The Christian life is a call to a life of risk-taking. Not foolish risks, but risks that are taken in faith after one has counted the cost (Luke 14:28). This is even inherent in the central rite of the church, the Lord’s Supper, which takes one of the most common of human activities and intensifies it with profound meaning.
In Genesis 2, Adam names the animals. To name something is to claim authority over it, and earlier (Gen. 1:28) God placed everything that moves on the earth under the rule of those made in His image.
But Adam doesn’t bother to name his wife…until after the Fall. The man composes a poem, but doesn’t take time to compose a name.
After God lays down his curse, part of which is that the man will rule over the woman (Gen. 3:16), only then does Adam name Eve. A lot of things changed as a result of the Fall. Could one of them have been the nature of the man’s authority over his wife? Adam now claims his right to rule his wife by naming her, as he did the animals.
Paul makes it clear that the created order itself has some authority, and it included some form of hierarchy. Man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). Adam was created first, and then Eve (1 Tim. 2:13).
Likewise, the whole point of marriage, from the very beginning, was to image Christ and His Church, a clear relationship of ruler and subject. Pre-fall, the authority was in place, but the placement of the naming of Eve hints that something truly precious was lost between the sexes, a corrupting of the authority that lowered the woman closer to the status of a animal, less of the ideal helper than intended, and as a result both man and woman are diminished.
So I wrote a children’s book, based on a request made by my daughter, and I need your help to make it a reality. I wanted it to be light and fun and silly. And it is all of those things. But I believe it is also true, with a certain gravitas in some scenes, colored by Scripture. This was not my intention, but rather the tones bled into the story as I was writing and editing.
These two verses will be in the back of the book in the acknowledgments section, noted for their inspiration:
“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” Song of Songs 6:10
“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” Psalms 126:2
The latter is pretty obvious. Ultimately, the Lord is the source of all laughter, the Prime Comedian, the One Author. Satan (that dragon of old) seeks to disrupt it. When you lose joy and laughter, you lose your thankfulness, and your faith will follow close behind them.
The verse from Song of Solomon, however, is a bit odd, and it has been translated in many ways. This is said by queens and other maidens, in praise of the woman who is being pursued. It speaks of a special kind of feminine strength, one that is finely honed and directed. It is not the brute, raw strength of masculinity, but it is a true strength. Helen of Troy inspired the launch of an armada, but the woman of the Song can stop an army.
Woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7), and as such a Biblical woman makes possible her husband’s coronation as a king. She helps lift him up so that he might go and do battle. A kingdom, a city, a household with a Biblical queen on the ramparts is a beacon of strength to her king, and a terrible visage to her enemies.
One of my favorite authors has been known to say that the point of the Bible is this: “Kill the Dragon, get the girl.” The lad in Princess Hiccup is a carpenter’s son. You are free to make the connection yourself.
So not only is this a fun little book that can be read to all ages, its also a little subversive to the culture at large. If you can donate and help make this book a reality, I would really appreciate it. If you can’t donate, you help out tremendously just by sharing the Kickstarter page.
1 Cor. 11:17-29
Paul warns those in the Corinthian church to not eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy manner, and then gives immediate advice on how to do it in a worthy manner. Let a person examine himself before partaking.
But what does that mean? Examine himself for what?
In an apparent reversal, Paul then explains further: “For anyone who eats the drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.”
To properly examine ourselves, we must discern the body. Certainly, Paul has in mind Christ’s body. He resolved to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified, it was Christ’s body that hung on that cruel tree, and it is Christ’s body that the bread most obviously represents.
But in the rest of the letter, what has been Paul’s emphasis? What seems to be the main problem for the Corinthian church? At the beginning of the letter, he rebukes the church for having divisions among them. Just before talking about the establishment of the Lord’s Supper, he brings the divisions up again. When they come together, it is not for the better, but for the worse.
Because of these divisions, one of which being the division between the rich and the poor, it is not really the Lord’s Supper that they eat, and they eat it to their condemnation.
Paul isn’t done with the topic yet. Immediately after his instructions, he talks about spiritual gifts and then he picks up the subject of unity once again. The body does not consist of one member, but many, each with their own function. There are many parts, but one body.
Chapter 12 and verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
The Lord’s Supper is not a meal that’s just between you and Jesus. You come to the table of the King with your brothers and sisters. You sit at the table with the rest of your family. You do not eat this meal alone.
What does it mean to discern the body of Christ? Look to your left, and then look to your right. Look at who is sitting in front of you. We are called to love one another. In the very next chapter, Chapter 13, Paul shows us what he calls a more excellent way. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What does it mean to discern the body of Christ? To love the body. To pray for the body. To find ways to give yourself up for the body, just as the example of Christ that we are about to memorialize right now. It means to not despise the body, and that means to not despise other members of the body. To be aware of each other’s presence, and not wallow in morbid introspection.
But Chapter 11 isn’t the only place Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper in this letter. In chapter 10, starting in verse 16, it says: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”
Just as with the peace offering of old Israel, we are participants. We eat the bread, and are reminded of the peace that God has declared between us and Him. We are reminded that, before God looks at us with deserving wrath, he first looks at His own Son, on whom he poured out his wrath instead. He first looks at Jesus, and then looks at us in peace and fellowship.
When we look at others, we too must first look at Jesus. And then we must look at his body in peace and fellowship.
The table is not a place for strife. It is not a place for anger. It is not a place for envy. It is a place for peace. If you have something against your brother or sister, or if you think a brother or sister has something against you, it does not belong at this table.
“So if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the alter and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
If we are only pretending to have unity here at the table, only pretending that there is peace among us, we are just eating and drinking judgement on ourselves. This is a table of no condemnation. This meal is a sign that God no longer accuses you. So do not bring your accusations and condemnations of a fellow brother here, even if they are just in your own head.
The paradox of the Lord’s Supper is that, to partake of it in a worthy manner, we must first recognize our unworthiness to partake of it. You should not fret and worry about your unworthiness. That’s part of the whole point. Of course you are unworthy to eat with the King. But that also means you should not fret an worry about the unworthiness of everyone else. Have you been slighted? Hurt? Has someone in the body done you harm? Of course they have. That is a given. They are unworthy. And so are you.
The body of Christ was broken on the cross, so that his body here, gathered at the table might be stitched together. The body of Christ was torn and pierced, so that this body here might be mended and unified. And the body of Christ was made alive again and glorified, so that this body here might have new life.
So as you partake of this meal, discern the body. Not the dead body that was put into the tomb, divided from spirit, but the living body of the resurrected Christ, and the living body into which you have been grafted.
Every sin is against a holy God, and against Him only do we sin (Psalm 51:4). This, with the fact that we are all guilty and deserve death (Romans 6:23), can sometimes tempt us to flatten all offenses and treat them all as equal. After all, James 2:10-11 says that if you fail to keep the law in one point, you are accountable to the whole law.
Jesus and the Pharisees
One of the warnings given against any kind of ranking is that is the temptation of pride, to act like the Pharisee who looks over at the sinner, and thanks God that he is not like him (Luke 18:9-14). While the sin and temptation to act like a Pharisee is perennial, we often are blind to what the sins of the Pharisees actually were, even though Jesus spells it out quite clearly for us time and again. We are never more like Jesus’s disciples than when we are like this: befuddled, confused, and always missing the point.
What were Jesus’s actual criticisms of the Pharisees?
Matthew 23: 23 – 24
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
There are weightier matters of the law. And some things are gnats while some are camels.
In the Sermon on the Mount, which is partly a response to the “rightouesness” of the Pharisees, Jesus says in Matthew 7:3-5:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (ESV)
Some matters are a speck, and some are a log. The fact that they both impair eyesight does not mean they are equal.
And lest we forget, Jesus also explicitly says that there are some commandments that are greater than others.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-39 ESV)
If certain commandments are more important, it makes sense that breaking those commandments would be a more serious matter.
Of course, this is not to ignore the other commandments. But some are foundational, and some are not. Some commandments are downstream from other commandments, caught up by the momentum of the current.
Finally, let’s not forget the the true unpardonable sin, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29). If we can’t say that this sin is worse than others, does the Christian have any basis of making any value judgments at all? Do words mean anything?
So what was one glaring part of the Pharisees’ problem? Not that they weighted sins differently, but the fact that they weighted sins improperly.
God’s Character Revealed in the Old
I’ve discussed the continuity of the covenant in some other places, and it is important here too to reiterate that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New. His character is revealed in both.
Every sin is against a holy God. But has that same God made known that some are more despicable than others? Should we, perhaps, pay attention? The entire law is filled with sins that are given different penalties. Read Ezekiel 8. Some things are more detestable to God than others.
And then, mercy gets bumped further up in the line, for God desires mercy, and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). That is an astounding statement, because sacrifice is the very thing that makes it tolerable for God to dwell near his people.
Blood guilt was (and still is) a very real thing, but stipulations were made to take into account motive. Was it an accident or premeditated (Deut 19:4)? That state of heart made a difference in the severity.
And in the New Testament…Continued
Why did Jesus say it would be worse for Sodom than a town that denied hospitality to his disciples? The sins of Sodom were great, but they didn’t seem to light a candle to some of the sins of the generation Jesus preached to.
And what about those who turned Jesus over to be crucified?
Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. (John 19:11 ESV)
When we get to Paul, we see the same thing. Paul’s list of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy assumes that some sins will disqualify someone from being an elder.
Then there is the curious statement in 1 Cor. 6:18:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
Sexual sin is a serious matter. Not only is it a sin against the body committing it, its so bad that God uses the sin itself as a judgement against the wicked (Romans 1). In many ways, it is its own punishment.
This even applies to doctrine itself. Of first importance…(1 Cor 15:3-5). God doesn’t hold to irreducible materialism, and neither should you. Some things are the foundation of the house, and some things are just the window trimmings. If we take pride in assuming they are of the same importance, people will rightly give us funny looks when we try to construct an addition to the house and start with laying down the curtains.
Why We Cringe
Why do we react against the simple truth that not all sins are equal? There are three main reasons.
1. Flattening all sins helps us justify our obsession over pet issues.
We all have pet issues, things that we like to focus on to help create our own illusion that we are more righteous than someone else or some other group. If all sins are equal, that helps us pretend that the faith itself is at stake! If all commandments and sins were NOT equal, we would be forced to give our fellow brothers some slack when they did not agree with us on our favorite issue, and therefore realize our personal passion isn’t the most important thing ever since the Resurrection. It slows us down from devouring one another (Gal 5:15).
Weighting sins and commandments properly is a powerful corrective against sectarianism. If you must love God and love your neighbor above all else, then you must love God and love your neighbor above all else. Looking over at the adulterer, and feeling smug because you never cheated on your wife, is completely foreign to the two greatest commandments. Looking over the guy drinking a beer, and congratulating yourself on your teetotalism, is actually hating your neighbor.
So we, like the Pharisees, ask “Who is our neighbor?”, desperately hoping Jesus doesn’t point over there and say…that guy.
Most of the time, these are traditions that have been elevated, but this even applies for those matters that are not traditions. And this where wisdom must come in. Real life is messy, and it cannot be navigated properly with a simple pietism. This leads to our next point…
2. The desire for simple, immature, and straightforward pietism.
One reason that men desire to collapse everything into an indistinguishable glob of goo, including the weight of certain sins, it makes things easier to discern. If everything is black and white, we can just descend into a simplistic form of pietism that requires minimal wisdom. We don’t want to grow up. We don’t want to eat solid food. We don’t want to the constant practice it requires (Heb. 5:14). At least, until the real world slaps us in the face, and then it all collapses. When that happens, we just thank God we’re not like those other people over there, and congratulate ourselves for not compromising and keeping ourselves pure.
Take the cliched scenario of Nazis looking for Jews. If you were hiding Jews in your basement, and the Nazis came knocking, it will not do to wring your hands over lying, or stand tall in your obedience of Romans 13. If you do either, you are not being righteous. You are being a coward. The command for mercy trumps many things. You could even say it is a weightier matter of the law.
3. The most important commandments are really, really hard to obey.
Other people are annoying. I mean, they’re other people after all. Sometimes they smell funny.
Idols also have much too easy of a time settling down in our hearts, and finding a cozy spot on the couch. And then we offer them some iced tea before kissing their feet.
If we are honest, we must admit that we fail in the greatest commandments every single day. We are guilty. But if all sins are equal, perhaps we can take some misplaced solace in the fact that we have succeeded in something monumental.” I haven’t committed adultery and I don’t steal. I must be doing pretty good.” When we try and flatten all sins, we imagine them as deep as the kiddie pool, below our knees. If we don’t commit some, we can high-step it out of this muck.
In reality, the muck is constantly over our heads, and we are drowning. If we miss out on the greatest commandments, the others do not matter. And that is uncomfortable.
We are not in need of weeding our garden. We are in need of a strip-mining crew to lay it bare, haul in new soil, and reseed the cursed ground. Only once we treat the greatest commandments as the greatest commandments, does weeding the garden even make any sense. Only when we have this perspective does tithing out of the spice rack have any value.