The Flesh and the Spirit in Paul, Provisionally

I spoke on this topic a month or two ago in our college’s chapel service, and a student expressed an interest in having a written version of my thoughts for reference purposes. It emerges from a series of encounters I’ve had with the early chapters of 1 Corinthians throughout 2019. Yet any regular readers of this blog will know that I am an Old Testament guy, not a New Testament specialist, so please take that into account. Moreover, all I can offer is my understanding of this dichotomy in Paul in its present state of progress — hence, ‘provisionally’.

When Huskies Go Off Course…What?

I often have a guiding illustration, keeping my audience and myself on track. For this talk, I was thinking about sled dogs. My grandmother on my Mum’s side had two samoyeds, woolly white things that looked as though they must have been dying in the summers in Belmont, New South Wales (Australia), though apparently they can take it reasonably well. They needed grooming practically every day, and so they are a great breed for those with a lot of time to kill. Nice dogs, all the same.

Those who encountered ‘CCM’ (contemporary Christian music) in some form a couple of decades back might remember the Newsboys song, “It’s all who you know”. The Newsboys, an Australian band originally, had a lyricist called Steve Taylor who had a bit of a knack with words, and I think he was responsible for this effort. One verse says,

For the want of a cough drop,

The musher’s throat went hoarse

For the want of direction

The huskies went off course

Then the sled got snowbound

It took some time to free’em

Now they’re on display

Inside the British Museum

It’s a version of the Butterfly Effect, I guess – lack of a cough drop altering history in an unforeseen way. Nevertheless, it allows me to talk about huskies going off course. I promise to come back to this.

The Problem of Paul’s Teaching on the Flesh

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24–25).

Continue reading

Winners are Grinners?

The Gospel of Jesus and Christian Celebration in 1 Corinthians 1

The Gospel of Jesus and Christian Celebration in 1 Corinthians 1

The glitter has settled on the 2018 Commonwealth Games, here in Australia’s own home of humility, the Gold Coast, and all we have now are fast-fading memories of close contests and come-from-behind victories in the pool, on the track and in the velodrome. Judged by the wisdom of the leather lounge, there seems no greater adrenaline rush than victory over one’s rivals in an athletic contest.

640px-Carrara_Stadium,_Gold_Coast,_Queensland_05

The vicarious thrill of such contests is so universal that Paul can appeal to a foot race to illustrate dedication to the task of Christian life and service in 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Yet the thrill of outperforming our fellow runners is not a motive Paul wants to encourage. What is, behind the fanfare, something of an ego trip is not compatible with the spiritual ideals Paul has long imbibed from Old Testament Scripture. Paradoxically, the Christian life is a race that leaves no room for boasting.

Continue reading

O God, Where Are You Now?

So runs the title of a David Crowder Band song from the 2005 album A Collision. The full title is appealingly quirky:

“O God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)”

(Now that I check the liner notes, who should have written that but Sufjan Stevens! A pretty well-known guy in alternate/folk circles. Anyway…)

So sometimes God can feel very distant, stubbornly silent or rather inert. We feel as if we’d be glad for any kind of communication from God, even if it consisted mostly of rebuke. At least we would know where we stood. Continue reading