Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bible Study - 1 Corinthians Part 5 - Practical Spirituality

Well once again I have gotten quite far behind in my Bible study postings, so over the next week or so I'll be trying to get the blog up to date with where the Bible study group is at the church.

The last post finished up the opening section of 1 Corinthians (1:10-4:21) and with this post we start a new section which covers all of chapters 5 & 6. I've called this section 'Practical Sprituality' because in it we see how some of the spiritual issues mentioned in the last section of the letter are having some very practical consequences. For Paul and for the Bible as a whole, spirituality is always deeply practical and has real consequences for how we live.

In this post we'll just look at chapter 5. Our group at the church had quite a lengthy discussion of what Paul says here and in chapter 6. Indeed there is a lot to discuss and reflect on in just a few verses.
  • Read 1 Cor 5:1-8. Why do you think Paul is so upset with the Corinthian church with how they've dealt with this man who is living with his 'father's wife' (this probably means the man's step-mother)?
  • What do you think Paul mans when he says "hand this man over to [the] Satan... so that his spirit may be saved..." (vs. 5)?
  • What do you think Paul is getting at with the Passover metaphor he uses verses 6-8?
  • Read 1 Cor 5:9-13. What do you think of Paul's statement that Christians should be more concerned with the behaviour of other Christians rather than with the behaviour of non-Christians?
  • What is your reaction to the teaching that Christians actively engaged in serious sins should be expelled from the community? What does Paul see as the ultimate purpose of expulsion and community discipline?
Now that I've asked some questions, I'll give you a little more information that I hope will be useful in your reflections on this challenging passage.
  • One of the underlying issues Paul is dealing with here is spiritual arrogance on the part of many in the Corinthian church. Right here in the passage Paul accuses people within the church of being 'arrogant' (or 'puffed up') and 'boasting'. At the time many spiritual movements taught that spiritual enlightenment freed people to whatever they wanted in their ordinary lives - including the kind of behaviour Paul condemns here.
  • A few words about Passover. First, every Jewish house in preparation for Passover remove every trace of yeast (or leaven) from their house and aet only unleavened bread during the festival. This was to commemorate the fact that the Israelites left Egypt in such a rush that their bread had no time to rise. As a result yeast is almost always a negative metaphor in Jewish thought. Second it's important to remember that Passover is a festival of freedom and liberation. However, freedom from slavery in Egypt was followed by the call to live a new way of life as God's special people - it wasn't license to do whatever the Israelites felt like doing. One issue in Corinth is that Paul and some in the church have very different understandings of freedom.
  • "Hand this man over to the satan" (5:5) Thought I did ask what you think this means I will go ahead and tell you since it's a bit confusing. The satan (in Hebrew this is a title that means 'the accuser') is the personal embodiment of the evil of the world that opposes God's reign. While Paul argues that this evil power has been defeated by Jesus' death and resurrection, the satan still exerts a dangerous influence on the world outside of the protection of the Christian community. So what Paul means here is that the man should have been cast out of the community (which is what Paul says outright in 5:13).
  • However, it's important to remember the second half of the verse, 'so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.' While Paul lists several reasons for casting an unrepentant sinner out of the community, one of them seems to be the hope that this will result in their ultimate benefit (presumably by their eventual repentance and return to the community). This stands in contrast to a religious community like the one we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where sinners are simply cast out to be destroyed by the satan.
This last point was what led to the most discussion in  our group. Indeed the question of how Christian communities can practice loving discipline is a difficult one. If churches have no way of encouraging an agreed upon standard of Christian living then it becomes difficult to challenge and correct destructive behaviours. But at the other end of the spectrum there is the danger of being judgemental, unloving and controlling - and in today's environment people are more likely to leave than endure church discipline. Yet these were the very issues Paul and his churches faced as well. It all comes down to the question: How do we form and become disciples of Jesus Christ who will choose to live differently from the world around us?

1 comment: