Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

Communion: Discerning The Body

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I led communion at my church, Hope Chapel of Austin, TX.  It was an honor and a responsibility, and I’m very happy that Pastor Geno entrusted me with it.

I think it went well.  It was both easy and difficult to prepare.  Easy, because of some excellent sermons & commentary on the Lord’s Supper that were percolating in my brain.  Difficult, to condense it to a concise, clear reflection.  The material on it in 1 Corinthians 10-11 is fairly rich, and I couldn’t begin to do it justice in 5 minutes.  I focused on an element that has not been emphasized, in my past church experience:  How communion relates to community and love and relationship, and what it means to examine ourselves.

There was so much more, though.  I’d like to do a series of posts expanding on it, from the gospel accounts and from more of 1 Corinthians.  I’ll try to get it done during the month of December.

You can listen to or download the recording at our sermon archive, if you’d like.  Or, here’s the transcript.  Also, here’s the short description from the archive:

What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body? The answer is rooted in Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice–and in the gathered church as the body of Christ. We unite in love to participate in Christ, proclaiming the gospel and showing its power.

———————————————-
Good morning, Hope Chapel, my name is Tim Margheim.  Please hold the elements until we all partake together.  If you’re a guest, know we invite all Christians to join with us.  Parents, we leave it to you to determine whether your children are ready to participate.

Today I’d like to speak from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s discussion of communion, in order to draw out something that wasn’t often emphasized about the Lord’s Supper, in my upbringing.

We know that the Lord’s Supper is a thing of joy and grace.  But Paul wrote in disappointment with the church in Corinth, saying, “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  They were taking this meal in a way that turned it from a blessing to a curse.  He cautioned them, saying,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

So Paul is concerned about the way we approach the Lord’s Supper.  What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body?

The more familiar part of the answer is that we should take the meal seriously, remembering Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.  And judging ourselves rightly means that we know we can’t make ourselves worthy.  He didn’t say, “Only come if your life is where God wants it to be,” or “if you pray enough”, or “if you read your Bible enough”, or “if you’ve done enough good deeds”. There is a worthy manner of celebrating, with humble, repentant awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  But we come depending on God’s gift, in the middle of our failures.  This is the gospel, the central meaning of the Supper.

But it might be less familiar that Paul’s main criticism was about the way they were treating each other.  He said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” and “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”.  Some ate full meals while others went hungry.  Paul asked, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  They came together, but they came divisively.

In this light, what does it mean to examine ourselves and “discern the body”?

In the fall, our elder Cotton Hance pointed out a double-meaning in the phrase, “discern the body”: On the one hand, there’s Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice.  On the other hand, we are the body.  And when they came divisively, they twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

If we remember the work of Christ to save us, we should remember what he saved us for.  He died, not just to save us as individuals from hell, but also to bring us together into a family.  He says “discern the body”, and in the very next chapter he says that we are one body, with many members.  That we need each other, and are called into the most excellent way of love–the love of the Spirit, by which all the world will see that we are Christ’s disciples.  We’re called to be servants, opening our lives and surrendering our time, allowing God to knit us together in true relationship–not just here on Sunday, but throughout each week, in Hope groups, in phone calls, in meetings in coffee shops, in inviting each other into our homes to share meals. This love, this community, where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, is intended to be a light of hope, both proclaiming the gospel and showing its power, to a broken world of sinners in desperate need of salvation.

So now, having come together, let us examine ourselves.  Let us be one, in humble repentance, remembering the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and rejoicing in the gift of his work among us.  Let’s pray.

Father, we receive, and we thank you for your work among us.  Please Father, continue your work of love.  Give us the peace and freedom of loving each other well.  Help us not to keep records of wrongs, and forgive us for sometimes failing each other, and give us hope for new change.  May we approach this meal today with love, and with openness, and with reverence; it is Christ’s body and blood, for us.  And may we approach our relationships with one other with something of the same importance, because together, we are Christ’s body.  May our lives display the work of your love, and may the world see Christ in us.  May we be quick to speak the words of life, the words of good news, calling the world to repent and receive this gift.   May we have the joy of baptizing many into the body of Christ, to be part of your family, adopted through Jesus.  And Father, may every celebration of this table be a renewal and a reminder and a proclamation of all the grace and peace and truth and love that is in Christ.  In the name of Jesus, as his body, by his work, we pray, amen.

So let us eat together, from Christ’s body, broken on the Cross for us.

And let us take the cup together, and drink from Christ’s blood, the new covenant with God, poured out for our sins.

The Church & Israel — How Much Does Romans Say?

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m still discussing Romans 9-11 with Bob in the comment section of the last entry.  I may take some of that and make a new entry.  In the meantime, I had already written out this fourth post in the series.  Just a quick thought on how much Romans 9-11 actually addresses.

I think it’s pretty clear that Paul is pointing forward to a future spiritual renewal of ethnic Israel, in which many many Jews will find the Messiah.

But I don’t think Romans 9-11 says anything else about the end times.  It doesn’t say anything about the role of Israel in the end times.  If you only read these chapters, you don’t find anything about Israel’s role in the kingdom of God.  You don’t find anything about the millenium.  You don’t even find anything about the land of Israel.

Not directly, anyway.  Paul does say, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).  And he does seem to think that the bloodlines still matter for something.  But we have to read other parts of the Bible in order to find out what exactly are “the gifts and calling of God”.

It might still turn out that some of the promises & prophecies were typological, or “spiritual” in some sense.  Not face value.  (When they’re fulfilled, it might not turn out like you would think at first glance.)  But like I said in the last entry, we have to be careful with that.  If you want to claim that’s what will happen, you should have good exegetical reason for doing it.  (Just because you can think of some way that “This promise about Israel is fulfilled in Christ & the Church”, doesn’t mean you’re reading it the way it was intended.)  Especially the further you move away from taking it at “face value”.

The Church & Israel — Thinking About Rom. 9-11

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing from the last entry, where I put Romans 7-12 in my own words, here are some observations.

Observations

1.) When Paul says that God’s promise hasn’t failed, his emphasis is not, “Because the Church is the true Israel.”  (That’s what Replacement theologians tend to say.)  Instead, his emphasis is, “Because the remnant of the Jews has come to Christ.”   Even if you think the Church is Israel–even if you think Paul says so–it should be clear that Paul doesn’t depend on that idea here.  His response is based on the remnant.

2.) Paul makes a big point of the fact that God did have a faithful remnant of some Jews.  Apparently, if all the Jews had rejected the Messiah, God’s promise would have failed.  So in some way, the bloodlines do still matter.   It does matter for ethnic Jews to follow Christ.

3.) Paul does talk about including the Gentiles as God’s children, as beloveds, as his people.  God brings “vessels of mercy” from out of the Gentiles, as well as from out of the Jews.  But Paul doesn’t directly say anything here like, “Therefore we can call the whole body of Christ ‘Israel’.”  (The arguable place is 11:25-26, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Also, Gal. 6:16 or Rom. 2:29 might say so–but that would be a different argument.  What does this passage mean?)

4.) In some places in the passage, “Israel” can only mean ethnic Israel, not “believing Jews + the Gentiles”.

As an exercise, try walking through all three chapters, and replace “Israel” with either “ethnic Israel” or “true Israel”.  Try it both ways in each case.  See which ones are clearly “ethnic Israel”.  See which ones are arguable.

Especially, let’s try that in 11:25-26.

5.) “Israel” shows up twice in 11:25-26.  The first time is clear, but the second time is arguable.

a partial hardening has come upon [ethnic] Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel [???] will be saved, as it is written,

On the one hand, maybe it means “a vast majority of Jews will come to Christ”.  (“All Israel” doesn’t necessarily mean “every individual”, even though that might sound more natural.)

On the other hand, maybe it means, “every individual from true Israel (whether Jew or Gentile) will find mercy”.

That makes more sense out of “all Israel”.  And the basic idea of “true Israel” makes sense with the earlier stuff about including the Gentiles.  And it makes sense with some other passages.  But–I can’t make sense of it in the context.

Paul had talked about making the unbelieving Jews jealous in order to save them, and desiring them to be grafted back in.  Then he talks about a temporary partial hardening.  It seems to go, “Partial hardening on the Jews until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, and then the hardening will be released, and more Jews will be saved.”

The “true Israel” really doesn’t fit well, if you keep going from v. 25 through to vs. 32.  You might think “true Israel” works in v. 26, but keep reading.  Pay attention to what happens when you hit v. 28, and especially v. 31:

so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Who has been disobedient?  Ethnic Israel.  Who is Paul hoping will receive mercy?  Ethnic Israel.

If you read v. 26 by itself, maybe it can work.  But it stops working when you hit v. 28.

6.) Last comment: Paul definitely talks about the Gentiles being included as God’s people, and he says they are “children of the promise”.  Galatians also connects us with Abraham (Gal. 3:29).  But what about the later Mosaic covenant?  Maybe we’re included in Abraham, but not Moses.  What about all the later promises that God didn’t make to Abraham, but made to Israel and the people of Israel?  Do we have to be included in both?

I really don’t know.  But I don’t think Paul intended to answer that question in Rom. 9-11–he’s mainly addressing the promises of salvation.  (And in 9:3-5 and 11:28-29, he’s maybe pointing out some particular promises & blessings for ethnic Israel.  I’m not sure.)

So, I don’t think you should take your final answer from Rom. 9-11.  Even if it turns out that Gentile Christians do receive all the promises & covenants & prophecies to Israel, we would need to do more work to figure that out. We need to look at the various promises and prophecies, and look at what the New Testament says about them, and see what makes sense.  In particular, we need to look at the land promises, and see what God specifically promised.  And Jeremiah 31:35-37 is important.

—-

Back to “How do we interpret the Bible?” in general.

Covenant theologians are right–that we need to let the New Testament interpret the Old, where it does so. And Dispensationalists are right–that we need to be careful about over-allegorizing, where the Bible doesn’t justify doing it.  We should take it at face value unless we have good reason not to.

That’s where I’m at.  I need to study the Old Testament promises, and find out what the New Testament says about them.

I have just one more comment about Israel and the Church in the end-times.  But I’ll save that for another entry.  A brief one.  I promise.

The Church & Israel — Summarizing Romans 9-11

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Continuing my look at the Church, Israel, and Replacement Theology:

Romans 9-11 is one of the most important New Testament passages about the Church and Israel.  It’s interesting:  People on both sides argue, “My side has to be right–just look at Romans 9-11!”  There are other important passages–Galatians, Hebrews, & Revelation (particularly Gal. 6:16 and Rom. 2:29.) I know I haven’t studied them enough to come to really solid conclusions.  But on Romans 9-11, there are some things that I think are pretty clear.

The three chapters culminate in 11:25-32.  And that passage includes the key phrase, “in this way all Israel will be saved”.  What does Paul mean?  Is he talking about ethnic Israel?  Or is he talking about “true Israel”–all the children of God in Christ?

Dispensationalists (and some Replacement theologians) take “all Israel will be saved” to mean that there will be a future restoration of ethnic Israel:  Many Jews will turn to Christ.  (“See!”, they say, “Israel is still distinct from the Church in the plans of God!”)

Replacement theologians tend to take it this way:  Even though so much of Israel has rejected Christ, the promises of God will not fail–because true Israel is all those who believe in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.  And all of true Israel will be saved.  (“See!”, they say, “Everyone who knows Christ is now part of Israel!”)

I’m still trying to work some things out–there are pieces of this passage that aren’t clear to me.  I do think the Replacement crowd are at least partly right.  Ch. 9-11 is definitely about how the promises of God have not failed, and it definitely emphasizes unity between Jews and Gentiles in salvation.  The whole Church is definitely part of God’s family, and does inherit promises from the Old Testament.

But I’ve also concluded this:  Paul does point to future restoration & salvation for ethnic Israel, i.e. for currently unbelieving Jews.  And ultimately, this passage doesn’t say, “‘Israel’ now means the Church.” Replacement theologians are reading that in, they’re not getting it from here.  (Maybe you could build a case from other passages, but here, it’s not what Paul said.)

To see that, I want to walk through the passage to see the major flow of thought.  Then I want to look at how is the word “Israel” is used–and at what exactly the Gentiles are included in.  (I’m not perfectly clear on the last part.) (more…)

Simple and Pure Devotion to Christ

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

This question was sent a few days ago in the mailing list for Hope Chapel.

How would you describe “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”? This phrase comes from 2 Cor 11:3. I’d like to know what different people think about this.

We could answer that in many ways. If we simply take the phrase by itself, there are many aspects of “devotion to Christ”, and many senses in which we could talk about its simplicity and purity. It’s like talking about what the love of family means; each of us has a different perspective, and can provide a different answer. There’s value in that kind of meditation and sharing, helping each other see new aspects of the truth.

If we take the phrase as part of the passage in which Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, it has a more particular meaning. To figure it out, we don’t think solely (or even primarily) about our own experiences–rather, we look at the way Paul used the phrase. What was the broader subject when he said it? What did he compare it to, and what did he contrast it with? And then there are questions about the translation of the words–how well do the English words (like “simplicity”, “purity”, and “devotion”) convey the meaning of the Greek? That is, can we expand the meaning of the words at all?

(more…)