The Soul and the Body

As I mentioned in a couple of recent posts, I am currently working my way through N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. He has a lot of things to say about heaven, hell, the resurrection, the soul, the body, the kingdom of God, etc, all to bring a hopeful perspective about some of these greatly misunderstood concepts. And I agree whole heartedly with his thoughts.

In my last little excerpt from the book, I posted some general thoughts from Wright about heaven and eschatology. But just the other day I read some great insights about the resurrection, the body and the soul, so I thought I would put those up here as well. The passage is a bit long, but well worth reading.

The hope of resurrection underlies the whole of 1 Corinthians, not just chapter 15. But here Paul addresses it head-on as of central importance. Some in Corinth are denying the future resurrection, almost certainly on the normal pagan grounds that everyone knows dead people don’t rise again. In reply, Paul speaks, as we saw in the previous chapter, of Jesus as the firstfruits and of the great harvest still to come when all Jesus’s people are raised as he has been.

The whole chapter echoes and alludes to Genesis 1-3. It is a theology of new creation, not of the abandonment of creation. The heart of the chapter is an exposition of the two different types of bodies, the present one and the future one. This is where all sorts of problems have arisen.

Several popular translations, notably the Revised Standard Version and its offshoots, translate Paul’s key phrases as “a physical body” and “a spiritual body”. Simply in terms of the Greek words Paul uses, this cannot be correct. The technical arguments are overwhelming and conclusive. The contrast is between the present body, corruptible, decaying, and doomed to die, and the future body, incorruptible, undecaying, never to die again. The key adjectives, which are quoted endlessly in discussions of this topic, do not refer to a physical body and a nonphysical one, which is how people in our culture and bound to hear the words physical and spiritual.

The first word, psychikos, does not in any case mean anything like “physical” in our sense. For Greek speakers of Paul’s day, the psychē, from which the word derives, means the soul, not the body.

But the deeper, underlying point is that adjectives of this type, Greek adjectives ending in-ikos, describe not the material out of which things are made but the power or energy that animates them. It is the difference between asking, on the one hand, “Is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?” (the material from which it is made) and asking, on the other, “Is this a steamship or a sailing ship?” (the energy that powers it). Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psychē (the life force we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay and death), and the future body, which is animated by God’s pneuma, God’s breath of new life, the energizing power of God’s new creation.

This is why, in a further phrase that became controversial as early as the mid-second century, Paul declares that “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom. [1 Corinthians 15:50]” He doesn’t mean that physicality will be abolished. “Flesh and blood” is a technical term for that which is corruptible, transient, heading for death. The contrast, again, is not between what we call physical and what we call nonphysical but between corruptible physicality, on the one hand, and incorruptible physicality, on the other.

This underlies the remarkable concluding verse of 1 Corinthians 15 [vs58], to which we shall return. For Paul, the bodily resurrection does not leave us saying, “So that’s all right; we shall go, at the last, to join Jesus in a nonbodily, Platonic heaven,” but, “So, then, since the person you are and the world God has made will be gloriously reaffirmed in God’s eventual future, you must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” Belief in the bodily resurrection includes the belief that what is done in the present in the body, by the power of the Spirit, will be reaffirmed in the eventual future, in ways at which we presently only guess. (italics his)

These are solid words about the body, the soul and the future resurrection in our renewed bodies. The goal is not a disembodied soul living in heaven up there. The goal in Christ is that we be given renewed bodies animated by the Spirit-breath-life of God living in a new earth that has been invaded fully and finally by the kingdom rule of God. That, my friends, provides great hope for the body of Christ. And, for some, it might just bring a surprising hope. But this is the biblical hope.

Each One Really Does Have

2006_wdacl_togetherI have previously posted along the lines of what I am writing about today. So, forgive me if I bore some of you. But I think it’s ok to share frequently about a topic that is dear to one’s heart. And so I take up the privilege of doing so.

One of my favourite passages in all of Scripture is found here:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)

Specifically, I love that little phrase, ‘each one has’.

Can you imagine it?

What if the church, the ekklesia of God, actually lived out the reality what this verse says? What if our gatherings actually consisted of the reality that each one has?

Well, I believe a few things would begin to happen:

1) Simply, we would be living out Biblical truth and the heart of God.

2) The saints, God’s people, would begin to more regularly grow up into maturity.

3) We would truly be walking out what it means to be the body.

4) We would receive greater blessing, encouragement and strength from the whole body of Christ.

5) There would be a lot more variety, which would inevitably lead to us being less stale. (Note: I am not up for variety just for variety’s sake, nor to make us somehow ‘hip’. I’m up for doing this because Scripture makes clear it is important and that we should do it for edifying the body.)

And there are probably a host of other things we could list.

Now, there is the other side of the coin as well if we look to walk out 1 Corinthians 14:26. We will have to utilise the wisdom of God a little more in our Sunday gatherings and even outside our Sunday gatherings.

What I mean is this – If the leadership of a local congregation does not allow for the possibility of each one to have, meaning everything is left down to one or two people, then there is a lot more control over the situation. You don’t have to worry if Suzy is going to share another ‘ethereal’ prophecy that no one understands. You don’t have to worry if Bobby will keep asking to share that important teaching that he believes God is stirring in him, but it actually is only something God is doing personally in Bobby rather than what God wants to do in the midst of the whole body.

But, if we let go of control, though we will have to consider dealing with those ‘dirty diapers’, I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will begin to see the heart of God enacted in our church communities more and more if we look to live out the truth of 1 Corinthians 14:26.

Good shepherds (elder-pastors) will watch over the flock making sure that unhealthy things are guarded against, or if something does happen, to then give a gentle correction to help refocus on what is true.

But true and Biblical shepherds desire to see the flock grow up and head towards maturity. And allowing for each one to be able to give and serve (not just in passing out a bulletin) through their spiritual giftings is important.

Now, of course, by no means do I believe this verse teaches that each one should share at every gathering. Rather, the potential of such is available to all those indwelt by God the Spirit Himself. Think about it: if 50 or 100 followers of Christ join together to meet with God and one another, I could only assume that there are more than two people in the midst of the congregation that have something to bring. It is inevitable, and even if not every single person is truly pursuing God, for there are those who are walking with Him.

Now, for the mega-church, this becomes somewhat difficult. But that is the problem. John on the 17th row can easily be forgotten in the midst of have 2,000 people joining together. And with such a large amount of people, you don’t have time to consider whether another 5 or 10 people might have something with which they could edify the congregation. Instead, you usually have the few qualified experts who can do it better than everyone else anyways. So why open the door for Suzy and Bobby?

Well, for starters: 1) You are missing an important teaching of Scripture and 2) you leave out an opportunity for God’s people to grow and step out in faith with the gifts He has given.

I know that such churches will say, ‘But we have small groups for that.’ And, you know what? I think 1 Corinthians 14:26 needs to be practiced in small groups as well. That is important.

But, read the context of 1 Corinthians 14. Paul is talking about the larger gathering of the church, not small groups. So, in our sense, he is talking about our Sunday gatherings. Paul expects the ‘each one has’ to be practiced in our Sunday morning gatherings (or whenever we meet). He does not want it simply relegated to small groups. But how many churches really walk this out?

For the mega-church that cannot walk out 1 Corinthians 14:26, then my suggestion is to expand outwards and stop building upwards. Take your 2,000 people and plant 10 new churches. Not only will you get more opportunity to enact these words of Paul, you will get more opportunity to train up new leaders and reach people like they did in Acts. This isn’t a novel idea. It is what they did in Acts.

For the ‘seeker-sensitive’ church that relegates such (especially tongues) to small groups for the sake of not disturbing seekers that attend a Sunday gathering, I would challenge such a perspective. The goal should not be to squelch what Paul says is important to practice. Rather it is to teach it and practice it in a healthy manner. So, when a prophecy or tongue is shared, give a healthy explanation of what has just happened. Hey, it will probably be helpful to those who are already part of the church community as well.

In the end, if something has been practiced in a Biblical manner and the shepherds have done well to guard against anything unhealthy, as well as giving an explanation to help clarify, then we really don’t need to worry about who got offended. It’s ok if one or two or a handful of people don’t return. The goal is not more people, per se. The goal is to truly reach people with Christ and see the church mature. At least that is the goal in Scripture.

And, not only that, but let me just go ahead and say that ‘each one has’ involves women as well. Each one has is not relegated to the male figure. For those who think the word brethren underlines that only men should be involved in such, then you need to go back and study what the word adelphoi means in the original Greek. Also, check out 1 Corinthians 11:5 – ‘but every women who prays or prophesies.’

And these women might just be used with a teaching or [prophetic] revelation. Yes, truly so! Read the verse again.

Of course this list is not exhaustive. I believe it to be a summary of things, especially knowing that Paul lists a few other things in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, as well as other places like Romans 12.

In all, my passion – no, God’s passion – is to see a healthy and mature church. He doesn’t want everything left down to the experts, if we can indeed somehow call ourselves experts. He gifts and calls people to serve in so many varying capacities. And we must give each one the room to serve and express their unique giftings and callings in Christ.

What a transformation that would take place if we truly walked out 1 Corinthians 14:26!

Some Thoughts On The Body

CommunityWe are all probably familiar with the descriptive imagery of God’s people as a body. For some, it is probably an overused image. But I still consider it as one of the most beautiful and enlightening metaphors to describe the people of God.

And, we also know that one of the most important passages that teaches us how the church is to function like a body is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. No doubt that, when reading this passage, we must guard against the words being all too familiar, lest we disregard the life-giving words.

While you can take time to read the passage yourself (by clicking on the link above), I wanted to draw out 8 points I find very helpful from the passage. Though some points will be common to all, I do hope there will be some fresh understanding for all as well.

1. A body calls for unity (vs12-13).

While I believe God has called his worldwide body to unity, it is interesting to note that Paul gave these words to the local gathering of the Corinthians. I would say that worldwide unity of the body of Christ starts at the local level. How many local churches struggle with true unity? Most, if not all.

But how is unity created? I am not sure it first comes through Bible study of doctrine, per se, though those things are important. I believe it is, first and foremost, created through serving one another. It is amazing how unity is formed through washing people’s feet. But, most of the time, we don’t want to go there – because we don’t have time, we don’t have the vision for it, the other person has hurt us, etc. But I believe this stuff is the ‘bread and butter’ of seeing unity outworked in our midst.

And I love how all of this truly echoes Jesus’ words in John 17:20-23.

It might do us well to ponder afresh what it means to be unified, starting at the local body level.

2. A body has no room for individualism (vs14).

Unfortunately, the theology of many Christians is founded on this statement – me, Jesus and my Bible. But there is a major problem with such an ideology. It’s not found anywhere on the lips of Jesus, or in all of Scripture. Sure, we are called to each walk with God, that ‘personal relationship’, if you will. So I don’t want to negate such.

But we are also in this together as a covenant community. We have been joined together. It is about us and we much more than it is about I or me. Again, I am thinking back to Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John’s Gospel. I don’t want to live out the ‘lone ranger’ mentality, for I know we can accomplish so much more together than alone. And, again, let this start at the local level before trying to imagine such amongst the worldwide body of Christ.

3. A body allows for diversity (vs15-20).

What many of us really desire is that people were more like us, right? But, can I just say I am glad we are not all like you, or all like me. What a definitely boring idea if everyone were gifted in the same way. I’m glad God was not that boring in creating us.

Rather, Christ’s church must recognise that we are all created with different personalities and that God gifts each person differently. And this should definitely be seen as a plus rather than a negative. I am more of a teacher-pastor. So I am glad God gifts others in other areas. And even God has put together other teacher-pastors different from me. But we are not called to control the body of Christ and make them become us. They are to become Christ-like in who they are in Christ.

In all, we need the full reality of Christ through the full reality of His body.

4. A body recognises that God arranges as He chooses (vs18, see also vs11).

This really relates to the point I just made in #3. Such knowledge gives freedom for diversity and allows each member of the whole body to function in all that God has called them to. If you have a probably with Suzy being gifted and shaped in certain ways in regards to her calling in Christ, then take it up with Him, not her.

Of course, this does not give room for sin. Sin must be dealt with, though I suppose we don’t always deal with it in the most godly and compassionate of ways. But we need diversity or we will die out. I restate it – I am so glad God is not so boring as to create us all the same.

5. A body has interdependency and need of the others (vs21).

This echoes point #2 that I emphasised out of vs14. Even in our diverse personality and gifting, we are called to abstain from being overly individualistic. We are called to communion with one another, to building one another up, to being in relationship with one another, to be dependent upon one another. I think that church in Jerusalem following Pentecost had a pretty good idea about this (Acts 2:42-47).

6. A body sees the glory of weakness (vs22-24).

What a contradictory statement for the world, and maybe even for most of Christianity. While many love to focus on our strengths, and God does give us strengths, we are actually in need of those weaker parts as well.

It is Paul who reminds us that, as with our own physical bodies, we give more attention to the weaker parts. Do we not? Next time you stub your time, record your reaction. You will immediately hunch over, grab the hurt toe, pull that foot in the air, hop on the one good foot, make weird noises, and then go on to clean and dress the wound as needed. You took good care of that weaker part.

But, even more, the weaker parts are actually much needed. I have a friend with Asperger’s syndrome. Now, at the college where I used to be on staff, this student was given special assistance by another upperclass student, to help with studies, be there as a specific friend, providing any help where needed. And this student did need the special attention. But, you know what? In reality, in retrospect, I realised how much we were all being blessed by him. His childlike faith, his submitted heart, his willing spirit, his learning attitude. God taught us a lot from this one ‘weaker’ vessel.

And, let’s just be honest, we are all weak apart from the grace and power of God. So let’s get on with valuing those weaker parts. They have something to offer as well.

7. A body understands the importance of caring (vs25-26).

As a body, we are also a family. Family want to care one for another. We want to provide, serve, give, listen, share, and so much more. This is a great opportunity to imitate our Father who is so excellent at all of these things Himself.

8. A body understands we already are the body and we are not trying to get there (vs27).

I think this is a good point to end out on. Most of the time, we spend so much effort trying to attain something that is already ours in Christ. We already are saints, we already are sons and daughters, we already are forgiven, and, even in one sense, we are already reigning with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6).

Therefore, we already are a body. This is why Paul exhorted us to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). We are already here. So let’s be encouraged to walk out who we already are.

So, I have shared eight points I find highlighted in Paul’s well-known passage about God’s people functioning as a body. If we can catch a vision of what Christ meant when He meant His body, then I believe we will have an effect upon this planet like we’ve yet known.