The Bible in a Year – 12 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

12 October. 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4

The relationship between the apostle Paul and the church in Corinth, as revealed in his two letters (and what some people have deduced from them about their situation), is a fascinating one.  Sometimes he is praising them, holding them up as example to others of what Christians should be like; then a short while later criticising their behaviour and calling them immature.

Paul’s main criticism in this first quarter of the book is that some of the congregation think that they follow, or even worse “belong to”, himself, or to one of the other apostles, rather than Christ.  He has to remind them that all Christians are baptised into Christ (or, in most churches, into the Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ who is God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit).  In chapter 3 he uses the analogy of farming, where he and others who have taught them the faith are like farmers, who may plant the crop, but without God’s gifts of earth, air, sun and rain it will not grow.  So it is with Christians: only God grows faith within a person; other people can only provide the “seeds of faith”.

In chapter 4 he uses a different analogy, that of father and child. A parent can teach a child the facts of life, but maturity is something that each person has to work out for him- or herself from experience.  Growth into maturity is what we call wisdom.  But for Paul, human wisdom is not enough in the Kingdom of God.  We also need spiritual maturity, and as far as that was concerned, the Corinthians, although adults, were so immature that they were like babies who are not yet weaned (3:2) – what an insult!  Their immaturity is shown by the division among them according to which of the apostles they wrongly claim to belong to.

Division in the church is not new.  Whether at a global level between “liberal” and “conservative” cultures, at a national level between members of an “official” state church and independent ones, within one church network according to preferences in worship, or even within a single congregation over some trivial issue like whether to replace pews with chairs, we hear it all the time. The media love a ‘divided church’ story, and those of us who are members of such congregations should be ashamed. We need to grow up!

Such divisions not only attract ridicule, they hinder the work of the Holy Spirit who can only work where there is unity of purpose, and mutual love. There was a parody on social media of a well known hymn.  The joke version read “Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God: brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.”  The original, not often heard these days, is powerful when it is not only sung but believed as true, and lived out: “Like a mighty army moves the church of God: brothers we are treading where the saints have trod.”  The power of the Holy Spirit that Paul hints at in these opening chapters, and which he will discuss later in his letter, is what moves this mighty army.

Choose your metaphor then: growing crops, a family, or an army. Whichever you prefer, be a part of it, growing together in the love of God, and resist division like the plague.

The Bible in a Year – 5 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

5 October. 2 Chronicles chapters 33-34

The tug-of-war between the monotheists and the polytheists or pagans is not over, although the triumphalism of yesterday’s account of Hezekiah’s reign may have made us think it was.  Under his son Manasseh (not to be confused with the tribe of the same name) his reforms are reversed and paganism becomes the official religion again – at least for a time. An unexpected twist in the plot happens when the Assyrians attack again and take him captive.  Without any detail, we are told that he humbles himself and is restored to country and throne, and in thankfulness restores the true religion of Israel. It all sounds too simplistic, and we are not told at what point in his 55-year reign this happens.  But once again the reforms are not to last.  His son Amon rebels again, but without repentance, and only reigns for two years.

The reforms of Josiah that we begin to hear about in chapter 34 are more lasting. In view of my comments yesterday about the different ways that people are brought to faith, we see an interesting growth into religious maturity here.  Josiah was a boy-king, eight years old (and presumably under guardianship) when he inherits the throne on the death of his 24-year-old father (who was a rather young parent, do the maths yourself!) Presumably, like any child, he would have accepted unquestioningly the family’s religious beliefs and practices – in this case paganism.  But at the age of 16 he “began to seek the God of his ancestor David” (34:3) – that is about the same age that I began to ask myself questions of religious belief.  At the age of 20 – the age of radical students everywhere – he becomes an enthusiast for the faith, and like his grandfather Hezekiah tears down the pagan shrines and poles.   But six years later, he enters a new phase of understanding, founded not on the emotionalism of religious ritual, but on the sober words of the written Law of Moses that are discovered in the Temple.

This journey from blind acceptance of other people’s faith, to independent enquiry as an adolescent, to the unquestioning fervour of the young adult, to a more mature outlook with respect for tradition and evidence, is typical of many people’s spiritual journey, including my own. We can encourage people at any age to embark on this journey, but trying to force it too soon or too quickly may result in rejection, or a short-lived passion that soon fades, or an emotional commitment that fails to stand the tests of life.  In Jesus’ words, the seed that falls on hard, or dry, or thorny ground will not flourish, but that which falls on good soil will produce much fruit.  Josiah was obviously planted in the right place.