THURSDAY, MARCH 1
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our opinions can blind us to God’s intentions if we are not prepared to let them be changed – especially by the Gospel

18  For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

18-19  Paul is loosely quoting Isaiah 29:14 and allowing God to speak these words again to the Corinth church  which like its city, was characterised by people holding strong opinions, with some arrogance.
20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

20  The Athenian statesman Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one would meet a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to humanity’s problems.

20  “Philosopher of this age” refers to a kind of dispute using clever but devious logic, called sophistry, which the Greeks liked to engage in.

20  Paul uses his own brand of straightforward oratory – four rhetorical questions together with the anaphora of “where is… where is… where is…” to drive home his point to Greeks who expected this form of persuasion.

21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 21  The preaching is not foolish, but the message of the Cross doesn’t at first make sense to people of the world – whether Jews or Greeks, in this context.
22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… 22  Different cultures have different starting points. The Jews’ history was miraculous deliverance (Red Sea, Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, Gideon), encounters (Abraham, Mount Sinai) and signs (e.g. through Elijah and Elisha). The Greek nation had a long background in philosophical debate and oratory. Jesus’ self-sacrifice in shameful, if sinless, death didn’t satisfy either Greek intellect or Jewish desire for God’s intervening hand.
23  …but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…  23  “Stumbling block” originally meant a tree-stump. In Scripture it meant an attitude or action that obstructs others and causes them to sin. The Jews looked for a Messiah of political power. Jesus – in their unbelieving view – had not only failed to remove the Romans, but had been put to death by Romans, the Roman way.
24  …but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 24  Those with spiritual eyes to see, recognise the true power, the power of God in Christ crucified, and the true wisdom of how God saves in Christ.
25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 25  God’s order has the effect of turning the world’s order upside down. Paul is using irony here, a figure of speech that was much used by the Greeks.

Application

When Paul had a dream in Troas that led to his mission crossing the sea to the Greek and Roman culture of Macedonia, he needed to connect with people in different ways. The Greeks were great debaters and they looked for logical, rather than historic, support for the message they were hearing.

The story of Jesus’ sinless life and then horrific death as an innocent victim who became a sacrifice for sin for all who would believe, is a story that defies logic. It can only be grasped by faith. And the more we seek to understand it and find grounds for it in the way that philosophy demands, the more we distance ourselves from the faith that brings revelation.

Paul is meeting his new Greek converts where they are in their understanding and speaking their kind of language – to tell them, “It doesn’t work that way!”

God’s purposes are higher than our purposes and of course the heavenly perspective is like the view from an aircaft window seat compared with a walk in the valley far below.

Only prayer and an openness to the bigger picture that the Holy Spirit gives us, if we ask Him, can show us how to relate Jesus resurrected, to a world cynical and demanding of proof. Paul knew those barriers too, and he consistently relied on demonstrating and proclaiming Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God, to overcome them.

For reflection and discussion

How difficult do we find it to stand up for what seems to others to be foolish, illogical, and just not ‘cool’? Who helps us to be credible and relevant?

The kingdom purpose of God has to be spiritually discerned

THURSDAY, MARCH 1
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our opinions can blind us to God’s intentions if we are not prepared to let them be changed – especially by the Gospel

18  For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

18-19  Paul is loosely quoting Isaiah 29:14 and allowing God to speak these words again to the Corinth church  which like its city, was characterised by people holding strong opinions, with some arrogance.
20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

20  The Athenian statesman Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one would meet a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to humanity’s problems.

20  “Philosopher of this age” refers to a kind of dispute using clever but devious logic, called sophistry, which the Greeks liked to engage in.

20  Paul uses his own brand of straightforward oratory – four rhetorical questions together with the anaphora of “where is… where is… where is…” to drive home his point to Greeks who expected this form of persuasion.

21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 21  The preaching is not foolish, but the message of the Cross doesn’t at first make sense to people of the world – whether Jews or Greeks, in this context.
22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… 22  Different cultures have different starting points. The Jews’ history was miraculous deliverance (Red Sea, Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, Gideon), encounters (Abraham, Mount Sinai) and signs (e.g. through Elijah and Elisha). The Greek nation had a long background in philosophical debate and oratory. Jesus’ self-sacrifice in shameful, if sinless, death didn’t satisfy either Greek intellect or Jewish desire for God’s intervening hand.
23  …but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…  23  “Stumbling block” originally meant a tree-stump. In Scripture it meant an attitude or action that obstructs others and causes them to sin. The Jews looked for a Messiah of political power. Jesus – in their unbelieving view – had not only failed to remove the Romans, but had been put to death by Romans, the Roman way.
24  …but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 24  Those with spiritual eyes to see, recognise the true power, the power of God in Christ crucified, and the true wisdom of how God saves in Christ.
25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 25  God’s order has the effect of turning the world’s order upside down. Paul is using irony here, a figure of speech that was much used by the Greeks.

Application

When Paul had a dream in Troas that led to his mission crossing the sea to the Greek and Roman culture of Macedonia, he needed to connect with people in different ways. The Greeks were great debaters and they looked for logical, rather than historic, support for the message they were hearing.

The story of Jesus’ sinless life and then horrific death as an innocent victim who became a sacrifice for sin for all who would believe, is a story that defies logic. It can only be grasped by faith. And the more we seek to understand it and find grounds for it in the way that philosophy demands, the more we distance ourselves from the faith that brings revelation.

Paul is meeting his new Greek converts where they are in their understanding and speaking their kind of language – to tell them, “It doesn’t work that way!”

God’s purposes are higher than our purposes and of course the heavenly perspective is like the view from an aircaft window seat compared with a walk in the valley far below.

Only prayer and an openness to the bigger picture that the Holy Spirit gives us, if we ask Him, can show us how to relate Jesus resurrected, to a world cynical and demanding of proof. Paul knew those barriers too, and he consistently relied on demonstrating and proclaiming Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God, to overcome them.

For reflection and discussion

How difficult do we find it to stand up for what seems to others to be foolish, illogical, and just not ‘cool’? Who helps us to be credible and relevant?

The connection between the heavenly realm and life on earth

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9
Recap, reflection – and the message that emerges

2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

Reflection 1: How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do? What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Psalm 50:1-6

God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together

Reflection 2: How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?

For further study, read the whole of Psalm 50 and the passages on ‘insincere sacrifices’ in Isaiah 1:11, Amos 4:4, Micah 6:6-8; NT and post-resurrection perspective Luke 22:20, Galatians 4:6.

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

Reflection 3: This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw near to God and His glory becomes real to you?

2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

Reflection 4: Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

The emerging message – how heaven and earth are connected

Although three of the readings show us how “God shines forth” in dazzling light, a light that shines in hearts to reveal the glory of Jesus, the real message that emerges is the close connection between the affairs of heaven and earth. How do we understand it, and how do we work with it?

It’s an important question. The lack of understanding of the interactions of heaven and earth, the spiritual world and our victories and setbacks, has left us, Jesus’ church, a lot less effective for Him than we should be.

The four strands of this teaching on interaction start with utter reliance on God in the handoff by Elijah to his pupil Elisha – the power and right to confer it belonged to God alone.

Psalm 50 teaches us about covenant and, unusually in a psalm where usually man speaks to God, God speaks to man about the responsibilities of covenant relationship and being ready to be called to account – for reward or for rebuke.

The Transfiguration is where we see the interaction most closely, as it seems that the top of the mountain is a ‘thin place’, so thin that Moses and Elijah are instantly recognisable conversing with Jesus in a scene that is both heavenly and earthly. This tells us that heaven is a real ‘place’, with real people. In heaven there are actions and conversations that impact ours, on earth. It’s not too big a jump to see behind the scene a strategy – and if we can join in that strategy, making our moves in step with heaven, that is a covenant relationship to strike fear into the devil and his minions.

That is really the point Paul is making in his second Corinthian letter. Not only has righteous heaven a plan and purpose being worked out, so the enemy of souls has a scheme. It’s always the same scheme – to keep people in fear, confusion and spiritual blindness. Knowing that scheme is the key to overcoming the scheme.

Many of us have grown up with the perception that there is a heaven, a kind of spiritual layer ‘above’, and we know all about the human realm on earth. We have believed that between these there is an ‘excluded middle’ like thick insulation keeping the two apart.

The reality is that the separation is caused by man’s pride and sin, but God’s mercy and our standing in Christ is such that we can bring the two back into a measure of connection by our praise, devotion, and especially repentance. Having an awareness of how the connection works, is a large part of making that connection. And that is where the kingdom of God, the major theme of Jesus’ teaching, begins to be manifest.

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11