Posts Tagged With: Apostle Paul

Foolishness To The Greeks

Jesus Christ Crucified is Center

1 Corinthians 1:18-25   18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

———————–

Without Jesus as Center, it is impossible to remain on the right path. It doesn’t matter the good intentions, rich history and traditions, well-meaning followers or leaders.  Without Jesus as Center, the route traveled will quickly deviate off the appointed path to the right or to the left; even at some point spinning off to the degree of necessitating intervention.

This occurred in the Corinthian Church very early on and St. Paul’s “First Letter to the Corinthians” is his targeted attempt to repair it.

1Corinthians

Corinth

A few years earlier, Paul came to Corinth and found a thriving commercial center; a hub of money, influence, thought, and immorality.  Basically Corinth was a power-center much like a New York City or Los Angeles is today.   And Paul, per his typical method, preached, evangelized, discipled, delegated, and then moved on to the next region to do the same; letting the newly placed local elders and leaders continue to shepherd, teach, and guide the newly converted Christians.  This was the pattern.

There were problems with Corinth, however.  Idolatries were very entrenched there and the new church became too influenced by its surrounding culture.

The result was twofold: A growing over-emphasis on human reason and on religious zealotry.  Those two categorical issues were (and still continue to be) deadly in luring disciples away from experiencing the true life that Christ offers.

So reenter the Apostle Paul:  Having heard about these concerns from afar, he sat down and penned this letter (1 Corinthians) to plead the message that Jesus Christ Crucified is the Center; anything else is foolishness and powerlessness!

1.  The Foolishness of REASON

It might seem odd, at first glance, that the highly educated Apostle Paul would minimize the importance of human reason for he was known to persuade, debate, and engage the human mind in synagogues and in public squares alike.  And we modern Westerners, children of the Enlightenment, might miss the gist of this text because when Paul quotes the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah (in vs.19) he is not suggesting a devaluation of truth.  Instead, Paul is directly attacking the Greek philosophy that had so heavily influenced the Corinthian Church after his departure; it had been veering those new disciples away from Jesus as Center.

The Greek Philosophers taught that there was a dualism in life — The spirit being good and pure and the body/earth being impure or nonessential.  Even as Paul was evangelizing, and later penning letters, this Greek philosophy was crystallizing more and more into an intense “Gnostic” strain (meaning “knowledge”).  Scholars call this early appearance “proto-Gnosticism”, but I’ll simply refer to it as Gnosticism as it has changed so little at its core.

Those Gnostics argued much about all the latest ideas and perspectives but it was all “head” knowledge.  There was deadness to all the philosophizing and opinionating about their points of view:  All head but no heart.

Apostle Paul Writing

Apostle Paul Writing

It was within this context that Paul admonished the (Gnostic-influenced) Corinthian Christians that they had gotten it backwards.  All of the head-knowledge philosophizing and disputing was utter foolishness. Instead of arriving at Jesus as Center, all that speculative human reasoning ended up instead at themselves as center.

And so then it became anthropocentric, not christocentric; worthless and foolish.  That word “foolish”, the Greek moraino, is the same used of the salt that became tasteless and worthless thereby needing to be tossed out (Mt 5:13, Lk 14:34) as well as the description of the idolatry of the Gentiles in Romans 1 who “claimed to be wise” (Rom 1:22) but who were really fools about spiritual truth.

Fast forward to today where the Gnostic error continues to hold sway.   There are many current dialogues and conversations about how to “do life” and even “do church” according to the philosophies and progressive trends of the ever-changing culture, and there is also the inundation of the “principles for success” pragmatism as well, but these are not based on the centrality of Christ and Him crucified.

And let’s not miss the important point:  The “crucified” adjective is crucial.  In verse 23, Paul drives home this point, “but we preach Christ crucified  and then elaborates that this is where true wisdom originates.

Let’s be clear: Even though there can be layers of church, religion, and even Jesus placed on top to give an appearance of authenticity, it’s still NOT the gospel unless Christ Crucified is Center.  All else is utter foolishness.

2. The Powerlessness of RELIGION

The other destructive fallacy contaminating the Corinthians was religious zealotry.  In verse 22, Paul writes that the “Jews demand miraculous signs”.  What Paul meant was that the Jews had elevated the importance of religious power, signs and miracles; in essence they were awaiting a Messiah who would fulfill their national hopes and accomplish their socio-political goals by ousting the Roman Empire in a show of power.

They wanted a Messiah to validate their self-centered interpretations, religious rites and traditions.  So by interpreting the scriptures through the lens of their own religious traditions and culture, they had created a god in their own image, and thereby missed the real power of God in Christ.

For God’s true Messiah was not a commanding warrior for the Jews only but quite the opposite; a crucified suffering servant for ALL nations, in the vein of Isaiah 52-53.

To the Jews this concept was mind-blowingly offensive; much like if Osama Bin Laden’s head was carved onto Mt. Rushmore in the prominent place where George Washington’s head used to be.  Unarguably offensive.

Case in point: The Apostle Paul himself.  He describes his religious pedigree in Acts 22 as one thoroughly trained and zealous, persecuting Christians, even to the point of murder (Acts 8: The stoning of Stephen).

3-elders-judging-church-discipline

Religious Zealots Self-Righteously Judging and Imposing Rules

That the Messiah would be crucified (let alone worshiped as divine) was absolutely disgraceful to Paul (before his conversion) as well as to the Jewish people in general.  This is because the Jewish religion held that anyone who was hung on a “tree” was accursed (Gal 1:13-14, 3:13) and they could not wrap their minds around the fact that the God-Man Jesus so loved his people that he went willingly to the accursed cross; dying a criminal’s death, paying the penalty for sin and brokenness, thereby redeeming mankind and creation.

This was a massive “stumbling block” as religious Jews could not get past the offensiveness of the cross.  Here in verse 23 is the Greek scandalon where we get our word “scandal”.  It was an indignity to religiously zealous people that they could not  try harder, self-improve, do or be anything in order to become right in God’s eyes. The message of the cross was an absolute outrage!

In response, Paul is direct, using that word scandalon; echoing back to Jesus words in the gospel where our Lord accused Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).

Within the Corinthian Church, those old religious beliefs and traditions were so insidiously formidable that they began to creep in and undercut the gospel.  The religious zealots (much like the Judaizers of Galatians) were followers of Jesus within the church but they layered on top all the legalistic rules and self-righteousness from their traditions.  But by doing so, by adding anything to Christ Crucified, they subtracted Him away.  There cannot be Jesus Christ as Center plus any other stipulations or addendums. To do so deflates the power of the gospel.

A note about belief: The Greek word used in verse 21 for “belief”, pisteuo, carries a far weightier meaning than simple intellectual assent.  To truly believe in Jesus Christ, in the scriptural sense, means to fully entrust and place confidence in him and his work on the cross on our behalf.

Fast forward to today where self-righteous religious zealotry (both fundamentalist AND progressivist) continue to be pervasive within the Christian community.  Where religious rules, denominational (and non-denominational) traditions, and overwhelming focus on what they are doing (or not doing) continues to sweep away the grace of God infused into the centrality of Jesus Christ Crucified.

So, what does God think about all this?

God’s grace is revealed remarkably in verse 21 where the text reads that, “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”.  This word “pleased” (well-pleased), the Greek eudokeo, is the exact word God spoke to vocalize his complete delight in His Son Jesus at his Baptism (Mt 3/Mk1/Lk 3) and later at the Transfiguration (Mt/Mk/Lk 9).

Imagine that!  The same pleasure and delight the Father has for his beloved Son is the exact same he has in saving to himself (through the message of his gospel; the cross) people adopted as His sons and daughters.

What might have appeared like foolishness to some or scandalous to others is exactly what we all need.   The message of the gospel leads us directly to Jesus Christ Crucified as Center.

#Wade

Categories: Apostle Paul, Death on Cross, Devotional, Gnosticism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Conversion of The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus absolutely explodes into a rich collage of sight, sound, and emotion exhibiting God’s grace.

Acts 22:6-8 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ” ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.

———————

The conversion of the Apostle Paul was so outlandishly radical, so powerful and instantaneous that we even now today have a term for that kind of encounter; we call it a “Damascus Road” experience.

By contrast, most of us come to faith in Christ fairly slowly.  Maybe through the love of a Christian family or friend growing up, maybe via a weekly church worship, or a meaningful youth camp gathering, and most often due to the reading or preaching of God’s Word; the Bible.

PAULSCONVERSION-RUBENS1601

Paul’s Conversion. Rubens 1601

But not so with St. Paul.  Paul was NOT coming towards Christ in any way but was rather moving forcefully and intensely in the exact opposite direction.

To be blunt, Paul was an enemy of the fledgling church of Christ before his amazing and intense Damascus Road experience.  In fact, Paul (aka Saul) was a terrorist in the fullest sense of the word as he actively persecuted, intimidated, imprisoned, and even participated in the murder of those following Jesus (like Stephen, Acts 8).

Paul earned his reputation as an energetic Pharisee who went way out of his way to stop the growth of this new movement of God in Jesus Christ.  He was so dangerous to those new followers of “The Way” (Acts 9:2) that their turbulent anxiety became heightened in his presence.  Certainly Ananias was extremely wary (Acts 9:13) when called directly by God to go to Paul’s side. For many years to come, Christians most likely slept with one eye open when Paul was in their vicinity (as trust is slowly earned, over time).

But God had other plans.  To showcase His immense grace, Jesus chose the “public enemy number one” (at least as far as the new and fragile Christian church was concerned) and promoted him the director of evangelism to Jews AND Gentiles; the very reverse role that would have been opposite of what everyone would have expected.  Talk about counter-culture and counter-intuitive!

The first time this Damascus Road narrative appears in Acts is in Acts 9 where Luke describes the occurrence in third person detail about the Apostle Paul’s encounter.  The second time is in Acts 22 where Luke recounts Paul’s first person apologia to the riled up Jewish crowds rioting in Jerusalem.  In that particular instance, Paul strongly emphasized both his and Ananias’ Jewish backgrounds and faithfulness in order to gain an effective hearing, even speaking in Aramaic.  But his “called to go to the Gentiles” speech was just too much for people to take in (vs. 20-21) and, much like with Stephen earlier, they roared with the same violent destructiveness that Paul had been known for up to his miraculous change.  Clearly, Paul’s life was in serious danger there in Jerusalem, but God had other plans. The third time this Damascus Road encounter is recounted is in Acts 26 where Luke again retells Paul’s narrative in the first person, but this time to the mostly Gentile royal court in Caesarea (King Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus).

So this story of Paul’s conversion is told not just once, but three separate times by the historian Dr. Luke in his book of Acts.  Obviously this was an event so outlandish and unexpected that it penetrated the hearts and minds of the listeners and readers alike.

Think deeply about the reasons why this might be.

  • Firstly, the religious climate and cultures into which Christianity was born did not believe in a bodily resurrection.  The Jewish religious leaders were split on this (Pharisees –vs- Saduccees, Acts 23:8) and the Greeks held a very Gnostic “material world is intrinsically less” worldview.  So into this context comes Paul announcing, along with the other apostles and disciples, that there is indeed hope of resurrection as he has met the risen Christ himself.
  • Secondly, we must recall that Paul was an apostle unlike the other apostles in that he was not a “follower” during Christ’s life and ministry.  Instead he was one later called (in this Damascus Road christophanic appearance) and would then be “validated” to jump immediately into the apostolic circle by having also encountered the glorious risen Christ.  Did this fact also empower Paul multiple times while he himself was being persecuted, imprisoned, even murdered?  The New Testament scriptures inform us yes.

Like Paul himself self-reported in his circular letter to the Galatian churches (Gal 1:22-24) I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me.”

On today, January 24, a day where many churches celebrate the “Conversion of St. Paul”, let us recall the glorious christocentric appearance of God, in Christ, to Paul on that Damascus Road, and may our hearts too be powerfully changed in our own personal encounters with Jesus as well.

(#Wade)

Categories: Apostle Paul, Devotional | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.