Restrictive passages, part 2 — 1 Corinthians 14:34

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).

This is the second of two NT passages in which Paul restricts the roles of women. Whereas in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul writes that women should be “quiet” (ASV, NASB, NIV, NLT, MSG), in this passage Paul calls for “silence” (ASV, KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT). Let’s consider two possibilities for reading this passage.

The first reading: Paul is restricting women in all congregations to silence. If the women have questions, they are to ask their husbands at home.

The second reading: Paul is restricting to silence the talkative women who are disrupting the gathering. This would apply not only to the church in Corinth, but to all congregations because God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. Rather than interrupting the gathering (perhaps due to not understanding the language – remember, this is a tongue-speaking context), they are to ask their husbands (who apparently do understand) when they get home.

Take a moment to imagine how church gatherings would change if reading number one were accepted. No altos or sopranos singing because women are silent. No comments. No questions. No greetings. No talking. No shushing the babies. No whispering to explain the bread and cup to children. Just silence.

But our reading (understanding and practice of the passage) needs to be determined by something greater than how it affects our current practice. Crucial in the decision as to how to read this passage is seeing how the two reading options fit with the immediate and broader contexts. For example: how do you square the first reading with what is happening in 1 Corinthians 11 where women are praying and preaching (prophesying) in what seems to be a mixed gender gathering (after all, they are told to wear their head coverings which would seem to rule out a female-only gathering)? For that matter, how do you square Paul calling for “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14 when he calls only for “quiet” in the other restrictive passage – 1 Timothy 2:12?

As for the broader context, it seems we have a decision to make. Put one way: are the two restrictive passages an indication of how God always intended for men and women to relate or are they exceptional restrictions based on specific problems in the congregation or church gathering?

Or put another way: are the examples through scripture of women leading, teaching, singing, preaching, and praying the exceptions and women being quiet or silent the rule? Or are the examples through scripture of women leading, teaching, singing, preaching, and praying the rule while the two restrictive passages are the exceptions?

Peterson on Sectarianism

I have been re-reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. For some reason these words on sectarianism seemed very significant to me this morning. I want to share a paragraph from page 240.

Sectarianism is to the community what heresy is to theology, a willful removal of a part from the whole. The part is, of course, good–a work of God. But apart from the whole it is out of context and therefore diminished, disengaged from what it needs from the whole and from what what’s left of the whole needs from it. We wouldn’t tolerate someone marketing a Bible with some famous preacher’s five favorite books selected from the complete sixty-six and bound in fine leather. We wouldn’t put up with an art dealer cutting up a large Rembrandt canvas into two-inch squares and selling them off nicely framed. So why do we so often positively delight and celebrate the dividing up of the Jesus community into contentious and competitive groups? And why does Paul’s rhetorical question, “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13), continue to be ignored century after century after century?

I never grow tired of reading Peterson.

Corinth or South Jersey?

The goings-on at Corinth still grab my attention every time I give 1 Corinthinas even a passing glance.

  • There are quarrels among you (1:11)
  • There is jealousy and quarreling among you (3:3)
  • One brother “goes to law” against another (6:6)

The relationship issues in the Corinthian church ran deep, so deep that their assemblies were affected. At one point Paul even says, “…your meetings do more harm than good” (11:17).

So I am not naive when it comes to realizing that sometimes Christians go to battle with one another.

But I was still not ready for the headline I saw today —

Two stabbed fatally at Pennsauken baptism party

Stabbing at a baptism party?

The scene was South Jersey, not Corinth, but the problem was the same. Division. Quarreling. Fights. What should have been a scene of celebration became a crime scene of violent anger and stabbings. What should have been a time of unity became a time of fighting to the death.

When I read this stuff I want to point an accusing finger.

When I read this I find it easy to pass judgment.

When I read this stuff I want to feel so superior.

But the real story for me is not in Corinth or South Jersey. The real story for me is in my head. And in my heart. And in my relationships. And in my church. And in my house. And in my car. And when my phone rings. And….

Truth is, I can  quickly turn something beautiful into something  ugly. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so. Have you ever turned something beautiful into a mess?

So the next time we go to witness and celebrate a baptism, let’s leave our knives at home.

Why Not Rather Be Wronged?

“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1).

In his letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the matter of divisions in the church. He has been informed by some from Chloe’s household about quarrels among the Christians (1:11). Paul responds to this party spirit with a reminder that their allegiance is to Jesus Christ rather than human leaders. After all, they were not baptized in the name of their favorite preacher or elder, they were baptized in the name of Christ. Jesus was crucified for their sins, not Paul or Apollos (1:13). The power of God is in the message of the cross, not in the wisdom of their favorite leader (1:18). Jealousy and bickering are signs of immaturity and “worldliness” (3:1-3). The solution to this kind of party spirit is to exalt Jesus as Lord and Savior and to recognize that these men are merely “servants of Christ” (4:1).

What seems to have started with a party spirit and allegiance to a human leader quickly deteriorated into nasty personal confrontations. Some of these quarrels had gotten totally out of hand, to the point where Christians were dragging one another into court with lawsuits. In these situations a secular judge would sit in judgment on a dispute between two people who both recognized Jesus was crucified for them, who both had been baptized in his name, and who both wore the name of Christ.

“Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers!” (6:4-6).

In addition to addressing the problem of quarreling, Paul now has to deal with the problem of the church getting a bad reputation in the community. This is happening in front of unbelievers! What are these unbelievers going to think about a church where members can’t even work out problems among themselves? Will we have the reputation in the community of being stubborn? Petty? Quarrelsome? Uncooperative?

Paul, concerned about the reputation of the church in the community suggests an in-house way of working through disputes between believers. Appoint some believers to serve as judges or arbiters of these disputes so the church doesn’t look bad in the community. Paul is not naïve – he knows the community loves dirty laundry. He urges the believers at Corinth not to fall into their trap.

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers” (6:7-8).

Imagine the words a Corinthian disputant would have for Paul: “But Paul, apostle Paul, sir, you don’t understand – I’m a victim here. These folks have done me wrong. I know my rights and they have been violated!” But Paul makes it clear he is not interested in claiming rights when wronged. Instead, he’s teaching believers to give up their rights and suffer unjustly if that’s what it takes to keep the church from being dragged through the mud of community scorn and ridicule. It is better to be wronged and just take it than to pursue our rights “in front of unbelievers.” When we start such a pursuit, we are “completely defeated already.”

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Paul does not want the church to be known in the community by our quarreling. Jesus wants people to know us by our love for one another. What kind of reputation do we have in the community? What are we doing to demonstrate love for one another? Are we willing to be wronged? May God forgive us when we lose sight of the big picture, misplace our priorities, and bring reproach upon the church. May God help us to be the kind of people that will help the community associate Christianity with love.

Motives Matter

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT
“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.”

Motives matter to God, and they ought to matter to me.

Why do I do what I do?

Frequently I ask God to examine my heart. As I go through my daily routine as a minister of God, I want to know, what motivates me? What motivates my study? What motivates my prayer? What motivates my service? What motivates any encouraging words I might speak? What motivates any visits I make? What motivates any outreach I might be involved with?

Why do I do what I do?

Loving God,
Help me to never do ministry because it is just a job.
Help me to never do what I do in the course of a day simply because
it is what someone expects of me or it is written on a job description.
Help me to do what I do because of love.
Love for You. Love for people.
Purify my heart, God.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.