Everybody knows there is too much commercialism connected to the holiday festivities. But what many people don’t realize is just how bad things have gotten in modern times. Christmas has become an orgy of consumerism. https://greatestservant62.medium.com/the-original-meaning-of-christmas-and-how-weve-been-drifting-away-da68d5ed96bf #Christmas #theHolidays #therealBible #progressiveChristianity #Jesus
Instead of Complaining About the Pandemic Crisis, Become the Change You Desire and Live It
By Minister Paul J. Bern (Jeremiah 29)
We all need to look for ways to improve our lives and change our world for the better. We’re all here for a purpose, as it is written: “11) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12) Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13) You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 11-13) Today I will show you, by the publication of this article, how this applies in modern times. It’s why God put us all here. It’s nice to make and keep new year’s resolutions, put a troublesome person out of your life and break other old habits, but many more people are waking up to the fact that it’s smarter to improve our surroundings and make the kind of contributions that leave legacies than it is to merely break a bad habit or two. Breaking bad habits is good, but helping to build a better world is far better.
To begin with, we can’t create a better world if we haven’t yet imagined it. How much better then, if we are able to touch such a world and experience it directly, can we enact in the here and now the world we actually want to live in? The days of electing politicians to public office to do these things on the behalf of the US constituency must undergo fundamental change if the American populace ever desires to overhaul our electoral process. These kinds of organized grassroots efforts come in all shapes and sizes. At the bottom end of the scale we see Utopian flavored mass movements like “We are the 99%”, Black Lives Matter, the fight for a higher minimum wage, and Occupy Wall Street movements with their stands against inequality, ethic of social and economic justice, and experiments in direct democracy. At the other extreme we see the ongoing civil war in Syria (and its predecessor, the Arab Spring of 2011) which continues to this day.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller once advised“. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A brilliant insight, but he was only half right, because the best direct actions – and social movements – actually do both. Consider the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1950’s and 1960’s. They were not only brave acts of resistance against the racism of the Jim Crow South, but they also beautifully and dramatically prefigured the kind of world the civil rights movement was trying to bring into being: blacks and whites sitting together as equals in public spaces. The young students didn’t ask anyone’s permission; they didn’t wait for society to evolve or for bad laws to change. In the best spirit of direct action, they walked in there and simply changed the world. At least for a few moments, in one place, they were living in an integrated South. They painted a picture of how the world could be, and the vicious response from white bystanders and police only proved how important it was to make it so.
Many people at the forefront of the nonviolent civil rights movement were moved to action by their Spiritual commitments. Be it the “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” of the Four Gospels, or Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the ethical traditions of many religions have powerful roots in dogma that is largely the teachings of men. It is only when people of faith, such as followers of Jesus Christ like myself, try to live out their deep principles and actually walk their talk in the Spirit that they they tend to come up against the power of tradition. Jesus himself (who promised that anyone who followed his teaching would always be in trouble) was one of history’s more brilliant invaders of the human conscience. He didn’t merely argue that true greatness comes from humbly serving others, he illustrated it by washing his disciples’ dirty feet just before the Last Supper. By socializing with outcasts and the poor, visiting lepers, and always raising up “the least of these,” Jesus didn’t simply prophesy a future filled with a beloved community of believers, He made it manifest. And if Jesus did it, so should we.
With the dominance of paranoia surrounding the Covid-19 crises, provocations that stretch our political imaginations are more vital than ever. I would go a step further, arguing that we need to bring back Utopian thinking. Utopian thinking is necessary, because it provides a compass point to determine what direction to move toward and a measuring stick to determine how far one has come. However, in an era of media saturation and distrust, this is increasingly hard to do via criticism alone. Using dystopian visions to sound the alarm – a more and more popular strategy – is just another form of criticism that leaves the status quo standing. What is needed instead are direct interventions that both embody and point toward Utopian possibilities. Contemporary social movements, it turns out, are chock full of them.
Of course, we all know that this has about as much chance of occurring as the WTO has of abolishing itself, that GE is actually going to give back the taxes it dodged, or that DuPont is finally going to do the right thing and compensate the 100,000 victims of the Bhopal chemical spill for decades of suffering. Could we possibly ever live in such a world? “Yeah”, people are saying, “why don’t we live in such a world?” And we’re more motivated than ever to go out there to make it happen!
In 2006 members from a coalition of environmental groups posed as a government agency – the Oil Enforcement Agency – that should have existed, but didn’t. Complete with SWAT-team-like caps and badges, agents ticketed SUVs, impounded fuel-inefficient vehicles at auto shows, and generally modeled a future in which government takes climate change seriously. Clever protest campaigns can bring little shards of utopia not just into the streets but also into our elections and even legislatures. When Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, one of the planks in his platform called for beat cops to be voted on by the neighborhoods they patrolled. Once out in the open, this and other seemingly radical ideas were revealed as the reasonable proposals they were, and thousands of San Franciscans voted for Jello.
Even legislation can be Utopian. A legislative bill called, “What Would Finland Do?” aims to introduce a bill in the New York legislature to prorate traffic fines according to the net wealth of the driver. It wouldn’t pass, but a lot of New Yorker’s might think: “Why not?” and the long fight for greater economic equality might inch a tiny bit forward. (Finland, by the way, has such a law, and in 2004 the 27-year-old heir to a sausage fortune was fined $204,000 for driving 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone.) Whether religious or artistic, a playful thought experiment, or a serious attempt to be true to one’s values in the face of state violence, Utopian engagement allows us to experience for ourselves (and demonstrate to others), that another world is necessary, possible, and maybe even beautiful. Oh yeah, and it will be healthy as well.
The Apostle Paul’s Final Instructions to the Corinthian Church
(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 50-58; 1st Corinth. 16)
This week we will finish our chronological study of First Corinthians, having begun at chapter one 6 months ago, and ending today with chapters 15 and 16. Last week you will recall the apostle Paul comparing the first Adam with the last, who was and who is Jesus Christ. He moves on to another topic, almost as an afterthought, but it turns out to be one of the more prophetic writings of either the entire Bible. I will begin at verse 50 where we left off last week.
“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’. ‘Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 50 – 58)
Paul reminds the Corinthian church one more time that humankind, in its physical existence, can never enter heaven where God dwells. But then he does something interesting; He gives this early Christian church something to look forward to as far as the end of one’s physical life is concerned. He begins to prophesy about life after death, describing how the process will seem to most of us as we experience it. There are a number of ways this is being interpreted in the modern church, particularly if we go outside of the mainstream denominations. Many say and teach that these verses are a prophecy for the “rapture” of the church, which is explained as the literal taking up of the modern church during the reign of the Antichrist in the books of Matthew, Luke, Mark, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others.
There is much disagreement about the timing of the “rapture” that I will not write about today, since I regard that as a separate topic. On the other hand, when Paul wrote, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed…..”, there can be no doubt that he was prophesying about the dead being raised at Christ’s return. This, in case there is anyone that hasn’t been paying attention, could happen just about any time now. All you have to do is just keep following the news regarding the Middle East like I do.
My main concern about the way the “rapture” of the Church is currently being taught is how many churches are convinced that the “rapture” will come just as soon as the Antichrist comes to power. Moreover, what about those preaching a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’? You know, those are the ones who say the church will be taken up at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and that the Bride of Christ will escape it entirely. What if the Antichrist comes to power and we’re all still here? What if the “rapture” doesn’t happen until weeks, months, or maybe up to a year or two after the Antichrist comes to power?
The Bible prophesies about that in the Book of Revelation, not once but twice. The first is in chapter 6, verses 9-11, which reads: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed”.
Then again in chapter 13 and verse 7, it reads, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (“he” being the Antichrist). What will all those who have believed in a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ do then? I hope that some, if not all, of them will realize they may have to undergo one final time of testing by the Lord before being called home to glory. I am deeply concerned that the many who think God will just come along and scoop them up will become discouraged and fall away after the Antichrist comes to power, which could be only months away from now. Or, they might change their minds and take the “mark of the beast” to preserve their lives and the lives of their children, mistakenly believing they are ‘doing the right thing’. That would be an extreme tragedy if it were to occur, and I hope these words that I write will be sufficient warning to my brothers and sisters to be vigilant, to be prayerful with much thanks, and to remain filled with the Spirit during these tumultuous last days.
With another eloquent description of what some call the “rapture” of the church, Paul wrote, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality”. Paul the apostle was exhorting us to draw ourselves continually closer to God by preparing ourselves as pure vessels in which an immortal being can dwell. And it is we, the transformed Believers, who will become immortal beings and live with the Lord in New Jerusalem forever and ever. By working hard at preparing ourselves to become imperishable vessels and immortal beings, we engage in a dress rehearsal of how we will spend eternity. Paul praised God for this when he wrote, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Paul ended this paragraph by encouraging the entire congregation to continue to press onward toward the goal of being one with Christ, and to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship with God through the saving power of Jesus Christ. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” These words apply to us more than ever as we navigate our way through the stormy waters of living in the last days, while we navigate our way around Covid-19. Never get tired of doing the right thing and living for Christ, because our work is never in vain. Paul then closes out the remainder of this letter with a few words about the collection of the offering at these churches that bear close scrutiny.
“Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” (1st Corinthians 16: verses 1-4)
When Paul writes them to “do as I told the Galatian churches”, he is referring to a passage in the book of Galatians, but I will save that for when we get there, since we’ll be studying the 2nd book of Corinthians first (Galatians comes right afterwards, OK?). There are two things that are noteworthy here: The first being Paul’s mentioning setting aside church collections “on the first day of every week”. Keep in mind here that the calendar that we use today has only been around since the third century AD. Since Paul, a Jew and a former member of the Sanhedrin, went by the Jewish calendar, which has been in existence for 4,500 years. He used the Jewish Sabbath as his guide, which is from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday. My point is that the day on which we celebrate the Sabbath today, Sunday, is actually the wrong day of the week from a purely historical perspective when compared to the way in which the original Apostles and Jewish believers were celebrating the Sabbath 2,000 years ago. Keep this in mind each week as you attend services on Sunday morning.
The second noteworthy thing Paul mentions in these closing verses of 1st Corinthians is the amount that is to be given at each offering. Paul wrote, “ On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…….” Notice that Paul did not specify an amount to be given, nor any certain percentage of one’s income, but he only said that their gifts should be “in keeping with his income”. In other words, if you can’t afford to ‘tithe’ a full 10% of your income, like what is specified in quite a few modern churches, then that’s okay – just give whatever you can and ask the Lord to bless your offering and receive it, knowing that it will still be enough. You need not worry – there are no cash registers or pocket calculators in heaven.
God isn’t counting your change to see how much you can give. He doesn’t want our money, he doesn’t need it anyway, but God does want each and every one of us. He wants our love and devotion, our worship and our praise, and our dedication and our service to His cause. And the cause of the Lord is the salvation of souls, and a cause of eternal justice, which is a worthy cause any day of the week.
The Apostle Paul’s Teaching About the Resurrection (part 2)
(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-49)
When we finished last week’s study, we were focused on the apostle Paul’s teaching to the early church about the true nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after being buried in a borrowed tomb for three days. After admonishing them for allowing some man-made teaching about the Resurrection to infiltrate their congregation, Paul then continues with his explanation of the resurrection from a Scriptural viewpoint by answering what is apparently yet another question the congregation had raised regarding the nature of the Resurrection. Paul continues his train of thought beginning at verse 35.
“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 35-41)
I think the main thing Paul the apostle was trying to communicate here is that what kind of bodies we will have after we die is neither here nor there as far as the Word and our Faith are concerned. It is a side-issue in the form of an unhealthy diversion from Truth. Our “bodies” will be spiritual, and there is simply no comparison between spiritual beings and physical ones since they are of a completely different nature. It would be like trying to compare insects to fish (imagine that!). There are many different types of bodies of various kinds, and each has its own beauty in its own way, with each having a special uniqueness that sets it apart from the others, emulating the uniqueness of each person within the whole of humanity.
All of us are unique individuals, and by extension sovereign forms of life here on earth and of the heavenly and magnificent kaleidoscope of the universe. And since each was created by God, it becomes a reflection of His glory for all to see and marvel. Paul then goes on to compare all this to the last resurrection in the book of Revelation, where all those who ever lived and died will rise for one final judgment, and each will have to give an account of themselves – how did they live, who did they help, who did they protect, and above all, who did they serve.
“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; if it is sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; if it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit’. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have born the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 42-49)
Paul’s commentary here is pretty clear, and so requires no explanation per-SE. But I think that it would be helpful to those readers less familiar with the Bible if I substituted some 21st century vernacular for the Biblical terms of old. We are born mere mortals, but unwavering belief in Christ makes us immortal, effectively giving us a chance for eternal life. Paul’s second comment applies directly to me and others like me, who started out in life as orphans or as unwanted “throwaway kids”: Although I was “born in dishonor” (with no real family or social standing and no inheritance of any kind), accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior back in 1992 has caused me to be “raised in glory” at His second coming because I did everything in my power to try and mold myself into someone useful for Him, leaving my old life and all the negative stuff that went with it (bad childhoods, crappy marriages, etc.) behind in the past, where it belongs. That is my personal testimony regarding this portion of Scripture, and I exhort and encourage all who read this who started out in life as being disadvantaged in any way to follow my example in this matter as I have tried to follow the example of Christ. Oh yes, you can all do this, and the Bible tells you how.
For example, if you are “sown in weakness”, lacking confidence and/or self esteem, belief in Christ will cause you to be “raised in power”, giving you a quiet confidence and internal peace that can only occur when we give our hearts completely over to Jesus Christ, because doing so blocks out all fear. And fear is something we should all be doing without, substituting unconditional faith in Jesus in its place. Paul then goes on by comparing Adam with Christ, with Adam being the first man and Jesus being the last in the form of a “life giving Spirit”, foreshadowing the future spiritual coexistence with God for all eternity in heaven after our physical lives are over. “And just as we have born in the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”
So, in closing, if there is anyone reading this who has not given their heart over to Christ and wishes to do so, now is as good a time as any. You don’t have to do anything dramatic or fancy, just quietly ask Jesus to come into your heart, for the purpose of Him abiding there forever, in whatever way feels comfortable to you. You can rest assured that once He enters, and He will, He will be there to stay for the duration of your life. In the process, you get a new friend in Jesus, a new dad in the form of God the Father, and millions of new brothers and sisters – as few or as many as you want. So let the peace of Christ, which is beyond human comprehension or intellectual understanding, be within you, replacing all the old negative emotions and traumas that you can now let go of. Because now you have something infinitely better to take their place, the man in the glory, Jesus Christ!
Why Be a Christian in the First Place?
Is There Really a Point to It All?
(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-19)
Since the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is noticeably longer than the one we just completed, I will be dividing chapter 15 into 4 lessons to allow me to get into some serious depth regarding the apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. As we begin to read at verse 1, we find Paul reminding the early Corinthian church of the reasons for the faith of the whole congregation, which is unconditional belief and unshakable confidence in the saving power of the shed Blood of Christ. I would liken this portion of Scripture to a coach going over some of the basic fundamentals of the game during a team meeting, reminding the players that if they stick to the basics consistently, they will ultimately win. Being a follower of Jesus is a lot like that, and so you may think of Christ as your Spiritual coach. Here is an example of that from Scripture.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 1-11)
The basis of Christianity and of belief in Christ as the Son of God is summed up in Paul’s words “ …Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…….” So we have basic fundamental teaching and instruction here from Paul the apostle to the brethren in the early Church, which is the ultimate sacrificial offering of Jesus himself for the sins of all humankind who freely accept His eternal salvation.
Without this faith, all the good deeds and personal sacrifice in the world will do us no good at all, and we will have “believed in vain”. Based on this portion of scripture I would say that one of our primary tasks as practicing Christians is to make sure our belief is genuine – that is, that we exercise our faith in such a way that our passion for Christ strives to approach and imitate His passion for all humankind when He died upon the cross. As He gave his all for us, so we must be willing to give our very best for Him. In fact, a time is coming soon to North America when Christians will begin to be slain for their faith. The apostles saw the risen Lord in person, but we believe having not seen Him (yet).
At this point I would ask that all those reading this who are knowledgeable about the Bible, or who have been Christians for a very long time like I have, to bear with me for a few moments while I explain something to the newer believers regarding what Paul wrote about himself towards the end of the above passage. Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. Paul is referring to his initial meeting with the Spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus, which is documented in chapter 9 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was blinded for 3 days and instructed to go to a certain house where he met the apostle Peter, who laid his hands on Paul and healed his blindness.
Before all this happened, Paul was one of the leaders of Judaism at that time who actively persecuted Christians prior to his own conversion. The Book of Acts also documents Paul’s being present at the execution of St. Stephen in chapter 6. And yet ever since meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul had been converted and was actively preaching and teaching throughout the known world of that time. This is why Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles”, but Paul does one thing here that we all should learn to emulate. He gives all the credit for his conversion to his faith in God through His grace, taking none for himself. He even mentions working harder in his new ministry than anyone else in an attempt to make up for his previous life as a persecutor of the followers of Christ.
God gets all the credit for our own conversions because He loved us first, not the other way around. Remember what Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Therefore, if we humble ourselves in our faith by giving all the credit for our salvation and well-being to Jesus, and to God’s grace (which means unmerited favor), we will be rewarded with higher places in heaven when our physical lives are over and our eternal Spiritual lives begin. I will teach more on this topic at some point in the future. But for now, I will continue today’s study at verse 12.
“But if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 12-19)
Based on what the apostle Paul wrote just above, perhaps there was some disagreement among the members of the early Churches regarding whether the resurrection of Christ was real or a myth. What we are seeing here is one of the first indicators of denominational teaching. Paul clearly wanted this practice stopped immediately, but history teaches us that not only did this not occur, but the fragmentation of the original church into divisions that were set against one another is an unfortunate reality that continues into modern times. But Paul responded back then by pointing out an obvious truth, which is that being a Christian while not believing in the resurrection of Christ, along with all who have believed on and trusted in His name, defeats the very purpose of our beliefs.
The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day is the very basis for all Christian faith. Even the two greatest commandments as they were taught by Jesus in the four gospels – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – are impossible to follow without a belief in the deity of God through Christ. And a belief in God through Jesus Christ is unworkable without the strongly held belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that in so doing, He gave all of humankind a chance to have the same opportunity to have eternal life without end, which He already has. None of us can ever achieve immortality on our own, but we can all have it through Christ, the Son of God. And that’s a goal worth shooting for every single day of the year.
The ‘Christian Right’ Would Disagree With Me If I Told Them What Was Really In the Bible
by Minister Paul J. Bern
I met someone this past week who insisted that the King James Bible is the only legitimate version available. As far as he was concerned, all other Bible versions currently in print, including my New International Version and my New Living Translation Bible, were “not from God”. I don’t care to elaborate on this much except to say that I don’t agree with that at all. But I’m using this example to make the point that there are a lot of “conservative” right-wing nuts like that guy who have some views about the Bible and Christianity that are totally contrary to the Scriptures. If indeed these people’s beliefs are inconsistent with Scripture, then the question becomes – why do religious extremists on the right (and Christianity has them just like the Muslims do) get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support (such as endless wars)?
The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible. Of the ones who do, an overwhelming number of “Christians” are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, Biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. What America needs is Christianity without the dogma, and faith without the spiritual pollution of conservative politics. Nondenominational Christianity with the commandments of Jesus Christ being first and foremost, viewed from a liberal or leftist perspective, would be far closer to what Jesus originally taught than the ultra-conservative slant being espoused all over the right-wing media today. That’s why it’s vital as we live in these last days to help the helpless whenever possible. In so doing, we become ambassadors for Christ while living our lives in complete accordance with God’s will.
It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the world’s most popular book. The political Right have successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free health care, higher education, and were in favor of redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservatives. So how much do secular Americans know of the Book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true (like I do)? Surveys that I pulled up on the Internet show that 60 percent of Christians can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A 2013 Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.
So, if Americans get an ‘F’ in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal health care, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is. That’s why the Right has successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free healthcare and were pro-redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservative.
The truth, whether conservatives like it or not, is not only that Jesus was a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors – except when He threw the money changers out of the Temple in Matthew 21, verses 12-13 – but when one reads down a couple more chapters in any of the 4 Gospels, it was the religious conservatives who had Jesus killed. The fact that He rose again on the morning of the third day tells us everything we need to know about Jesus’ view of so-called “conservatives”. The American conservative establishment, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular, masculine he-man warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did with their “Aryan nation”, as a means of combating “terrorism”, which has become a synonym for American world domination.
Knowing the Bible requires a contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation. For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program back in 2013, they quoted the 2nd book of Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not! This was taken from a letter written by the apostle Paul to his church in Thessalonica back in the 1st century AD. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that there were too many people in the congregation that were freeloading off that church. Only a few were doing all the work and making the majority of the financial contributions, and everybody else was just hanging around for the free food. What Paul did say is that anyone too lazy to contribute anything shouldn’t expect anything at dinner time, and that’s just common sense.
What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of the apostle Paul, four to the Gospels (Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance with the remaining apostles. What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left in the 21st century. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement for the ministry: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘Sons of the living God’.” Jesus also said, “Judge not, or else you shall be judged, for you who pass judgment do the same things yourselves”, and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor” (I’m paraphrasing here). So, when Republicans accused president Obama of being a Black socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they were actually thinking of Jesus Christ.
Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed political conservatives to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying ‘the Lord commands’ that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say ‘it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor’, they’re actually channeling atheism. When Bill O’Reilly claimed the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s atheism! The price this country has paid for Biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward atheism’s “utopia”. In the past three decades.
We’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party — the Christian Right — will continue to perpetuate the Biblical incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all American version of Christianity, and I for one have had more than enough.
Warnings From Past History,
From 3,500 Years Ago Until Now
(1st Corinthians chapter 10, verses 1-17)
In this week’s Biblical study series on the writings of the apostle Paul, I will begin the 10th chapter of the 1st book of Corinthians. In the closing verses of chapter 9, Paul the apostle was exhorting the early church at Corinth to “run the race in such a way as to win the prize”, which refers to living our lives for Christ instead of ourselves, with the ultimate goal being eternal life with Jesus in heaven forever. As the apostle Paul begins chapter 10, he uses the fate of the first generation of Israelite’s who came out of Egypt as an example of what can happen to those who don’t live their lives as such. Paul begins in verse 1, and he minces no words with the Corinthian church and with the rest of us.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry’. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.” (1st Corinthians 10; verses 1-10)
In the above passage, Paul is talking about the exodus of the Jews – descendants of the modern-day Israelis and American Jews, among others – from Egypt where they had all been slaves to Pharaoh. The mass escape from Egypt by the Jews is a historical fact. Chariot wheels and the skeletons of humans and horses have been found at the bottom of the Red Sea near to where Moses and the Israeli nation crossed it. The ancient Israelite’s were led out of Egypt by God, who appeared in the form of a bright cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night (those who have Bibles can find this in the Old Testament, beginning in the first chapter of the book of Exodus. If you don’t own one, don’t worry about it, we’ll cover it in another lesson some other time).
This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote about being “baptized under Moses in the cloud and in the sea”. He was referring to the bright cloud that guided the Israelite’s, and to the parting of the Red Sea by Moses as the Hebrew nation crossed over to the other side. But since God was displeased with them due to their idolatry, He allowed that entire generation of Jews to die in the desert during the 40 years of wandering, and so none of them ever saw the promised land that God had reserved for them. Paul then finishes with these warnings; “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel”. In fact, if you will go back and read Exodus (about a 30 minute read), you will all see that every one of the above things actually happened. Paul then continues beginning in Verse 11.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fail! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1st Corinthians 10; verses 11-17)
The closing part of this passage of Scripture is classic Paul in every way. After admonishing the young Church that death is the certain payout for a sinful pagan life, he turns right around in the next paragraph and encourages the faithful and lifts up the church as a whole. Paul writes, “… if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fail!”. Be on your guard, he wrote, because when you think you are in good shape spiritually, that’s when the enemy will come in and attack. But Paul then encouraged the Church, writing, “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man”, and again he says in the next sentence, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it”.
So we can conclude by Paul’s words that we are not to give up and we are not to give in. If we are standing firm we do not stand alone, because we know by faith that God is with us. If we are enduring temptation there is no shame in crying out for help, because God will be there for us. Most important – or at least it seems so to me – God will never, ever allow us to be tempted to sin or to be tried by difficulty to the point that it is more than we can withstand. Remember what Jesus said, “Never will I leave you, and never will I forsake you”. These words are just as true today as they were when Jesus uttered them nearly 2,000 years ago.
Jesus prophesied this as well, when He said to His apostles, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Jesus and His word will always stand through any kind of difficulty, through any kind of illness or injury, through any bad situation, and through any worry or despair. Jesus is the same today, tomorrow, and forever. If you have never put Jesus in charge of your life and you are ready to relinquish control to Him, just pray this prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am tired of trying to do things all by myself. Please come into my heart and dwell there, and I will make you my Lord and Savior. Please come and save my soul today, and guide me in the path that my life should take. In your precious name I pray, amen. And next week we’ll go over the second half of chapter ten. Shalom!
The Apostle Paul’s Concluding Thoughts On Being Married as Opposed to Being Single
(1st Corinthians chapter 7, verses 25-40)
This week, regarding my chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we’ll be finishing up 1st Corinthians chapter 7. I will be concluding this rather lengthy portion of Scripture, beginning at verse 25. Although some of Paul’s writing in this section may seem a little outdated or even antiquated on the surface, upon closer examination we will find that, when translated into modern English like I am about to do, this passage of Scripture is actually very applicable to modern life. I quote:
“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1st Corinthians 7, verses 25-31)
When Paul wrote, “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”, he is saying two things in the same sentence. First, let me clarify what Paul meant by the word “virgin”. Translated from the original Hebrew, this simply means a young woman who has never been married. It has been argued by some Christian denominations that this is literally true, and therefore it is wrong to have any sex at all before marriage. Although I will be quick to agree that sexual sin and immorality is something to be carefully avoided, back in Paul’s day when this epistle was first written, people by and large assumed that all unmarried young men and women were virgins, mostly because sex was considered to be a taboo subject. In modern times, there are two main reasons that sex is no longer a taboo subject. The first is education (which was sorely lacking in Paul’s day) and the second is the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases, which were likely almost unheard of 2,000 years ago when these words were first written. In short, although sin can literally kill you, ignorance can do the same, and the results are equally lethal.
Paul wrote in this same sentence that he had no command from Christ about this topic, but “I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”. In other words, he is sharing an educated opinion regarding this matter. Prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling class of the day in what is now modern Israel. So Paul was an educated and intelligent man. Paul continues his train of thought, “Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife”. The “present crisis” he is referring to is almost surely the occupation of the Holy Land by the Roman Empire during those times. He was writing that since times were already tough, why make things any harder by looking for a wife or a husband?
I can tell you from personal experience that seeking marriage just because you’re lonesome, or because one is burning with passion, is the wrong reason to get married. I survived two absolutely miserable marriages earlier in my life, but God has taught me over the years that I am better off remaining single as I have been. But even more important is that, since we are most definitely living in the End Times as prophesied in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, we should be focused on getting ready for the second coming of Christ Jesus. Paul summarized this timely bit of advice in the next sentence when he wrote, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. He then continues beginning at verse 32:
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned with the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1st Corinthians 7, verses 32-40)
Paul makes it abundantly clear as he closes this chapter that the cares and worries of life can compromise one’s belief in, and devotion to, Christ. Seeking a mate, no matter how well – intentioned, diverts us from what is most important in life. Our salvation in Christ through His crucifixion and resurrection should be the first and foremost thing in our lives, and it should remain above and beyond all other things. Without the saving power of Jesus, all the accomplishments one can achieve in life wind up being meaningless and hollow in the end.
As Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” So in the end this becomes all about priorities and about realizing what is most important. Whether one is married or single is actually a side issue, and it is very applicable to early 21st century living. It’s difficult and time consuming to be cruising for a mate and trying to be devoted to the Lord all at the same time. Besides, we are anticipating the second coming of Christ in our lifetimes, and at the rate things are deteriorating due to raging wars abroad and economic depression at home, His return could happen at any time. How then should we be living? As for me, I no longer worry about getting remarried. It would be a good thing for me to find another wife, I am certain of that. But that does not really matter to me because I am already a member of Christ’s church which the Bible calls “the bride of Christ” in the book of Revelation. So since I am technically married to Jesus, I no longer have a need for a mate. My membership within the Bride makes me so.
If Jesus can do this for me, He can do it for you too. So I would advise those who are reading this to stop surfing the dating websites and cruising the chat-rooms because they are by and large a waste of your time. Devote yourself to Jesus first and foremost, and all these other things will fall into place on their own according to God’s will for your life. Just keep remembering that His will is always in your best interest. If you find a mate within the greater church, regardless of denomination, that is a good thing. But to remain as you are and devote yourself to Him is even better.
The Revolution Will Be Televised, But There Will Be More People Out In the Streets Than At Home Watching On Their Couches
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Thanks to the ongoing injustices against too many unarmed Black men and women, the rage against the institution of racism has risen to a volume and intensity not seen since the civil rights movement of half a century ago. Black men have died because of the color of their skin in recent years and in the past. The most well-publicized cases include George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Rodney King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & other victims of the civil rights Movement. I know, I know, advances have occurred, but being black is still dangerous in this country, especially for men. These killings are part of 400 years of organized oppression against Black people going back to the days of slavery. Shame on all you racists….
It has become abundantly clear to “we the people” that war has been declared on us by our own government, with some of the police looking like poorly paid ‘wannabe’ mercenaries in the process. I write today about these repeated clashes that have grown into a kind of cultural resistance not seen since the civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations of the 1950’s, ’60’s and the early ’70’s. This culture of resistance is beginning to have a noticeable effect as it continues to grow slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, and they’re starting to get a little bigger. It’s up to us to shine the light on the lies, the spins, the ‘black ops’ and shadow government that has been operating smoothly behind the scenes ever since they killed President John Kennedy to seize power back in November of 1963. It is up to us – ‘we the people’ – to confront the systemic open corruption that has been stealing America’s future. I look back over the events of the past fifty years and feel cautiously optimistic, because I have seen this movement that is continuously building momentum and intensity.
Here in Atlanta’s inner city where I live and work, I have perceived what I would describe as a strong sense of anger and suspense in the air. Some people say that they weren’t feeling enough pain to warrant being angry about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and all the others, and that we haven’t reached the tipping point as of yet. They’re only interested in taking the safe way out. I have had still others tell me that, as a Christian minister, it’s my duty to follow the laws without question and pay my taxes unfailingly. They have told me that it is not right for a Web pastor to take sides in favor of the protesters, much less write and blog about it.
But to them I quote the Book of James, where it is written about those who abuse their authority: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)
Could ‘we the people’ really take on Wall Street and the lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Obviously Wall Street and the offices inside the Beltway in Washington, DC thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. For example, a few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.
Years later, the physical encampments are gone, but the Occupy Movement remains, along with its cousins, ‘Black Lives Matter’, the ‘99%’ and ‘Anonymous’ Movements, worldwide. Occupying public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a demand to reclaim what has been ruthlessly taken. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for the catastrophe to begin with. And all this happened prior to the current twin epidemics of Corona-virus and visceral rage in America’s streets because of the apparently casual shootings by police officers of unarmed Black men.
As a result of all this mess, we’re headed toward ever-greater income inequality. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger, they are getting worse. We’re not expanding educational opportunities, fewer and fewer people can afford it. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure, and it’s falling apart. We most certainly aren’t doing anywhere nearly enough to improve race relations. Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1970s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate.
But the billionaire bailout society may have went too far in their exuberance for still more wealth. According to a Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector has reached its highest level in 40 years….”, which undoubtedly fueled the Occupy, 99%, Anonymous and Black Lives Matter Movements. When it seems like we’re drowning in a sea of crises as we are currently, it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water. But, the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Occupy, the ‘99%’ and “Black Lives Matter” Movements, are having a noticeable effect. Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that police violence and racial discord are not the right path for America.
It is also important to remember that we know how close we are to achieving significant change. We know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy, that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks during the 2008 financial crisis could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries – like Canada and Mexico, for instance! And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it. We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone. Since the system is too dysfunctional to attempt to repair it, the most logical and practical thing to do is replace it. Humankind already has a tool available off the shelf as a basis for launching such a project, and it’s called ‘the Internet’. The government of the future will be small, efficient and nearly paperless.
Resistance is not all protesting, it also includes building alternative systems to meet our basic needs. Many who were active in OWS, ‘the 99%’ and Anonymous have been hard at work at this very thing since the physical occupation was shut down. Earlier this week the Occupy Money Cooperative announced its launch with a fund raising campaign. They will provide low-cost financial services to the millions of Americans who are under-banked and who are preyed upon by banks, check cashing services and payday lenders. It will be an opportunity for all to opt-out of big finance.
Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. Although we face an uncertain future, we embrace the chaos that defines our times. There is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights.
Remaining Married Is Better Than Getting a Divorce Or, It Really Is Cheaper to Keep Her
(1st Corinthians chapter 7, verses 10-20) Part 2 of 3
Taking up where we left off last week in First Corinthians chapter 7 brings us to verse 10. In the previous two verses where we ended last week’s study, Paul the apostle was giving advice to the unmarried and to widows. But then in verses 10 and 11, Paul begins to focus on married couples and what their responsibilities are to their partners as Christians. Most of all, he appeals to married couples to stay together regardless of their differences in spiritual beliefs. I will quote Paul’s words beginning at chapter 10.
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1st Corinthians chapter 7; verses 10-14)
Contrast the apostle Paul’s command in verse 10 with the state of the church today, and we find a whole lot of people who aren’t obeying this command. The divorce rate among Christians is about 50% give or take, which is the same rate as the secular world. As a result, we Christians are making ourselves a terrible example of what a Christian relationship looks like. Paul then further states that couples who separate must reconcile if at all possible, or otherwise not remarry. The main exception to this would likely be an abusive relationship where domestic violence and a pattern of intimidation and bullying are present. That is why I think Paul was saying that believers should not divorce nonbelievers, nor vice versa, just because they are nonbelievers, due to their sanctification through marriage that makes that unity and the children produced by it to be sacred in God’s sight (through Jesus Christ our Lord). Paul then continues this train of thought beginning in verse 15.
“But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches (1st Corinthians Chapter 7, verses 15 –17).
Here we find the apostle Paul saying to the church, ‘If an unbelieving spouse wants to leave, go ahead and let them go. You have done all you can by being a good witness for Christ.’ After all, in the end it is only Christ Jesus who saves, there is nothing more that we can do in such a situation. If they want to leave, don’t stand in their way. God may send another more Christ-like companion to you in due time, but that is between you and God. Unless the rapture of the church (which will happen sometime prior to Jesus’ second coming) takes place beforehand, in which case remarrying will be a moot point anyway. Paul then goes on to use two examples of external circumstances that have no bearing on our internal and most closely held Spiritual beliefs about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, presumably to make a comparison between spouses who leave, circumcision, and slavery, and why they make no difference with regard to our faith.
“Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called him is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” (1st Corinthians 7; verses 18-20)
When Paul wrote about male circumcision, he is writing from the standpoint of one who was raised and educated while steeped in Jewish tradition. For those who have not read the Old Testament, male Israelite children, beginning from the time of Moses, were circumcised when they were 8 days old in accordance with the law of Moses handed down through the generations through Paul’s time and up until today. All Paul was saying is that whether we are circumcised or not, whether we are slave or free, and whether we are married or single, doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as our obedience and loyalty to Christ, who is the head of His church here on earth.
If we as believers in Christ are married to a nonbeliever and the nonbeliever decides to leave, that does not in any way affect our salvation in Christ as Spirit-filled believers. Paul the apostle wrote elsewhere in the New Testament that we are all to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord”. Make your reverence towards the Lord known to all who you come into contact with, making the continuation of your salvation and your walk with Jesus the single most important thing in your life. Remember that, based on what Paul has written, we are either a slave to Christ or a slave to sin. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus any day.