2014 Lent 25

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I Corinthians 12:1-11

The consensus from scholars of the New Testament seems to be that Paul’s purpose in writing to the Corinthians, at least in his first letter, was to combat division.  More and more, though, I find myself disagreeing with this consensus.  (But I’m just a lowly M. Div.; is it okay to disagree with Ph. D.s?)  Instead, I’m thinking that Paul wrote this letter in order to explain Christian liberty.

Crossing the line between liberty and license, on the one hand, can certainly lead to division.  So, on the other hand, can crossing the line between liberty and legalism.

Think of it as a liberty spectrum.  What you can see on this spectrum are all the glorious shades of liberty, like the colors of the rainbow.  Go too far to the right, though, into the ultraviolet zone of legalism, and you no longer see these glorious shades.  Stay there too long, in fact, and you will get burned–unless, of course, you manufacture some formula to block out (some of) the harmful rays’ effects.

A similar thing happens when you travel too far to the left, into the land of infrared license.  Here the unseen microwaves will boil your blood, destroying you from the inside out.  You can try to shield yourself from harm, sure.  And I know many people for whom this has worked for a time, such as my recovering alcoholic friends.  But, as these friends will tell you, in the end their personal license proved very harmful, and likely would have proved fatal if they had not gotten their liberty in check.

Anyway, I think this is really what Paul is getting at in this letter.  If a group of people ends up either too far to the left or right, well, that produces a faction.  Hence the division so evident at certain points in this letter.

But division does not strike me as the chiefest theme running throughout.  For if it were, what could we make of today’s reading, where there isn’t the slightest suggestion of it?  Today’s passage is all about spiritual gifts, and how one God gives specific gifts to many individuals and then lets these many individuals use them according to who they are as individuals for the one God’s glory.  No, there’s no division here.  Rather, today is about liberty in Christ.

The same could be said for several of the previous passages we’ve encountered, including the very first chapter.

Not legalism, then, and not license–which cause division–but liberty!

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