Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Key Verse for the Life of the Church

When we look near the end of I Corinthians chapter 14, we find a key verse for the life of the church. I Corinthians 14:37 says, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord."

I Corinthians is a letter in which the apostle Paul deals with a wide range of issues. He discusses unity, wisdom, immorality, marriage, lawsuits, liberty, idolatry, and several other important topics. Paul also spends a good deal of time speaking about the gathering of the church. It's a shame for the Corinthian church that they had so many problems. However, it is a benefit to us because we see how Paul instructed them to deal with these struggles.

In I Corinthians chapters 11-14, Paul talks in various ways about how the Corinthian church should think and act as they come together. In chapter 11, Paul talks about head coverings and conduct during the Lord's Supper. In chapter 12, Paul writes about spiritual gifts. Chapter 13 is the famous love chapter, in which Paul encourages the church to exercise these spiritual gifts in love. Chapter 14 deals specifically with prophecy/tongues, church order, and edification.

At the end of chapter 14, Paul challenges/rebukes the Corinthians for gathering together in ways that are not God-honoring. He writes in 14:36, "Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?" They had been coming together with attitudes and actions that were outside of the word of God.

Paul then writes the key verse in 14:37, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord."

Paul is telling the Corinthians and us that what he has written in this letter, and certainly in chapters 11-14 (since that is the context), "are a command of the Lord." Notice the word "command." What the apostle describes for us in these chapters are then commands of God to us for how our church gatherings should look. Certainly we are not expected to do what the Corinthians did incorrectly; rather, Paul expects us to live according to what he has written about what they should be doing.

When we look at our churches today, the gatherings generally don't look much like what we see described in I Corinthians chapters 11-14. This would be fine if what Paul had written was optional. We often seem to act as if Paul wrote in 14:37, "...the things I am writing to you are an option from the Lord." We clearly see, however, that Paul wrote the word "command." This means that we must, out of obedience, do our best to follow the model set forth in chapters 11-14.

I realize that different Christians will probably have different interpretations about what some aspects of chapters 11-14 mean. For example, what are head coverings? What does it mean for women to be silent? Those are not easy issues.

However, we should do our best to faithfully interpret the passages and then live them out. They are commanded. We have no option in this. Now the question is whether or not we will be obedient.

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