May 19, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Whitsun Week


Monday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.139, Rev. 1:17-20, 1 Cor. 3:9-17
Evening - Ps. 105, Jer. 31:31-34, Acts 4:13-22

Commentary, Revelation 1:17-20


Today's passage shows the risen Christ in the midst of the seven churches. These are not symbols of seven ages of the Church, or the Church in different eras of time. They are seven specific and real churches located in the area known today as Turkey in the time frame of the middle of the first century A.D. These churches, with others throughout the Roman Empire, were in the beginning of a time which the Bible calls the tribulation (Rev. 1:9). It was a time of blood. Many would leave the faith, and many more would consider leaving it. Revelation was written to these churches in their time to prepare them for what was coming and to encourage them to stand firm in the faith at all costs.

In the coming chapters our Lord addresses each church with a message that affirms its faith, and also admonishes it for its shortcomings. Obviously our Lord is trying to prepare them for that great Day when they stand before God to give an account of their lives and their works. But there is also a more immediate application of His words. The tribulation is upon them and it is going to grow stronger and more devastating before it gets better. Any church, or Christian, that does not have an undivided, single minded faith will not be able to endure it, and only those who endure to the end will be saved. Thus, they need to get their houses in order. They need to decide here and now where their loyalties lie, and who their God is.

This is the essential message of the book of Revelation. The pictures of the fall of God's enemies are included only to encourage the Church in faith. Empires may rise and fall, attacking the Church like ravenous beasts. They will pass away, and God's true people will abide. One day, they will be cast into an eternity of living death, but the Church will be with God in unimaginable joy forever.

Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 148, Ezek. 36:22-28, 1 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps. 145, Num. 11:6-30, Acts 4:23

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

The Corinthian Church was a troubled church. It was divided and contentious (1:11), carnal, which means the people were still primarily oriented toward the world and their own desires (3:1), proud (4:10 & 18), tolerant of unrepentant sin (5:1), heretical (11:19) and so disunited to God and each other the members went to civil court to settle their disputes (6:1).

In addition, their worship services were horrendous displays of hypocrisy and self-aggrandisement (11:18-34). It is their worship, or, rather, their lack of it, that Paul addresses in our reading for this morning. Heretical worship is the natural result of heretical doctrine, and heretical doctrine abounded in Corinth. The Corinthians were the early leaders in the movement to adapt Christian faith and worship to the surrounding culture. Whether this was done as an intentional attempt to make Christianity more attractive to the pagans, or it was simply that the Corinthian Christians had not fully repented of their pagan past is not known, nor does it really matter. The end result is the same either way, and serves as an important reminder to us today. We cannot cling to our pre-Christain views and practices, and still remain faithful to Christ. We cannot incorporate the practices and values of the world into the Church, and still have pure doctrine and practice. Any attempt to do so makes us just like so many others who have left the Church of Jesus Christ to join The Church of the Accommodation. 1 and 2 Corinthians are not commendations of practices to be emulated, but chastisements of mistakes and sins to be avoided. 1 Corinthians 12 addresses the unifying and edifying purpose of spiritual gifts, making the point that things which do not unify and edify are not spiritual gifts, but manifestations of the carnal spirit which pervaded the Church in Corinth. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to come back together in Christ, and work for the glory of God and the edification of the Church as God calls and enables them.

Today people read this passage and become side-tracked by questions about tongues and spiritual gifts. But these are not the message of this chapter. The message is that no single gift is superior to another, nor do all have the same gifts (12:4 & 10). Tongues, therefore, whatever their nature may have been, were never for every Christian. I believe true tongues were known languages the speaker did not understand, but was supernaturally enabled to speak. Thus, the Corinthian tongues were slightly different from the tongues in Acts, but had the same purpose. I do not believe they were ecstatic utterances. I also believe the Corinthians did not know this, thus they were trying to induce themselves, and others, to have ecstatic experiences in which they babbled meaningless sounds, calling them the work of the Spirit. Such experiences were common among the pagans in Corinth, and the Christians wanted them too. Corinthian "Christians" who had such experiences considered themselves superior to those who did not. This is further proof that their "tongues" were bogus. One of the reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians was to correct their false view of tongues and gifts, thereby restoring Biblical worship in the Church.

Ember Day in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 132, Rev. 4:1-6, 1 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 84, Rev. 4:6-11, Acts 5:12-28

Commentary, Revelation 4:1-6

From the tribulations of the Church on earth the book of Revelation takes us to the throne of Heaven. The difference is tremendous. Here we see God calm and in control of all things. His enemies on earth plan to destroy His Church and establish their own kingdom. But their rants are completely ineffectual. God is not moved. He knows their plots are doomed to failure and He is able to deliver His people.

Why does the book of Revelation show this? Because the persecuted Christians need to see that the attacks of the wicked cannot hurt God or destroy His ability to accomplish His purpose and redeem His people.

This is a message the world desperately needs to hear. Instead of searching this chapter for the "Rapture" let us hear its real message that God is in complete control. He will bring His will into reality, and no earthly or supernatural power can stop Him. He even uses them as it suits His purpose, and easily disposes of them when it suits His purpose. Our God is strong to save. He is unassailable Therefore, lets us keep the faith.

Thursday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 44:1-23, Gal. 5:16-25
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Rev. 6, Acts 5:29

Commentary, Revelation 6

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are familiar themes in literature, and have received much attention from Bible commentators. Recent commentators have interpreted them as the bearers of the wrath of God after the "Rapture" of the Church, but a much older view sees them as symbols of the Roman army's siege and conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The white horse symbolises the pomp and pride of the Romans gloating over their conquest. The red horse is war unleashed upon Jews throughout the Empire, especially Jerusalem. The black horse is the famine that would grip Jerusalem during the Roman siege. The pale horse is death. More than 1.3 million Jews died under Roman hands in this war, which, tragically, could have easily been averted. It was fought for two reasons. First, the Jews refused to live peacefully under Roman rule. The Romans would have gladly allowed the Jews to live in peace. But the Jews wanted the Romans out and Israel free. Much of their desire was political, and some of it was pure bigotry, but many truly wanted the Roman idolatry out of the Holy City. Rebellions were frequent and costly until the Romans finally tired of them and set out to crush the Jews forever. Second, the Romans were the avenging hand of God for the persecution of the Church. It was the Jews who began and encouraged the persecution and murder of Christians. We need only remember the exploits of Saul of Tarsus to understand this. In Revelation chapters 4-11 God brings the rebellious Jews to their knees in tragic and costly conquest and in fulfillment of the words of Christ in Matthew 24.

Ember Friday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 122, 125, Is. 61:1-9, 2 Cor. 3
Evening - Ps. 43, 134, Is. 52:1-10

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 3

Ember Days are times set aside to beseech our merciful Father to call labourers to fields white with harvest. It is no disservice to the intent of the day if we also pray God to bless those already serving in the ministry, and I encourage all reading these words to do so.

Our Scripture readings were chosen for their relevance to this special time of prayer. Isaiah 61 has long been a favourite text for ordination sermons, and was used by our Lord to explain His own work and ministry. He is the Good Tidings. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the means by which our broken hearts are bound, our captivity becomes freedom, and the year of the Lord and day of vengeance are accomplished. On Pentecost the time of fulfillment has come upon us. The promises become reality, and shadows are replaced with Light.

In this "Year of the Lord" He continues His ministry through the Church, especially through men called, equipped, and sent into a unique ministry in the Word and sacraments. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that it is this calling of God and empowering of His Spirit which makes a man a true minister, and only those who continue in the truth have any right to the office.

This has several implications. First, it is not man, but God who makes a man a minister (2 Cor. 3:3-6). I say this because we live in a time when many who take up holy orders are clearly unqualified and not called to the ministry. Many don't even want to be ministers in the Biblical sense. They want to be social workers, activities directors, CEOs, life coaches, philosophers, and agents of change who cast away what Bishop Ryle called "The Old Paths" and usher in their own views of what God ought to do and want and receive. Second, Biblical fidelity is the true test of a minister. A big congregation is no proof of God's calling or blessing. Sadly, more people love to have their ears tickled than hear the Word and worship God Biblically. University and seminary degrees are no proof of calling. Many with walls papered with diplomas, lack even the most basic knowledge of God. "Ordination" is no proof of calling. Many have been ordained by a church who have never been ordained by God. Apostolic Succession is no proof of calling. I rejoice that, as a bishop in the Anglican Orthodox Church, my orders can be traced back to Peter and James. But that same claim can be made by many others, who, based on Biblical standards, should leave the pulpit and take up other work. Presiding Bishop Ogles is fond of reminding his clergy that our true Apostolic Succession is doctrinal, and without doctrinal succession our ministry is invalid. Third, the church must evaluate her ministers by their faithfulness, not their personalities. There is a sense in which many congregations are really personality cults. Remove the personality and charisma of the central figure (the "preacher") and the congregation has nothing to hold it together. One of the wonderful things about the liturgy is that it is independent of the personality of the minister. The liturgy is wonderfully sound and faithful, and it leads us to concentrate on God, not the preacher.

If these things are true, we should be devoting much time to prayer for the Church and her ministers. God grant that we may so do.

Ember Saturday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 19, Micah 3:5-8, 2 Tim 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 111,113, Num. 6:22, 2 Cor. 13:5

Commentary, 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Second Timothy was written from a Roman prison, probably in the autumn of the year 68 A.D. Knowing he would soon give his life in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul wanted to contact and encourage his friend, student, and fellow servant of Christ, Timothy. Timothy has served his Saviour well, but Paul has always been there to counsel and help him. When Paul is gone, Timothy will stand alone in a time of increasing Roman opposition and persecution. As Paul wrote this epistle, Peter was dead, having been executed by the civil authorities in Rome. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he had written the book of Revelation about two years earlier. Many Christians had suffered imprisonment or death for the cause of Christ, while others had deserted the faith rather than face persecution. Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes among many in Asia who had turned away from him, meaning, away from the Gospel he preached (2 Tim. 1:15).

It is worth noting that Phygelus, Hermogenes, and the others Paul mentions were from Asia. In Paul's time "Asia" did not refer to a continent. It referred only to the area later called Asia Minor, and known today as Turkey. This is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 were located, and it was an area of intense persecution. So the Roman oppression of the Church was increasing at the time, and one of Paul's intentions in this letter to Timothy was to encourage him not to fear the opposition (1:7) and to stand fast in the faith, even in the face of persecution and affliction (1:8).

The Church was also under another form of attack. This was an attack far more serious and dangerous than Roman persecution; this was an attack on the Gospel itself. Heresies abounded in the church of that era, most of them growing out of attempts to accommodate the doctrines and practices of the Church to the pagan culture and religions of Rome. Thus Timothy is encouraged to hold fast to the form of sound words he learned from Paul (1:13). We should not allow ourselves to think "form" refers only to a "resemblance," as though the teaching of Timothy (and ourselves) need only resemble that of Paul. Paul is telling Timothy to hold fast the substance of Paul's teaching and also to his expression of it, including the very words of Paul. This should not surprise us, for if Paul received his message from Christ, he would naturally want that message preserved word-for-word. In our day we are seeing a widespread abandonment of the tried and true ways of expressing the Christian faith, and a corresponding adoption the idea that we must continually recast the Christian faith into today's language and cultural patterns. This view has become dear to the hearts of the majority of contemporary churches, yet it seems to be in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture as found in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. A change in the expression of the faith necessarily involves a change in the substance of the faith. How many of our errors in theology and practice might have been avoided if we had simply held fast to both the substance and the expression of the faith once delivered? On this Ember Day, let us remember that the faith is non-negotiable, and let us beseech God to enable us to hold fast the "form of sound words."

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