Wednesday, February 8, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

This passage occurs in the RCL Year A Epiphany Season, most recently February 2017.

Summary:  This passage is paired with Jesus teaching on adultery and divorce.  Therefore, this passage is unlikely to be preached on.   However, I find myself drawn this year (2017) to Paul's letter to the Corinthians because they struggled with division; likewise, our culture, if not our congregations, are struggling with divisions, over politics, but more deeply over a host of underlying issues.

Paul reminds us that our purpose is to be servants of Christ; to spread his Word; to build up the body of Christ.  In this purpose I believe that Christians of different political backgrounds can find common ground.

Key Words
ερις ("heris", meaning "factions" or "disputes", 1 Cor 3:3)  This is not essential for the meaning of the passage, but I wanted to point it out.  The word "heresy" comes from the Greek for faction.  It did not originally mean dogmatically false.  It simply meant different.  Overtime, the factions within the church were used by God to formulate the key doctrines of the Christian faith:  That Jesus died and rose from the dead; that Jesus is fully God and fully man; that the Holy Spirit is coequal to the Father and Son.  Disagreement can be worked for God's greater purposes!

ανθροποι ("anthropoi" meaning "humanly", 3:4)  The cognate here should be clear; I highlight this word because it raises a question -- is Paul criticizing disagreement in general or disagreement in the church?  My sense is that neither Paul nor Jesus questions the necessity of disagreement or even courts of law.  This in turn raises my question:  What is the spiritual way to deal with conflict?   Matthew 18 addresses this practically: address the person directly, etc.  1 Corinthians 3 addresses this theoretically:  Remember your works are nothing before the cross (1:18) and that everything good comes from God.

διακονοι ("diakonia", meaning "servant", 3:5)  The term "deacon" in the church often is seen as meaning servant.  In this case Paul means servant, but he also means servant of the Word.  Deacons in the Bible and in the church have a call to ministry that includes both hands-on service but also proclamation.

ηυξανεν (from auxanoo, meaning "cause to grow", 3:6,7)  This verb comes into English in words like "augment"  A couple of things about its use grammatically"
- Paul indicates that he planted and Apollos watered.  Both of these verbs are aorist tense, suggesting a one time event.  When Paul writes that God causes to grow, Paul uses the imperfect tense, suggesting an on-going action.  This means that God's work continues long after, if not long before, the work that we do. 
- Paul even gives God a title in vs 3:7 when he employs a participle form of this verb:  God, the one who causes to grow.

εν ("hen" meaning "one", 3:8)  The NRSV and NIV say that Paul and Apollos have one common purpose.  The Greek is stronger than this:  Paul and Apollos are ONE.  Not have a common purpose, they are one.  In the next verse Paul will describe them as συνεργοι, or co-workers.

οικοδομη ("building up", 3:9)  This word can mean building.  I do not think this is the best translation.  Throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as Ephesians, Paul uses this word frequently.  He almost exclusively uses it to refer not to the building, but the act of building up.

- On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.  1 Corinthians 14:3
- So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.  1 Corinthians 14:12
- Now, 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.  2 Corinthians 10:8
- So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.  2 Corinthians 13:10
- to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  Ephesians 4:12

(2 Cor 5:1 and Eph 2:21 are exceptions but I feel they prove the point in that the buildings they refer to are not earthly, but the heavenly home of Christians or the eternal body of Christ.  Paul never uses this word to refer to the earthly Kingdom.)

This is not to say that the idea of a building is a bad one; Paul continues with this metaphor the rest of chapter 3.  My point is that Paul has in mind, I believe, a more dynamic metaphor here, not a static one.  We are not the finished building of God, but the always-being-grown (see discussion on imperfect tense earlier) body of Christ.

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