Review of ‘Spiritual Persons, Gifts, and Churches’ by George M. Flattery

Spiritual-Persons-Gifts-ChurchesGeorge M. Flattery, Spiritual Persons, Gifts, and Churches: A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Springfield, MO: Network211, 2015).

First Corinthians 12–14 presents the apostle Paul’s most detailed description of and instructions about pneumatikōn, typically translated “spiritual gifts.” The contemporary Pentecostal movement has turned to this passage repeatedly both to defend the use of prophecy, tongues, and interpretation in its worship services against cessationist critics, as well as to order that use in those worship services against charismatic excesses. George M. Flattery’s commentary offers a clear survey of the relevant interpretive issues and is thus a welcome contribution to Pentecostal literature on Paul’s letter.

Three features stood out to me.

First, though Paul mentions Christ’s lordship explicitly only in 1 Corinthians 12:3, 5, Flattery reminds us of the Christ-centeredness of Paul’s practice and theology. “All matters spiritual, for the believing saints, center in Christ,” he writes. He goes on to point out the joint work of the Lord and the Spirit in the life of the believer: “By God’s design, Jesus is central to the story of salvation. Moreover, the presence and work of the Spirit in salvation is essential to our faith. We cannot be saved except by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lifts up and exalts Jesus as our Savior. The Holy Spirit indwells people who believe in Christ, and they are, in a basic sense, spiritual people.”

Pentecostals often refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled Christians,” and we are often caricatured by cessationist critics as being more interested in the Spirit than in Jesus. Flattery’s statements are a useful reminder that to be Spirit-filled is to be Jesus-centered, and to be Jesus-centered is to seek the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives in ever greater measure. Indeed, for Christians, the spiritual life is the work of the entire Trinity (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).

Second, Flatter repeatedly draws out the logical progression of Paul’s argument over the course of these three chapters. Chapter 13, one of the Bible’s most famous passages, is often read at weddings as guidance for the bride and groom about how they should conduct their marriage—with love. What Paul wrote about love is, of course, universally applicable, but he himself wrote chapter 13 to explain how love supplies the motivation for the expression of the spiritual gifts. The diverse gifts (chapter 12), should be motivated by love (chapter 13), so that they are expressed in an orderly fashion in worship services for the edification of others (chapter 14).

The logic of Paul’s argument is always helpful to remember. We sometimes feel a tension between charisma and order. For many in our society—those described as “spiritual but not religious”—those two things are antithetical. Charisma is individual, organic, and spontaneous. Order is corporate, artificial, and belabored. Following Paul, Flattery reminds us that spirituality is both charismatic and orderly.

Spiritual churches consist of spiritual people who live and act in spiritual ways. Paul is especially concerned about the services in the church. He is concerned about the impact of what happens on the outsiders who visit the church. And, for the sake of the edification of the body, he is concerned that there be an orderly approach. He insists that speech be intelligible. Any utterance in tongues should be interpreted. Paul sees no conflict between order and the powerful presence and work of the Spirit. The Spirit must be allowed to work.

Rather than pitting the individual against body, the gift against the institution, the Spirit against order, Paul brings them together through love.

Third, though Pentecostals are often known as doers rather than thinkers, Flattery reminds us that Pentecostals should be thinkers too. His commentary on 1 Corinthians 12–14 carefully sifts through the various interpretive issues that Paul’s Greek presents readers. Flattery’s treatment of opposing points of view is fair and irenic. He declares on which side of an interpretive dispute he lands, but where possible, he shows how different interpretive options nonetheless arrive at the same destination by alternate routes. His treatment of Paul and Paul’s interpreters is patient, workmanlike, and kind. In this sense, Flattery’s personal example is a model for the Pentecostal scholar, pastor, and believer.

P.S. This review first appeared at

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Review of ‘The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas’ by Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak

The-Gospe-in-the-Marketplace Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas: Paul’s Mars Hill Experience for Our Pluralistic World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014). Paperback / Kindle 

Among American evangelicals, it is a truism to say that America is fast becoming a post-Christian nation. The nation’s increasing diversity combined with the rapid rise of religious “nones” have resulted in a very different religious landscape than the one depicted in Will Herberg’s mid-20th-century classic, Protestant—Catholic—Jew, where those three religious constituted Americans’ religious choices. This new landscape requires evangelical Christians to adopt new methods in their evangelistic mission to the current generation.

Why? Because many of our methods assume that the people we are talking to agree with us on basic assumptions about the authority of the Bible, the nature of God, the necessity of atonement, and the reasonableness of faith. For much of American history, evangelism thus consisted of calling nominal Christians to practice a more authentic faith. In our increasingly non-Christian and post-Christian nation, however, it is unsafe to make any of those assumptions.

In their new book, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak examine Paul’s Mars Hill sermon (Acts 17:16–34) to see what insights the Bible itself supplies to evangelical Christians who wish to proclaim the eternal gospel in temporally relevant manner. Among Paul’s evangelistic sermon in Acts, the Mars Hill sermon best approximates our own cultural situation. Athens was a pre-Christian, pluralistic culture, whose religious and philosophical assumptions and practices differed dramatically from Paul’s. And yet, Paul found a way to speak meaningfully to the Athenians, affirming what he could in their culture, while providing a critique of those beliefs and practices that kept them from seeing their need for faith in Jesus Christ.

This dual-movement of Jesus-centered affirmation and critique will have a different flavor in 21st-century America, of course. But the logic of the approach will be the same.

  • Distinguish between persons and beliefs.
  • Describe the unknown God.
  • Point to signals of transcendence.
  • See evangelism and apologetics as interrelated process.
  • Challenge contemporary idolatries/ideologies.
  • Above all, point to Jesus as the climax of history and the fulfillment of our highest ideals.

As we follow Paul’s Mars Hill evangelistic methodology, we will find that some of our listeners will sneer, just as some Athenians sneered at Paul. But some will believe. It is for them that we must “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

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Review of ‘Man and Woman, One in Christ’ by Philip B. Payne

man-and-woman-one-in-chirst Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). Paperback

In feminist criticism of Christianity, the apostle Paul often emerges as chief among sexists. He subordinated wives to husbands in the home and women to men in the church, enjoining females to be “submissive” to and “quiet” before males. Sometimes, it is conceded, Paul made noises in an egalitarian direction, e.g., Galatians 3:28. On the whole, however, he advocated patriarchy, or as contemporary advocates call it, complementarianism.

In Man and Woman, One in Christ, Philip B. Payne argues that Paul has been misread. Far from being an advocate of patriarchy—in home or church—Paul is an egalitarian. Or rather, to state the matter positively: “Paul repeatedly affirms the equal standing and privileges of women and men in the church and in marriage.”

Payne reaches this conclusion through

  • an examination of the Hellenistic, rabbinic, Old Testament, and early Christian backgrounds to Paul’s teaching (chapter 1);
  • a survey of women Paul names as ministry leaders (chapter 2);
  • an outline of Pauline theological axioms that imply sexual equality (chapter 3);
  • and a painstaking exegesis of the relevant Pauline texts: Galatians 3:28 (chapter 4); 1 Corinthians 7 (chapter 5); 11:2–16 (chapters 6–13); 14:34–35 (chapter 14); Ephesians 5:21–33 and Colossians 3:18–19 (chapter 15); 1 Timothy 2:8–15 (chapters 16–23); and 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9).

Some of the arguments Payne makes will be familiar to anyone who has kept up with the literary debate between egalitarians and complementarians, which has been ongoing among evangelicals for several decades. Indeed, Payne’s own scholarly output on the topic has made a signal contribution to these debates. He states that Man and Woman, One in Christ has been 36 years in the making. (It was published in 2009.)

Payne presents these familiar arguments for egalitarianism with precision and care. They include, among others, the egalitarian implications of Galatians 3:28, the meaning of kephale as “source” rather than “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, the mutuality of submission between husband and wife in Ephesians 5:21–33, the contextually limited (rather than universal) prohibition of women assuming authority to teach in 1 Timothy 2:18–15, and the openness of the offices of overseer and deacon to women in 1 Timothy 3:11–13 and Titus 1:5–9. (English translations do not always make this openness clear.)

He also makes several fresh arguments, however. Commentators often note the sexism that underlies some rabbinic teaching, famously epitomized in the daily prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me…a woman.” They presume that Paul shared this attitude, at least prior to his conversion and call. Payne notes that the “surviving sayings of Rabban Gamaliel I,” Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3), “indicate a favorable attitude toward women in sharp contrast to the rabbinic tradition as a whole.” Could it be that Gamaliel shaped Paul’s more positive assessment of women?

With Gordon D. Fee, Payne makes the argument that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is an interpolation into the text that was not written by Paul. The early Western textual tradition places verses 34–35 after verse 40, whereas the majority textual tradition places it after verse 33. Fee (and Payne) argues that the best explanation for this is that the verses are an early interpolation. What Payne brings to the table now is a fresh examination of distigme in Codex Vaticanus, scribal markings around verses 34–35 that indicate an interpolation, as well as several other early manuscripts that do not have the verses in them. Payne’s argument is impressive, though I must note the countervailing argument: Whether placed after verse 33 or verse 44, verses 34–35 are present in nearly all extant manuscripts.

One final example of a fresh argument (there are other examples, of course): Payne argues that the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 means “to assume authority,” not “to exercise authority,” and that the Greek word oude in that verse conjoins “to teach” and “to assume authority” as two aspects of a single action, namely, “to assume authority to teach,” rather than to be granted authority to teach by an appropriate body. To my mind, Payne’s lexicographical and grammatical arguments in this regard are probative and definitive.

As noted above, Man and Woman, One in Christ was four decades in the making. Payne, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge, started out with complementarian assumptions regarding marriage, but changed those through close investigation of the relevant Pauline texts. Far from explaining away Scripture, Payne’s arguments assume its inerrancy and authority. This is important, because it demonstrates the possibility that egalitarianism is not an ideology imposed upon the New Testament text, but a social practice that arises organically from the text, which has the status of God’s infallible Word to humanity.

Some time ago, my neighbor and I fell into a discussion about Christianity. One of her misgivings about the faith had its source in the practice of patriarchy in the Bible and among contemporary evangelicals. As a well-educated, intelligent woman—a writer, in fact—she seemed offended by the notion that men/husbands should possess authority over women/wives simply by virtue of their sex.

I wonder how many women and men share my neighbor’s misgivings about Christianity. Increasingly, women are advancing into leadership at all levels of society—except, it seems, in the church, where leadership is reserved (whether by explicit biblical interpretation or by implicit cultural custom) to men. Is it any wonder that some find the church sexist and hence the faith untenable?

Those of us who minister and teach the Word of God need to exercise due diligence when it comes to controversial passages in the apostle Paul (or anywhere else in Scripture). We need to make sure that our conclusions are thoroughly rooted in the Greek text, not in English translations, let alone contemporary prejudices of one sort or another. What is impressive about Man and Woman, One in Christ is the thoroughness, depth, clarity, and charity of Payne’s scholarship. If I were to recommend just one book to pastors and Bible teachers regarding Paul’s theology and practice of male-female relationships, this book would undoubtedly be it. At times, it is a tough slog to read because it is so thick in its discussions of textual criticism, grammar, lexicography, and syntax. Nonetheless, the intellectual reward is worth the slog. More important, however, is biblical foundation it lays for the equality of women and men in Christ.

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A Marvelous Example of Prayer (Ephesians 1.15–23)



Ephesians 1.15–23


How should we pray for others? In Ephesians 1.15–23, Paul describes his prayers for the Ephesians. His words offer us a marvelous example of prayer.

First, we should be aware of what is going on in the lives of the people we are praying for. Paul writes, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (verse 15). Even though he was not physically present with the Ephesians, Paul kept himself informed of their way of life. Why? Because the Ephesians were dear to him; he was their spiritual father and the founding pastor of their church (Acts 18.18–20.38). We cannot pray effectively for others unless we know how they are doing in the day-to-day routine of their lives.

Second, we should be thankful for the good things God is doing in their lives. Paul writes, “I do not cease to give thanks for you.” Notice how often Paul gives thanks for the Ephesians: whenever he prays for them. Paul is not thankful on rare occasions; he is always thankful for what God is doing for the Ephesians. Sometimes, when we pray for others, we focus so intently on asking God to solve their problems that we forget the many solutions he has already provided. It is always good to begin with thanks.

Third, we should pray that God would help them grow in their relationship with him. Loving God is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22.37–38), so growing in our love of God should be our most urgent and important prayer request. Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (verses 17–19). Knowledge of God is not just head-knowledge or theory; it is heart-knowledge and personal relationship. Out of that relationship with God spring hope, blessedness, and confidence in God’s saving power.

Finally, we should pray that God would bring wholeness to every area of their lives. Paul writes about the power that God “worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (verse 20). He mentions both “this age” and “the one to come” (verse 21), i.e., both the present and eternity. And he says that God’s ultimate purpose is to “put all things under [Christ’s] feet” (verse 22). When we pray for others, we do not merely ask God to bless and guide them in their spiritual lives. We pray for God to bless and guide them in every area of their life: relationally, intellectually, physically, emotionally, financially, etc. “All things” are proper topics for prayer.

Every Spiritual Blessing (Ephesians 1.3–14)



Ephesians 1.3–14


In Ephesians 1.3–14, Paul praises God because he has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” What are those spiritual blessings? Paul gives several examples.

First, election: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (verse 4). When we give our testimonies, we speak of what led us to choose to follow Christ. But in reality, long before we had made a choice for God, God made a choice for us. Our salvation is the result of God’s initiative, not our own. As 1 John 4.10 puts it: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Second, adoption: “he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (verse 5). In the biblical portrait of human existence, we are spiritual orphans. As orphans, we have no spiritual safety net, and are thus find ourselves victim to the depredations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Through Christ, God adopts us into his heavenly family, gives us a spiritual home, and provides us an inheritance of eternal life. What a joy to know that our loving heavenly Father refuses to leave us alone!

Third, redemption and forgiveness: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (verse 7). Redemption and forgiveness are economic metaphors of salvation. Redemption is the price paid in order to emancipate a slave. Forgiveness is what a creditor does for his debtor when he releases him from the obligation of repaying a loan. In the biblical portrait of human existence, we are slaves and debtors to sin. But God is the Great Liberator and Debt Cancelor!

Fourth, enlightenment: “in all wisdom and insight  [God is] making known to us the mystery of his will…to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (verses 9–10). Dante Alighieri begins his Divine Comedy with these words: “Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Having reached middle age, I can testify to the fact that I have sometimes felt a bit lost about what my future holds. But even if I—or you—do not know all the details of what the future holds, we know its ultimate end: the union of “all things in him.” That is God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (verse 10).

Fifth, inheritance: “In him we have obtained an inheritance” (verse 11). That inheritance is eternal life in God’s presence. In eternity, “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21.4).

Finally, the Holy Spirit: “[you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (verses 13–14). First-century authors stamped a seal on their letters as a symbol of its authenticity. The Holy Spirit is God’s stamp on our lives, signifying that we are truly his. And first-century homebuyers offered a down payment as the guarantee of future payments. So also, the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on our life. As Paul writes in Philippians 1.6: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Of God, By God, For God (Ephesians 1.3–14)



Ephesians 1.3–14


After I proposed to Tiffany, we called everyone we knew to share our good news. We couldn’t stop talking about our engagement. After we got married, we couldn’t stop talking about how enjoyable our wedding and reception were. To this day, any mention of our wedding will spark a long, excited conversation between us. And why not? Good experiences should be talked about.

In Ephesians 1.3–14, Paul writes about salvation. But his words are not dry or academic. They are a Niagara Falls of praise, gushing forth excitedly and spilling over the boundaries of grammar and punctuation. The English Standard Version divides verses 3–14 into five complete sentences, the New International Version into eight, and the New Living Translation into fifteen. In Greek, verses 3–14 are one long sentence with 202 words. Paul simply cannot stop praising God, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Tomorrow, I will write about “every spiritual blessing,” but today I would like to keep your attention focused on God. Why? Because we are constantly in danger of losing sight of the Giver for the gift. In verses 3–14, Paul mentions numerous spiritual blessings: We have been chosen by God, adopted into his family, forgiven of our sins, enlightened regarding God’s plan for the ages, given an eternal inheritance, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is easy to focus on these wonderful gifts. But isn’t the Giver most important? The wedding ring Tiffany gave me is quite valuable, but she’s the real prize. Just so, “every spiritual blessing” is good news, but God himself is the gospel. Paul keeps our attention focused on the Giver of “every spiritual blessing” in three ways.

First, he emphasizes that God initiates our salvation. In verse 4 we read, “He chose us…before the foundation of the world.” In verse 5, Paul writes, “He predestined us…according to the purpose of his will.” Verse 10 speaks of his “plan for the fullness of time.” And verse 11 mentions “having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” The language of choice, predestination, purpose, plan, counsel, and will reinforce the fact that our salvation is God’s decision.

Second, God accomplishes our salvation through his Son. Pay attention to these prepositional phrases: “in Christ” (verses 3, 9, 12), “in him” (verses 4, 7, 10, 11, 13), “through Jesus Christ” (verse 5), “in the Beloved” (verse 6), and “through his blood” (verse 7). Nearly every verse of Paul’s doxology points to Jesus Christ and his cross as the means of our salvation.

Third, God’s ultimate purpose in our salvation is his own glory. Notice the language of verse 6: “to the praise of his glorious grace.” And of verses 12 and 14: “to the praise of his glory.” At first glance, God’s ultimate purpose seems self-centered, as if he saves us so that we might toot his horn. But in reality, it is self-giving, for what God offers us is eternal joy with him. Always remember, God himself—and not merely his spiritual blessings—is the real gift of the gospel.

Our salvation is of God, by God, and for God, so let us praise him!

The Christian Abundance Mentality (Ephesians 1.3)



Ephesians 1.3


Do you have a scarcity mentality or an abundance mentality?

A scarcity mentality operates on the assumption that whatever is good in the world is rare, hard to find, and difficult to keep. Consequently, once you find a good thing, you must keep it to yourself, or others will take it from you.

Darwin’s theory of evolution is an example of the scarcity mentality at work. According to Darwin, animals fight over a limited supply of food and water. Whatever physical variations—the size of finch’s beak, for example, or the color of a moth’s wing—help an animal win that fight are passed down to the next generation. In such a way, the fittest survive at the expense of the weakest. A scarcity mentality always generates selfish behavior. Indeed, The Selfish Gene is the title of one of the most famous recent books on evolution. How revealing that title is!

By contrast, an abundance mentality operates on the assumption that goodness is like clean, fresh air. It is everywhere, readily available, and plentiful enough to share. The scarcity mentality breeds selfishness, but the abundance mentality creates room for generosity.

Every Christian should have an abundance mentality, for we have received God’s grace in superabundant measure. Consider Ephesians 1.3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Verses 4–14 go on to detail the nature of those spiritual blessings. We’ll take a look at them tomorrow. But today, focus on verse 3; it tells us four things about the Christian abundance mentality.

First, it tells us that abundance is the result of God’s blessing. God “has blessed us…with every spiritual blessing.” Not many. Not some. Definitely not few. But every! If you are “in Christ,” you lack nothing, you have everything you need and more, and therefore you have plenty to share with others.

Second, verse three tells us that abundance is “heavenly” and “spiritual” before it is earthly and material. Verses 4–14 detail the nature of God’s blessings, focusing on God’s decision to save us from our sins. Our sin problem is our most fundamental problem. Solving it takes priority over other problems. But it is God’s ultimate intention “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (verse 10).

Third, God gives us every blessing “in Christ.” His abundance mentality is on display in 2 Corinthians 8.9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Finally, verse 3 tells us that an abundance mentality generates worshipful behavior. Praise is the Christian’s native tongue. Have you ever visited Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls and been overwhelmed with wonder at the beauty of it all? Just so, worshipful wonder is the natural response to our Father’s gracious blessings.

The Essence of Christianity (Ephesians 1.1-2)



Ephesians 1.1-2


What is the essence of Christianity?

There are many good answers to this question, and not a few bad ones. “Jesus loves me” is an excellent example of the former; “tolerance” is an all too common example of the latter. In my opinion, Ephesians 1.2 offers one of the best answers: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” With these words, Paul summarizes the source, cause, means, effect, and recipients of the Christian message.

First, God is the source of the Christian message. The essence of Christianity is not a human invention. It is a divine revelation. Occasionally, some scholar will accuse Paul of being the inventor of Christianity. He is not. He is an “apostle” (Ephesians 1.1). An apostle is a messenger. “Grace and peace” is God’s message; Paul is merely the postman.

Second, grace is the cause of the Christian message. Grace is God’s undeserved favor toward us—undeserved because we are sinners. Just as criminals deserve to be punished, so sinners deserve to be judged. But instead of judgment, which we deserve, God gives us grace, which we don’t. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2.4, 5).

Third, Jesus Christ is the means of the Christian message. “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1.7). On the cross, Jesus Christ suffered a judgment he did not deserve, while we in turn received a righteousness before God we had not earned. This great exchange—his innocence for our guilt—is the means by which God’s grace comes to us.

(Grace and Christ’s death explain why “tolerance” is a bad summary of the Christian message. Tolerance doesn’t care one way or another about sin. It is like a lifeguard who lets a swimmer sink because he doesn’t know whether drowning is really all that bad. But God dives right in. He cares whether we die, so much so that Jesus Christ died in our place. That’s not a tolerant message, but it is a gracious one.)

Fourth, peace is the effect of the Christian message. “[Jesus Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2.14). The dividing wall of hostility is the law that condemns us as sinners. By breaking down that wall, Jesus Christ gives us peace with God and with one another. After all, if God has given us grace we do not deserve, we can hardly withhold it from others.

And fifth, you are the recipient of the Christian message. The Christian message is not merely for first-century Ephesians. God’s offer of grace and peace through Jesus Christ is still valid. So why not receive it today?

Plans and People (1 Corinthians 16:5-24)

Paul concludes his contentious letter to the Corinthians by writing them about his plans and about the people whose friendship they hold in common.

First of all, his plans. Paul intends to visit the Corinthians, although he can’t tell them exactly when he will arrive. He will come to them, he says, “after I go through Macedonia.” The important thing is not the timing of the visit, however, but its duration. “I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”

I have often noticed, in emails and instant messages over the internet, how difficult it is to convey my feelings through only the written word. Sorrow, sarcasm, wry humor – all these things require a tone of voice, an arched eyebrow, a sly smile. They all require, in other words, personal presence. It is through our nonverbal communication that we express what the words of our verbal communications really mean.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has often said some harsh things to and unflattering things about them. No doubt Paul wanted to spend extensive time with them to let them know the depth of his personal feelings for them, how much he loved them as his children. He was angry with them, yes, but with a parental anger. If he was with them personally, they would understand how quickly his anger could turn into joy and love and pride of spiritual paternity.

For Paul was indeed proud of them and glad for their conversion, and he loved them deeply and richly. They were, after all, his people, his spiritual family and nation. Throughout today’s Scripture Reading, Paul mentions many names: Timothy, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. Some of these people were known by the Corinthians. The first four in my list, for instance, were instrumental in bringing the Corinthians to faith and in nurturing them spiritually. The final three were themselves members of the Corinthian congregation. What united them were a common faith in God, a common belief in Christ, and a common experience of the Holy Spirit. Though now separated from one another by long distances, they had more in common with one another than with their current neighbors.

To be a Christian is to live in constant fellowship with other Christians, both at home and abroad. Often, in my travels, I have had the opportunity to spend time with Christians in other countries. We are separated by ethnicity, language, and geography – all three, powerful forces. But we are united by a force more powerful: “the grace of the Lord Jesus.” It is ultimately this bond, this commonality, that Paul appeals to in his many arguments with the Corinthians. Because we are united by Christ, we should not be divided by any other thing.

And so we conclude Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We have learned about the supremacy of Christ, the priority of his cross, and the finality of his resurrection. We have seen that we should act in love toward our friends in all things – from how we eat to how we speak. We have learned, in a nutshell, to keep first things first.

St. Augustine once said that in essential matters, Christians should have unity; in nonessential matters, they should have liberty; but in all matters, they should have charity – that is, love. “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

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