Sunday, June 9, 2013

Essay 2—Men and Women in the Human Family—(2) Kingdom Ethics

Outline: 010-E2.2-Kingdom Ethics
Passage: 1 Corinthians 6:9-12
Discussion Audio (45m)

Don’t allow freedom to cancel itself out by becoming a slave to freedom.

The list of vices – two sets of five – appear like neon signs to many modern Christians who read these verses. Was the highlighting of vices Paul’s intent? Or was it something else altogether?

Two key points must be kept in mind. First, the vice lists (standard rhetorical form in moralizing literature of the time) are sandwiched between the phrase “[not] inherit the kingdom of God.” Second, it can be argued that the Corinthian believers had a wrong idea of the kingdom. Some of them held an over-realized eschatology (and/or possibly proto-Gnosticism) where what they did in the body no longer had any effect on their spiritual condition.

Paul is arguing that any behavior that indulges selfish desires and uses/abuses others does not belong in the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God were indeed fully realized, these types of behavior would not be present.

… Watson (First Epistle, p. 56) makes the insightful observation that if there is a prevalent point between the items Paul has chosen to include in this listing, it is the common characteristic of "ruthless self- gratification, reckless of other people's rights." Such an attitude, which produces deplorable behaviors, is the ungodliness Paul is concerned to criticize; he is not aiming at ranking or rating sins.[1]

Rather than dwell on specifics of the vice lists, the point is that any kind of self-seeking is at odds with citizenship in the kingdom of God.

The middle portion of this set of verses (verse 11b) appears to be Paul’s emphasis. With these words Paul corrects the misguided theologies of some of the Corinthians by returning the emphasis of the Christian back to Jesus Christ, the Spirit, and God (the Father). Paul describes the present reality and identity of every Christian, the gifting for service through the Spirit, and the responsibility to live lives that bring honor to God.

These set of verses end with Paul returning to another way in which some of the Corinthians were expressing their misguided theology: “I am free from the law; therefore, I can do anything I want.” Rather than imposing new laws and regulations (hence the argument against using the vice lists as lists of “don’ts”) Paul redirects attention back to what genuine freedom looks like. First, genuine freedom is expressed in behavior that is helpful to others. Second, freedom is not an end to itself; i.e., freedom must not become an idol to which freedom itself is sacrificed.

When one loves God, all things are permissible; but when one loves God, one loves what He loves. This means love for all others, for they are loved by God; and conduct will be regulated by this love.[2]

[1] Understanding the Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians, entry “Additional Notes” 1 Cor. 6:10.

[2] Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries: 1 Corinthians, Orr/Walther, p. 202; quoted by Bailey, location 2096