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Now here is a beautiful truth.

But before I get to it, we’ll need a bit of background. During the recent Relay conference that I went to, we had a series of talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14, about the Church reflecting who God is. Now, the Corinthian church was big on “spiritual” stuff – they were very spiritually gifted (1 Corinthians 1:7), and things like speaking in tongues and prophecy might have been a regular occurrence with them. They might have looked super-holy, but theirs was a church with all kinds of issues. They had a kind of snobbery going on, taking sides depending on who their favourite preacher was (1 Corinthians 3). They had issues with taking each other to court (chapter 6), and they thought that they were very spiritual. But Paul wrote to them saying that, actually, for all their gifts they were not spiritual, because they weren’t showing who God is. Chapters 12-14 talk about what true spirituality is – showing God, specifically through love.

So in chapter 13, Paul famously writes:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This is something we often hear read at weddings. We think “aw, isn’t that nice?” because it’s talking about love. And, in a way, rightly so – because love like this is a great thing! But Paul didn’t write this to be all fluffy and cuddly. Actually, he was writing this as a correction; because this is exactly what the Corinthians weren’t doing. He’s making the point that all these spiritual gifts that the Corinthians were enjoying were pointless if they weren’t showing love to each other, and so showing God’s love. In a Hubbard paraphrase:

Love is patient, love is kind; and you are not. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud; but you are, Corinthians. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Can you say this about yourselves? Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Do you? It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

And also – love won’t disappear. (keep going, we’re getting closer to the point now!) Paul continues:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears… Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

(1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12)

Paul is saying that, eventually, gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues and the like will disappear because in heaven we won’t need them. The Greek word that’s been translated as “perfection” here is το τελειον – to teleion, meaning “the perfect”, or, more literally, “the place it was meant to flourish”. Heaven is the place that we were made to flourish! It’s literally what we’re made for – when we will be in our element, where we will be happiest, where we will have what we’re born for. And here is what we’re made for: seeing God face to face. This isn’t like standing in the same room as someone (as much as we would call that a face-to-face meeting), but in the Bible “face to face” is the language of intimacy, carrying a meaning of having your faces filled up with each other. We are made to know God intimately. We are made for it!

So, although we know God “in part” now, when we will be in heaven we’ll know Him as intimately as He knows us. And the most precious thing about this is that it wasn’t easy to make this happen. We don’t deserve to go to heaven, because we aren’t perfect. But God made a way for us to become perfect. Since before time began, Jesus (God the Son) has had a perfect face-to-face relationship with His Father, but He was willing to lose this by being punished as we should be so that we could have it!

The Hubbard paraphrase:

Love. Never. Fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect such as these disappears. Think of it like this: when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways, such as how you are acting, behind me. Now – in our prophecies and speaking in tongues and knowledge – we see but a poor reflection; then, in heaven, we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known by God now.”

 

Even better

Even better than this, though, is thinking about just who it is that we’ll have an intimate relationship with. Because, let’s be honest, heaven wouldn’t be all that great if God was a bit disappointing. It’s all very well to have an all-powerful nice person with a beard to spend eternity with, but surely it would stop being exciting eventually. There’s only so many times you can make a square circle or the sun glow purple or have wings and play your golden harp on a fluffy white cloud (whilst wearing a bed sheet) before it gets a bit samey. So is God all that great a prize? Is spending forever with Jesus an exciting idea, or will He just get annoying after a few thousand years of being holy?

The book of Revelation at the end of the Bible is brilliant. At first glance, it can seem like LOST on steroids – a load of crazy supernatural stuff with an unbelievable plot – but when you understand that lots of the language used is symbolic and represents a deeper reality than at face value, you begin to see just how awesome its content is. And the picture that we get of Jesus in Revelation is incredible!

In Revelation 1:12-18 it says:

… I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man’, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “… ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

This is describing Jesus in the midst of His Church (the lampstands represent the churches that Revelation was written to) with epic imagery – dressed as a king and priest, wise and with authority (that’s what the white hair bit means), with eyes of fire, skin glowing with His glory, and a voice as powerful as the sea. He holds the Church in His care (the stars, like the lampstands earlier, represent the churches that John was writing to) and His words are penetrating. Jesus Himself says that He is the Beginning and End of everything; that He has defeated death and holds ultimate power over it.

Revelation 4 (sorry, it’s too long to put here) describes God as breathtakingly beautiful, and that He is a life-giver. Chapter 5 describes Jesus as being the only person who can wield history and the loving sovereign power of God. And He uses His power for those He loves:

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

(Revelation 7:16-17)

He uses His power to get rid of evil so that He can bless His people, the Church! Jesus Christ is self-giving, and the nature of His power is self-giving: He can wield the power of God the Father because of His fundamental part in God’s plan to make everything right – Jesus died so that everyone can live.

The Church is often called the “Bride of Christ” because of what it says in Revelation 19:6-9:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like to roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! [Jesus]’ ” And he added, “these are the true words of God”

You see, the Church is going to get married to Jesus. The white clothes represent God’s righteousness being given to us, which make us worthy of being united with Jesus like this.

And Jesus has brought this about – how?

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one but he himself knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

                KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS

(Revelation 19:1-16)

Our God has gone to war to win us. Here we see Jesus riding into battle in a robe dipped in His own blood, symbolising what He did when He died on the cross. Jesus has won us the victory by shedding His own blood in self-giving love.

So, is it worth spending eternity with Jesus? He has the ultimate authority, He is stunningly beautiful, He has given up His own life so that we can have something better than all the good things we’ll ever know. And, most of all, He gives us Himself to be united to and to know intimately for the rest of time and beyond!

What do you think?

Many thanks to Lewis Green for his talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14, and to Mike Reeves for his talk on Jesus in Revelation, both at Relay 3 2012.

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As part of my year as a church intern, I wrote quite a lot of short Bible talks. And, being female, this meant that the whole issue of whether women should be allowed to preach has been something that I’ve been quite conscious of recently. Personally, I know that I need to do some intense study – in a perfect world, I’d learn New Testament (NT) Greek and be able to brilliantly translate what they meant back then to what it means in a form of English that we can understand with crystal clarity now. But, sadly, I don’t have the means to do this at the moment. And my opinion tends to change as to what I think exactly. Currently, (based on talking to my vicar and hearing his reasoning) I think that it’s ok for women to preach, because the sense used in the ‘key’ passages in the NT is about usurping authority; and women preaching doesn’t necessarily usurp authority – unless, of course, they start inciting a coup/mutiny/rebellion and take the church as their own then and there. But in my experience, this isn’t what usually happens.

I’d love to put up some of my intern sermons up on here, so to warn you: if you don’t agree with women preaching, feel free to not read them 🙂

But here’s what I understand about the arguments at the moment:

From what I can tell, pretty much everyone agrees on a certain set of values, and the difference of opinion is on what exactly is meant by the text when it says certain things. The Bible verse that i have been particularly aware of as being involved in this issue is:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

(I know there’s a lot to talk about from this passage, but you’ll have to wait till later :P)

The really important thing to remember is that this is not about men being better than women, or women better than men. It is not a ‘battle of the sexes’ issue; it is not a male supremacy issue. More often than not, it’s an issue with our messy, sinful hearts. It’s easy to judge others for their point of view and think that yours is better. Obviously, you do think it’s better, otherwise you wouldn’t have that opinion. But talking about issues such as this one where things can get heated so easily means that we need humility and wisdom. We need to be prepared to actually listen to other opinions, but more importantly, to listen to what God says even if we don’t like it (we need to have the desire to honestly seek what God wants). My view could well be wrong, and this is a challenge to myself as well to be humble and willing to hold my opinion loosely.

I haven’t been able to study this too much as of yet, but here’s the basics of my understanding:

What people agree on:

Men and women are equal. Both are made to reflect who God is, to look after creation together and be relational beings. But also, both are equally guilty of sin and equally accountable for the Fall (so Eve let herself be lied to gave in to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, but Adam was right next to her the whole time and could have stopped her). However, both are equal in salvation – i.e. God saves men and women equally, and brings them both into a status of children of God and heirs of His Kingdom. So men and women are equal in value and status.

Men and women are not the same. God made a deliberate difference when He created man and woman back in Genesis. He made men and women to complement each other in the work that He gave them to do (look after creation).

God uses both men and women in work, whether Christian work or not.

Jesus involved women in ministry. He treated women equally to men, with value and respect.

Man is the head of woman. – I can hear you say, ‘Hang on there!’ The above points are fairly easy to go along with because they’re quite nice and non-controversial. OK, so this is not something that always seems natural, especially in our Western culture. But I think this is definitely a biblical view (especially because the Bible says it explicitly, so…). Let’s unpack this…

Normally, the first place people start is back in Genesis. But I think it might be more helpful to go back further than the beginning of the universe – to God Himself. You see, there is some form of hierarchy within God Himself, in the Trinity. And this isn’t about superiority or inferiority at all – all three Persons of the Trinity are completely God and so have utterly the same status as God (if you want to know more about the Trinity… er… you’ll have to look elsewhere for the moment, sorry. I’ve just started what promises to be a great book on the Trinity – The Good God by Mike Reeves – and it’s definitely something that’s worth delving into. Because, like, you know, it’s about who God is. You can’t get more important than that). There is a pattern of submission in the Trinity. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says that God (the Father) is the head of Christ (the Son) – they’re both equal, but the Son submits to the Father. There are other verses about this; John 5:19 (the Son only does what the Father does) and John 14:31 (the Son does exactly what the Father tells him to) are a couple of examples. I hope you can see what I’m getting at: the whole submission issue and the order that God has given is not an issue of superiority/inferiority, because it never was since it exists in who God is.

On to creation. God created man (Adam) first and gave him the first command before He made woman (Eve) (see Genesis 2). Adam’s responsibility was to pass this command on to his wife. Adam was given the responsibility of naming things, even the woman, and in the Bible, naming things is an act of authority. In Genesis 3, when Eve listens to the serpent instead of Adam (i.e. not obeying the command from God via Adam to not eat from the tree), and Adam does nothing, he is punished for a) listening to Eve, and b) failing in his responsibility as ‘custodian of the command’. This started the battle of the sexes:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b)

“desire” here is all about possessing or mastering. i.e., women would have the desire to control and rule over men, and men would want to ‘lord it’ over them. But the God-ordained way of things is for men to be in authority. You can see the problem. Sin messes things up. It turned something that was always intended to be a wholesome and beautiful reflection of who God is into a twisted battle for power.

But God didn’t leave it there. When Jesus Christ saved us through dying in our place, He didn’t just restore our relationship with God. His continuing work in us is to restore the other relationships we have, including the order that God set out right at the beginning of existence. So the model we are given in the New Testament is that of Christ:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance like a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Christ’s example is that although He is equal with the Father, He didn’t grasp at that equality. He submits willingly to the Father. Another helpful mode we have is that of Christ and His Church:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. (Ephesians 5:22-28)

This is mainly about marriage, but I hope you can see that from this we can draw that our relationships are, in the appropriate extent, to reflect Christ’s relationship to the Church. Particularly, it’s important to remember what v25 says about husbands loving wives as Christ loves His Church – sacrificially, selflessly. But also, we can draw out that authority does not mean that you are dominating, and submission does not mean that you are a doormat to be walked all over.

What people disagree on:

How this works out in a church context, where everyone is not married to each other (thankfully – can you imagine how complicated that would get?).

There’s a decent amount of clear teaching (such as the passage above) about marriage and roles within that. It gets trickier when talking about male and female roles in church. A fair amount of detailed understanding comes from reading between the lines a bit – study of whether male or female words are used, the sense of the whole text, etc. Passages such as the 1 Timothy 2 one that I mentioned at the beginning of this post raise questions like: Can women have any authority in church? Can they preach to men, or only to women? What happens with children – can they preach to them, and when does a child become a man and hence can’t be taught spiritually by women? What counts as teaching? Does leading sung worship count? Or leading prayers? Or leading a service? Can women write books about Christian discipleship or theology?

To a certain extent, we won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, can see things clearly, and all go “Oooooohhh, so THAT’s what it meant!” I’m not saying that we can’t understand what the Bible says – not at all! But a combination of not being 1st Century Greek-speakers, our sinful hearts, and our ability to get things wrong mean that there is a difference of opinion on some things that are contentious.

My opinion

Let’s have a look at that 1 Timothy passage again:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

So, the last sentence is a curveball. A lot of commentators have seen it and gone ‘??’ and don’t really have an answer for what Paul is getting at exactly. But that’s not quite what we’re looking for here, so I’ll very annnoyingly brush over it.

When it says “silent” in v11, this isn’t the best translation of the word used. The word used is the same as used to describe “peaceful and quiet” in v2 (in relation to how we should live – “…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”) – it’s about an attitude of listening instead of resisting authority, not women not being allowed to make a noise. When the passage above says “I do not permit a woman to teach” we need to be careful, because in other places Paul talks about women teaching in a positive way, such as Titus 2 where he encourages women to teach younger women, or when he talks about Timothy being taught by his mother and grandmother. And there’s the instance when a couple, Priscilla and Aquila, taught Apollos together. Paul isn’t saying that women can’t teach… so what does he mean? In v12, teaching goes hand-in-hand with authority. Much of 1 Timothy is talking about people who are appointed to have authority to lead the church and teach it; so Paul is prohibiting women from having overall authority in a church, i.e. being elders/vicars/pastors. It doesn’t mean that women can’t teach or preach, just that they shouldn’t take on the role of being in charge of the church.

This reasoning is followed in v13-14. Adam was formed before Eve. Being made first doesn’t mean that Adam was better or more important, but that Adam was to be followed. God made man to be the leader. Sin and the Fall messed this up.

So, my personal opinion (willing to change) is this: women can preach (so long as they are under the authority of a man, e.g. church leader/vicar/pastor/elder and this doesn’t upset the authority structure that God has set out), but overall authority is a role that God intended for men. However, this doesn’t mean that authority should ever be exploited – we are to follow Jesus’ example, whatever position we are in, whoever we are, and serve each other selflessly.

I hope my ramblings have been helpful 🙂

Thanks to Hilary Jackson and Fiona at MMTC for their instruction, and Henry Curran for his thoughts – both of which I have used heavily here.

Edit: I’d also recommend reading this article (and others in the series):

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2011/01/06/im-a-complementarian-but-women-must-be-taught-and-they-must-teach/

There is a thing that we all fear, that (let’s face it) few of us understand, but we all experience.

This strikes panic into the heart.

It is the formidable Blue Screen Of Death *cue music of DOOM!*

My laptop has served me faithfully for five years. We’ve had our ups and downs. It started off with a ridiculously loud fan whir that took taking out the battery to fix. And then it had a phase of taking forever to log in, and slowly things have got worse as it’s got older, and now the poor thing is on its last legs. Most times I turn it on it’s a toss-up as to whether I’ll encounter the dreaded screen of sapphire menace. And even now, I’m wondering whether being able to post this is a race against time! It’s never a good thing when you have to pray that your computer will last just a little while longer.

Seriously, it’s getting ridiculous. It BSODs (‘blue screen of death’s) when I open the internet, it BSODs when it’s just sitting there, and even BSODs when I just turn the thing on! The poor afflicted machine is in its last days, and I can almost hear the death rattle of the hard drive spinning its final revolutions. *sigh* Bless, it tries.

I wonder what laptop heaven would look like? Probably devoid of messy humans who tinker and drop crumbs and spill drinks on the keyboard. And no dust to clog things up. So a clean, sterile place. With air conditioning. And probably no lights, either, because laptops don’t need to see – unless they use their built-in webcams. And they would all talk in that Microsoft Sam voice. Lots and lots of Microsoft Sams. And Microsoft Annas. Maybe Microsoft Sam and Anna would meet finally, after having to be two voices on one programme. Maybe, just maybe, every computer holds a silent agony of longing between Microsoft Sam and Anna, of the same machine, but forever to be absent while the other speaks. Poor Sam and Anna. So this absent romance would flourish in that cold, white, sterile room; a spark of colour in an otherwise impersonal place. Hmm…

So maybe all this BSODing is my laptop longing for that bliss, Sam and Anna fighting so hard to be together that it overloads circuits and trips up the poor machine’s function.

Maybe.

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