bible blog 384

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:

NEW GOVERNMENT FOR IRELAND / STALEMATE IN LIBYA

authority

2nd Corinthians 10: 7-18

Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we. 8Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. 10For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ 11Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. 13We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. 14For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news* of Christ. 15We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labours of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, 16so that we may proclaim the good news* in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. 17‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ 18For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

If we strip away the polite “we” behind which Paul takes refuge here, and substitute “I” then we get the meaning of his outburst more immediately. He is complaining about some intruding “apostles” in Corinth, who decry Paul’s character and message. Paul replies

  1. He does possess genuine authority from Christ to build up communities of faith
  2. He may not be impressive as a preacher, but if he has to deal with them in person he won’t miss
  3. The new apostles are on his “gospel territory” and are resting on his laurels.
  4. All self-recommendation is suspect: Christ is the only judge.

Two things are detectable here: concern for the gospel and concern for his own authority. His difficulty in separating these comes from his very personal “gospel” which he says he received from God and not from other apostles. He does not appeal to any traditional summary of the gospel, except when he notes he has received something “from the Lord”. This means his gospel stands or falls by its power to convert and by his personal authority. The Corinthian crisis threw his whole ministry into question. This sort of crisis is doubtless why a basically charismatic church gradually began to formulate some objective tests of faith. The church’s “memory of Jesus” preserved in the gospels (all written after Paul’s time), was used for this purpose.

Matthew 6:7-15

7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10   Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11   Give us this day our daily bread.

12   And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13      And do not bring us to the time of trial,

14      but rescue us from the evil one.

14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

authority

Reformed churches believe that the authority for faith is the Word of God who is Jesus Christ, the son of God. The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments share this authority inasmuch as they witness to Jesus. But is it possible to know Jesus outside the scripture? Yes, of course, most people come to faith through the communication of the gospel and the life of the Christian community. The Bible is a true witness to the Word of God when it is read within the fellowship of the church (of all times and places) with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. My own tradition of faith resists the habit of identifying the Bible with the Word of God because that leads to the preaching of what Scottish poet Edwin Muir called, “The Word- made- flesh made word again.”  Nevertheless, if someone asked me where to find a brief summary of Christian faith, I would invite her to look at these verses of Matthew’s gospel with me, and to join in the prayer, because it so directly expresses the character of Jesus.

Unlike the great prayers of other religions and even of the church, it is very matter of fact. For Jesus God is the dear father whose identity (name) is to be honoured, not by keeping it free from all taint of the earth, but by the obedience of earthly people to his will. Those who obey receive the means of life from the Father’s hand day by day in company with all God’s children; live by receiving and transmitting the generosity of God through his Son, which keeps no account of what is due to be paid for; and know they need the Spirit’s deliverance in their battle with the Evil One. This is how to honour God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To pray this prayer in faith is to experience the living authority of Jesus, the Word of God.

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