you not know that those who run in a stadium all run BUT ONLY ONE RECEIVES THE PRIZE? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the Games exercises self-control in all things. Whilst they do it to obtain a perishable crown, we (do so)  for an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way as not to do so aimlessly; I box in such a way as to avoid merely hitting air; 27 rather I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, SO THAT, AFTER I HAVE PREACHED TO OTHERS, I MYSELF WILL NOT BE DISQUALIFIED. (1Cor9:24-27)

What prize might that be for which Paul is competing? “I press on toward the goal being the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi3:14}. And does the apostle regard this prize as a foregone conclusion? On the contrary, speaking of it in the previous verse: “Brothers, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead”. And in the chapter under consideration: “I therefore strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1Cor9:27). Only when he was virtually on his death-bed was the apostle able to write: “The time of my departure has arrived. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;in the future there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to meon that day(2Tim4:6-8).

Clearly, this is the language of the race-track – sporting analogies abound. And not for the first time, the picture Paul paints of Gospel salvation is about as far removed as it could be from what I believed during the first 25 years or so of my Christian pilgrimage. But what Paul is teaching follows on very logically from the points made in the previous post. In particular, that those who do achieve the prize or “the crown of righteousness” to which Paul refers shall be proportionately speaking few in number. Those outside the Judeo-Christian Covenants of Promise (i.e. the bulk of people who have ever lived) have not even embarked upon the race, let alone been able to win the prize. Those who do embark were enabled to do so through divine intervention (Jn6:44). Christ teaches in that verse that man is innately incapable of turning to Him as Lord and Savior and this reality is backed up by Paul. Election to the Covenant of Promise (Eph2:12) is on the basis of free and unmerited grace, even one’s faith in Christ being a gift of God (Eph2:8).

However, the “all of grace” paradigm pertains to election, not to completing the course, which, though dependent on divine grace (for sure) also requires an effort from the participant, especially in the area to which Paul repeatedly returns: defying the concupiscent instincts of the bodily senses which conflict with the  nobler aspirations derived from the God-given spirit or “inner man” (Rom7:23 & 8:13). Therefore, the apostle summarizes his Roman amphitheater analogy with this statement: “I strictly DISCIPLINE MY BODY and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (v27)).  Jesus said of those who would gain the prize to which Paul refers “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt16:25). Do not be deceived as I was by simplistic conversionism: the notion of “getting saved” by reciting a prayer of faith, believing Jesus died for ME, resting in the Savior’s merits and suchlike. Such dispositions in themselves shall gain no prizes: Christians have been set a course to run; and as Paul and (still more) the writer to the Hebrews make clear, by no means all shall complete it. Likewise, in Revelation, few within the churches were found worthy to partner Christ through eternity (Rev3:4).  

This may be a reality check but should dishearten no one, for the above does not relate to whether or not the soul goes to heaven when one dies. That is determined by what many refer to as “natural law”, the outworking of which is summarized in the New Testament’s definitive passage on final judgement in which those who have exercised compassion are accepted whilst those utterly devoid of it (and a compliant conscience to motivate such responses) go on to receive post-mortem punishment (Mt25:31-46). As I have previously explained “natural law” in the anthropological context is something of a misnomer, for essentially it relates to God’s Law written in the heart, innate God-given spiritual faculties and the saving work of Christ.  In other words, it relates to the conscience and the Cosmic Christ depicted in my previous post,

Be assured, God desires that ALL should ultimately have the opportunity to be soul-healed and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim2:4). And He who is Love personified sent His only begotten Son to die as an atonement for sins in the flesh (Rom8:3). This was for a dual purpose: to purchase “a peculiar people and royal priesthood (1Pet2:9) who give their lives in devotion to His Son, but also to provide pardon and final acceptance for the many more who, although unempowered to defeat the corruptions of the flesh nevertheless respond positively to the Light of conscience, effectively serving “Christ” through the kindness and love they have shown to others (cf. Jn1:9KJV; Mt25:40, 1n4:7). This is not mere wishful thinking – it is, I believe, a revelation of the Spirit resulting in a systematized  reinterpretation of the whole bible set out in “The Little Book of Providence”, a PDF of which is available HERE.

CONSCIENCE AND THE COSMIC CHRIST

But take care that this freedom of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will his conscience, if he is weak, not be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge the ONE WHO IS WEAK IS RUINED, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to sin (1Cor8:9-13)

I commented in the previous post that I did not think there was much in 1Cor8 that particularly pertained to my area of concern (broader benign providence). Reflecting overnight I became aware that that is far from the case. It pertains again to the issue of conscience and how at the personal level it is supreme over everything, even religious faith or biblical truth. For that is what Paul is effectively saying here and he made a similar point in Rom14 (vv14-23). The weaker brother Paul sites believes that he should not eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. The truth is that this individual is wrong about the matter as Paul explained at the opening of the chapter. But what matters is not whether it is right or wrong, even whether it is biblically true or false, but what the person in question’s conscience dictates on the matter. Paul’s language is especially strong: a Christian who defies (and thereby defiles) his conscience is in danger of utter ruin. Observe how the Greek word for lost/destroyed/ruined [ἀπόλλυμι] is used in the bible [You can do so HERE]. You will see this cannot be referring to a Christian merely losing his sense of peace (so, Reformed commentator John Gill) but  it implies moral ruin, loss of personal salvation, an undoing the work for which Christ died (v11), which in the case of the Christian pertains to both pardon and sanctification through personal participation in the life of Christ (Rom5:10).

Yet surely Paul is touching here upon a universal principle, for a functioning conscience is not confined to the Christian but has been provided to all, albeit in the third soteriological category I have identified it fails to function – see earlier post . As Paul writes elsewhere and exactly in this context, whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom14:23). By “not of faith” you will observe in the context that he is not referring to faith in Christ or the lack of it but adherence or otherwise to the dictates of conscience. For truly, faith at the universal level pertains to the conscience. It is “the law of God written in the heart” (Rom2:15). The conscience does not reside in the brain, it functions through it (which is why many psychopaths have been shown to have an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex for there has been little conscience-related or empathetic activity to process). The divinely ordered principles of humane living that this facility provides to the human mind are not derived from sperm or ovaries, they pertain to the God-planted human spirit, ultimately to the incarnate Word Himself (cf. Jn1:9KJV; Mt18:6). This helps explain the strength of Paul’s language and why conscience is the overriding determinant in what is to be regarded as sinful or acceptable in the sight of God. St John Henry Newman rightly described the conscience as the universal revelation of God, anterior to the Gospel and supreme over all other human faculties providing everyone with “a clear and sufficient object of faith” [1].

Further, if as Paul writes “whatever is not of faith is sin” then it follows that everything that is not sinful, i.e. actions with which the conscience concurs and that are in the spirit of God’s Law (for example acts of compassion shown by the Matthew chapter 25 “sheep”)  pertain to what God regards as a form of faith. And as that definitive passage on final judgement demonstrates it is “faith” (working through love) that justifies, even when it does not relate to religious belief or practice (which Jesus does not so much as mention). However, it does relate to the Cosmic Christ, through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Heb2:10) – the Son of Man who identifies with the neediest members of the human race and says: ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did (an act of kindness) for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me (Mt25:40).

Such common faith being a direct response to the workings of conscience does not of itself save a person for it does not deal with mankind’s underlying problem being what Paul describes elsewhere as “the body of this death”, the sole remedy for which is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior together with the energies of the Holy Spirit. Such is reserved for those “predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom8:29), Given that they are destined to be the corporate bride of Christ to rule with Him through eternity, it should be no surprise that a large swathe of humanity does not fall into that category. But neither are that majority the “children of the devil” referred to by Jesus, John and Paul – hateful towards their fellows and devoid of conscience and compassion (Mt25 again); albeit given that such people are often able to charm the birds from the trees, they are not always identifiable by the rest.

All this will make perfect sense once the three soteriological categories I have been systematically adducing form the Scriptures are perceived, together with the vastly broader benign providence that results from such an analysis. And as should be evident from the above, the Cosmic Christ is at the heart of all this, whether it be the Matthew 25 “sheep” who shall be accepted at last into the Father’s Kingdom or the saints who shall reign with Christ through eternity – there is no salvation for anyone apart from Him.

[1] John Henry Newman: “Grammar of Ascent” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammar_of_Assent

LIMITATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge can make one conceited whereas love edifies people. If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. Therefore, concerning the eating of food sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is only one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him (1Cor8:1-6)

Just a reminder that these posts are not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on each chapter of the bible; rather I am drawing out those aspects which either endorse or (according to the usual interpretations) challenge the broader benign providence I have been outlining in “The Little Book of Providence”. Nevertheless, if you have been following these posts or should you scan through them now you will observe that there is at least something to be said in that context within each and every chapter of the New Testament covered so far. However, in 1Cor8 my comments do not directly apply to my book** but to myself as its author. Nor do they focus on the primary point Paul is making in the chapter. That is to caution Christians about the use of their liberties, in this case the freedom or otherwise to eat food sacrificed to idols. A flagrant exhibition of doing what one is personally clear is OK may potentially wound the conscience of a fellow believer who (albeit mistakenly) believes that same activity to be prohibited – the use of alcohol might be a more contemporary example.

My main observation rather pertains to Paul’s general statement concerning knowledge itself: “Knowledge can make one conceited whereas love edifies people. If anyone thinks that he knows something, he has not yet known as he ought to know” (vv1b-2). Now I embarked upon this process because as a result of what I understand to be a prophetic insight I have come to understand the bible in a way I previously did not, the authenticity of which is affirmed at the personal level by the new interpretation’s ability to make the teaching of the Old Testament, Jesus and the various apostles entirely coherent. So I must take heed to St Paul when effectively he is saying “You think you have knowledge others do not possess? My friend, you (and I) currently don’t know the half of it!” (v2). And he will go on to write: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1Cor13:12). Note, the great apostle does not say “you” but “we” do not know these things. How much more should I or anyone claiming to have “words of knowledge” or a “prophetic insight”, even if we believe them to be from the Holy Spirit, acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge. That I am observing this principle should be evident from my previous post, in particular regarding the precise nature of the age to come, the geophysical aspects of the “New Earth” and the activities in which its inhabitants shall be engaged – beyond, that is, praising their God and Saviour for His munificent and undeserved benevolence towards them.  

** The PDF version is freely available HERE

THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH

 29 This I say, brothers, time has become short such that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the world in its current form is to pass away (1Cor7:29-31)

As I observed in a recent post it is evident that Paul envisaged the coming of Christ to be imminent. The apostle is not commenting here on the brevity of mortal life in comparison to eternity as some preachers utilize this text. For it would hardly be appropriate to tell Christian husbands to act as if they had no wives, especially in view of what he wrote in the opening of this chapter concerning married partners’ duties to each other (vv2-5), Nor of course in the context of establishing families and building the faith for future generations would it be practical for as many Christians as possible to remain single (v7)! The exhortation must either be in the context of anticipated short-term persecutions or the tribulations pertaining to the end of the age. The verses I have featured strongly suggest it is the latter (vv29+31). Either way, Paul will certainly not have envisaged the dispensation in which he lived and preached to continue for another 2000 years.

But as Jesus Himself affirmed, Heaven and Earth are to pass away, but as to when that shall happen no one knows; neither the prophets, nor the angels, nor even the Son of God but the Father alone (Mk13:31-32). As I have also been indicating (as does Paul when he is rightly understood), the same has applied to the current age – its precise nature, purpose and in particular its duration was known only to the Father (Eph3:3-11; cf. Acts1:7).

The Lord’s return is the point at which the world is put to rights (i.e. judged), after which God shall come down from Heaven to dwell with men (Rev21:1-3) As that passage affirms, heaven in its current form shall no longer exist. Earth, according to Revelation and the Apostle Peter shall either be radically renewed or replaced, but terrestrial life shall continue. The new earth to which John’s Revelation and Peter’s epistle refer shall be a place where righteousness dwells (2Pet3:13). For the wicked (children of the devil) will have been removed (Mt13:49) and God through Christ and His saints shall reign in a more immediate, executive sense (Rev5:10). For what Scripture is clear about is that when God’s Kingdom is fully realized the world order (Greek: κόσμος) will radically change. In Jesus’ words, many who are first shall be last and vice versa. This is the time Paul is alluding to in this passage and he was expecting it to be imminent, but it wasn’t for reasons I explained in a recent post. It is not just the extraordinary scope and scale of the Gentile’s Kingdom inheritance (to which Paul refers in Rom11:25) that was delaying matters, but phenomena regarding which no first century apostle could possibly have been aware. In particular, long-term technological developments which the Lord has determined need to be in place – not necessarily for the Parousia itself which will be a miraculous event, but for what is required so that His people may prepare for it, and (for all we know) for what might be established thereafter.

Exploring the mystery of divine providence