Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Text(ing)

As you might see, I’m gradually changing the name of this hopefully weekly feature into something really clever. Next Tuesday, if I can maintain my good intentions to post again, I’ll drop the parentheses. And hope everybody gets it.

Anyway, this Tuesday Text(ing) is from 1 Corinthians 7. In this chapter Paul says all these things:

“…because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (verse 2).

“…to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (verse 8).

“Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity)” (verses 20, 21).

“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God“ (verse 24).

It sounds as if Paul is all over the place in his thinking, saying one thing then contradicting it with another. Which is it, Paul… “do not be concerned about it” if you were a slave when called, or “if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity”? Is it true that “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” or is it “good for them to remain single” as Paul was?

I’m sure it’s obvious that reading the whole of Chapter 7 with these verses in their proper context, and reading Chapter 7 itself in context with the whole epistle, makes Paul’s thought clear. His aim is to “promote good order” and secure the Corinthian church’s “undivided devotion to the Lord.” This will be of greatest benefit to them, for whatever most glorifies God also happens to be what’s best for us. This chapter shows the liberty and flexibility for the believer within God’s bounds of holiness. We should do what is holy and right towards God and each other in each circumstance of life.

One can easily see how taking certain of these verses in isolation could lead to a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching and purpose. This is true throughout the Bible, not just in Paul’s letters. The writers of the Bible breathed the air of a different time and culture than we know, especially in the West, and their flow of thought was sometimes different than we are used to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand and get their (inspired!) point. With prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit for spiritual understanding and with a thoughtful attention to context and argument (flow of thought) for the literary understanding, all of Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness“ (2 Timothy 3:16).

No comments: