Sunday, August 30, 2020

Incidentally …

An idle remark made in passing may tell us considerably more about its speaker than listening to him lecture for an hour on a prepared topic.

Likewise, it is often the case that the little “asides” made by the writers of the New Testament in the process of teaching are as interesting as — and sometime even more interesting than — the subjects themselves.

Nothing in scripture is simply there to fill up space. Even incidental comments are full of important truth.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul’s subject is the danger of stumbling weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. To illustrate how stumbling might occur, he has chosen the example of eating food offered to idols. Were he writing today, he could as easily choose drinking alcohol, going to movies or voting Republican, but he picked a subject relevant to the readers of the first century, though somewhat less relevant to us.

A Gem of a Verse

In the process of getting to all that, he drops this gem:
“There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
“Incidentally,” says Paul, “here’s a little bit of truth about the comparative roles of Father and Son.”

Wow. I think we would all agree that’s a way more significant subject than meat offered to idols and how to conduct ourselves around weaker Christians. A day will come when all the idols, literal and metaphorical, are gone forever. Temptation to become occupied with rival “gods”, and to worship and serve false ideas, will not exist. Moreover, a day will come when I no longer have to watch how I behave around my fellow believers because we will all know as we are known, and nobody will be able to inadvertently stumble anyone else.

But a day will never come in all eternity when the relationship of Father to Son and the way in which they work together and express themselves in the universe are not eminently worthy of our attention. Such things will always matter, and the longer we dwell in the presence of God, the more completely we will understand and glory in them.

Two Parallel Statements

Paul has given us an elegant little verbal construction of two parallel statements linked by the word “and”, one about the Father and one about the Lord Jesus, which absolutely cry out to be compared and contrasted. And because the second statement is so much like the first statement in form, the differences really stand out. Those prepositions are not the same, and it’s almost impossible to miss it. This is not merely a matter of aesthetically-pleasing English translation. The contrast is there in Greek too: “from” is ek, “for” is eis, and “through” is dia both times. Common little words found thousands of times in our New Testament, but rich with meaning when set against each other, as they so deliberately are here.

A few weeks ago I quoted a fellow who was most orthodox in his belief that Jesus is God, but quite muddled about how that all works. Father and Son jumbled together in his mind such that he could imagine Jesus on the cross crying out to himself, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Understandably, he found this sort of running interior dialogue a bit confusing. He had the unity of the Godhead down pat, but the scripturally-delineated diversity of its persons was quite lost on him. I replied that Father and Son are absolutely one, but they are not the same. This passage in 1 Corinthians is one of many I would go to for evidence to make my case.

Purpose and Method

The first statement is about God’s creative purposes. All things are “from” and “for” the Father. He is both our source and our object. This is not to deny for a moment that the Lord Jesus was very much active in every aspect of creation; we know that to be the case because it is stated very strongly elsewhere. But it is the Father’s purposes that the Lord Jesus was carrying out when he did so. Everything originated with the Father and has as its ultimate objective his glory and pleasure. Everything that exists is most itself and most purposeful and useful when it is oriented toward the glory of God. Rocks do not generally make a lot of noise, but in the event their divine Source is being insufficiently glorified, they will step up and do the job. There is no value in their existence if it does not bring honor and praise to God. The same is true of you and me.

The second statement is about God’s creative method. All things are “through” the Lord Jesus, and we exist “through” him. He is the great agent by means of whom God has accomplished both his original creation and his new one. John states, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “[God] has spoken to us by his Son … through whom also he created the world.” Paul tells the Colossians, “All things were created through him and for him.” Through the agency of the Lord Jesus we exist in two different senses, the one at creation and the second at the cross. He can say about his sheep without the slightest exaggeration, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

Father and Son

So then, the Father purposes, and the Son acts. The Father sends and the Son goes. The Father wills, and the Son says, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.”

I love these thoughts. They are incidental to the passage, but they are not incidental to our faith. Paul could have stopped with “There is one God.” His point was made with four words, a statement of fact with which all Jews would immediately agree, and he could have gone on to his topic with mission accomplished. But he didn’t stop, as is often the case with Paul.

I for one am glad he didn’t.

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