INTRODUCING PAUL’S LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, just as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you eagerly await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christwho will also confirm you to the end, blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1Cor1:1-9)

Having introduced himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul addresses his audience as “the church which is in Corinth”. Of course, there were no church buildings as such in Paul’s time (probably until the third century), so “church” (Greek: ἐκκλησία) in Scripture always refers to a people, never a building. Christians don’t “go to church” – they are the church, for  ἐκκλησία literally means, “the called out ones”. People are called out, buildings are constructed and then may be set aside for a sacred purpose. Yet reading on through Paul’s introduction, that is rather like the Christian. Such, he says, were called and reconstructed so as to be “ἁγίοις”, often translated saints or holy ones. Again, ἁγίοις primarily invokes the idea of being set apart, by or for God, for sacred use.

As these descriptions should illustrate and I will continue to demonstrate, the Church is not the totality of people whom God loves and has great plans for; she is “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9). For “Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all; (a fact) to be testified in due time” (1Tim2:6).

THE PURPOSE OF PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP

14 And concerning you, my brothers and sisters, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom15:14-16)

Coming towards the end of his Magnus Opus, Paul affirms the Roman Church of his time to be a people who were “full of goodness”, knowledgeable and able admonish one another (v14). Contrary to the depiction of some Christians, the Church is not merely to be an “assembly of justified sinners”. The people consecrated to Christ should aspire to be like the churches in Rome of Paul’s day which the apostle delighted in – an assemblly of those who like the seed that fell on the good ground are noble of heart, zealous for good works and bearing much fruit (cfTit2:14). As we shall shortly observe, the same could not be said of the Church at Corinth (1Cor3:3).

Likewise, some Christians take comfort or alternatively believe it to be an act of piety for Paul to regard himself as still “the chief of sinners”. But every account of the Apostle’s post-conversion life and ministry shows him to be a thoroughly spiritual man who had “lived in all good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts23:1). He was someone whose behaviour set a pattern for his converts to imitate. Speaking of himself and his fellow workers “our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience that in godly sincerity and purity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world” (2Cor1:12). That is hardly the testimony of one who still regarded himself as the “chief of sinners” (1Tim1:15). That description had been in the context of what he had referred to just two verses earlier concerning his pre-conversion attempt to tear apart the infant Church of Jesus Christ. It was in the past but should remind us all that God’s elective choice is entirely a matter of grace.

And why was Paul chosen? It was “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v16). And it is also why he was called as the thirteenth faithful apostle “out of due time”. For as I have been endeavouring to explain, it was never foretold in the Old Testament that members of the Gentile nations could themselves become an offering to the Creator in the sense of a sanctified people chosen to participate as the Israel of God (cf. Rom11:24-25). This had been Paul’s Good News – in his words “that the Gentiles should become fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light the dispensation pertaining to the secret (plan) which for ages has been hidden in God the Father who created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph3:6-9).

Or as Paul concludes his letter to the Romans:

Now to Him who is able to establish you ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY WHICH HAS BEEN KEPT SECRET FOR LONG AGES PAST 26 BUT NOW HAS BEEN DISCLOSED THROUGH PROPHETIC WRITINGS in accordance with the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. AMEN.

[Rom16:25-27]

CONSCIENCE AN OBJECT OF FAITH

21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he allows. 23 But whoever has doubts comes under condemnation if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom14:21-23)

Whilst I am not claiming that the heading of this post is the point Paul is focusing on here, it does follow from what he writes and supports the broader providence I am outlining. The context of the passage is that Christians who, like Paul, know perfectly well that it is OK to eat meat and drink wine (or else Christ has sinned Mt11:18-19) should nevertheless refrain from doing so if it offends another Christian in their company who believes to the contrary. But the key point I am focusing on is Paul’s generalized statement in verse 23 that everything that does not spring from faith is sin.

The context makes it clear that the “faith” of which Paul speaks pertains to the conviction of one’s conscience – in this case whether or not it is right to eat or drink certain items. Any action on one’s part which the conscience opposes is indeed sinful even if what is being done is in fact pure and acceptable. But it follows that any action that one does as a result of following the dictates of one’s conscience is not only not sinful, it is itself an act of faith. This again can be demonstrated from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 25 – in particular the fact that “faith” in that context is not restricted to religious faith, such as a Christian’s trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The compassionate activities of the Matthew 25 “sheep” did not pertain to religious practice but were simply the response of a compassionate nature. Yet Christ declared them to be good – savingly good in terms of the “sheep” being accepted into God’s eternal Kingdom. These acts of compassion therefore must have sprung from some form of faith for the point Paul is making in our featured passage is that it is impossible to do anything pleasing to God except faith be present. Likewise, it is not the acts of compassion per se that justified the Mt25 sheep (being fallen human beings their acts of kindness were bound to have been incomplete and inconsistent). It was the “faith” from which they sprung. This is that “common faith” understood by some of the earliest Church Fathers and considered in more detail in one of my recent posts.

Central to such “faith” is conscience, which does not pertain merely to the flesh but to the spirit, being that part of us that survives physical death. Unlike the body and brain, it was not procreated from our parents, ultimately from fallen Adam, for that part of man which is spiritual and eternal could never be derived from sperm and ovaries. As creationists rightly understand the spirit is directly planted by God at birth (Eccles12:7). The conscience, the promptings of which are of course processed through the brain, is a spiritual faculty. It has been universally provided but is not utilized by all. Paul when referring to certain false teachers speaks of them as having their consciences seared with a hot iron (1Tim4:2). The Greek word Paul uses is interesting: Kautériazó (G2743) from which we derive the word cauterize. It is as if the spiritual nerve endings of the conscience have been numbed such that the faculty no longer functions. If you research the internet you will see that this lack of a functioning conscience is sometimes evidenced in such people’s brain structure**.  Such, I say, are the children of the devil and they have been defined in Scripture: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil may be distinguished: anyone who does not practice what is right is not of God, neither is he who does not love his fellow man(1Jn3:10 cf. v12). Being God’s law written on the heart (Rom2:15), the conscience is ultimately concerned with how our actions impinge upon others. For as Paul affirmed in the previous chapter “loving one’s neighbor” is the summary and purpose of God’s Law, whether it be written on stone, parchment or the fleshly tablets of the heart (Rom13:9 cf. Jer31:33).

Such aspects of natural law determine what one is and where one is heading; the religious aspects that the Bible primarily focuses on concerns the preparation of the people of God: His elect who shall become the Consort for His Son (cf. Rev19:7-8). Another mystery necessary to appreciate God’s munificent purposes for humanity as set out in “The Little Book of Providence” (free PDF HERE)

NOTES

** The “lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex” responsible for the processing of moral decisions and empathetic responses. Amongst mammals, only humans possess this feature which is not the conscience itself (for that is spirit) but the area of the brain in which its promptings are processed. For a few there is little to process and it is an area of the brain that has been found to be clearly and visually underdeveloped in the case of certain psychopaths that have been studied. [Caveat: not all psychopaths are criminals  – au contraire: 2Cor11:13-14]

WHY ARE WE WAITING?

11 Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts . (Romans 13:11-14)

There are two familiar themes in these last few verses of Romans 13. The first is Paul’s exaltation concerning the Christian’s need for self-discipline. With him it is never a case of “Let go and let God” but a conscious and enduring effort of self-denial, particularly in terms of “making no provision for the flesh” (last verse). That pertains to the ongoing struggle that even those born again of the Spirit have to pursue as they “eagerly await the adoption, being the redemption of our body”(Rom8:23). That in turn explains Paul’s opening comments in this passage about our salvation being closer now than when we first believed. To Paul, salvation will not have been fully accomplished until “our lowly body has been transfigured to be like Christ’s glorious body” (Phil3:21). Then “making provision for the fleshwill not be an issue: the resurrection body and the laws that govern it will be in tune with our spirit – pursing a path of righteousness and peace. That will be very different from the “tent” the soul currently inhabits, concerning which Paul had written: “whilst I am gratified by the law of God in my inner man I perceive a different law in my bodily members warring with the law in my mind and bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my bodily members. Even being “born again” of itself does not essentially change that dichotomy – what it does or should change is one’s ability to keep such lustful instincts in check (1Cor9:27).

Many commentators agree that it is evident from Paul’s overall rhetoric that for much of his Christian life he expected the Parousia to arrive soon, probably within his own lifetime. Even here: “The night is far spent: the day is at hand” (v12). Not in the mid-50s CE it wasn’t – it was barely eventide. But then Paul was an Apostle, not a prophet. So why the delay? In part it is as Paul taught earlier in Romans in the context of Jewish unbelief. It was to await the full complement of the Gentiles from every nation and each generation to come to salvation (Rom11:25). But why so many generations? Clearly, the current age does not exist merely to recruit Gentiles to the Kingdom. It has been the age of discovery for the whole human race – a gradual process and the reason for this epoch’s longevity. It has been the time when the whole world has engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, gained an understanding of science and the universe, discovered new medicines and developed ever more sophisticated means of transport and communication; knowledge and innovation that has progressed exponentially in the last century. This has all been working towards an end, which is not to prepare for global annihilation and a spiritualized eternity but for renaissance and resurrection. And that surely accords with Paul’s teaching earlier in Romans concerning the restoration and deliverance of the world and its inhabitants: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only they, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, being the redemption of our body” (Rom8:22-23).

Are we beginning to get Paul’s drift? Salvation’s apotheosis is not the soul resting in heaven but resurrection in a glorified body within a restored heaven and earth. Well worth waiting for.

LOVE FULFILS THE LAW

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for anyone who loves another (person) has fulfilled the LawFor this, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does not practice what is injurious to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilment of the Law (Rom13:8-10)

If you have been following these posts you will know that this is a passage I refer to a lot. It reflects what the Apostle Paul really thought about God’s Law. This passage like all of Paul’s writings preserved within Holy Scripture is addressed to Christians. But in the context of my particular thesis (divine providence) it has a far wider application, being good news for all those (Matthew 25 sheep) who exercise an underlying common faith by exercising compassion to their fellow man. For, writes Paul, the whole law can be summarized in this statement: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.   And as the apostle writes elsewhere, there are ultimately three qualities that matter and shall stand the test of time: faith, hope and love – the greatest of these being love (1Cor13:13). As that passage indicates, it is possible to possess faith (in the sense of a firm belief or conviction) yet not possess love (13:2). But I am seeking to demonstrate that it is not possible to possess love (as it is defined in 1Corinthians13) unless one has a form of faith – and one that justifies in the sight of God (Mt25 again). The Apostle John surely concurs: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God, for God is love (1Jn:4:7-8), For as John is indicating, only those who are “of God” are capable of love in the agape (compassionate/caring/love-your-neighbour) sense. And as Jesus is affirming in the definitive New Testament passage on final judgement in Mt25, whether or not one has shown compassion to those in need determines who finally will be accepted or rejected as citizens in in God’s eternal Kingdom. That in turn confirms what Paul is saying, that acting in such a way fulfils the heart and purpose of God’s Law.

 No place then for religious faith? – not in this context: religious practice pertains to attaining what the Bible refers to as “αἰώνιος  ζωὴ” (eternal Life) defined in John17:3 as a personal knowledge of God and His Christ. That is just as well, for as I have been indicating, in relative terms it will be few indeed who shall share a throne with the Savior of mankind: “To him that overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in His throne” (Rev3:21). Such honors are reserved for those “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom8:29) which Paul has made clear were chosen through elective grace rather than any prior merit on their part. If they remain faithful to their calling they shall one day be married to the Lamb  and reign with Him forever (Rev19:7). The New Testament, especially the book of Revelation refers to God’s elect ruling and reigning – but over whom? Whilst it is the ultimate destiny of all true humanity to be united to God (theosis), in the age to come at least, Christ with His saints shall rule over the many (MT25 sheep) who have been accepted as citizens of God’s Kingdom (cf. Rev21:24). For the latter it was not a matter of elective grace but the exercise of free will by which, however feebly, they fulfilled the spirit and purpose of God’s Law – “faith” evidenced by love (Gal5:6). {Note here how free will and elective grace are reconciled at last]

Such broader perspectives are often pilloried as detracting from the grace of Christ. On the contrary they gloriously magnify it -for whether a person currently perceives it or not, their eternal wellbeing has been secured by the life, death and resurrection of the Son of Man – mankind’s Representative and Savior. The distinction being made here between common and special grace/faith may become clearer in the following short extract from my book:

“A common faith or faithfulness (same word in Biblical Greek) is shown to be present when love (agape) is exercised, being a genuine concern and care for another person, which is the heart of God’s law. Since love is the efflux of faith (Gal5:6), faith must be present for that love to flow out from it; love and faith being quite inseparable: faith being the agent of love and love being the product of faith. A person is justified within the Universal Covenant** by responding positively to God’s witness to them through creed or conscience regardless of the degree of accomplishment. Providing the person demonstrates agape they are accepted by God, for He knows that agape was derived from Him, being His Own nature[1]. This aligns with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 concerning the sheep and goats. In serving the weakest of humanity through any act of compassion, the “sheep” are regarded as serving Christ Himself even though they have no personal knowledge of Him: “In truth I tell you in so far as you did this (act of kindness) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to Me”

[Excerpt from “The Little Book of Providence chapter 3] Free PDF of e-book HERE

Post concerning the Universal Covenant (enacted by Cain and Abel) HERE


THE CHRISTIAN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOVERNMENT

Every soul is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for (that authority) is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect (is due); and  honor to whom honor (Rom13:1-7)

Many people are likely to have a problem with Paul’s teaching here: the clue’s in the picture – the debauched Christian-persecuting Emperor Nero (r. CE54-68) will  have been the Roman Church’s civic leader at the time Paul wrote his pastoral letter (c. CE56). It was hardly the case that good Christian folk need have no fear of Nero or that they would receive his praise for faithfully following the teaching of their Lord (v3).

So Paul’s comments are something of a generalization. They nevertheless contained important lessons, particularly for the fledgling churches over which he had oversight. It will not have been obvious to all that as followers of the Messiah and in the context of the Kingdom of God on earth that was being inaugurated, Christians were obliged to pay the exorbitant taxes that were being asked of them, still less that they were to regard pagan emperors and kings as in any sense God’s ministers (v6). Paul writes elsewhere that such should be supported in prayer “in order that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1Tim2:2). He was also making the point that, regardless of the quality of the current office holders, the authorities themselves were in accordance with God’s will and were for the wellbeing of everyone. Even Jesus Himself had affirmed God’s sanctioning of government in his dialogue with Pilate (Jn 19:11). Yet on  another occasion Paul chides certain members of the Corinthian Church for taking their internal disputes to the civil authorities rather than settling them within the Church. In this instance Paul had described these authorities, or at least the people likely to be heading them as “unjust” – reminding the Church at the same time that ultimately it is they as the elect of God who were destined to judge the world (and angels) – so how much more should they be able to judge their own affairs? (1Cor6:1-3).

In terms of the motifs I have been expounding, this passage puts one in mind of the preaching of John the Baptist (which by implication had been highly commended by Jesus – Mt11:11)). “Puts one in mind” in the sense that what he had foretold has not, will not and cannot be fulfilled in the current age. And that is because of what, paraphrasing Paul, I have referred to as the fellowship (or administration) pertaining to the secret plan hidden in God (Eph3:1-10). John the Baptist did not anticipate the Kingdom of Heaven or the day of judgement that preceded it  being the end of the space-time universe (cf. Lk3:7). He did however expect that the current order of things would radically change – not least with regard to the world’s government. “Every valley shall be exalted and every hill made low”; John will have envisaged that tyrannical and immoral leaders such as Herod and Nero would be replaced by godly and just rulers – individuals like King David who were “after God’s own heart”. The Messiah that John was heralding was expected to bring this about. But He did not, at least not in the way expected – to the extent that even before John was beheaded, he asked of Jesus “Are you the one or should we be looking for someone else?” (Lk7:20)

Was John so misguided in his aspirations? Not really, he was entirely faithful to the Old Testament Scriptures and the prophecy made concerning him at his birth. For he was to be the second Elijah who had come to “restore all things” [nota bene] in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (Lk1:17; Mt17:11). But as Jesus also declared concerning John – if you (Jews) can receive (my message), John is the Elijah to come (Mt11:14). Herein lies a further mystery, for they didn’t and John wasn’t as is surely evident from Mt17:11. Watch this space.    

THE BODY – A LIVING SACRIFICE

 1 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, God-pleasing and perfect (Rom12:1-2)

Paul is once again emphasizing what I demonstrate in my book** to be central to what the New Testament means by “salvation” – the spiritual resources to (in Paul’s words) “possess one’s own vessel in sanctity and honor” (1Thes4:4). The “vessel” to which Paul refers is the physical (fleshly) body and brain procreated from our parents. What temporarily inhabits it is the human spirit divinely planted at birth that transcends physical death, at which point it returns to the God who gave it (Eccles12:7). For such sanctity to be possible one must be spiritually reborn by water and of the Spirit. Such is necessary for those set apart as saints (holy ones) in the present age in preparation for what Scripture describes as “marriage to the Lamb” (Rev19:7) – “that in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in his Kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph2:7).

This is not achievable through natural man’s innate spiritual faculties. Such a destiny is restricted to those who from before the foundation of the world were “predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom8:29). In John’s words they were a people “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn1:13). For in Jesus’ words “No man can come to Me except the Father draw him” (Jn6:44). And Paul again – “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that (faith) not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

So as outlined in the previous post, unconditional election is a biblical certitude, not merely a particular facet of Pauline theology. Yet as we also considered in that post, in the context of traditional Western binary soteriology the cosmic outcomes appear to be the antithesis of the Christmas Angels’ message of “Good news of great joy that shall be to all people”. For the Bible makes it equally clear that very few shall attain such salvation, even amongst those within the visible Church (Rev3:4). From such a binary perspective it would indeed follow that mankind is innately depraved to the point of being hell-deserving at birth, Christ’s saving work must be narrowly confined, whilst God’s sense of justice and kindness would appear barely comprehensible from any human perspective, let alone capable of universal acclaim (cf. Ps117:1-2). In all these respects, it is just as Satan would have wished. Each facet supports the Adversary’s own narrative concerning the God he hates and the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve he resents in light of what he knows are God’s plans for them.

The Truth is so, so different as I am in the business of demonstrating – and how predestination is to be reconciled with God’s munificent providence, equitable justice and human free will has been the subject of more recent posts. Paul, albeit cryptically, reveals the depth of his own joyful eschatological expectations, aspects of which neither he nor any man dare speak of in full (2Cor12:4; cf. Rom8:22-23). That second reference concerning creational renewal refers also to the apotheosis of an individual’s salvation – not the soul resting in Heaven but THE REDEMPTION OF THE BODY at resurrection.

Through no prior merit of their own, Christians have already received a remedy for their inherent problem with sin. As our featured text expresses it, they have been provided with the spiritual resources by which they may indeed present their bodies as a LIVING AND HOLY SACRIFICE to God. This requires, in the Apostle Peter’s words, to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1Pet2:11). For as I have been endeavoring to explain, it is not the spiritual and eternal component of man that is the SOURCE of his problem with sin, but the temporary vessel that houses it. And as we see Peter affirming in his pastoral letter, the latter may damage the former if it is not kept in check – something to which even Paul had to attend: “I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1Cor9:27).’

** Free PDF HERE

THE GENTILES’ UNFORETOLD SPIRITUAL INHERITANCE

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17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you (Gentiles), being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; for if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either22 See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written: “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 In relation to the gospel they are enemies on your account, but in relation to God’s choice they are beloved on account of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of the Jews’ disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience, so that He may show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counsellor? 35 Or who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? 36 For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom11:17-36)

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The three main points to be taken from this passage are:

  1. Paul’s continuing assertion that Gentiles were only given access to spiritual life in Christ in the current age because of Jewish unbelief
  2. Paul renders as meaningless the doctrine of “guaranteed perseverance of the saints”
  3. God’s inclination and intention to be merciful to all

The previous post demonstrated that Paul was entirely serious in his assertion that full and freely offered salvation resulting in spiritual life in the present and a corporate partnership with Christ through eternity was only made available to the Gentile nations in the current age as a result of Jewish disobedience (vv11,12,15). Now, likening this process to branches of a wild olive tree being grafted into the true shrub that was the physical seed of Isaac, the apostle affirms that existing branches needed to be removed for this to happen (vv19,20). For God’s elect are a finite number. Whilst He desires all men to be spiritually healed and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim2:4), like any earthly father, He does not intend the whole world to marry His Son (Rev19:7). Such need to be specially prepared for that inestimable honour – the process known as sanctification which only those participating in the life of Christ are able to attain (Rom5:10). As considered in earlier posts, in view of what Paul describes as “the body of this death” man by nature is inclined to disobedience to God’s will for human living as expressed in His laws and the workings of conscience (Rom7:22-25). Here, Paul again explicitly states that God’s mercy was to be shown to Gentiles in this regard because of the disobedience and unfaithfulness of His chosen people, the Jews (v30).

But Paul issues a warning to his Gentile readers: “Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off “(vv20-22). In order to demonstrate God’s intelligible goodness and broader benign providence, all (bar one – see NOTE) of the Protestant Reformed tenets expressed in the TULIP acronym need to be disproven from Scripture. That is a regrettable but unavoidable negative dimension to doing what I believe I have been called to undertake. (Like Paul I hate causing hurt and annoyance to those of my former ilk, having for a quarter of a century been a staunch Calvinist). “Perseverance of the saints” is perhaps one of the easiest petals to pluck – there is so much of the New Testament to choose from, including Paul’s letters, which in this passage speaks for itself. “Attaining to God” (as the earliest Christian writers referred to Christian salvation) is a race set before us – not all shall gain the prize (1Cor9:24). As Paul also stated: “I do not regard myself as having achieved it as yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil3:13-14). Whilst presenting a challenge, this should alarm no good-hearted person, still less any sincere follower of Christ – at least once it is understood what election and salvation pertain to and what they do not (Rev19:7 cf. Mt25:37-40).

And that is especially in view of my final point or rather Paul’s: God’s inclination and avowed intention to show mercy, albeit as we saw in Romans 9 and in the case of Cain, that shall not be so for those who effectively stick their fist in God’s face or wilfully cause hurt to those He loves. But for most: “God has shut up all in disobedience in order that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (v33). God’s ways are indeed unfathomable, but not so His nature, as disciple Philip needed to be instructed (Jn14:9) – mercy and compassion mean the same to God as they do to man, except in His case their extent and magnanimity know no bounds.   

NOTE

[1] TULIP= Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints

These are the five points of Calvinism. Operating as they do within a traditional binary soteriological framework, they infer that it is Father, Son and Spirit’s wish and intention that that the bulk of humanity suffer eternal misery in Hell. For as the Reformers’ spiritual mentor Augustine expressed it: “Many more are to be left under punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all” (De Civitates Dei XXI chap. 12). This is surely the very antithesis of the Christmas angel’s message of “Good News of great joy that shall be to all people”. Whilst the watered-down version of this message in the form of Arminianism that is prevalent in so many circles today may be more palatable, the cosmic outcomes are equally dire in the light of historical cultural and religious realities. It also rejects the one biblically irrefutable tenet of Calvinism being UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. This is central to Paul’s message as I hope has been demonstrated as we have progressed through Romans. And once salvation and predestination are understood in the three-tier context I have been setting out it ceases to be at odds with God’s biblically defined nature and intentions towards the inhabitants of planet earth, created through Christ and for Christ.

ROMANS 11 – COME ON PAUL…

OR IS HE??

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11 I say then, (the Jews) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! For by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their wrongdoing proves to be riches for the world, and their failure, riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their re-admittance be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Therefore, insofar as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 if somehow I may move my own people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if the Jews’ rejection proves to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their reception be but life from the dead?  (Rom11:11-15)

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What Paul is disclosing in Romans 11 is arguably the focal point of the mystery these posts and my book** have been expounding, namely God’s secret plan concerning the Gentiles’ unforetold spiritual inheritance. Not just the plan itself (which some Christians understand and acknowledge) but its wondrous implications to broader providence, which appears to have eluded everyone for reasons I explain below.

The key verses are 11,12,15 and 30 (next post). Paul would appear to be saying here that salvation was made available to the Gentiles as a result of Jewish erring and unbelief. In other words, such salvation would not have been made available to the rest of the world in the current age if the Jews had accepted their Messiah for what He actually was and subsequently received the apostles message concerning Him (cf. Acts13:46). What I am saying is that that is precisely what Paul meant to say and write. There is no controversy concerning the translation from the Greek, on this occasion at least it is unambiguous. Nor does it make any sense when one takes verses 11,12,15 and 30 together to explain it merely in terms of protocol or order – i.e.  the Gospel was to be preached to the Jews first before moving on to the Gentiles. The apostles moved on to the Gentiles because of the Jews’ rejection (the verses in Rom11 explicitly state as much). And it is why Saul of Tarsus was called “out of due time” to be the thirteenth faithful apostle (remembering Matthias had replaced Judas) much to the detriment of earlier symbolic symmetry (cf. Mt19:28). For it was never the expectation of Old Testament scripture nor indeed the teaching of any earlier prophet (and I mean any earlier Prophet – cf. Mt10:5-6; Mt10:23; Mt15:23-24; Acts1:7) that the Gentiles would go on to receive an identical gift of salvation to that promised for the Jews, “a repentance that would result in eternal life (Acts11:17-18) [note 2]. What the Old Testament had indicated was that the Gentiles were to be enlightened by Israel – intended to be “a holy nation and a kingdom of priests” for the rest of the world (Ex19:6) such that “the Gentiles would come to Israel’s light and their kings to the brightness of her rising (Is60:3). But it was never foretold that members of the Gentile nations should be incorporated into a fellowship that itself would become “a royal priesthood” (1Pet2:9). As Paul went on to describe this development later in the chapter (v24), it was as if wild and unnatural branches had been grafted into the good olive tree that was the Jewish nation.

So why has Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 not been taken seriously, by which I mean literally? It is for the reason I referred to in the previous post – that Christians have understood biblical “salvation” to be referring to deliverance from perdition rather than what it actually is – the calling, cleansing and sanctifying of a people who need to be made ready for a glorious marital-like association with Christ in the ages to come (Rev19:7). Traditional Western theology cannot conceive of the idea that the Gentile nations have only obtained “salvation” (as they understand it) as a result of Jewish unfaithfulness. But yes indeed, Paul is being serious – that is exactly what he means to say; although as he also written, it was God the Father’s secret intention all along (see below).

What this means in terms of salvation history is that the current age is not what the Old Testament foretold it to be. Paul effectively affirms as much in the extraordinary personal résumé he provides in Ephesians 3:

It was by revelation that there was made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are to be  fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christand to bring to light the dispensation [note 1] pertaining to the secret (plan) which in earlier ages was hidden in God (the Father) who created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph3:3-9)

In broader human terms, the current dispensation is the age of discovery for the whole human race (which is why we are waiting so long for Christ’s return). It is the period when humanity has engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, gained an understanding of science and the universe, discovered new medicines and developed ever more sophisticated means of transport and communication; knowledge and innovation that has progressed exponentially in the last century. This has all been working towards an end, which is not to prepare for global annihilation and a spiritualized eternity but for renaissance and the regeneration of creation that Paul referred to in Romans 8 (vv20-23; cf. Acts3:21). But in terms of salvation history, this is the age in which elect Gentiles from every generation and nation are being fashioned for adoption into the bosom of God’s family (Rom8:23). So I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And if the Jews’ rejection has proved to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their subsequent reception be but life from the dead? 

NOTES

[1] There is a textual variant in Eph3:9:  οἰκονομία= dispensation or administration (utilized for example by the NASB, ASV) as opposed to  κοινωνία = fellowship (utilized for example by the KJV) and in the title of my first book “The Fellowship of the Secret” 

[2] Jesus intimated later in His ministry that Gentiles would sit alongside the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the coming Kingdom whilst many of the intended “children of the kingdom” would be rejected (Mt8:11-12) but clearly the original twelve had little inkling of the matter. Even Peter required a radical vision (Acts10) before he grasped that Gentiles could even be socialized with, let alone go on to “receive an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18)

** Free PDF HERE

ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN ROMANS10

Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for (Israel) is for salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. Whereas Christ is the fulfilment of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes of the righteousness that is based on the Law, that the person who performs them will live by them. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will go up into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, [g]resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The echoes of Scripture I refer to in the title are Paul’s quotations from the Old Testament. To have a better understanding of the Apostle’s meaning it is always helpful to look back at the context of each quotation, especially the latter two from Deuteronomy and Joel which I believe pertain to some of the key truths I have recently been expounding, viz that the spirit and intention of God’s Law was always fulfillable utilizing innate spiritual faculties. For it must be remembered that God’s people neither possessed the Holy Spirit [Jn7:39 – note 1] nor the indwelling Christ in the sense that Christian believers do. Jesus made this clear as recorded by John:

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down out of 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 challenges Augustine and many Reformers’ assertions that God’s people of the Old Testament were “saved” in a like manner to that of the Christian. It is a difference between life and death: “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is (i.e. I (Jesus) am) the bread that (has only now) came down from Heaven that brings Life eternal to those who eat it”. Old Testament saints could not partake of that blessed sacrament, yet “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood you have no Life in you” (Jn6:53). Confusion arises because people constantly take the Bible’s references to “being saved” as pertaining to whether or not the soul goes to heaven after physical death. The two are not synonymous as will continue to be demonstrated from Scripture.

Now note the do-ability of God’s Law according to its Giver in Paul’s quote from Deuteronomy:   

The Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; providing (like them) you obey the Lord your God, keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, turning to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.  “For this commandment which I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far away.  It is not in heaven, that you could say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it for us, and proclaim it to us, so that we may do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you could say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and proclaim it to us, so that we may do it?’  On the contrary, the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it (Deut30:9-14)

But how was the Law to be fulfilled? Not in letter but in spirit; not by works but by faith. The righteousness that God requires involves the exercise of faith rather than the meticulous fulfilment of outward ordinances the Jews were pursuing. And the fact that in their case such faith was innate is indicated in the Deuteronomic passage from which Paul quotes. No need to ascend the heavens or cross the sea, what is required was in their heart and in their mouth (vv12-13). Oh profound mystery: “the word is very near you”, for in the Old Testament passage it could not have related to Jesus per se – the Word had yet to be made flesh and dwell among us (Jn1:14). As third century Origen well understood it is referring to “Christ being in the heart of all in respect of His being the Word or reason [2]. This is at the heart of what I and some of these earliest Fathers mean by natural law – “natural” in the sense of being innate to all, yet in essence thoroughly Christological. No wonder, for all things including nature herself has been created by the pre-incarnate Christ as Logos – through Him and for Him (Col1:16).

In terms of the New Covenant, the faith required of those who “come to share an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18) is centred on Christ’s Person, such that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (v9). That brings us to the passage’s final echo and again it relates to what I have been recently adducing – that many who are not the disciples of Christ shall also be accepted into his Kingdom: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be “saved”(v13) (Joel2:32). Again, one needs to look at the context in Joel which the Apostle Peter also draws upon in his sermon at Pentecost. In both cases it is referring to “the Day of wrath” and the Hebrew word translated as “saved” in Greek and English literally means to slip away or escape. In its Final Judgement context, such salvation is not referring to the elect of God. For Christ shall come with His elect (living and resurrected – Jude1:14) to judge the Earth; those alive at the time having already been raptured. Many of those on Earth who remain shall mourn for Christ and their ignorance or rejection of Him as Lord and Saviour (Rev1:7). Yet the clear indication is that everyone who calls upon His name and subjects themselves to Him shall be spared. As explained in recent posts there will also be those who will do nothing of the sort: the Devil’s seed can and will have nothing to do with the One who is the summation of all that is good. Once the broader providence I have been outlining is perceived it will be seen to be thoroughly Christ-centred – the length, breadth and height of Whose love truly shall pass all knowledge.

NOTES:

1] The Spirit was given to prophets and kings such as David and Moses but the latter’s comments in particular affirm that that was not the case for the rest of God’s chosen people (Num11:29). Still less were they “to be saved” by believing that a Messiah was to come to die for their sins. We have shown repeatedly that none of Jesus’ twelve disciples understood that even as he approached the end of His earthly ministry

2] Origen De Principiis Book 1 chap. 3 para 6

Exploring the mystery of divine providence