Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Testament Lesson #35 "Be Ye Reconciled to God"

2 Corinthians

EPISTLES OF PAUL

Although our King James Bible was published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you will note on the backside of the title page (in the original 1989 printing), that it was actually printed under direction of Cambridge University Press in England, which holds the rights to the King James Translation.  When the church finished this edition with its cross-references to other LDS scriptures, and with its chapter headings written by the LDS scripture committee (principally Bruce R. McConkie), Cambridge suggested they include a Bible dictionary.  The LDS Church did not have a one prepared, so Cambridge offered theirs, and gave the committee permission to edit it to align it with our doctrine.  So we have the generosity and research of the fine Bible scholars at Cambridge University to thank for our dictionary, which is only included in the English language version of our scriptures.  (Versions translated into other languages have a merged dictionary and topical guide called "The Guide to the Scriptures," which is also available in English, but only online.  Here is a link.)  (Gary Poll, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2011)

Cambridge University

There is an excellent and comprehensive section on the Pauline Epistles on pgs. 743-750 of the Bible Dictionary.  An outline of each epistle is included, key doctrinal points, and some historical background.  The Cambridge scholars divided the epistles into four groups and gave us a chronological order:
  1. Thessalonians, written A.D. 50-51 during Paul's first visit to Europe.
  2. Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, written A.D. 55, 57 from various locations of his ministry.
  3. Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Hebrews, written A.D. 60, 62 while Paul was in captivity in Rome.
  4. Titus, Timothy, written A.D. 64, 65, known as the Pastoral Epistles, dealing with management of the church.  Titus and 1 Timothy were written while Paul was enjoying freedom and visiting friends.  When 2 Timothy was written, Paul was once again in prison and facing his impending death.
We are now studying the second set of epistles and the same problem keeps coming up in all of them, a problem which was never satisfactorily resolved and which eventually led to the fracture of the church and its fall into apostacy.  (Gaye Strathern, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2011)

Knowing that the New Testament was written, not just for the primitive church, but also for the latter-day church (see a previous post for more on this), we must study this problem and ask ourselves whether we are facing the same, and what we can do about it.

GOVERNING OURSELVES; COMFORTING OTHERS

Joseph Smith said, when asked how he managed the church, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves" (quoted by John Taylor in The Millennial Star, 13:339).  This, of course, is the ideal relationship between members of the church and their leaders.  The difficulty arises when church members prefer to govern others, which we generally do.

You may recall how many times this problem came up among the most intimate of Jesus's disciples.  Martha complained that Mary was listening at the Savior's knee while Martha did all the cooking and serving.  The Lord responded, not by saying one sister had chosen better than the other, but by reprimanding Martha for "being careful and troubled over many things," the main item of which, taken in context, was the "good" thing that her sister had chosen to do at the moment.  (See "Mary vs. Martha" in a previous post.)  Peter questioned why John would be allowed to live until Christ came.  His own request was to join the Lord in heaven quickly at the end of his life.  Jesus didn't say one request was better than the other, but answered, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?  Follow thou me [in the path I have laid out for thee]" (John 21:22).

It is a mistake that mortals perpetually make:  comparing and competing with each other, when we should be encouraging and empowering each other.

This problem is evident in the second set of epistles as Paul worked to reconcile the Judaizers and the Gentiles.  (See a previous post for more on this.)  The Jerusalem Council (a special meeting of the church leaders) 15 years earlier proclaimed "the Jewish members free to continue the practice of the law of Moses if they cared to do so.  The council did not say that the Gentiles could not or must not practice the Law of Moses, but only that they need not do so for salvation." (Robert J. Matthews, "The Jerusalem Council," The Apostle Paul: His Life and Testimony, p. 107).  It was up to the individual to decided what was best for himself.  He wrote to the Jews, encouraging them to accept the Gentiles living outside the Law of Moses.  He wrote to the Gentiles, encouraging them to allow the Jews to live the Law as they were used to.

To the strong Gentile members in Rome, he advised, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. [In other words, welcome new members and returning members to your congregation, but don't argue with them about personal opinions.]  "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. [In keeping with the vision Peter had received, declaring no animals unclean, one person would eat anything, while in order to not risk any possibility of breaking the Law of Moses, another person would be a vegetarian.]  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him" (Rom. 14:1-3).  Who hath God received?  Both of them.  The issue is now one of culture, and it does not matter to God.

"Paul outlines his position regarding the tension between those who scrupulously observe religiously grounded regulations governing dietary matters and special days (the weak) and those who insist on their freedom in Christ to ignore those regulations (the strong).  Weak in faith or conviction is clearly not the self-designation of a group but an epithet used by its opponents, the strong, to whom this exhortation is addressed" (Harper-Collins Study Bible). 

With strong words he condemned such comparing, counseling, and criticizing:  "Who art thou that judgest another man's [i.e., God's] servant?  to his own master he standeth or falleth. [Each man is accountable before his God for himself.]  Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4).  Christ's atonement is what saves us individually, as we individually keep our covenants with him, live by the Spirit, and help each other along the way with charity.

Second Corinthians, written to a different group but dealing with the same issue, opens with Paul's salutation, followed by his vision of how the saints ought to be knit together in love.  "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

What we need in order to live in unity without so much concern regarding detailed rules is a deep trust in the Lord and a confident ability to comprehend the spirit of the law.  "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:5-6).  Simply following regulations without thought as to their purpose is not acceptable, particularly now that Christ has fulfilled the law, making it merely a tradition to keep it.  "In these doubtful things [or differences of opinions] every one not only may, but must, walk according to the light that God hath given him" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the New Testament, p. 204).

JUDGERS AND DESPISERS IN THE LATTER-DAY CHURCH

(The following comparison comes from a BYU Education Week lecture given by Michael Wilcox, August 2011.)

Okay, so we don't really have much of a problem with people arguing about whether to live the Law of Moses in the church today, so is this really relevant to us? 

It most certainly is.  We have our absolute commandments, the principles of the gospel, that we must keep.  We have essential covenants that we must qualify to make.  Every member of the church should be doing his best to keep the ten commandments, exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, keep or work towards making temple covenants, and renewing all covenants at the sacrament table regularly.  These are some of the essentials.  Some commandments can only be obeyed one way:  tithing, for example.  It's always 10%.  Alcohol consumption, for another example, should always be zero.

But many of the ideas about how a Latter-day Saint ought to live are matters of culture, upbringing, or personal opinion.  In these matters, the decisions about what to do in day-to-day life are up to, not the preference of the individual or the dictates of the culture but the guidance of the Spirit. 
  • One person may feel that it is okay to drink a cola drink, and another may abhor the idea. 
  • One person may eat a diet heavy in meat, while another feels that he should severely restrict meat. 
  • Each individual must seek the advice of the Spirit as to how to keep the Sabbath day holy.  A grocery store owner may feel it is in keeping with the Sabbath to close his store on Sunday, and the Brethren certainly encourage that.  But a doctor may feel that if he were not available to his patients on the Sabbath, he would not be serving his neighbor. 
  • One person may feel that knee-length shorts are fine to wear with temple garments; another may think the knee should never be uncovered. 
  • One family may have a child every year, another may have only one or two, and another may not be able to have any at all. 
You get the idea.  It is easy to become a judger or a despiser.

But every observance not specifically noted in the temple recommend interview is up to the individual to decide for himself, based upon the guidance of the Spirit.  That guidance may change and increase as he progresses along the path to perfection in Christ.  If our church leaders advise one way, even in such a small matter as to whether to wear hose to church or a white shirt to bless the sacrament, we would be very wise to prayerfully follow their counsel.  But as to how to judge one another, it's easy: if you don't have stewardship over that person, you don't judge--you love.

Tattoos:  Get Used to Them

Matters of dress and appearance often divide us because they are so obvious.  While the Brethren wisely advise against such permanent ornaments as tattoos, and we would certainly want to counsel our youth accordingly, about 40% of young adults in America today have tattoos and the number is rising.  Rather than being a statement about a particular wild lifestyle, tattoos have become a common fashion trend.  Of course, God wants all those young people to join the church or return to the church.  Whether they do, do not, or cannot remove their tattoos, our goal must be to have the temples filled with these young people.  If we make a judgment as to a person's lifestyle or worthiness based on something that is only skin-deep, rather than getting to know the heart underneath, we become what Paul refered to as "judgers" and we give that person reason to become a "despiser."  We lock each other up in the prison walls of bigotry, where no spiritual progress can be made.

But if we follow the Spirit's counsel in the conduct of our own lives, while allowing others the same according to their own spiritual progression, we are free to love all.  For "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  [This is the liberty to progress towards perfection and become like God.]  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [or mirror] the glory of the Lord [we realize that everyone bears the reflection of the Divine nature], are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:17-18).  We must see in everyone, no matter their outward appearance or demeanor, the child of God within.

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible makes it a little easier to understand the next few verses.  (You may want your class to read along in the KJV while you read the NRSV.)

"Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 

"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:1-5). 

Then, these beautiful words about what it means to be a missionary or a member missionary from the King James Version: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  If we are "judgers" or "despisers" we may miss seeing this light, because "we have this treasure in earthen vessels [unpolished human beings], that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:6-7).

Because of the fallen state we are in, as "earthen vessels," and the "darkness" that surrounds our "light," "we are troubled [afflicted] on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body [that earthen vessel] the dying of the Lord Jesus [the power of his Atonement], that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body [that others may see Jesus Christ through our actions] (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

"He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again...Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." (2 Cor. 5:15, 20).

So, as Christ died for us, we must live for him.  And what exactly is involved?  Paul gives us an enormous list by which to measure ourselves, and none of it has to do with outward observances.
  1. "Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed..."  First off, we must be accutely aware that although we must not judge others, our own conduct may give offence to someone else and cause them to harbor resentment against the church.
  2. "But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities [hardships], in distresses [calamities], in stripes [beatings], in imprisonments, in tumults [riots], in labours, in watchings [sleepless nights], in fastings [hunger]..."  Nothing that happens to us should free us from the obligation to be a light to others, an example of the believers.
  3. "By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned..."  Wait!  Where have we read this before?  In D&C 121:41-42.  It is the doctrine of the Priesthood (yes, it applies to women, too--we are all part of the Priesthood, men actively, women passively), "which greatly enlarges our souls without hypocrisy and without guile" and which will show others that our "faithfulness [to them] is stronger than the bonds of death" (v. 44). 
  4. "By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left..."  The armour of God is described in Eph. 6:13-17 and includes working only with truth ("loins girt about" refers to tying up one's long robes in order to get to work), protecting one's life from the attacks of temptations by godly living (breastplate of righteousness), an expectation to share the gospel (feet shod with the gospel of peace), an active defense of faith which can meet any angle of attack (shield of faith), an eternal vision (helmet of salvation), and the weapon of the word of God, even his daily and hourly personal direction to you as well as the revelations given to the church through the prophets (sword of the Spirit).
  5. "By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known..."  It doesn't matter what the world thinks of the believers, whether it admires them one day or despises them another day.
  6. "As dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed..."  We may come close, but if our mission is not complete, we will not be taken.
  7. "As sorrowful, yet alway[s] rejoicing..."  We may be surrounded by troubles and sadnesses, or the sorrow of sin, but through repentance and hope in Christ, we can and will be filled with joy.
  8. "As poor, yet making many rich..."  Of course, the gospel is the greatest treasure there can be.
  9. "As having nothing [in the way of material blessings], and yet possessing all things [the things of eternal significance].  (2 Cor. 6:3-10)
THE IMPORTANCE OF THORNS

Being "earthen vessels" with "light shining in our hearts" makes for an interesting paradox:  We see perfection and glory and eternity, but we must live in imperfection and trouble and mortality.  This paradox is the subject of Chapter 12.

Paul wrote of the amazing vision he had in which he was "caught up to the third heaven."  (Scholars agree that he was writing about himself.)  One would think that such a person who beheld such a vision would be glorious himself.  Paul said, "For [if] I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me" (2 Cor. 12:6).  It is true that a recount of his vision would be glorious, but if he told it, he would be viewed as being much holier than anyone else (a good reason to keep any glorious spiritual experiences to ourselves, except at the prompting of the Spirit). 

"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Cor. 12:7).  Even the greatest of apostles is not meant to live on earth wrinkle-free.



The gorgeous Barbara Bush Rose in my backyard
is incredibly thorny.


"The exact nature of the thorn is unknown; suggestions include physical or mental illness, spiritual trials, persecution, and opposition by adversaries" (Harper-Collins Study Bible). 

"Much has been written about Paul's 'thorn in the flesh.'  Numerous hypotheses have been advanced by way of identifying the 'thorn,' including stuttering, epilepsy, a shrewish wife, an eye affliction, malaria, some mortal antagonist, or some spiritual weakness" (D. Kelly Ogden & Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 157).

Isn't it interesting that everyone is fascinated by Paul's "thorn"?  Maybe we all want to know if it is one of the same ones we have.  Or maybe it's even worse!  But this curiousity only proves Paul's point:  It is Paul's imperfection that makes us feel that we might be like him, whereas his glorious visions seem completely above us.  Such a great spiritual hero as Paul had a problem which his great faith was not sufficient to solve because it was God's will that he have the problem.  Whatever it was, seemed to "get in the way" of Paul's service and logically ought to have been removed.  But herein is an even greater and yet more down-to-earth lesson in faith than that of great visions: the acceptance of God's will.

"For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  [Clearly, it was very troublesome.]  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

Sometimes the Lord wants us to use our faith to move mountains, sometimes to climb them, and sometimes to go around them the long way.  It is his choice, not ours.

Another great spiritual leader whose "thorns" really seemed to cause major problems in his ministry was President Spencer W. Kimball.  Wouldn't it have been logical for the Lord to want his future prophet to be able to speak?  Yet he was afflicted with recurring throat cancer.  Those who are old enough remember his gravelly whisper amplified through a miniature personal microphone attached to his eyeglasses, a necessity after having his voicebox removed. 

President Kimball's miniature microphone
can be seen next to his mouth in this photo


Wouldn't it have been logical for the Lord to want his future prophet to be hale and hearty and able to travel the world without any physical impairments?  But Elder Kimball had a heart attack in his early 50s and as his heart continued to fail, his work slowed.  At the age of 77, with a very weak heart, he underwent life-threatening surgery at the hands of now-Elder Russell M. Nelson.  (For the story, click here.)

But the Lord's ways are not our ways, as Elder Kimball discovered long before he became the President of the Church.  "Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors.  Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery" (Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).

A PARTING REMINDER

Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians was very important to him.  Paul advised the Corinthians to "examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). As he closed the letter, he stated, "I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction" (2 Cor. 13:10).  Say what?  He meant that it was better that he send a letter than that he be there in person using his great gift of preaching, because he might speak so harshly that it would not edify them as the Lord would have intended, but discourage them. 

And in order that he might encourage and not destroy, Paul left his readers (both the early Saints and us) with words of encouragement, as he did at the end of every epistle, building us up to hope that we could do what was asked of us.  (We also must always employ this technique when reproving someone over whom we have stewardship.)

"Finally, brethren, farewell. 
  • "Be perfect..." This word in scripture refers to being complete, rather than to being flawless.  Harper-Collins suggests that "put things in order," a related Greek phrase, might be the meaning expressed here.
  • "Be of good comfort..." NRS Version translates this "listen to my appeal."  Either way, allowing God and his word to govern our lives brings us comfort.
  • "Be of one mind, live in peace..."  It is so very important that the saints be united in love!
"...and the God of love and peace shall be with you."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Testament Lesson #34 "Keep the Ordinances, As I Delivered Them"

1 Corinthians 11-16

PREPARATION

Prepare three gift boxes or gift bags that each contain the ingredients for cookies or cupcakes or some other treat.  Ask three class members ahead of time to assist in the following role play.  Make enough of the treats at home to share with the class members and hide them somewhere outside the classroom in a location known to the third class member.

You may also want to draw the timeline used in the section "Developing Spiritual Gifts" on the very top of the chalkboard before class.

OBJECT LESSON

Give a wrapped gift to each of three class members. 



Class Member A does not even reach out to take the gift, but ignores you, walks away, and sits back down.  Ask the class, "Have you ever been given a gift that you did not open?  Can you even imagine leaving it there like that without even finding out what it is?  Crazy!"

Class Member B takes the gift, opens it to see what it is, and expresses confusion about what it could be good for.  She digs around in it, and says she doesn't know what to do with it; it looks like it's just a bunch of miscellaneous food staples.  She thinks that's an odd sort of gift--not what she was expecting.  She sets it down and walks away.  Ask the class, "Have you ever been given a gift that you did not understand or appreciate?"

Class Member C opens the gift and is also confused about its purpose, but he returns to the giver (you) to thank you and ask what he should do with it.  You whisper something in his ear, and he says, "Oh!  That's a good idea!" and leaves the room with the gift.

In a moment, he returns with the prepared treats and passes them among the class members.



Ask the class, "Aren't you glad Class Member C accepted his gift, learned how to use it, and shared it with all of us!"

THREE WITNESSES OF THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS

About 55 years after Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians to correct errors in their congregation.  He knew that there was an ever-present problem of disharmony between the Jews and the Greeks, and so he gave a marvelous written discourse telling the saints that God had wonderful spiritual gifts for them to share with each other, and he itemized some of those gifts, and encouraged the saints to seek them. 

421 years after Christ, Moroni was the last righteous man alive on the American continent.  He wandered to and fro, keeping himself and the priceless plates of scripture hidden from the wicked civilization around him.  At one time, he thought he would soon be found and killed and so he buried the plates.  But as time went on and he was still alive, he dug them up again and wrote a little more since there was still space on the last few.  He knew that no one of his generation would ever read them.  He knew that he was the last man on the threshold of the Great Apostacy, as it took place in America.  He knew, also, that there would be a Restoration.  And so he added The Book of Moroni, a handbook of instructions for the restoration of the true church on the earth.  The very last thing Moroni included in his book was a list of the spiritual gifts that we must seek, and which God will give to us if we come unto him (Moroni 10).  After that, he wrote the title page of the Book of Mormon on the very last leaf of gold, and buried the plates for good.

Paul and Moroni, having lived 300 years and half the world away from each other, never having been members of the same civilization, writing their scriptures in completely different languages, wrote the selfsame list of gifts.  Obviously, they got these lists from the same Source, transcendant of time and place.

1831 years after Christ, in Kirtland, Ohio the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation on how to conduct church meetings and run church congregations.  Guess what this revelation included?  A list of spiritual gifts for which members of the congregation should seek (D&C 46).  Since this was a revelation from God, it should not surprise us too much to find that it is the very same list as given to Paul in 55 A.D. and to Moroni in 421 A.D. 

In the mouth of three witnesses, the Lord established his word.

VERIFICATIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS

Have the class open their scriptures to 1 Cor. 12:1-11, and take turns reading the verses aloud as you (or a class member) itemize the 9 gifts listed in the blackboard.

The purposes for having three witnesses are so that the witnesses can both verify and clarify each other.  So let's look for verifications (which would appear as similarities) and clarifications (which would appear as differences) in Moroni's and Joseph Smith's lists.

Have one side of the class read Moroni 10:8-17, and the other side of the class read D&C 46:17-27.  As they find something that is either the same as or in addition to Paul's list, have them raise their hand so you can check off the item already listed, or add it to the list. 

If you want to clarify the gifts further, please refer to Elder Oaks' article, "Spiritual Gifts," in the September 1986 Ensign.

AN INFINITE NUMBER OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS

"One of the great tragedies of life, it seems to me, is when a person classifies himself as someone who has no talents or gifts. When, in disgust or discouragement, we allow ourselves to reach depressive levels of despair because of our demeaning self-appraisal, it is a sad day for us and a sad day in the eyes of God. For us to conclude that we have no gifts when we judge ourselves by stature, intelligence, grade-point average, wealth, power, position, or external appearance is not only unfair but unreasonable.

"From D&C 46:11–12, we have this truth:  "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God"...

"...From the Book of Mormon, particularly 3 Nephi, chapters 11 through 26, when the Savior Jesus Christ showed himself to the people on the American continent, many gifts are referred to as being very real and most useful. Taken at random, let me mention a few gifts that are not always evident or noteworthy but that are very important. Among these may be your gifts—gifts not so evident but nevertheless real and valuable.

"Let us review some of these less-conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost" (Elder Marvin J. Ashton, "There Are Many Gifts," Ensign, November 1987).

Elder Ashton expounded upon several other gifts:  the gift to ponder, the gift to look to God for direction, the gift to hear and use the Small Voice, the gift to calm others, and the gift to care for others.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, "Their purpose is to enlighten, encourage, and edify the faithful so that they will inherit peace in this life and be guided toward eternal life in the world to come...Faithful persons are expected to seek the gifts of the Spirit with all their hearts."  After itemizing those listed in the scriptures, as we have done, he added, "And these are by no means all of the gifts.  In the fullest sense, they are infinite in number and endless in their manifestations" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 314-315).

SPIRITUAL GIFTS MUST BE DEVELOPED

They are called gifts, because "they are freely available to all the obedient" (McConkie, p. 314), not because they do not require any effort on our part.  Just like the gifts that members of our class received today, spiritual gifts do not come ready-made.  We must thank the Lord for our gifts, ask Him how to use them, practice and develop them continuously, and share them with other, and He will give us more.

Joseph Smith had the marvelous spiritual gift of translation of an unknown language in order to give the world the gift of the Book of Mormon.  He was given the gift of translation when he was given the plates, but he had to develop that gift.  It is a fascinating and instructive example of the work required by the Lord of one who receives a spiritual gift.  (Keep in mind, also, that Joseph was not able to work without interruption because of moves, work, persecution, etc.)



(This information comes from my personal notes taken during a BYU Campus Education Week lecture, given August 19, 1999 by Bruce Woolley, BYU professor, Notebook 4, p. 31.  The same information can be found in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, chapter 3, edited by John W. Welch.)

Draw a timeline on the chalkboard dating from September 1827 to June 1829, with individual months marked above the timeline.  As you tell about each event below, mark an X on the timeline.

  • 9-27-1827: Joseph Smith received the plates.  For three months he almost daily dug them up and reburied them to keep them hidden from his enemies until he found a safe situation.
  • 12-1827:  For the next three months, he practiced translating, until he finally had some characters figured out.
  • 2-1828:  Martin Harris took the finished characters to Professor Charles Anthon in New York City for verification of the translation.
  • 4-12-28:  The translation began in earnest with Martin as the scribe.  In two months and two days, the Book of Lehi was completed.
  • 6-14-28:  Martin Harris took the Book of Lehi (116 pages) to show his wife. They were stolen.  The gift of translation was removed from Joseph Smith, as were the plates themselves and the Urim and Thummim.
  • 9-22-28:  After a three month period of repentance, all was restored to Joseph Smith, but there were no fruits to the effort so far.  Joseph started back at ground zero re-developing and relearning the gift for six months (twice as long as before).
  • 4-7-29:  Oliver Cowdery began as scribe and translation once again began in earnest at the Book of 1 Nephi.
  • 5-15-29:  Mosiah 18:8-10 was reached, and in answer to prayer regarding the passage, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver and they were baptized.
  • 6-1-29:  Joseph had moved to Fayette, NY and reached Ether 5 where he read about the importance of three witnesses, whereupon he prayed for witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and his prayer was answered.
  • 6-11-29:  The Book of Mormon was finished and the copyright was obtained.  Joseph had translated the entire book in 60-65 days, a rate of 3,100 words per day!  Although Oliver Cowdery had excellent penmanship, you can see from the photograph below that he had to write sloppily because of the great speed required as Joseph dictated.


Joseph Smith asked Oliver Cowdery to make him a copy.  It took Oliver three times as long to copy it as it took for Joseph Smith to dictate it.

Seeing that Oliver Cowdery came into the process after Joseph had worked for months to learn it, we can understand why he thought he would be able to quickly translate when he asked for the opportunity, and why he quickly gave it up when he didn't immediately succeed.  (See D&C 9.)  He did better than Class Member A, who didn't even receive the gift, but he was like Class Member B, who didn't expect to have to work to produce the gift given her.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS DEVELOP CHARITY

Returning to Paul's itemization of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12, we see that he next expounded on the need church members have for each other's gifts.

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...

"If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?...And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be [lesser] are necessary...

"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular...

"Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?  Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?  But [seek] earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:12, 15, 21-22, 27, 29-31).

What is the "more excellent way?"  It is explained immediately in Chapter 13.  (Remember:  Paul did not divide the chapters.  It was all just one letter.)  The spiritual gifts, he wrote, were nothing but a cacophany ("sounding brass or tinkling cymbal") if used without charity.  No matter what great spiritual gift you may have, if you do not exercise it with the motivation of love, your gift is useless, it "profiteth you nothing."  The purpose of the gifts is to serve each other, to knit us together.  If it were not so, each of us would have been endowed with all of the gifts, so that we could be completely independent in our spiritual journey.  But it is in the plan of God for us to need the gifts of others, as well as our own gifts.  We are all "one body" with its "several parts."  So never should we bemoan the fact that we have different gifts than someone else--it is meant to be that way.  Our job is to seek out our own, and use them with charity.

So Paul gave us the very familiar and famous definition of what it means to exercise a spiritual gift with the pure love of Christ, Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.

In addition to reading aloud this chapter in the King James Version, you may want to read some of the passages in the New International Version (available online at this link) or the New Revised Standard Version (available online at this link) for some helpful clarification of the Old English words.

For my personal interpretation of verse 8, please refer to "A Formula for Success" in a previous post.

RECOGNIZING OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS

We must each take upon ourselves the lifelong challenge to find and develop our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others.  How do we discover them?  When we find that we have done something that has benefited someone, that is a clue that there is a gift there.  We may find we possess the gift of friendship, the gift of awareness of other people's needs, the gift of singing, the gift of encouraging, the gift of teaching, the gift of testimony, the gift of understanding children, the gift of making others feel comfortable, the gift of being cheerful, the gift of thinking deeply, the gift of complimenting others, the gift of working hard, the gift of visualizing the beauty of a finished product, the gift of cleaning, the gift of cooking, the gift of listening, the gift of reading aloud, the gift of organizing...as Elder McConkie said, the number of spiritual gifts is infinite.  And remember that we must all seek the gift to love others--all others--or our gifts are useless.

A beautiful way to end may be to ask class members to identify spiritual gifts they see others in the ward or branch as possessing.  If you have a large class, just ask for volunteers.  If you have a small class, go around the room identifying special traits of each class member (which you have prayed and thought about ahead of time) and encouraginging other class members to add their thoughts on each other.  Doing it this way will ensure that no one will feel left out or like they are the last one chosen by their peers.  If you're into handouts, you may want to prepare a little bookmark with "To Every One is Given a Gift by the Spirit of God" and the name of the student at the top, to which you can add the gifts identified in class, and give it to the individual to keep in their scriptures.

Great Idea for Visual Aids

Of course, we are all aware of the Gospel Art Packet, and the downloadable Gospel Art available from LDS.org, but a really great idea to build up a large collection of beautiful gospel prints for use in teaching is to buy calendars by LDS artists such as Liz Lemon Swindle, Simon Dewey, Greg Olson, Mark Mabry, Elspeth Young, or others, and simply cut the pages apart.

I also just bought a great 2012 "Lands of the Bible" calendar with photographs of present-day sites from the Bible by Todd Bolen, from the BYU Bookstore.

For about $12 (U.S.) full price, you can get a 12 x 12 inch calendar with 12 gorgeous prints.  If you buy them on clearance after the New Year, of course, you can get them even cheaper.  Ask friends and family to give you theirs instead of throwing them away at the end of the year, and you can get them for free.  Or tell people you would love calendars with gospel-themed art for Christmas.

If you don't have easy access to a store that sells LDS products, you can shop at Deseret Book, Seagull Book, or Amazon online, or at LDS Art online.

Simon Dewey's 2011 Calendar is for sale for $1.60 at Deseret Book.com right now.  (Shipping was $2.99 for my Utah address.)  A few of Todd Bolen's 2011 Calendars are on sale for 1 penny plus $4.99 shipping from Amazon Marketplace.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Testament Lesson #33 "Ye Are the Temple of God"

1 Corinthians 1-6

BEING UNITEDLY FOCUSED ON CHRIST

It's amazing how mankind can take the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is set up to be the great equalizer, and distort it into some sort of caste system.  It is a part of our fallen nature to be continually tempted by competition and comparison.  In the city of Corinth, this was a particular problem.  "Corinth was a large and prospering urban center with an ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse population" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2139).  "The Jewish community in Corinth has been estimated to have numbered as many as 20,000" (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 128).

Paul follows his typical pattern of praising the good in a congregation or region before bringing up the points upon which they need to improve or change.  1 Cor. 1:1-9 are this pleasant salutation.

But then he immediately delivers the blow.  The people are not unified in Christ, but have divided themselves into converts of the various missionaries.  I love the sardonic way he drives the point home: 

"Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.  Is Christ divided?  was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Baius; Let any should say that I had baptized in mine own name...For Christ sent me not to baptize [or not to gather up a following of my own converts], but to preach the gospel [to simply tell them about Christ]; not with wisdom of words [or not because I'm so incredibly clever] lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" [lest the real message of the gospel would not get through to the listeners] (1 Cor. 1:12-17).

Paul itemizes how the humble preaching of the gospel affects three groups of people: the Jews, the Greeks, and the true believers whichever ethnic group they may come from.  (See 1 Cor. 21-24.)
  1. The Jews "require a sign."  They want definitive proof of Christ's atonement, and don't acknowledge that they have already received it.  For them, the preaching of the gospel is a "stumblingblock."  This word is translated from the Greek word scandalon, which refers not simply to a big rock that is sitting in the road, but actually to the trigger mechanism of a trap (Ogden/Skinner, p. 130).  A stumblingblock can ensnare, completely halting any forward progression, and in addition, causing great pain.
  2. The Greeks "seek after wisdom."  It is ironic that the Greeks who, despite their great philosophers, artists, and academicians, had created a huge and ridiculous mythological system of gods, and yet would consider the story of Christ's Atonement to be "foolishness."
  3. The believers (see footnote to verse 24), whether they are Jews or Greeks, see in "Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."  They perceive truth through the Holy Ghost, and acknowledge that it comes from God.
Paul was one of "the believers," a great missionary who gave all the honor for his success to Christ.  He taught the Corinthians that true Christians also should not glory of themselves (v. 29), or place themselves above or below others in the church, but "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (v. 31).

GIVING GOD THE GLORY

Another believer, Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably the greatest composer of all time, followed this counsel all of his life.  During his mortal existence, which began in 1650 A.D., he achieved no fame or glory, but fame and glory were not his aim.  "Music's only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit," he said.  As he began a new piece of music, he would frequently write initials at the top of the page which stood for Jesu Juva, or "help me, Jesus," or In Nomine Jesu, "in the name of Jesus."  "At the manuscript's end, Bach routinely initialed the letters S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria--"To God alone, the glory...Often his compositions would contain chiastic structures, such as A B C D E D C B A.  The visual equivalent of the resulting musical form appears as a cross" (Patrick Kavanaugh, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, p. 19-20).



Beethoven, writing 100 years later, said that Bach's name "ought not to be Bach [the German word for brook], but ocean, because of his infinite and inexhaustible wealth of combinations and harmonies." When Mozart first heard one of Bach's works, he said, "What is this?  Now there is something we can learn from."  But although Bach has been hailed as one of the greatest musical geniuses, he never considered himself to be anything more than others were.  He very generously stated to a student that there was no secret to his success. "I was made to work; if you are equally industrious you will be equally successful."   When his fabulous skill as an organist was praised, he replied humorously, "There is nothing very wonderful about it.  You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest" (Kavanaugh, p. 19, 23).

We should exercise similar humility with any gifts and opportunities God gives us:  use them for the benefit of others, while giving God the glory.  Paul, the greatest missionary of all, knew that he did not convert one person: it is the Spirit who converts.  He acknowledged that many people in various ways nourish the spiritual growth of a single soul:  "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase...Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one [or united in purpose]: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.  For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry [or farm], ye are God's building.  According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.  But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.  For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:6-11).

THE BODY OF THE CHURCH IS THE TEMPLE OF GOD

It is within this context that Paul posed the question, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17). 

This scripture is often interpreted to mean the physical body is a temple, but "Paul's teaching here has another meaning.  In a place where several temples were dedicated to Apollo, Aphrodite, and others, Paul taught about the temple of the true God, which is the Church of Jesus Christ.  The temple of God spoken of in these verses is the body of believers in Christ, that is, his Church, and 'the Spirit of God dwelleth among or within you [the you being plural].'  If any man defiles the temple of God--meaning an apostate who distorts the doctrine and draws away disciples after him--he will be destroyed by God...Paul teaches about Christ as cornerstone, apostles as foundation, and members fitting into their places as a 'holy temple in the Lord' (Eph. 2:21)" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 132).  (Harper-Collins agrees.)

And this leads right into the next issue:

THE LEAVEN OF MALICE

Apparently there was a member of the congregation who had taken his father's wife (his stepmother, not his mother) as his own.  Everyone was winking at this, letting it go unaddressed, as if it wasn't a problem.  They had not "mourned" this sin.  They had not "delivered such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh [put him out of the congregation so that he could repent], that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:2, 5).  "Critics who find this prescription too severe should note that the excommunication is not permanent, and that it has two positive purposes.  The first is that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord...The object of depriving the offender of fellowship with other believers (v. 11) and exposing him to the afflictions that God will permit Satan to cause him because of his sin, is to bring him to his senses, so that he will repent.  When he does, giving up his immoral behavior, he should be accepted again...The second purpose is to protect others in the [church] from being drawn into sin" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 447).

"Your glorying is not good.  Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump [or batch of dough]?  (1 Cor. 5:6). 

Today we have different kinds of leavening agents such as soda, baking powder, eggs, or commercial yeast, but the leaven of the Israelites was a natural leaven, drawn from the impurities in the air, much like sourdough.  The flour and water were allowed to sit for a few days.  Microorganisms in the flour and in the surrounding environment would begin to grow and ferment the dough, producing bubbles, and eventually causing the bread to rise when baked.  The flavor of the bread would be altered by the natural yeast; in fact, the character of the entire loaf would be changed.

"Purge out therefore the old leaven..." (1 Cor. 5:7). 

The evening before the Passover, every Jewish family had to clean every bit of leaven from their home, getting rid of every crust of leavened bread, every drop of grain liquor. "That evening the special meal during which the Haggadah (the liturgy recalling the Exodus from Egypt) is read.  At this meal and throughout the week...the only kind of bread that may be eaten is matzah (unleavened bread)..."



"It may be significant that the prescribed punishment for violating this ordinance is the same as that for sexual misbehavior with one's stepmother...In the New Testament, chametz (leaven) often symbolizes wickedness and evil, with matzah representing purity and truth" (Stern, p. 447).  The word chametz literally means sour.  Something that had been leavened according to the leaven available in that day had fermented or gone sour and was therefore impure.

The eating of unleavened bread was a reminder of the speed of the Exodus--that there was not time for bread to rise before following the prophet of the Lord to freedom.  But there is another meaning as well.  "Some Jewish thinkers see chametz, that which rises and becomes leaven, as symbolically representing those tendencies in a man which arouse him to evil.  They see the whole process of searching for the chametz and eliminating it as a reminder to man that he should search through his deeds and purify his actions.  Mere renunciation of the imperfect past, one's own chametz, is not sufficient; it must be destroyed" (Mordell Klein, Passover, quoted in Stern, p. 448).


PURGE OUT THE OLD LEAVEN

But "purging out the old leaven" both in oneself and in the congregation is only the first step.  The next step is to become "a new lump, as ye are unleavened.  For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7-8).  What is meant by "old leaven"?  David Stern translates it as leftover leaven, and interprets the passage to mean that once we have repented of our former sinful behaviors, it is not right for us to dwell upon them. 

Musicians who perform well know how to leave the past behind.  If they make a mistake while they are performing (which they will do--no performance is perfect), they must immediately leave it behind and continue with the music.  The beat marches on and they cannot go back.  If  they try to replay the missed note, the error is made worse.  If they fret about the mistake as they perform the remainder of the piece, they cannot focus on what is coming up and more mistakes are sure to follow.  A great performer must forgive himself continually.

When we repent, we become a "new lump," unleavened, made holy through Christ's sacrifice.  It is not right for us to dwell upon the past sins of ourselves, or of one in our congregation.  Once repentance has been completed, we let it go, we do not bring it up again, we do not continually judge them, or bring attention to that person's past.  We let people move on.  As individuals or as congregations, we are to become a new lump, without any leftover leaven.

"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:8).

COMPANYING WITH FORNICATORS

Paul advised the saints "not to company with fornicators" but we must read this passage carefully.  He specifically notes that we can't (and shouldn't) get entirely away from the company of sinners in the world, because we have to live there (1 Cor. 5:10).  Since it is our job to lead others to Christ, of a necessity then, we must be associating with people who have not found him yet.  But we must not allow a blatant sinner to continue in fellowship within the church, "a man that is called a brother" (1 Cor. 5:11).  The problem must be addressed appropriately by the leadership.

In case you want to know the specific sins Paul is condemning in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, here is a present-day translation:  "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived!  Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [effeminate in the KJV] , sodomites [abusers of themselves with mankind in the KJV], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10, New Revised Standard Version).  Harper-Collins Study Bible commentates:  "Fornicators are persons who engage in sexual conduct regarded as immoral.  Male prostitutes [were] adolescent boys who sold sexual favors to older males; or, if the term is being used generally, the more passive male in a homosexual act.  The Greek word translated sodomites is a term that seems to be used of the more active male in a homosexual act." 

But in the very next verse is the rescue of Christ's atonement once again:  "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11).  Wow!  The atonement is amazing.

(Note the Joseph Smith Translation change in the footnote to verse 12, which completely reverses the verse's meaning.)

THE PHYSICAL BODY IS ALSO THE TEMPLE OF GOD

At the end of Chapter 6 we find the real reference to the physical body as the temple of God.  "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price [the great Atonement]: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Elder Bednar expounded wonderfully upon this small scripture in the Sept. 2001 Ensign:

"Our physical bodies indeed are temples of God. Consequently, you and I must carefully consider what we take into our temple, what we put on our temple, what we do to our temple, and what we do with our temple. And we can learn a number of important lessons by comparing the Church’s temples to our physical bodies as temples:  (You may want to post a picture of your temple as you read through these.  A picture of every temple is available at http://www.lds.org/.  Ask your class to comment on each heading; they may come up with great ideas which you can then supplement with Elder Bednar's.)


(This is a decopage/painting my son-in-law, Jhesua Arias,
made of the Logan temple on an old LP record.  Sweet, huh?)

  1. "What we take into our templesA member of the Church who desires to enter a dedicated temple must be worthy to do so. The requirement of worthiness for all who enter the house of the Lord preserves the sacred nature of these special buildings and permits the ongoing presence of the Lord’s Spirit."  President Boyd K. Packer said, "If we abuse our body with habit-forming substances, or misuse prescription drugs, we draw curtains which close off the light of spiritual communication."
  2. "What we put on our templesThe Church’s temples are recognized throughout the world for their beauty. The buildings themselves are made of the finest materials and constructed with true craftsmanship. And the areas immediately surrounding a temple are always neat and well maintained."  President Harold B. Lee said, “Do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them."
  3. "What we do to our templeImagine the reaction you or I might have if we saw defacing graffiti on the exterior of one of our Church’s temples."  President Spencer W. Kimball said, “How far, we wonder, will men and women go to pay ovations to the god of style? Will men wear rings in their noses when style dictates? Will young people still fall prey to their god of style, which they worship?”
  4. "What we do with our templeThe temples of our Church are built and dedicated to accomplish righteous purposes." President Packer counseled, “Please, never say: ‘Who does it hurt? Why not a little freedom? I can transgress now and repent later.’ Please don’t be so foolish and so cruel. You cannot with impunity ‘crucify Christ afresh’ (see Heb. 6:6). "  (All of the quotes above are found in Elder Bednar's article.)
But the holiness of the temple is not just in what we do not take into it, put on it, do to it or with it, but in what we do.  So it is with the purity of the body.  The Word of Wisdom has 8 verses about what we should put into our bodies, compared to 5 verses about what we should not  (See D&C 89).  The brain is the director of the entire body, and therefore what we put into our minds is of great importance.  Besides avoiding evil and worldly images and ideas, we should enlighten ourselves with the great truths of the gospel, and with uplifting and encouraging media.  Rather than just avoiding sin as we go throughout our daily activities, we should be seeking righteousness, as our body-temples are also "built and dedicated to accomplish righteous purposes." The things we choose to do--whether they be service, family events, recreation, educational pursuits, travel, athletics, etc.--should all be for the glory of God and the improvement of our personal temples, under the direction of the Spirit.

If we fill our body-temples and our congregation-temples with light, we will enjoy the peace, love and joy that the gospel brings and present ourselves holy through Christ in the judgment.

CONCLUSION

The gospel of Jesus Christ, although it seems foolishness to some, unfashionable to some, politically incorrect to some, is even greater, more merciful, and more joyous than anyone can comprehend.  "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).  Living the gospel will definitely be worthwhile.

Earth life is a community effort.  The only way to obtain Zion is to help each other, as Paul counseled:  "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). 

We are all on the same team, building Zion (the temple in 3:16), and building individuals (the temples in 6:19), and none of it can be done without Christ.  "For who makes you different from another?  What do you have that you did not receive [from God]?  And if you received it [from God], why do you boast as if it were not a gift?  Already you have all you want!  Already you have become rich!"  (1 Cor. 4:7-8, New Revised Standard Version).

We would do well to follow the examples of great believers such as Johann Sebastian Bach.  "Bach's devotion to God and his drive to express that devotion musically gave the world a gift for all to appreciate."  Bach was completely blind by the age of 65.  Only 10 compositions out of the 60 volumes he wrote were published in his lifetime.  He died in relative obscurity to be buried in an unmarked grave.  But he did not care: he exited this life confident in his standing before the Lord.  His last work, "dictated from his bed, was a chorale entitled Before Thy Throne I Come" (Kavanaugh, p. 22).

If we live our lives and share our gifts in humility for the glory of God, we may say at life's end as did Paul, "I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith," and we may be confident and peaceful like Bach as "before God's throne we come."


(It might be nice to end the lesson with one of Bach's worship pieces, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."  The words begin:  "Jesu, joy of man's desiring, holy wisdom, love most bright; Drawn by thee, our souls aspiring, soar to uncreated light."  There is a lovely version of it by Celtic Woman on YouTube at this link or available for purchase on I-tunes for $1.29.  It is also available on more than a half-dozen Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs, and sold on I-tunes for 99 cents.  In fact, there are 50 versions of this chorale on I-tunes!  With just this one work, Bach indeed "gave the world a gift for all to appreciate.")

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Testament Lesson #32 "Live in the Spirit"

Acts 18:23-20:38; Galatians

THE EFFECT OF THE MIRACLES AND MINISTRY OF PAUL

In this section of Acts, "Luke chose to include five anecdotes about Paul's work in this area, each of which fulfills one of two purposes:
  1. to witness of Paul's apostolic authority at a time when some may have been questioning it, and
  2. to report some faith-promoting incidents relative to the growth of the young church.
(Dale Sturm, instructor of Religious Education at BYU,"New Testament Study Aids--Live in the Spirit," at the old LDS World Gems website [which unfortunately no longer exists]).

The five events noted:
  1. Paul baptized 12 disciples and gave them the Gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1-7) "John the Baptist's influence is so powerful that it is still being felt many years after and many miles removed from his actual ministry" (D. Kelly Ogden & Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 91).
  2. Paul was identified as one with authority like Christ's by an evil spirit who refused to leave by sorcery (Acts 19:13-18)
  3. Consequently, many of those who believed in such magic burned their spell books and joined the Church (Acts 19:16-20)  "Book burning, in this case, is good.  There is estimated to have been more than $10,000 worth of books burned" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 93)
  4. The silversmiths and makers of idols nearly caused a riot over the loss of their business to Paul's converts (Acts 19:23-41).  "In Ephesus was a magnificent temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis (the Roman Diana), the structure was four times bigger than the Parthenon in Athens.  Pliny the Elder, who, like Luke, was writing in the first century after Christ, described the prodigious shrine: 'The length of the temple overall is 425 feet, and its breadth 225 feet.  There are 127 columns...60 feet in height.'  By comparison, a modern American football field is 300 feet long.  Certain craftsmen who made shrines and figurines of the goddess were now feeling the loss of business brought on by Paul's preaching.  It has been well said that the most sensitive part of civilized man is his pocket" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 93).
  5. Paul raised a young man named Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:7-12).  (Yes, we can make all kinds of High Priest Quorum jokes out of this one...)
GALATIANS

"For centuries scholars have debated when and exactly to whom Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians.  Though the evidence is insufficient to draw any certain conclusions, it seems likely that Paul wrote the letter during the latter part of his third missionary journey (about AD 57)..." (Sturm).

"Galatians and Romans...were the scriptural foundation of the Protestant Reformation.  They led Martin Luther to break from the Roman Catholic Church.  Thus Paul's words became an impetus to the great religious revolution of the sixteenth century" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 159).

Martin Luther said, "The Epistle to the Galatians is my Epistle.  I have betrothed myself to it.  It is my wife" (quoted by Sturn).

The Bible Dictionary gives a great deal of information about the Pauline Epistles, including the following outline of Galatians (p. 744-745):
  1. Salutation & rebuke--the only epistle beginning with a rebuke rather than a statement of gratitude (1:1-10)
  2. Vindication of Paul's authority as an apostle (1:11-2:21)
  3. Theology--The doctrine of faith in Christ's Atonement is superior to the doctrine of works in the Mosaic Law (3-4)
  4. Results of the practice of faith (5-6)
  5. Autograph (6:11-18)
UNDERSTANDING THE DOCTRINE IN GALATIANS

What was the problem that prompted the writing of Galatians?  Gentile converts were being forced to live the Law of Moses (often referred to in a shorthand manner as simply "circumcision") as taught by false teachers.  In other words, Gentile converts were being expected to make the cultural and lifestyle changes to become Jews before they were allowed to become Christians.

The Law of Moses was much better than lawlessness, and it was a preparation for the receipt of the power of Atonement of Jesus of Christ in the people's lives, but by itself, it was inadequate to save.  Once the Atonement was made, it was unnecessary altogether.  Its purpose had been fulfilled.

The Gospel of Christ is what?  It is, very simply, what Paul taught to the 12 men:  "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them" (Acts 19:4-6).  (See also 3 Ne. 17:20-21.)  The gospel of Jesus Christ is basically the 4th Article of Faith.  It's believing in and calling upon the Atonement of Jesus Christ (faith) to change (repent) and progress through the keeping of covenants (such as baptism) and living in the Spirit (Gift of Holy Ghost) until we are perfected.  It is going from darkness to a fullness of light.
Galatians 3:19-20 doesn't make a lot of sense.  Even The Harper-Collins Study Bible footnote to verse 20 reads, "This verse is notoriously obscure; apparently the point is that those who are in Christ have direct access to God's promise without mediation.  God is one."  The Joseph Smith Translation completely changes these verses and now they make sense: 

"Wherefore then the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law of Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law).  Now this mediator [Moses, as just stated] was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed.  Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham" (Gal. 3:19-20).

The mistaken belief that had grown up around the Law of Moses was that one could be saved simply by keeping each of the many rules involved.  But that, of course, is impossible in two ways:  1) it's impossible to keep all those rules, and 2) it's impossible to be saved by the keeping of rules. 

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).


The Law of Moses was much more focused on obedience and fairness, particularly with the additions by the rabbis.  For example, the phrase "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was common among the people (see Matt. 5:38), and meant that when someone wronged you, you could not expect to be compensated for more than what you had lost.  The Law of the Gospel, however, was not about fairness, it was about love.  It was not just about obedience in regulations, but about obedience as a way of showing love to God, and of becoming like God.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).  All of the states of being that follow the word love are just various manifestations or results of love itself, aren't they?  The concluding phrase "against such there is no law" means, "there is nothing that can hold you back" if you are filled with the Spirit, and consequently with love.  Love is all-powerful.



"For all the law [meaning the pure Law of Moses] is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. 5:14). However, the way the Law of Moses was understood by the people was inadequate to really internalize this.  For example, The Harper-Collins Study Bible writes that a saying of Rabbi Hillel, one of the most important rabbis in Jewish history who helped to put together the Talmud, summed up the Jewish understanding of this law:  "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."  (p. 2190).  It's better than doing whatever you want, regardless of the effect on others, but it is not the same as truly loving.

Galatians 3:24-25 has another clarifying JST change:  "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster until Christ, that we might be justified by faith, but after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For [now] ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ."  The Greek word for schoolmaster, "paidagogos, was not a teacher but a slave who guarded and supervised children," in other words, a babysitter.  The Law of Moses kept them out of trouble; it did not teach them godhood.

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage"   (Gal 5:1).

"Sadly, the second half of the New Testament is sometimes neglected by Latter-day Saints.  That is unfortunate because the times in which those books of the New Testament were written were not so different from our own.  The information in those books and the lessons we can learn from them could become a towering source of peace and power in coping with life's challenges in our own times" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 1)

So where is the relevance for us?  We are no longer concerned about living the Law of Moses.  Or are we?

ROUTINE VS. DEVOTION

In our worship, we still have many rituals, as did the Jews under the Law of Moses.  However, they should never be treated as ends in themselves.  Joseph Smith taught that repetition is necessary because it teaches.  But only if we let it.

The following ideas come from Matthew O. Richardson, BYU Professor of Religion, given in an address at BYU Campus Education Week, August 1999.

If we thoughtlessly take the sacrament each week, we are stuck in routine, just like the Jews and the Galatians: we are not acknowledging Christ as our Savior, we are not drawing upon his Atonement, we cannot progress.  If, however, we use the sacrament each week with devotion to draw closer to God, to study his attributes, to perfect them in ourselves, to praise his sacrifice, to feel his love and infuse it in ourselves, we are steadily coming to know him.  We are progressing toward eternal life.  It is a vertical orientation, rather than horizontal.  In routine, it is as if we are building a long train of items we have done:

 X X X X X X X X X X X

 In devotion, it is as if we are building a tower of items that build upon each other, ever reaching higher:

X
X
X
X
X
X
X

Routine is not bad, if it leads to devotion, just as the Law of Moses was not bad when it was pointing to Christ's Atonement.  But routine, for the sake of itself is no better than the Law of Moses for the sake of itself.
Matthew 22:37-40 is very familiar to us:  "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."  "Heart, soul, and mind," means "from the innermost seed."

"For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).  Physical seeds eventually die; spiritual seeds live and grow forever.

 PAUL'S SIGNATURE

The epistle would have been dictated to a secretary or scribe, but often the writer would add a signature and postscript in his own hand, as Paul did in Galatians.  This begins at 6:11 and what he writes is significant:  "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand."  "A better translation of the Greek would be, 'You see what large letters I made when I wrote to you in my own hand'" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 167). 

It seems that in the postscript, he wrote with exaggerated penmanship (as if in big letters, all caps, and underlined) to let them know how strong his feelings were on the matter.  If Paul wanted to underscore the importance of this message for the Galatians, maybe we should evaluate whether we need to underline it today.  Each Sabbath, each Sacrament meeting, each scripture study session, each temple visit, each home teaching assignment, each church calling, etc., etc., let's think, "How can I use this ritual to raise myself to be closer to God?"  The answer is always to do it in love, and to follow the direction of the Holy Ghost.  That is the message of Galatians for the Latter-day Saints.