30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.
It is important to understand that communion is nothing to treat lightly. We are told why in 1 Cor. 11:30–32. Paul then summarizes his advice about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:33–34). Keep in mind that Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ and, therefore, speaks for Christ. Paul’s “advice” is more than advice just as the Lord’s Supper is more than just supper. The wise will listen and obey, and the others will continue to get sick or die!
Though one authority believes “weak,” “sick” and “fallen asleep” ( 1 Cor. 11:30) are figurative terms describing the spiritual condition of Corinthian Christians, most others believe physical condition is in view. Gordon Fee says that the Spirit has revealed to Paul that abuse of the “have nots” during the Lord’s Supper is the cause for the weakness, sickness and death, but he adds that this does not mean that all Christian illness and death are caused that way. Note that “fallen asleep” is the standard way the New Testament speaks about death among Christians; showing that death is not the same for them as for others (1 Thess. 4:13–15; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51).
Verse 31 is what is called a “contrary to fact” condition or even “the unreal condition.” Had the Corinthians been discerning their disrespectful attitude (toward Christ) and unloving conduct (toward others) — but they were not — then they would not now be experiencing the incidents of weakness, sickness and even death, all of which are happening.
Being “more discerning with regard to ourselves” (verse 31) means having both a serious and repentant awareness of any sin in our lives as well as a consistent commitment to our new identity in Christ. Some of the Corinthians seem to have been more interested in what the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Anthony Thiselton summarizes Bonhoeffer this way: “Cheap grace is ‘the preaching of forgiveness without repentance . . . communion without confession, grace without discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ.’” Some Corinthians did not want to share food with their hungry brethren in the faith, did not want to worship with lower classes, and did not want to give up their pagan culture, including participation in idol banquets and sexually immoral behavior.
As members of God’s family, we can expect his discipline (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:1–13) when we stray from the way of Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins. Thiselton’s remarks about this discipline reveal its purpose: “It should not give rise to doubt of salvation or be endured merely with resignation. It plays a positive role in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in suffering as well as glory.” The alternative to receiving the discipline that all believers get is that a person may be finally judged with the world, and no one wants that!
Paul’s command in 1 Cor. 11:33 for all to eat together has an entirely theological purpose. Their Christian identity makes them one in Christ, and they cannot be divided in their common worship. Similarly, 1 Cor. 11:34 is not mainly about food. Garland explains: “If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful, it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.”
Many of the lower classes might not be able to meet as early as the more socially advantaged. “The strong” must wait to share with the others. Jesus could have eaten the finest food on earth every night, but he and the twelve ate together.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Verse 10 marks the sharp transition from prior thanksgiving into issues within the Corinthian church. Paul states from the outset that a problem within the church demands resolution “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:10). Hidden within the English translations is a threefold repetition of the word for “same” — “all say the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10, NET Bible margin) . . . “be restored with the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10b, Common English Bible).
The Greek verb Paul employs for “agree” (1 Cor. 1:10) is colorful. It is used in Mark 1:19 for mending a torn fishing net; it also was used to describe setting a broken bone. The restoration of unity in relation to witness, mind and purpose would satisfy the appeal that “there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). We do best in applying these ideas when we stress Paul’s solution — a thorough pursuit of unity — rather than entering into speculation about the exact nature of the disagreements in the Corinthian church.
In calling the Corinthians “brothers and sisters” (1 Cor. 1:11), Paul speaks as no Roman would speak except to a blood relative. He is emphasizing their unity in Christ. Paul has had word of actual quarrels in the church that involve people taking different sides. Paul identifies these groups by using the names Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and Christ (1 Cor. 1:12). The best explanation appears to be that Paul made up the slogans (e.g. “I am of Apollos”) to be put-downs of such petty bickering rather than actual self-designations by the groups involved. He presents a childish caricature to illustrate the presence of radical individuality in the church.
It is likely that the final clause “I follow Christ” is a sample of Paul’s sarcasm, yet it has a literary purpose in that it allows Paul to simultaneously lampoon the divisions while gathering all of the Corinthian Christians under the banner of Christ as he develops his argument.
In 1 Cor. 1:13, Paul resorts to shocking language to make his point. The question “Is Christ divided?” expects the answer yes! By their disunity, it is as if Christ has been torn into parts! Greek grammar next signals that the following two questions (“Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”) expect the answer no. It is absurd to put Paul on the level of Christ, who alone went to the cross for our sins. Equally foolish is the idea that anyone would have been baptized into union with Paul — no!
Almost as an aside, Paul mentions baptizing Crispus and Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14). We learn in Acts 18:8 that “Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord.” They were among the first to believe Paul’s preaching in Corinth. Another who trusted in Christ was Titius Justus, a Gentile whose large house stood next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7). When Paul mentions in Rom. 16:23 “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy,” many believe his full name is Gaius Titius Justus.
Paul returns to the subject of 1 Cor. 1:1, his sending by Christ. He was sent to preach the good news with plain speech about “the cross of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:17) because those persuaded by clever rhetoric would not experience the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. No one, then or now, is won by clever speech; we gain salvation only by trusting in Jesus, who died for us on the cross and rose again to a new life for God.
This post discusses a Christian response to poverty caused by misfortune such as disaster, death of a spouse, job loss, war-trauma or illness. (I am not talking about those who prefer a life of drug abuse or petty crime.)
I am glad to report that my home church does far better than most in caring for the poor and disadvantaged. Our pastor and elders have led the way in this effort since our church formed. However, I still believe that concern for the poor is the number one disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and most evangelical Christians today. Sermons on this subject seem few and far between.
Since I live in Texas, it has occurred to me that Texas culture may bear on the issue. Historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote a history of Texas published in 1968. One of his conclusions was that Texas has the ethos of the frontier, where the strong live and the weak die. As a man born and raised in Texas, I have come to believe he is right about that. While his description of Texas values is accurate, that does not make this compassionless stance right in the sight of God.
If God had adopted this attitude toward sinners, then Jesus never would have been sent to die for our sins and reconcile us to God. Before our salvation, the Bible describes us as helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), even enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). By the frontier values of Texas, we would have been left to die in our helplessness. But God apparently does not favor certain Texas values, because he demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for us that we might be reconciled to him (Rom. 5:8).
That is what the Bible says, but I may not be wise to publish these views in Texas!
The elders at Ephesus could look back in later years to their last meeting with the Apostle Paul at the port of Miletus. His parting words were full of emotional memories: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
(ESV) Romans 1:7-12 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you– 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Romans 1:7 is the concluding verse of a single Greek sentence that includes the first seven verses of Romans chapter 1. Sometimes modern people think the ancients to be less intelligent than we are because they lived so long ago. Hopefully, the profundity of Romans will help put that idea into well-deserved oblivion.
Another tendency we may have is to toss off anything said in the salutation of a NT epistle [letter] and get on to the main event; that is a mistake. In wishing the Roman Christians “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7), Paul is telling important things about his presentation of the gospel. “Grace” is used twenty-four times in Romans, and half of those instances occur in chapters 1-5; the next occurrence will be in Romans 3:24 — “they are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (HCSB) — where Paul presents God’s solution to humankind’s problem.
“Peace” is used ten times in Romans, most notably in Romans 5:1 — “therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” — where Paul presents the outcome of being justified by faith. As we will see, peace is not the absence of war but rather the wholeness and solidarity we enjoy through faith in Jesus Christ.
So, when Paul opens by wishing the Roman Christians grace and peace, he is telling them how they become justified before God (grace) and the result of that justification (peace). See also Romans 16:20 where these two giant concepts are combined.
In 1:8 we see that we are reading a letter and not a book on systematic theology, because Paul takes time to let the Roman Christians know that knowledge of their Christian faith has spread far and wide. Osborne says, “This refers not so much to the quality of their faith as to the fact of it.” In terms of the spread of information, NT scholar Craig Keener informs us, “Couriers in the first century could get from Rome to London in one week.” Word got around!
John Chrysostom (c. 347-407 AD), patriarch of Constantinople until his preaching against corruption landed him in Antioch, made fascinating remarks on the origin of the Roman church:
Having recently acquired a worldwide empire, the Romans were elated, and they lived in riches and luxury, and then fishermen brought the preaching there, Jewish fishermen moreover, who belonged to a nation which was hated and despised by everyone. And these Romans were asked to worship the crucified one who was brought up in Judea. Moreover, along with this doctrine, the teachers proclaimed an ascetic life to men who were used to luxury and concerned with material comforts.
In a sense, Paul is letting them know that he realizes his visit to Rome will not establish a church but will nurture one that is already thriving. Even though Paul is an apostle, he is taking pains not to talk down to the recipients since that would impede acceptance of his message.
By essentially taking an oath before God (1:9), Paul “wants the Romans to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he continually holds them up in prayer.” Paul states that he is always asking God to allow him to visit the churches in Rome (1:10), but he is plainly uncertain of the answer. He was right to doubt, because his eventual arrival in Rome occurred under the custody of a Roman guard during a legal appeal to Caesar (Acts 28:11-31).
Paul’s tone is warm in 1:11-12. Osborne says, “This is a wonderful way for all of us to think of our ministries as sharing our spiritual gifts with others.” Paul again takes up spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8, where he names prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation. giving, leadership, and mercy. Each of us has a spiritual gift to use: “And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us” (Rom. 12:6, NET). What are we to do with them?
How to frame your ministry
What frame of reference should we use in thinking about our personal ministries within the church? Osborne captures Paul’s answer by having us think of our ministries as “sharing our spiritual gifts with others.”
1. How has your spiritual gift been used to bless other believers? How did it affect you to see that others benefitted from your gift?
2. When did you receive a spiritual gift from others and how did it move you closer to Christ? Did you let that person know how Jesus used them to strengthen you? If not, how could you do so now?
John Chrysostom said of Paul’s intended spiritual gift to the Roman Christians: “It was not his own things which he was giving them but what he had himself received.” May we too give to one another from what we have received from the Lord!
In the dark and dreary years of the Great Depression, Kitty McCulloch was known as a generous person. As hunger stalked the land, Kitty and her husband often didn’t know for sure about their next week’s food, yet a steady stream of hungry men found their back door to ask for a hot meal. And Kitty always gave it to them.
An especially ragged man came near Christmastime one year. Kitty, feeling great pity for him, gave the man one of her husband’s few suits. Though she didn’t know it for many years, her house had been marked as a message to other needy people that here was a person who cared.
We could define biblical love as a spontaneous desire moving a person to self-giving for the benefit of another. Kitty McCulloch exemplified that kind of love by meeting the needs of others, even when her own resources looked terribly thin.
Jesus Christ modeled such love more than anyone else. He took great personal risks to teach and demonstrate real caring for others. That sets him in stark contrast to the message our modern world gives to each of us. Culturally, we are all trained to ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?”
Jesus faced the very same attitude when he encountered the religious leaders of Israel. On one particular occasion, he confronted them with the ugly truth about their selfish way of living.
Caring About Others
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say. (Luke 14:1–6)
As Jesus traveled south through Perea on his way to Jerusalem, he was invited to dine with a leading Pharisee, probably a member of the Sanhedrin. This banquet took place on the Sabbath, the trickiest day of the week. If God had made the Sabbath holy, the Pharisees had made it burdensome with the dense web of legislation they had created to control Sabbath behavior.
Pharisaic theology called on people to care for others, but their contemporaries considered them uncaring to a fault. They generally turned a blind eye toward the poor, the maimed, and the needy among their people.
One story from rabbinic literature should illustrate the issue quite well. A Pharisee once encountered a woman drowning in a pond. She died while he looked on without making any effort to help. He feared that if he touched her, then he might become ceremonially unclean.
You never can tell about a drowning woman. She might be having her monthly menstrual cycle, thus rendering anyone who touched her ceremonially unclean. That might affect the Pharisee’s income for a few days while he remedied his defilement. So, to avoid such terrible inconvenience, he simply let her drown. (I’m writing with sarcasm!)
We know that Jesus had a hostile audience because of the language used by Luke. He says that Jesus was being “carefully watched” (Luke 14:1), and this translates a verb that means to lie in wait to ambush someone. Beneath the external hospitality of this man lay the treacherous hook of a trap.
The Pharisees earnestly hoped that Jesus would make a big enough mistake so that he could be eliminated once and for all. The Pharisees and scribes had the callousness to use a human being to bait the hook. How else can we account for the fact that a man with a debilitating disease would show up for Sabbath lunch with a member of the Sanhedrin? He was planted there! The scribes and Pharisees were counting on Jesus’ feeling compassion toward this man in spite of the dangerous context.
The Law of Moses permitted miracles to be worked on the Sabbath. However, the super-religious crowd felt that such miracles smacked of working on the Sabbath day, which they abhorred — unless it served their own interests! These men had no concern for this sick individual; he was simply there as a tool to finesse a miracle out of Jesus. Sitting among the guests were scribes who knew every nook and cranny of the Law of Moses as well as the man-made rules that had been added.
Before working the expected miracle, Jesus asked the assembled theologians for a theological opinion about helping others: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). Perhaps fearing the Lord’s well-known abilities, these leaders kept silent.
Jesus then healed the sick man in spite of the grave personal risk he was taking in doing so. He knew they would slander him as someone who had profaned the Sabbath. But such considerations never stopped Jesus; he cared for people even when there was a cost involved.
After sending the healed man away, Jesus confronted the religious leaders with the inconsistency between their own behavior and their super-strict Sabbath rules. Those men could not deny his charge that any one of them would do whatever work was necessary to save his son or his ox on the Sabbath day (Luke 14:5–6).
The Pharisees would gladly do the very thing they were condemning Jesus for, if their own interests would be served by such action. A Pharisee would not necessarily save his own son out of love. Their culture had no such thing as Social Security, and a man’s sons could be depended upon to support him in his elder years.
I think a better translation of Luke 14:6 would be, “they could make no reply to this.” Jesus had them, and they knew it. The hunted one had unexpectedly become the hunter!
The Basis for Caring
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
To understand this parable, notice first that the moral is expressed in Luke 14:11: “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The whole parable drives toward this truth.
Second, observe that the word “but” at the beginning of Luke 14:10 divides the parable into two contrasting halves. Jesus firmly rejected self-exalting behavior in the first half, while he affirmed humility in the second half.
Jesus based the parable on his own observations of guests taking their places at the table. The Jewish culture used a very strict pecking order to determine seating assignments at such banquets. Even in the ranks of the Pharisees some had taken stricter vows than others, and so earned the right to a seat of higher honor. To give a banquet like that, with a large number of guests arriving at slightly different times, could involve a tremendous amount of shuffling around.
Jesus poked fun at this self-serving game of musical chairs. The whole system was driven by a desire to say to others, “See how important I am!” Jesus pointedly reminded them that such self-interested behavior could ultimately result in humiliation if a more important guest arrived. In fact, the important people in that society usually did come late so that they could be widely noticed.
In the second half of the parable, Jesus threw social custom to the wind by urging the guests to take the lowest seat upon their arrival. In taking the usual approach, the guest assigns himself the honor, while the method Jesus described would involve the host giving the guest an honor. With his story Jesus said that if you deserve exaltation, let it come from others and not from yourself (applying Prov. 27:2).
Jesus capped off the parable with the principle, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” By whom? God. Jesus customarily used the passive voice to express God’s actions, as that was considered preferable to the frequent mention of his name. God is also the one who will humble the person who exalts himself.
Unfortunately, you seldom meet a Christian who aspires to be “humble.” This word conjures up an image of a person who is so self-effacing that they will hardly even look you in the eye. They feel bad about themselves and are so shy that they will never talk to anybody.
But that picture bears no resemblance at all to the biblical meaning of humility. Jesus was a humble person, in the biblical sense of the word, yet he never acted in any of those ways. Humility is not denying our own value, but involves granting value to others.
Giving to Others
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
A high official like the Sanhedrin leader would have held banquets quite regularly, and invariably such a person would have invited members of his own social class. Strong taboos held the social classes apart from one another.
In my opinion, Jesus was not telling the Pharisees — and by application, he is not telling us — that they had to invite someone who was poor, crippled, lame, or blind every time they held a dinner.
His real point was that they never showed any concern for such people because of their uncaring attitude. Jesus simply used the example of a banquet because he was sitting at one. It served to illustrate the broader problem.
It is amusing that Jesus mentioned “rich neighbors” (Luke 14:12), because that captured the Pharisaic mentality. A Pharisee might well have both rich and poor neighbors, but only the rich neighbor was invited to banquets. Only a rich neighbor could pay the Pharisee back by responding in kind.
In this subtle way Jesus pointed out the inability of the Pharisees to give to others of a lower station than themselves. He was asserting that their whole life revolved around what would ultimately flow back to them in the way of honor, repayment, or social status. Like some members of our own society, the Pharisees were constantly calculating: “What’s in it for me?”
In the place of their intense self-concern, Jesus exhorted the Pharisees and scribes to meet the needs of others, even if they had to wait until the resurrection of the righteous to receive their repayment. To act that way requires a very farsighted view of life. It won’t pay off in the short run. Instead, you have to trust God to reward behavior that pleases him.
Caring About Ourselves
I am not saying that it is wrong to care about yourself. That would simply solve one problem by creating another one!
Caring about ourselves is fundamental to spiritual, emotional, and physical health. What the Pharisees did not have, and what Jesus was seeking to give them, was a healthy allocation of concern for others in addition to their concern for themselves.
Unfortunately, Christians sometimes overreact to the presence of sin. They see self-concern as simply another manifestation of their sin. Yet each of us is made in the image of God and we should value ourselves accordingly! It is not more spiritual to put a low value on what God values highly.
Increasing Our Concern for Others
Use the following applicational ideas to apply the truth that Jesus taught.
1. In our hurried world, the clock seems to work against us as we try to care for others. The urgent can become the enemy of the important. How do you see yourself, in terms of caring for others?
Hiding from them
Overcommitted to them
Involved with them to a reasonable degree
It’s too easy to hide from people’s needs by simply avoiding venues in which we know that their needs will be revealed. Such behavior can betray that we would rather not know about the needs of other people. On the other hand, if we overcommit to meeting the needs of others, then we may be overlooking other priorities that God has given to each one of us.
2. Jesus made it quite clear that we should have a healthy concern for the value and needs of others.
How do you cope with social status and the needs of others in your own life?
Do you find yourself quite conscious of someone else’s social class, income, education, and so on?
A friend of mine told me a disturbing story about a prestigious Christian school. After many years of working there, a man was promoted to a higher level, but he still had friends among his former associates after the promotion. He was soon informed that he could not socialize with those (lower) people anymore! They didn’t share his status, so they couldn’t share his presence, either! Jesus spoke directly against that kind of thinking.
Do you find it difficult to roll up your sleeves and go to work in some thankless but vital job?
Every church has vital jobs that go begging because Christians aspire to something “higher.” Certainly all of us enjoy recognition, but Jesus said we should be willing to forego immediate rewards and recognition and to wait, if necessary, to be rewarded in eternity. After gaining some experience in the ministry, I started looking for people who willingly take such thankless jobs simply because they love Christ. Those are the people I would recommend for positions of leadership.
3. One estimate of our concern for others is whether we can give to them (time, money, a listening ear) without any thought of receiving any return.
When was the last time you gave something to someone who could never repay you?
When was the last time you gave a gift without concern for what had been or would be given to you by the other person?
4. Remember that the person who most needs your caring, serving, and giving may live within your own home. Or they may live next door.
A Final Word
Edith Evans found someone nearby to serve. She was cruising across the Atlantic, bound for New York from Liverpool on one of the most famous ships of history, the Titanic.
Before the Titanic sailed, one of the stewards had told a passenger that not even God could sink the ship, a view which most people aboard had believed as well.
But an iceberg struck the Titanic and ripped away part of the ship’s bottom. The ship began to sink quickly by the bow while the crew attempted to lower the lifeboats. However, over sixteen hundred people had no lifeboat, because the unsinkable ship had set sail without its full number of lifeboats!
Edith Evans and Mrs. John M. Brown showed up at the railing just as the last boat was about to be lowered from the sinking ship. Apart from that boat there was no hope; the dark freezing waters below would kill a person in minutes.
Only one seat remained when the two women got to the rail, and the boat was to be lowered as soon as it was filled. Edith turned to Mrs. Brown and said: “You go first. You have children at home.” Edith quickly pushed her over the rail and into the boat just as the deck officer shouted, “Lower away!”
Edith Evans gave up what I would call the seat of honor — the last seat. She had put the young mother’s needs ahead of her own.
Jesus was certainly like that. He gave his life for our sins, not because we deserved it or because we could ever repay him, but because he loved us that much. Those who follow him have a lot to live up to.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 9, Jesus deals with an issue that plagues every disciple: what is already settled in the disciples’ minds can stand in the way of what Jesus wants them to learn. How does he get past that barrier?
Anthony Turner had a decision to make, and he knew it was a whopper. He was engaged to a woman who expected him to take a job with a steady, dependable income to allow them a normal life. He even had a job offer that matched what he needed.
But Anthony had dreams of his own that would take him along a more risky path: he wanted to fulfill a long-standing desire to write a book. However, that path didn’t offer the financial security that his prospective wife felt was so necessary. Anthony was being pulled very strongly in two opposite directions.
Finally, Anthony made his choice. He declined the job and wrote the book. But, in making his choice he paid a price; his engagement was broken.
This story illustrates the kind of choices we commonly face. We live in a world that tugs and pulls us in many conflicting directions. As a result, we wind up saying yes to one thing and no to something else. Sometimes saying no can be tough because it involves rejecting something very good to do something better still. And that’s hard.
In the midst of conflicting interests we must choose who we are going to please. An old proverb says, “You can’t please everyone.” So, who are you going to please? How can you make such choices in a world of conflicting interests and demands?
I don’t have any easy answers for living in such a complex world, but Jesus models an approach that will help us to sort out our choices.
Jesus Models a Strategy
To illustrate how Jesus handled this problem I have taken incidents from three different Gospels. In each case Jesus faced a group of people who wanted something from him. In the first story Jesus was pressured by his own brothers, who were trying to influence him in an unfair and coercive way.
The second story involves a large group of needy people who wanted Jesus to meet their needs. They also behaved in a demanding way.
In the final story, Jesus interacted with his disciples. Like others, they wanted to take his life in a direction different from the one the Father had given to him.
You see, Jesus had to face pressures and expectations just as you and I do. He was being pulled in many directions, and people were trying to make him into different things. Jesus cut through all these pressures and expectations in a remarkable way!
The key to Christ’s approach was to set his own life agenda by living to please the Father. That gave him a very clear idea of what he should say no to and what he should say yes to. In other words, Jesus set his own priorities without regard for pressures from his disciples, his family or a needy multitude.
Family Tug of War
1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
It turns out that Jesus was dealing with opponents here. I feel sad about that, because they were his own brothers. But how real that is! Some of the strongest pressures any of us face come from our own families. Our parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters wield enormous influence over all that we do. Family life frequently involves subtle tactics by one person to bring about action in the life of another. That’s exactly what Jesus’ manipulative brothers tried on him.
From John 7:1, we gather that the death plots against Jesus were common knowledge. Nevertheless, his brothers tried to set his priorities and dictate his actions to send him into this danger when they said, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea.” The translators properly supply the italicized words to capture the ploy Jesus’ brothers were using on him.
They implied that he was not living as he should. (Pause for a moment here, and reflect on how many people have tried to tell you what you ought to do or should do).
In their next attempt, the brothers — wrongly — suggested that Jesus was seeking fame. By acting in secret, they said, he was foolishly squandering an opportunity to gain a following at the feast.
I cannot personally accept the translation given by the NIV (2011) in the latter half of John 7:4, because John himself informed us that Christ’s brothers did not believe in him. The brothers actually said to Jesus, “If indeed you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4b).
The brothers crassly dared Jesus to work his miracles where all could see. Just imagine, this was an opportunity for Jesus to witness to his own brothers. What an awesome tug that would be!
One option Jesus had was to consent to their wishes to maintain good relations with them. Or, he could have worked a miracle in their presence to bring them around.
But Jesus didn’t pursue peace at any price. He didn’t put pleasing people at the top of his priority list. Instead, he said, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right” (John 7:6). Jesus easily freed himself from the expectations and pressures of his own family by a simple means; he made his own choices, guided by his mission from the Father.
One lesson that emerges from this incident is that Jesus did not allow others — not even his own family — to set the agenda for his life. By application, this means that the Lord does not expect us to lead our lives to please other people. In fact, by following Jesus we may even suffer rejection from others.
Jesus also modeled firmness in resisting manipulation. He did not automatically respond to the “oughts” and “shoulds” placed upon him by others. Nor did he react to their scornful dares. Jesus showed us that living as a servant calls for courage and strength. Being a good Christian does not mean that we must comply with the wishes of others.
The Pressure of People’s Needs
42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
This second example took place near Capernaum, a city on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had moved there after being rejected by the people of Nazareth. When he arrived, he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a serious fever. News of this miracle traveled quickly through the city, and before long the whole town had gathered (Mark 1:32–34). Jesus stayed up late into the night, meeting people’s needs.
We join Luke’s story on the following morning, well before dawn, when Jesus had gone out alone into the countryside to pray. Jesus was acting according to a spiritual priority, that of prayer to his Father. Prayer was more important to him than what other people wanted.
Although Jesus had met many needs among people in the city of Capernaum on the previous night, many more needs undoubtedly remained. The people from the city searched diligently for him and actually tried to restrain Christ from leaving. They physically tried to hinder his departure. They didn’t want to let go of this miracle worker who had done such great things for their town.
They must have thought that if Capernaum could have a man like Jesus around for a few years, just think how good it would be for the community. Jesus would have become a civic treasure that they could have shown off to enhance their profit and influence.
Jesus realized that their motivation was not a response to God’s claims upon them, but a desire to experience more miracles. Would it have been evil for Jesus to stay in Capernaum to work more miracles? Would it have been wrong for him to continue preaching the gospel there? No! That would have been a very good thing, but sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best.
Those people had legitimate needs, in spite of their poor motivation. But Jesus didn’t respond automatically every time he encountered a human need; he had to decide whether to meet such needs or not.
Jesus weighed their needs against what his Father had sent him to do. And for him to stay and become the great miracle worker of Capernaum would have been inconsistent with what the Father had intended.
Jesus didn’t come to be the great doctor of Galilee or the favorite son of Capernaum. He came to be the Savior of the world. Because Jesus had a clear idea of his own priorities, he was able to say yes to some things. To other things, even to good things, he said no!
Jesus told the crowd that he “must” leave them to preach elsewhere (Luke 4:43), in keeping with his mission. Undoubtedly that announcement led to disappointment, frustration, and anger on the part of those who so desperately wanted him to stay. Even to us it may seem that Christ didn’t take advantage of a great evangelistic opportunity here. He had a crowd that was ready to eat out of his hand, and yet he moved on.
It’s jolting to see how differently Jesus operated than we do. He turned his back on the needy people of Capernaum and went on to accomplish his mission without regret or apology.
We, too, will encounter demanding people in the course of our lives. Some of them will be believers and may need us to be involved in good and godly causes. Others will be unbelievers who desperately need to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But just because these people have needs doesn’t necessarily mean that we are the ones to meet them.
I realize that we could use such thinking to avoid some legitimate responsibilities before God. But it concerns me that Christians can easily let the pressing needs of people set the whole agenda of their lives instead of making their choices in order to please the Lord.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Mark here described exactly the same incident that we previously looked at in the Gospel of Luke. But Mark’s perspective is different. Luke focused his attention on the interaction between Jesus and the seeking multitudes. Mark concentrated attention on the relationship between Jesus and the disciples during the same set of events.
We would probably assume that Christ’s disciples would have responded in a more mature and understanding manner toward him in this situation. We naturally have a higher level of expectations about the disciples. So much the worse for our expectations!
As Simon and the others looked for Jesus, they searched with a special kind of intensity, as expressed by the Greek verb (Mark 1:36). The verb is also used of hunting for an animal or hunting for a fugitive from justice. They seemed driven by a special intensity to find him, and we soon discover the source of that intensity.
They said, “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37). This statement has an air of rebuke and displeasure in it. It is as if the disciples were saying, “Jesus, what are you doing out here? Capernaum is where you’re needed. And the people are getting upset with us, because we don’t know where you are. You’re not where we expected you to be.”
So, Jesus had to deal with the expectations of his disciples, especially Simon, because Capernaum was his hometown. The disciples wanted Jesus to go right back into town and do his thing. Even as their Lord and leader, Jesus must have cared about what his disciples thought of him, and with the multitudes also nearby searching, they wanted him to go back and meet those needs.
But in his remarkable way, Jesus did not bend to the expectations of his disciples. He didn’t say yes based on what people expected out of him. As the multitudes sought him and the disciples exhorted him, he said: “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). The reason we find this startling is because our expectations tend to be like those of the disciples. But Jesus made his own decisions based on his own priorities from the Father.
A Summary of the Main Point
Jesus did not necessarily respond to people’s expectations, even those coming from people who were very important to him, In the three passages we have examined, people tried to use manipulation, demands, needs, and expectations to compel our Lord to take certain actions. He simply didn’t let that happen!
In the face of many attempts by others to impress their wills upon him, Jesus maintained autonomy — the freedom to make his own choices before God. His example sets me free, because I have led much of my life giving in to the manipulations, demands, needs, and expectations of others.
I acted that way for many reasons, and partly because I thought it was the moral, or right, way to behave. But Jesus’ example forces me to reexamine the whole question and to see that, if I am to be a responsible person before God, I must sometimes say no to others.
The Compassionate Christ
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
(Mark 1:40–42, NIV 1984)
As Jesus walked away from the demanding multitude, he encountered a man with leprosy, who begged him for mercy. I am confident that Mark included this story to show that Jesus didn’t make his choices in an uncaring way. He deeply cared about the pain of this man, as he did about the pain of others. He met his need and cleansed him of leprosy.
Jesus lived compassionately, but he was not about to be diverted from his primary mission in order to become something else. He came primarily to be the Savior not the healer.
No wonder our Lord’s sensitive heart was filled with compassion. Leprosy savagely attacks the body and often leads to the ugly loss of fingers, toes, and other body parts. Perhaps worse than that, lepers in Israel had to walk around shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Imagine how you would have felt calling attention to your own ravaged body in that way.
But our caring Savior had a cry of his own: “Be clean!” Even beyond that, Jesus touched the man — something no Pharisee would ever do. Jesus touched the untouchable because that’s the kind of person he was.
In summary Mark presents this careful balance: Jesus cared deeply about people’s needs, but his life was not ruled by them.
Finding Your Own Way through the Maze
Our lives confront us with a bewildering array of tactics, demands, needs, and expectations. Use the following application concepts to try to clarify your own life in these areas.
1. Here are several questions to help you define the main sources of pressure, expectations, and demands in your life.
Who primarily influences your life agenda (i.e., how you spend your time and what you’re trying to do)? Is it your parents, your boss, your mate? Who really dictates how your life is lived?
Whoever you name may be robbing you of your responsibility before God to make choices about your own life.
Who in your life places significant expectations on you? Jesus’ disciples certainly had expectations for him. They wanted him to go back down to Capernaum to heal more people. Are there people in your life who are like that? It’s not evil for them to have such expectations, but should you meet them? Should you affirm them, or say no?
Whose rejection, criticism, or disapproval most influences your choices and behavior?
Do you think Jesus wanted to be rejected by his brothers? Of course not! Do you think he wanted to fail to meet the expectations of his disciples? He knew that would cause some friction.
There are people whose rejection wouldn’t phase me at all. And yet certain other people’s disapproval can devastate me. My life can get wrapped up in trying to please the latter group of people. In fact, I can get so wrapped up in pleasing them that I even lose sight of pleasing God. Is it the same for you?
Who in your life tends to use guilt, withdrawal of love, or threats to get certain responses from you?
Some people directly or indirectly say to us, “If you really love me, you will do [something].” That falls in the same category as the kind of thing Jesus’ brothers were attempting to pull on him.
2. You determine who you are by what you affirm and what you refuse. Saying yes and no are two of the most important tools you have in living your life for Christ. Many of us have good intentions, but what we actually do with our lives reveals more about who we really are.
If saying yes and no are so important, then a deep problem exists: very few people know how to say no.
If Jesus Christ restructured your life today, where would he say yes, and where would he say no?
3. To say yes and no effectively, we need guidance from God more than anything else. Our family, our friends, and our culture can play constructive parts in setting our course, but they cannot replace wisdom from God. I mean that we need to have the principles of God’s Word at our disposal to guide the choices that we make as we live our lives for Christ. God’s will stands revealed in his Word. To help you gain this wisdom, I would encourage you to set three goals:
(1) To spend time reading God’s Word
(2) To spend time in prayer
(3) To spend time in solitude thinking about what God wants in your life
I know these goals are very basic. But if we don’t keep them, our lives may become a reflex movement, lurching this way and that in response to an agenda set by others.
A Final Word
Jesus doesn’t ask us to seek popularity or to please everyone. He certainly didn’t. And he doesn’t promise that our lives will ever be free of conflicting demands. He faced them constantly, and so will we. But Jesus does call on us to follow him in learning to make hard choices.
If we follow that path, then at times we will have to say no to others. That’s hard. But in freeing ourselves from the treacherous net of other people’s demands and expectations, we free ourselves to live for God in the most effective way possible. Jesus modeled exactly that style of life.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 8, we see Jesus on the long road south toward Jerusalem where he has an appointment with a cross. As Jesus walks toward his own self-sacrifice, what values will he model to the disciples?
Genesis 11:5–7 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. 6 And the LORD said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” (NET Bible)
A communications glitch
Eve and Noah proved the tendency toward sin by isolated humans, and the gathering on the plain of Shinar shows the aggressive will of a combined group to rival God.
Why does rebellion find a home in the human heart? What leads willful humanity to ignore what God wants while grasping for its own flawed goals? How can humanity believe that God will not assert his power in reply?
All commentators identify Genesis 11:5 as the crux of the story. Careful analysis of Genesis 11:1–9 reveals the underlying literary structure, pairing scenes 1 & 5, 2 & 4, and the Introduction & Conclusion:
Verse 1 Introduction
Verse 2 Scene 1: The travels of mankind
Verses 3–4 Scene 2: Human plans to build a city and tower
Verse 5 Scene 3: Divine inspection visit
Verses 6–7 Scene 4: Divine plans to frustrate mankind
Verse 8 Scene 5: Mankind is scattered: building stopped
Gordon Wenham points out the dark humor of the climax in Genesis 11:5 when he says:
This tower which man thought reached to heaven, God can hardly see! From the height of heaven it seems insignificant, so the Lord must come down to look at it. . . . It is simply a brilliant and dramatic way of expressing the puniness of man’s greatest achievements, when set alongside the creator’s omnipotence.
Genesis 11:5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building.
The NET translation explains that the people had only “started building” (Gen. 11:5) the tower and city. That view may be correct, but other translations do not follow this path. Contrary to the NET Bible view, the mockery works best if the tower had previously been completed, which the verbal form normally suggests, and the city is still under construction. In the latter case, the city construction is what stops in Genesis 11:8.
Genesis 11:6 And the LORD said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.”
You will recall that the joining of the “sons of God” with the “daughters of humankind” (Gen. 6:2) resulted in a world filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). Now the people join in a frantic effort to achieve fame without regard to God. Such arrogance, if unchecked, will prove more and more dangerous to the survival of humanity.
The words “nothing they plan to do” represent a verb that is too dangerous for humankind. Wenham says, “Only God may plan without limit. Man is not supposed to emulate his creator in this way.” Humankind has proven from the start that we are not wise enough to plan without limit.
Wenham observes that the language of Genesis 11:6 is very similar to Genesis 3:22. There God took immediate action to expel the man and woman from the garden to prevent them from taking fruit from the tree of life. Once again, dramatic action is imminent! The pattern is building that divine deliberation results in a decision and immediate implementation.
Genesis 11:7 “Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.”
The Lord’s self-exhortation (“Come”) in verse 7 matches the identical form (“Come”) in verse 4 by the people. Humankind is combining to rival God, and God is moving to thwart cooperation among the people without destroying them again.
But Genesis has already taught us that there is a limit to God’s mercy and patience.
Genesis 4:9–12 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?” 10 But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” (NET Bible)
Crime and God’s Punishment
In the Bible one often sees that the punishment fits the crime. Paul said: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Jesus said, “The measure you use will be the measure you receive” (Matt. 7:2b).
If we care for no one except ourselves, then who will care for us? On the other hand, what will be the result of a life characterized by love and generosity? How will God intervene to see that this measure-for-measure approach is maintained?
Just as Adam and his wife were not free from God’s knowledge of their actions (Genesis 3:9–13), so Cain is forced to deal with God’s sudden arrival and penetrating question (Gen. 3:9, ESV): “Where is Abel your brother?”
Gordon Wenham offers insight into Cain’s defiant reply:
When Adam was challenged, he at least told the truth if not the whole truth (3:10), but Cain tells a bare-faced lie, “I do not know,” and follows it with an impertinent witticism, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since Abel kept sheep and [“keeper”] is a term for shepherds (cf. Exod. 22:6, 9; 1 Sam. 17:20), Cain’s reply could be paraphrased “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”
What can we say about Cain’s response to God’s question? It is clearly self-justifying. The response has the shameless audacity that characterizes those who have no grasp of the difference between an all-powerful God and a mortal man. Cain’s attitude can be found in many people throughout the pages of the Bible and in contemporary society. For this reason Jesus said, “If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). For Cain the pit comes swiftly.
Genesis 4:10But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
In saying “What have you done?” Victor Hamilton says, “God is making an accusation, not seeking information.” The blood defiles the God-created ground, and the blood figuratively cries out to God for relief.
Genesis 4:10 contains a world of implicit theology: God monitors all human activity; God judges human actions; human acts have consequences; human life is sacred; bloodguilt cannot be ignored.
Genesis 4:11–12So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
Just as sin had waited to devour Cain, the ground swallowed Abel’s blood. The striking series of questions and statements, each two words long in Hebrew, tells a simple story:
Genesis 4:9 “Where is Abel” (literal translation)
Genesis 4:10 “What have you done” (literal translation)
Genesis 4:11 “Cursed are you” (literal translation)
Hamilton clarifies the idea of being banished or banned from the soil by saying that it “obviously means not that he is barred from contact with the soil but from enjoyment of its productivity.”
Wenham says, “In Gen. 3 man is not cursed, only the ground and the serpent, so cursing Cain is a serious development.”
The text of Genesis 4:12 is hard to translate. While NET says the land “will no longer yield its best,” the ESV says “it shall no longer yield to you its strength,” and the NIV 1984 and 2011 say “it will no longer yield its crops” (emphasis added in all cases). There is a big difference between the land yielding its best and yielding any crops at all! The NIV is more likely correct because Cain is condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12, NET), a condition that prevents cultivation of crops, and he soon complains of being driven off the land (Gen. 4:14).
So, if Cain cannot enjoy the productivity of the soil, how will he live? The irony is that this man who killed his brother and denied any responsibility to care for him will now have to depend on his brothers for sustenance. Will they treat him with the selfishness of Cain or the generosity of dead Abel?
Do yourself a favor by reading this article by op-ed columnist David Brooks, the political conservative who writes for the New York Times.
While Brooks does not explicitly favor conservative Christianity in this piece, it certainly fits the description of what he favors. It is encouraging that someone as smart and plugged-in as Brooks has not fallen for the religious nonsense that is so common in America today. He says:
Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.
That makes me think of my home church, Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, that is trying to encourage its people to live for Christ in ways that actually require sacrifice. In addition, Christ Fellowship takes a strong stand on historic Christian distinctives that run counter to contemporary, suburban values. I am not saying that we are an ideal church, but it is encouraging to be part of a church that is swimming against the cultural stream.
Brooks also rightly states:
Rigorous theology also allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally. . . . Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity. Without timeless rules, we all have a tendency to be swept up in the temper of the moment.
I don’t know if Brooks is a Christian, but what he is saying is a helpful counter to the “no-sharp-edges view of religion” that is commonly pushed in American media of all types.
Unfortunately, the Christian church in America is woefully ignorant of its history. This deficit in knowledge hurts Christian evangelism because we do not have any clear idea of what we are asking people to join, other than a faith-relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus formed a community of faith (Matthew 16:18). English translations of the Bible use the word “church” to refer to that community, and the church has a history!
By “church” I mean the collection of all true believers in Jesus. The extent to which this group overlaps with the institutional Church (mark the capital letter “C”) has varied greatly. The Roman Catholic Church (abbreviated RCC) is the primary institutional Church for most of the history covered here. Also, this history focuses mainly on Europe, because that is the channel of our spiritual heritage in America.
Outline of Church History
The Early Church – Day of Pentecost (33) to Council of Nicea (325)
The Political Church – Constantine (306–337) to birth of Luther (b. 1483)
The Reformation Church – Luther (1483) to World War I (1914–1918)
The Modern Church – World War I (1914–1918) to 1970
Synopsis of Church History
The Early Church – Day of Pentecost (33) to Council of Nicea (325)
Several factors characterized the early church: persecution (usually to death), rapid expansion, and the struggle with heresies and secular philosophy.
Even though Jesus had been executed by Roman capital punishment, the Christian movement was initially too insignificant to get attention in Rome. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in the year 33 resulted in a tremendous influx of new believers (Acts 2:41). But violent opposition soon developed as well. Many believers died for their faith, but the church grew even faster during persecution.
The Apostle Paul, having been falsely accused by the Jews, appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11), and that brought the message to the heart of the Roman empire (Acts 28:16, 31). The rapid expansion of the church and its failure to practice emperor worship brought it into early and frequent conflict with Roman authority. Persecution drove many Christians out of Jerusalem prior to its destruction by the Roman general Titus in the year 70.
Of greater danger to the faith than death were the inroads of Greek philosophy. In certain instances we are still struggling with accommodations made to shape the Christian faith into a philosophically-pleasing package during this early period. For example, the idea that God has no emotions entered Christian thought during this period.
The Political Church – Constantine (c. 274–337) to Luther (b. 1483)
The Roman emperor Constantine (c.274–337) brought an end to most persecution and favored Christianity above all religions. While this was a positive development, it also brought about many changes. Under imperial favor, church life became much more formal and church buildings more monumental. One may reasonably say that from this time until Luther challenged the established order in 1517, the church became entangled with political power. The true church was overshadowed by the institutional Church, which was often a major element of regional political power. This is still true today in some ways.
Of course, all great changes produce a reaction. The popularization of Christian faith (both professed faith and true faith) under Constantine caused some believers to retreat from the tumult. This led to a tremendous increase in monastic movements and their monasteries. They still exist.
Heresies, Councils and Augustine
Many heresies plagued the church during this period, including Arianism and Pelagianism. In short, Arianism taught that God the Father was greater than Jesus or the Spirit, and Pelagianism taught that man could achieve salvation by worthy human works. The church rightly rejected these views during councils held in the fourth century. These councils also reached a final consensus concerning the exact books recognized by the church as inspired by God, now collected for us as the Bible.
Augustine (354–430) of Hippo, in North Africa, was the most influential theologian of this period. His views became the theological foundation of both the RCC and later the Protestant Reformation (see below).
Rome fell to the barbarians in 455, and one historian credits the barbarian invasions of Europe for bringing about the great upsurge in the authority of the Bishop of Rome, now known as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. A second factor that led to this result was the fall of other Christian centers in Africa and the Middle East to the invading Moslems during the seventh and early eighth centuries. There is no doubt whatever that the RCC was the only dominant religious institution in Western Europe until the sixteenth century.
Eastern Church and Western Church Split Apart
While most Christians in America fit into the stream of Western Christianity, it should be remembered that Eastern Orthodox Christianity, originally centered in Constantinople (on the European shore of the Bosporus in modern Turkey), developed in parallel with the RCC. A formal split occurred in 1054, after a long accumulation of theological and political differences, and the Eastern Orthodox Church is still powerful today in its historic regions.
Characteristics of Medieval Christianity
The two focal points of Medieval Christianity were monasticism and the papacy.During much of this period the RCC popes were totally involved in matters of political and financial power, while many of the monks had withdrawn from such worldly matters to devote themselves to lives of contemplation and service. For example, Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) founded the Franciscan order under a rule that its members could own nothing. Other monastic orders took less stringent vows.
John Wycliffe (c.1329–1384) was a man ahead of his time. Almost 200 years before the Protestant Reformation roared onto the stage of history, the Oxford-educated Wycliffe advocated many of the same reforms in RCC theology and practices that would later be advanced by others. Wycliffe taught that the Bible was the only authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice. Perhaps the contribution for which he is best known is the idea that the Bible should belong to the people, not to the Church and its priests, and that the Bible should be in the language of the people, not Latin. Influenced by Wycliffe’s views, his followers completed a translation of the Bible into English by about 1392.
Part 2 will cover the period from the Protestant Reformation to World War I.