What Is Paul Talking About? Part 1

corinthian commentaryDuring the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood. This is the first sermon in the series based on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

I have to confess. I did not originally want to preach on this text. In fact, for the following 3 weeks, our Epistle readings will be from 1 Corinthians, and I really wanted to avoid them. They are not easy passages to preach on. They deal with some difficult subjects. Then I thought, “Well, if I am intimidated by 1 Corinthians, then surely I am not alone. And it is kind of my job to help make God’s Word clear to you, and I’m sure I would benefit from preaching on 1 Corinthians, and maybe I’m just being a big baby about it. So without further ado or explanation, this is the beginning of a 4-part series on 1 Corinthians entitled “What is Paul Talking About?” This is a question I often ask when I am reading through 1 Corinthians, so I thought it was quite appropriate.

One reason why 1 Corinthians can be difficult to understand is because of the specific context in which it was written. As with all books of the New Testament, the author is writing to a specific group of people with a specific purpose in mind. We are not the original intended audience for 1 Corinthians. And yet, as I research more about the purpose of 1 Corinthians and the context of the people in Corinth, the more I realized that there are many similarities between the ancient city of Corinth and our setting today.

That’s also when I realized that I needed to preach on 1 Corinthians. In this letter to the Christian church in Corinth, Paul deals with the struggles of those Christians as they fought for their new identity in Christ. I believe 1 Corinthians is one of the best books of the Bible in helping Christians understand Jesus’ words that we are to live in the world but not of the world. What does that mean? How do you do that? 1 Corinthians helps us out.

city of corinthThe city of Corinth was an important and influential city in the Roman Empire with a strategic location in that it was a hub for travel either by land or by sea. It was a large city by ancient world standards, becoming the largest city in Roman Greece with a population of approximately 100,000 people. Corinth was an important center for Roman culture, but it had quite an unsavory reputation as a city with lax morality.

The city of Corinth had strong ties to the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, specifically the erotic type of love. As such, Corinth was known to be a center for prostitution. The temple to Aphrodite would actually employ temple prostitutes as part of their religious ceremonies.

Corinth was also known for religious promiscuity, in other words, religious pluralism. Along with Aphrodite, there were many sanctuaries and statues dedicated to other gods. Many philosophical movements were well represented in Corinth as well, and we will be taking a closer look at some of those worldviews in the weeks ahead as they apply to each of the readings. Remember that Paul is addressing specific problems that the church was facing from the culture. In order to understand 1 Corinthians, we have to understand the culture.

1 cor christ crucifiedI believe Martin Luther sums up well Paul’s purpose in writing his 1st letter to the Corinthian church. He writes in his commentary: In this epistle St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be one in faith and love, and to see to it that they learn well the chief thing, namely, that Christ is our salvation, the thing over which all reason and wisdom stumbles.” Paul was promoting unity in the church, and that unity was to be centered on the message of Christ crucified. Therefore, I believe the theme verse of 1 Corinthians is in chapter 1, verse 18: For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For Paul, it was all about the cross and being united to God and to each other through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Alright- That’s enough of an introduction. We haven’t even gotten to today’s text, so let’s turn our attention to chapter six. Starting in chapter 5, Paul starts to address specific issues facing the Corinthian church. He deals with the sexual immorality of a man who is committing adultery with his father’s wife, most likely the man’s step-mother. In chapter 6, Paul begins by addressing the Christians who were suing each other in court, and he encourages them to seek unity with each other within the context of the church and not to use the court system.

Then we get to verse 12. “All things are lawful for me.” Paul is most likely quoting a saying that was being repeated by some in the Corinthian church who were taking their Christian freedom too far. They claimed that their relationship with Jesus was a matter of the spirit, whatever they were involved in physically would not really affect their life with Christ. This grew out of the Greek world’s philosophy of dualism: that spirit is good and important, and that the material or physical world is not good and is unimportant. In other words, the spirit is good. The body doesn’t matter. This led many people to feel that they can go ahead and indulge their body’s appetites without restraint, assuring themselves that it doesn’t really matter because “it’s what’s inside that counts.” Corinth was notorious for its “if it feels good, do it” approach to life.

feels goodDoes this sound familiar at all to you? I believe that is the prevailing worldview in our culture today. If it feels good, do it. Seek pleasure above all else. And I also see a separation of body and spirit in our world today, as if they are completely distinct. Many people describe themselves as “spiritual” and seek spiritual well-being, but their beliefs are not really connected at all to life in the body. Even phrases we sometimes use to soften death speak to this separation of soul and body and make the body unimportant. “That’s not really grandma. That’s just a shell.” As if our bodies are merely temporary housing for our soul or spirit, which is who we really are. And so, it doesn’t really matter what you do with your body because it doesn’t affect your soul or spirit.

There were some Christians who were justifying their practice of engaging in prostitution by appealing to this very argument and to Christian freedom. “All things are lawful for me.” And later on, Paul quotes them “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other.” The intended meaning there is again, that it doesn’t matter what I do with my body. It is just going to be destroyed anyway.

Paul pulls back the reins on their definition of Christian freedom. Yes, a Christian is free from the curse and condemnation of the Law, but as he says in Romans 6, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Freedom from the law does not equal freedom to break the Law. “All things are lawful” but not all things are helpful or beneficial for you. “All things are lawful” but I will not be enslaved by anything. In other words, Paul is telling them that now that they have been freed from sin by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are willingly enslaving themselves to sin, in this case, sinning with their bodies.

Paul then goes on to show both how the body is important and how sexual immorality is wrong. And note here that is not just talking about prostitution, but any sexual activity outside the boundaries of marriage between man and woman.

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. The Biblical view of the body is that it is important and essential to who you are as a human being. You are not fundamentally just a soul possessing a body. You are fundamentally body and soul. That is how God created you- from the dust of the ground and with his life-giving breath. Your body is created by God and is to be honored. After all, the body is not just going to be destroyed. It is going to be resurrected on the Last Day. We will not live forever as disembodied souls. We will be raised to new life as body and soul just as Jesus himself rose from the dead in his body.

Not only that, Paul continues, do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? In your baptism, you were united to Jesus. He is the head of the body, the Church, and you are its members. Paul will pick up on this analogy later on in 1 Corinthians as well. It is one of his favorite analogies to describe the relationship we have with Christ and with each other. Since you are united to Christ and His Holy Spirit dwells in you, Paul reaches the logical conclusion to sexual immorality. Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! But that’s what you are doing! Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Paul calls sexual immorality an abuse of the body and of the sexual union which God created for our good. Not only that but it violates the very holiness and presence of God. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? Now that their bodies had become the Spirit’s residence, the Corinthians could not live for themselves.

temple amusement parkI like how one author sums up the competing viewpoints in this passage. It asks of you two question. Do you believe your body is a playground? Your body as a playground implies that our mission in life is to satisfy our own desires above all things. Or do you believe that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit- to be used for God’s good purposes? Your body as a temple implies that you are a child of God and should live accordingly.

We know where Paul stands. You are not your own. You were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body. I don’t know if there is another New Testament saying which brings together in compact form both the essence of the Gospel and its implications for Christian life.

For starters, there is the pure Gospel message. You were bought at a price. What was the cost? You were purchased not with gold or silver, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus, and with his innocent suffering and death. God’s grace for you did not come cheaply! It cost God the Father his one and only Son. He gave up His body for you. Through his death, you have been redeemed and rescued from slavery to sin and Satan. This is not just Good News; it is the best news.

Therefore glorify God with your body. Paul says “body” here because he has been talking exclusively about the body. He could just as easily have said “Therefore glorify God with your life.” This is the response to the Gospel. This is not a conditional statement. God’s grace has already been given to you. You were already bought at a price. You are free. But Christian freedom does not mean indulging in sinful pleasures. You have died to sin and been raised to new life. You now belong to God that you may serve him in holiness and righteousness, as God originally intended for his creatures. The Gospel not only frees you from sin, but it also frees you for service.

There is an allegedly true story from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?” “Yes,” he said. “And to say whatever I want to say?” “Yes, anything.” “And to be whatever I want to be?” “Yep.” “And even go wherever I want to go?” “Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, thank you for paying the price for my redemption. Give me strength to resist temptations to sin. Help me to see my body as a temple of Your Holy Spirit and glorify You in all things. Amen.

 

 

Advertisements

Worthiness Pt. 2

At the end of Part 1 on worthiness to receive the Lord’s Supper, I mentioned that the receiving of the Lord’s Supper is never an individual act. Obviously, there is an aspect of individual worthiness that I covered in the first part. When you eat and drink the bread and wine, it is Jesus’ body broken for you and Jesus’ blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. However, we can never forget the communal aspect of communion. We eat and drink together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are united in Christ, the head of the Church. Those who receive the body and the blood of the Lord do so, therefore, in terms of their relationship with God as well as with their fellow-communicants.

When we commune together at the same altar, we are expressing that there is unity among us. We are expressing unity with the saints who have gone before us who join us in this foretaste of the feast to come. Unfortunately, on this side of heaven, there is not unity in Christ’s church. Therefore, we as Lutherans also recognize that even Christians who are not confessing Lutherans may also eat and drink in an unfitting way when they commune in a Lutheran church.

This is why we believe in close(d) communion. We recognize that there are significant differences in what Christians believe, teach and confess. Unlike other Christian church bodies, we view these as very significant. One big area of disagreement is on the nature of the Lord’s Supper itself. Most Protestant church bodies (Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, most non-denominational churches and others) do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. For them, it is merely a memorial meal. If Jesus is present, it is only in spiritual sense. A good way to recognize whether a Christian believes in the real presence is to ask 2 questions (just learned these 2 questions myself): 1. When you eat the Lord’s Supper, do you eat Jesus orally? Does He go into your mouth? 2. If a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, or a Jewish person sneaked into the Lord’s Supper and they also ate the bread, would they eat Jesus? The answer to both those questions, both biblically and from a Lutheran Confessions standpoint is “yes.” Those other church bodies would say “no.”

So what? you might ask. (and so would they) Is it really that big of a deal. Well….yeah, it is. As Lutherans, we recognize that the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper actually give us Jesus. We base this off of His own words and promise. So to believe differently means that we really don’t agree on who Jesus is and what He has done for us and what He continues to do for us. That’s a big deal. All doctrinal differences really come down to what we Lutherans call the chief doctrine: justification. That is, what Jesus did for us on the cross.

So once again, the reason we ask those who are non-members of the Lutheran church to refrain from participating in the Lord’s Supper at our altar is out of love and care for them. Since communion is never an individual act, “just me and God up there” but rather a confession of unity with those who are communing with you, then how can we in good conscience allow those who clearly are not in unity with us? This also goes for when we Lutherans visit other church bodies for worship. Should we commune with them? No. To do so would be to confess that we hold the same beliefs. “But, pastor, clearly I do not. Can’t I just participate while holding to what I believe?” Certainly in your mind you can. But once again, the Lord’s Supper is never an individual act. It is an expression of unity, and your outward expression of participation implies that you have the same confession of faith, whether you want it to or not.

This is not an easy teaching for us, especially since many churches have the policy of “y’all come” regarding their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. However, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod teaches in accordance with the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the historic tradition of the church (“open” communion is a rather new novelty) when it asks that fellow-Christians who are confessors of a different doctrine not participate in the Lord’s Supper at our altars. We are not saying that they are going to hell. We are not doing it because we don’t like them. Here are a couple of questions and answers from the LCMS document entitled “Admission to the Lord’s Supper” that I think are helpful.

Question: How can we possibly say that all those Christians from other church bodies are unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper? Isn’t that what we’re saying? Answer: Absolutely not! There are two reasons why people can be refused admission to the Lord’s Supper. The first has to do with faith and discerning the body. Those who do not have such faith and discernment would commune in an unworthy manner and thereby receive God’s judgment. But the second reason has to do with the need for a fitting ocnfessional unity among those who commune together. Roman Catholic Christians, for example, may be perfectly prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper in their own churches in a worthy manner and so to their own great blessing. But it would be unfitting for them, as confessors of their church body’s error, to receive the Sacrament in our churches.

Question: Why are we so unfriendly? When we tell some Christians that they can’t commune with us, it seems so unfriendly! Answer: It is probably inevitable that, when we ask people- including some fellow Christians- not to commune at our altars, some may conclude that we are ‘unfriendly.’ This is why it is so important that we explain ourselves and our teaching to others who, quite frankly, may not understand it at all. But when we explain, with genuine interest and friendliness, our doctrine that the Lord’s Supper is both a gift and a sign of unity, others will come to see that we do what we do not because we are unfriendly but because of what we firmly believe.

I hope this has created some clarity in this situation. It is not an easy one to put into practice especially since many churches do not practice close(d) communion. But the reason they do not is because they have an incorrect belief about what happens in the Lord’s Supper. For even more explanation in probably a more clear fashion than I have just articulated, watch the video below, specifically from the 2:00 mark to about the 10:00 mark. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I was in a hurry to put this up before the end of the day. Thanks for reading!

Worthiness Pt. 1

A member asked me a great question some time ago that I said I would eventually address in this blog. However, I had just started my “Heaven” series, so I did not have the opportunity to answer it. But I no longer have any excuses! So here goes!

The question was about the worthiness to receive the Lord’s Supper. Specifically, this individual had a question about the communion statement that we publish in our bulletin on Communion Sundays. The statement is as follows:

Here at St. John Lutheran Church, we believe, teach and confess that the bread and wine we eat and drink at Holy Communion is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus. Jesus is truly present in this meal giving us the benefits He won for us on the cross: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Holy Communion is also a meal that expresses unity in faith and belief among those who partake in it. Because of this, and because those who eat and drink unworthily do so to their great harm, we ask those of you with us who are guests and visitors to this church to please speak to one of the pastors or elders before communing. Thank you and may God bless you in worship today!

The question this member had, as I understood it, was: What does it mean to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper unworthily? Who is really worthy? What makes us worthy or unworthy? This certainly deserves some clarification.

In order to clarify, I think it is best to jump right to the passage in the Bible from which our communion statement is drawn. Paul is chastising the Corinthian church for their communion practices which had gotten completely out of control. The Corinthians were getting drunk on the wine, and they were causing divisions among themselves, especially between the rich and the poor. Paul asks, “Shall I commend you for this? No, I shall not!” He then goes on to say this:

For I received from the Lord what 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 also he 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 Whoever, therefore, 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

So there it is. Paul talks about receiving the Sacrament unworthily. But we are still left wondering what he means by “an unworthy manner.” What makes a communicant (one who receives the bread/body and wine/blood at the altar) worthy?

For the simplest answer, we can turn to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism when he asks “Who receives this sacrament worthily?” His answer:

Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.’

So faith in Jesus’ words is what makes a communicant worthy. Faith that Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine, and faith that in this eating and drinking, the forgiveness of sins is given to you. So then, one who does not believe in Jesus’ words receives the Sacrament unworthily and to their harm. Why would it be to their harm? Because even if you don’t believe Jesus’ words, you still receive the Sacrament in its fullness. Jesus is present whether you believe it or not. The effectiveness of the Lord’s Supper does not depend on the faith of the individual. And so, the one who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment upon themselves. In the case of the Corinthian Church, in fact, Paul notes that God’s judgment was coming in the form of people getting sick and even dying! The Lord’s Supper is not something to be taken lightly.

So can a Christian commune unworthily? Yes, they can. Now, I do not say this to cast doubt over whether or not in the past you have communed unworthily. The requirement of faith does not exclude those with weak faith. We have all experienced moments of weak faith, and in fact, Jesus instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith. However, one outcome of faith, or a fruit of faith, is the willingness to “amend one’s sinful life.” Paul tells us to examine ourselves before receiving the Sacrament. Martin Luther provides a list of 20 questions for a Christian to ask him/herself before going up to communion. You can also find those questions in Luther’s Small Catechism. Since an outcome of faith is repentance, those who are unwilling to repent and turn away from a particular sin or sinful lifestyle should exclude themselves from the Lord’s Supper. If you do not repent, then there is no forgiveness for you. Let’s take what may seem to be an extreme example: you are cheating on your spouse. If you are unwilling to confess that sin and stop doing it, then you are unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins is given. But to an unrepentant sinner, forgiveness is to be withheld. So if an adulterer goes to the altar and receives the Sacrament, they would falsely assume that they have been forgiven. Rather, they have eaten and drunk judgment upon themselves and have become secure in their sin. Also, I should mention, that if a pastor knows of a member’s unrepentant lifestyle, then the pastor, as the shepherd of the sheep and steward of God’s sacraments, should speak individually with that person, sharing with them God’s Word. If they remain unrepentant, the pastor has the responsibility to withhold the Lord’s Supper from them. This is not mean or judgmental. This is done out of care and love for that person because the pastor does not want that person to receive the Sacrament unworthily and eat and drink judgment upon themselves.

O.K. I have spent a lot of time talking about individual worthiness to receive the Lord’s Supper. I hope that it makes sense and that I have not created doubt in your minds about your own worthiness. I hope that I have caused you to think more deeply about the significance of this wonderful event that takes place in our church on Sunday morning. The Lord’s Supper is a great blessing to a Christian as our Lord Jesus Christ comes into our very presence through these very humble means: bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is for sinners who are sorry for their sins and desire the mercy and grace that God gives to us through Jesus. This meal is truly for you. Receive it gladly in the confidence that your sins are forgiven, and that you are promised a seat at the table of the Lord for the great feast that is yet to come!

I actually have more to say on this subject, but this post has gotten long. I have talked in this post about receiving the Lord’s Supper worthily as an individual. However, the Lord’s Supper is never done as an individual, as in “It’s just between me and God.” Rather, the Lord’s Supper is a communal meal. This is what Paul first letter to the Corinthians is all about: maintaining the unity in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, much of that unity is now broken, especially concerning the teaching of the Lord’s Supper. So in part two, I am going to talk about worthiness as it pertains to the whole body of Christ. I hope to have this up soon. Also, if you have any questions, please let me know. I really hope to be clear on this subject and do not want to cause you to have any doubts. Last word on individual worthiness. There are only two kinds of individual communicants: those who, through faith in these words, participate worthily to their great blessing and benefit, and those who, through lack of such faith, participate unworthily and to their judgment.

 

 

 

Life, Death and Life after Death: Part 9- So What?

This might be the most important question of the whole series. Now that I have explained the creation, Platonism, death, heaven, the new heaven and new earth, the kingdom of God, the resurrection and everything else, does it matter to you right now? So what if you think of dying and going to heaven as the ultimate goal? Does it matter? So what if you had some false assumptions about death and about what makes us human? Does it matter?

And if it does matter, then why?

I plan to tackle these questions with the last two entries into this series, part 9 and part 10. I suppose I could do it all with this post, but ten is always a better number to end a series on. A 9-part series? Eh, that’s OK. But a 10-part series on life, death and life after death? Sign me up for that!

In this part, I’m going to tackle different topics that are related to the main subject and explain why it matters that we cling to the true Christian hope of resurrection and renewal. So let’s begin.

1. Our Bodies– When we are stuck in the thinking that our ultimate goal is dying and going to heaven, then our bodies become empty vessels that do not really matter. We get sucked into the Platonic way of thinking that are souls are what really matters and that they are trapped inside our bodies, and that upon death, our true self or essence is finally released from this material world. I have heard it said a couple of different ways at the bedside of a dying family member, “This body is just a vessel or a shell.” In other words, it is something that can be disposed of. It doesn’t really count. Or, at funeral homes, during the visitation, “That’s not really Grandpa,” which implies that the true grandpa was simply his spirit or soul. Wrong! We say these things to try to comfort others or ourselves, but the truth in God’s Word is so much more comforting. When we recapture that truth, that what makes us human is body + soul/spirit, we can appreciate the significance of our bodies. We can say with hope at the funeral home that this very body that we see lying here lifeless, we will see again someday full of life. This body will one day defeat death by rising again, by reuniting with the person’s soul/spirit and by becoming fully human once again for all eternity. This also has implications for our present life. What we do with our bodies matter! They are not just shells to be thrown around and used and abused. Our bodies are essential to who we are as people! So argues Paul in 1 Corinthians 6,

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

I could go on about the importance of our bodies, (for example, the fact that God Himself took on human flesh and at this very moment, Jesus continues to be true God and true Man in the flesh) but I should move on to…

2. The Earth– Much of what I said about our bodies applies to the earth, or rather, the entire creation. When we embrace a Platonic worldview that matter is evil, or that, once again, the ultimate goal is to leave this earth and go to heaven, or even when we believe in the Rapture, then what does it matter what we do to this created world? We can carve it up to suit our own purposes if God is ultimately just going to destroy it in the end. But when we go back to the story of creation in Genesis 1-3, we will remember that God called his creation good, and when evil entered into it, he did not say he was going to destroy the whole thing and start all over again. He was going to redeem it- not just humans, but the whole creation. N.T. Wright in Surprised By Hope rightly says,

The point about redemption is that it doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate, but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.

He continues in the same chapter,

If you tell this story (the story of redemption) from the point of view of the good creation, the coming of Jesus emerges as the moment all creation had been waiting for. Humans were made to be God’s stewards over creation; so the one through whom all things were made, the eternal son, the eternal wisdom, becomes human so that might truly become God’ s steward, ruler over all his world.

Now, all creation is waiting for the return of Jesus when he will finish his renewing work that began at his resurrection from the dead. We, as followers of Jesus and as stewards of this world, can anticipate that final coming by continuing to take care of God’s creation. Every time we plant a tree, every time we lovingly care for one of God’s creatures, every time we look after the earth and beautify it, every time we reap the fruit of the earth, we participate in God’s renewing work and look forward to the completion of that work when Jesus returns. For more on this subject, click here and and then click on the link for Together with All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth.

3. Death– I have already talked about death pretty extensively, but it is important to note again the implications of the true Biblical message about death. Too often, with Platonic theology running amuck in our circles, death has turned into a friend to be embraced, rather than the enemy that Christ defeated but has yet to be completely defeated for us. Death is often seen as a happy escape from this world and from our bodies. I am not saying that we should fear death, but as Christians, the hope that we have in death does not stop with “going to heaven.” When we reclaim the resurrection thinking that permeates Paul’s writings, we can move past the “going to heaven” stage and concentrate our hope on our own resurrection. For Christians, death is not the end, meaning, that death will not last forever. If we stay in heaven forever as souls, then death has not been defeated. Only at our resurrection will we truly receive the crown of righteousness as Jesus says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” As Christians, we can view death as a short sleep followed by a great awakening. This also has many implication for Christian funerals (about which a whole other post could be written) The following is an excerpt from an article by Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary entitled “Five Things Not To Say at Funerals:” (This is number five)

Fifth: “This is not a funeral—it’s Craig’s victory celebration!” This is perhaps the most objectionable of all—and it is patently false, as even many unbelievers instinctively know. It is true, of course, that when a Christian dies, he is now “out of danger”—he can no longer be tempted. In addition, when tragic and prolonged physical or mental suffering precede the death of a Christian, there can be great relief and release for both the deceased and for those who loved him and have cared for him.

But who could even imagine saying that a funeral is a “victory” when it’s the funeral of a child, or of a young mother, or of a colleague and friend struck down in the midst of a vigorous and productive life? As a matter of
fact, the death even of a Christian is always and only a sign that sin has not yet fully been abolished by the Lord Jesus Christ; the last enemy has not yet gone under His feet. As a matter of fact, death (which does not separate the deceased from the love of God in Christ) does separate the deceased from those who love him. Funerals are not victory celebrations. They are funerals. The grief is, in light of the Gospel, never grief without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). But it is still, ever and rightly—grief. For only on the Last Day will death be swallowed up in…victory (1 Cor. 15:54).

Wow! I only got through three points, but I think that is enough for one post. I hope you actually read to the end. The last post in this series will cover our present lives, and how we can live them in anticipation of heaven coming to earth through Jesus’ returns and how God’s kingdom comes to this earth through us, his humble servants.

Life, Death and Life After Death: Part 1- What makes us human

I may have set the record for the longest title to a blog post. I need to figure out how to do a subtitle.

Anyway, let’s get started. To begin this series, I decided I needed to start “in the beginning.” So Part 1 will focus on the creation of mankind and what actually makes us human. This is important background work because it will help to inform us on what to expect in the future.

Genesis 2:5-8 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

So what makes us human? Is it the fact that God breathed the breath of life into us? Is it because we have a soul while other creatures do not?

Certainly, what makes Adam different from the animals is that God formed Adam in His image, and He breathed into him the breath of His own life. God did not do that for the rest of the animals. So is it our soul, or spirit, that defines us as human beings? No, we cannot forget about the body. God formed Adam’s body and breathed into him the breath of life, and then the man became a living creature, a human being. Body + soul = human.

We would call this a dichotomy. Some people would argue that humans are actually made up of a trichotomy: body, soul and spirit. St. Paul refers to all three in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. However, whether it is 2 or three doesn’t really matter (unless you put soul and spirit together alone) and it is much easier and more understandable to speak of a dichotomous human being: body and soul.

We are not souls simply using a body as if the body is unimportant. You cannot separate these two from each other and still have a human being. Actually, there is a name for that separation. It is called death. More on that later and more on why body and soul is important. For now, I will end this post leaving Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before sin and death entered the world. I’m trying to leave these post short so there is not so much information to digest.

Coming up soon! (but it might be a week) “How the Fall Messed Everything Up” and “It’s All Playdough’s Plato’s Fault!”