Relevant Verses: 1 Cor. 4:6-7; Eph. 2:8-10; John 3:16-17; Gal. 3:28; Rev. 14:6-7
Leading question: Once we realize that we are God’s children, how do we protect ourselves (and the world around us!), from the arrogance that lurks so near?
Comment: Once a upon a time, when I was a young man, several of us theology faculty at Walla Walla College (now University) used to play racquetball together. Each of us had a particular strength. One of my colleagues had the reach. With his long arms he could stand in the middle of the court and reach almost anything. Another colleague had the power; another claimed to have the brains (!). I had the speed. We had great fun together.
And I must admit that over the years I have learned a great deal of good theology from the game and from my colleagues. For example, one day the colleague with the power and I played a game of singles. Afterwards, as we got into his car, he spoke a truth that made a lasting impact on me. “Speed on your feet,” he said, “is like perfect pitch in music: either you have it or you don’t.”
The more I thought about it the more I realized the profound implications of his statement. I’m no expert on perfect pitch, but I do know something about running. If you watch kids running on the playground you can always spot the fast ones. And the ones who just plod can’t plod any faster. They were born to be plodders just as the speedsters were born to be fast.
But arrogance seems to be one of the dangerous side effects of speed. For me, there is no more deliciously wicked feeling than turning on the afterburners and leaving those other guys in the dust! Fortunately for me (and for my character development), my hands weren’t ever quite as good as my feet. So I could scamper into the end zone ahead of everyone – and drop the ball!
Law enforcement officers do not hesitate to tell us that speed kills. But is also truth that speed thrills. At the Olympics, for example, spectators of all kinds are drawn like a magnet to the 100 meter and 200 meter dashes. In virtually every sport, a premium is placed on speed.
The theological point of all this is embodied in a couple of painfully true lines from Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6-7: “I want you to stop saying that one of us is better than the other. 7 What is so special about you? What do you have that you were not given? And if it was given to you, how can you brag?”
That surge of excitement that comes when I leave the other guys in the dust feels like a great accomplishment that I have earned all by myself. Not so quick, says Paul. “What is so special about you? What do you have that you were not given? And if it was given to you, how can you brag?” Do you excel in school? It’s a gift from God. All that we do and all that we are come as gifts from God.
And that brings us to our theme for this week: “Living the Gospel.” Several biblical passages are crucial, some more practical, some more theological. Let’s consider several of them so that we can gain insights as to what it means to “live” the Gospel:
Ephesians 2:8-10. Here Paul gives in a more theological form the same truth suggested in 1 Corinthians 4:
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
In short, all that we do should be rooted in gratitude for what God done for us.
Question: To what extent do we need the “revealed” or “inspired” Word of God to tell us that those who brag are not loved by their fellow humans? Put that question to Matthew 6:1, here in the lively words of the Contemporary English Version: “When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven.”
Comment: One doesn’t need a “revelation” or an “inspired word” to know the” truth of Matthew 6:1 – no one admires a braggart, not the secular person, not the religious person. Here the sacred and the secular blend together as one.
John 3:16-17: With reference to this famous verse, could we perhaps say that the Gospel not only saves us in a “religious” and “eternal” sense, but also saves us from ourselves?
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (NRSV).
Salvation from arrogance, but also from condemnation in judgment. Religiously, we are so accustomed to thinking of salvation in the religious sense, i.e. being saved from condemnation in the great judgment day, that we often overlook the fact that it also saves us from our arrogance and condemnation by our fellow human beings
Question: How do the following passages address our shortcomings and cultural biases? How does the Gospel address those impulses?
28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (NRSV)
1 Corinthians 12:13
13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The three great subjugations in historical perspective. In Galatians 3, Paul addresses the three great subjugations that came about as a result of sin and which Jesus came to reverse, moving us all toward oneness in Christ. The list that follows indicates the historical stages by which the subjugations took place
1. Female subjugation to the male. Genesis 3:16 describes the fate that overtook the woman as the result of sin: “Your husband shall rule over you.” Is it ironic that Genesis 3:16 is reversed by John 3:16? Those who support male dominance, usually do so from a theocentric perspective, arguing that the husband should rule over the woman because of her sin. But the Hebrew is wonderfully ambiguous here: It can be taken as an imperative or as mere description. Surely, in the light of John 3:16, the Christian’s goal should be to return to the ideal of Genesis 1:27 where male and female are both created in the image of God.
2. Slave subjugation to the free. In the New Testament there is scarcely a clue that the slaves should be given their freedom. During the American civil war, all the preachers in the American South are recorded as defending slavery from the Bible. It would be nearly 2000 years after the resurrection before slaves would be given their freedom.
3. Greek subjugation to the Jew. Of the three, this is the only subjugation addressed in the New Testament. Acts 10 and 11 give a glimpse of Peter’s deep anxiety when the “vision” showed him that Jews and Greeks were equal before God. One can almost hear him hyperventilating as he responds to Cornelius in the presence of the assembled Gentiles: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” And all this happened perhaps six years after the resurrection. In short, the full meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection in bringing us together as one, was slow in coming.
Summary: The one remaining subjugation is female to the male. And it is not just a “religious” matter. Culture in general has been slow to respond. Here is a statement about the gradually changing status of women at Cambridge University:
Women’s education at Cambridge: Originally all students were male. The first colleges for women were Girton College (founded by Emily Davies) in 1869 and Newnham College in 1872. The first women students were examined in 1882 but attempts to make women full members of the university did not succeed until 1947. Although Cambridge did not give degrees to women until this date women were in fact allowed to study courses, sit examinations, and have their results recorded from the nineteenth century onwards. In the twentieth century women could be given a “titular degree”; although they were not denied recognised qualifications, without a full degree they were excluded from the governing of the university. Since students must belong to a college, and since established colleges remained closed to women, women found admissions restricted to colleges established only for women. All of the men’s colleges began to admit women between 1960 and 1988. One women’s college, Girton, also began to admit men, but the other women’s colleges did not follow suit. In the academic year 2004-5, the university’s student gender ratio, including post-graduates, was male 52%: female 48% (Source: Cambridge University Reporter). – Wikipedia, “University of Cambridge” (09-06-06)
Revelation 14:6, 7: Worship of the creator God, judgment, and Gospel all rolled into one
Revelation 14: 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Question: How might the cluster of things mentioned in the first angel’s message motivate Christians to be more thoughtful of the needs of “the least of these”?