The sermon was about Jesus, the Man who is God. Please go to the church’s website, download the sermon, give it a listen, and then come back to see what I did not put in ….
I've been poking along at first and second Corinthians for several months in my devotions. I will let you know that devotional time in the Bible is a confusing experience for me. Sure, I read prayerfully and let the Lord speak to me. But, as I read, then something in the text catches my attention and I’m off to the original languages, doing a rough translation, and digging into the technical bits (as much as I’m able) to chase down this conceptual rabbit that just popped out of the bushes. It's funny to me how I can pop from devotional to study mode in such a short time.
In any case, that’s what happened on this one particular morning. As I came across this verse, I was struck by the distinction Paul apparently makes between the preaching of the gospel (the task that Christ gave him), and the baptizing of believers (a task that was, it seemed to him, an add-on).
A few technical observations:
1) most translations translate logou as “words,” but the Greek word is singular;
2) the literal words here are “wisdom of-word;” that is, the “of” (genitive) is attached to “word” rather than “wisdom;”
3) there is an interesting use of the first “not” which points to the negation of the infinitive clause rather than the infinitive word itself.
As to the first and second points, it seems to me that Paul is talking about a mode of presentation (“wisdom of word”) rather than actual speech (‘words of wisdom’), which does provide a different shading of meaning than how this is usually translated – maybe somebody can help me understand the discrepancy. As to the third point, translations get this right: it clearly makes better sense grammatically (“Burton’s Moods and Tenses”) and contextually to translate the clause, “Christ did not send me to baptize…” rather than, ‘Christ sent me to not baptize….’
Now as to the potential theological point; does Paul here distinguish between the evangelistic work of preaching and the evangelistic work of baptizing?
As one thoroughly brought up – and still very much in agreement with – the Anabaptist teaching of ‘believer’s baptism,’ I have believed and taught that the New Testament many times uses the word, “baptism” as a catch-all word (synecdoche) for the whole work of conversion in a believer’s life. Much like a baseball commentator would say, “With that out; that’s the game.” Certainly there was much more to the game than one ‘out,’ but that one play wrapped up the destiny of the whole game.
So when Paul suggests a distinction between his preaching (clearly part of the conversion process) and baptism (seems to me to be the capstone of the conversion process), then I was arrested. Here’s how it sounded to me: 'I, Paul, was sent by Christ to pretty much just preach the gospel. All that baptizing stuff into Christ and the church – nope, that’s generally not for me. Other guys can do that.'
Another data point is a couple chapters later when Paul seems to say something very much like that in 3:6 – “I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” You could read that and suggest that Paul had more in mind than a simple agricultural metaphor. Was Paul saying that he “planted” the good-news into the minds of believers, but Apollos “watered” them by baptizing them? That is, that there are somewhat distinct phases: preaching-planting, baptizing-watering, sanctifying-growing?
This would also say that “God causes the growth;” which in this sense means that God causes the ‘sanctification’ in believers. We know (even hard-core Calvinists would agree) that our ‘sanctification’ is in some way dependant on our obedience (Phil 3:12). But the very next verse, Phil 3:13, shows that God is the one at work in us; ‘causing the growth’ So this take on the analogy still seems to hold up.
Here’s my context. There is a debate among Anabaptist evangelicals regarding ‘early’ or ‘late’ baptism. The Early baptizers would argue that once someone has made a credible confession of faith in Christ, they should be immediately baptized and they cite the Ethiopian Eunuch (Ac 8:27-38) and Philippian Jailer (Ac 16:25-33) as Biblical examples. These folks tend toward the ‘Free Grace’ end of that debate. The Late baptizers counter that both of the examples are put in Luke’s text as exceptions to the general rule of delaying baptism. These tend toward the ‘Lordship Salvation’ end of that debate. The Late baptizers claim that it was the very early church’s practice to delay baptizing a believer until that person could really make both a credible confession of faith and was fully ready to “reject flesh, world, and the devil” to follow Christ wholly.
Late baptism was clearly the practice of the pre-Constantinian church. One reason was that too many churches had been betrayed by too-quickly baptized ‘believers’ who then, under ‘persuasion,’ gave the authorities information that allowed for the persecution of other believers.
To prevent these and other problems in the life of the church, the church had a training regimen called “catechesis.” A “catechumen” was a believer who was in the process between confession of faith and the conversion of their minds from a pagan to a Biblical world-view so that they would be prepared to enter into the full fellowship of the church via baptism (baptism, among other things, having an ‘initiation’ function). A very early and respected document, the “Didache” had this training function. Several commentators on 1 Peter believe it was written by Peter with just this new-believer-training-before-baptism purpose.
I heavily lean toward the Late baptism view – though am solidly in the Free Grace end of that debate. I believe that it is very important that a believer be baptized only if they can give both a credible AND informed confession of faith. It seems to me that this is both the testimony of scripture as well as the very early church.
So, yes, it does seem possible that Paul distinguished between his task of preaching and proclaiming the good news about Jesus, and the ‘follow-on’ work of pre-baptism discipleship and the performing of actual baptismal rites.
I’ve been reviewing the two epistles that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church for some time now. It somehow has seemed appropriate given my church, my newness to ministry, and some of the issues we all are facing over here. Some things in the letters are very affirming to our environment. For example, Paul’s clarity of teaching on the Lord’s Table – something very near and dear to our assembly. Some things in the letters are very challenging: handling conflict would be an issue for us – and nearly any other church. Some things seem pretty removed from our situation: not many of my brothers and sisters here are tempted to eat food offered to idols.
I came across a pretty unrelated section this morning. That is, unrelated to my church, but very much related to one of the infuriating themes in Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church. I have written before of the church’s dysfunction and this church’s dysfunctional relationship to Paul (http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/search/label/1%20Corinthians%206, http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/search/label/1%20Corinthians%2010, and http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/search/label/1%20Corinthians%2012). During all my reflection on the relationship that Paul had with this church, I nearly always put the blame for the dysfunction on the dorky believers in Corinth.
But there was this one episode that I tentatively suggested might be Paul’s fault. I wrote about that here: http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/search/label/1%20Corinthians. I suggested that Paul may have made a ‘miscalculation’ in his insistence that he be so generous with the Corinthian church. That is, when he – out of grace and love and a desire to reflect the generosity of the gospel itself (2Cor 4:2) – did not make any demands or requests for the new Corinthian believers to financially support Paul (2Cor 11:9). We look at that decision and generally marvel in the giving and sacrificial posture that Paul adopted with these believers. However, this decision cost Paul – a lot. From that time to the writing of the two epistles, there was always an issue of Paul’s authority with this church (1Cor 1:12; 3:1-4; 4:1; 9:1-3; 2Cor 3:1-2; 10:8; 11:21-12:13) and the church’s inability to form a proper emotional bound with Paul (1Cor 4:14-16; 2Cor 5:13-12-13; 6:11-13; 7:2-4; 10:13-14; especially 2Cor 11:16-20). Even Paul acknowledges a potential problem when he states, “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” (2Cor 11:7) and “For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this ‘wrong!’” (2Cor12:13).
But as I was reading this morning, I came across this section in 1 Corinthians 9:14-16
Paul remembers this right, of course: Jesus commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living from the gospel. He did this in Matthew 10:10. But then Paul says – this is astonishing! – that he did Not Obey Jesus! Instead, Paul turns Jesus’ words of commandment into a ‘right’ that Paul chooses to not exercise. Why? So Paul can “boast.”
The word that Paul uses for “commanded” is like a “specific arrangement,” or “direct order;” not a guideline, recommendation, suggestion, or discretionary policy. It is not the granting of a right. There is nothing optional about the word. There are other words for a softer ‘command’ and Paul didn’t use them. Commentators want to agree with Paul and so ignore this word or re-cast it as a suggestion.
I’m boggled by this. Paul seems to have made a deliberate choice to disregard Jesus’ plain arrangements for how the livelihood for preachers of the gospel is to be secured and, instead, embarked upon a frolic based upon the fact that it would make him able to boast about his generosity. To put it starkly: Paul chose between feeling good and obeying Jesus.
Now I can hear the howls of protest already. But let me remind you that Apostles are not infallible in their actions. We do affirm that Apostles were charged and functioned to accurately pass along Jesus’ teachings. Note the situation here: Paul DID accurately pass along Jesus’ teaching – Paul just didn’t obey Jesus’ teaching. And the result is that Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church was pretty messed up.
Certainly not all of the dysfunction regarding the Corinthian church’s relationship with Paul can be laid at Paul’s feet. It is clear that the Corinthians were a pretty messed up church and they bear responsibility for their own sins. But it is worth noting that Paul’s relationship with the church was damaged based on his posture towards them about money. I’ve preached on this before: money and possessions have unexpected spiritual influence.
The lesson here is that if Paul had done his ministry as Jesus had instructed, it seems that his relationship with the Corinthian church would have been healthier.