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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + July 27, 2016

I Corinthians 2:9-3:8
Matthew 13:31-36

I Corinthians 2:9-3:8 (NKJV)
But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Matthew 13:31-36 (NKJV)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world." Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field."

Commentary 

All of us, regardless of who we are or our position in life, crave understanding. We want to be able to make sense of the world around us. We want to understand why the things that we see happen in our own lives, and that we see happen to those we know, happen in the way that they do. We want to understand our world and our lives in a way that allows us to navigate through them in a successful way. When we begin to come to know God, this naturally extends to Him. We want to know Him, to understand who He is, and what He is doing in the world. To one degree or another, we all seek wisdom, be it in the form of folk wisdom and 'common sense', or through advanced education, or that gained by a life time of (sometimes difficult) experiences.

There have been, throughout history, many groups and many individuals who have claimed to possess this wisdom and understanding. Some of these groups legitimately hold to ancient traditions handed down from generation to generation. Some of them represent the honest efforts of philosophers and theologians to rationally understand the universe and the human person. Some of them represent more jaded attempts to defraud and mislead others for personal gain, or out of some form of delusion, or a mixture of both. What all of these have in common, however, is that all of these groups and individuals claim to have discovered this important knowledge as a result of some great effort, or of some abstract mystical experience to which only a few have access, or some other secret means that leaves the greater mass of humanity, most of the human persons who populate the world, out in the cold without an understanding of spiritual reality or even of the material world in which they live.

The true wisdom, the true understanding of everything that is, is held by He who created everything that is, God the Father, and with His Son through Whom were created all things, and, as St. Paul tells us in today's epistle reading, His Spirit who dwells within Him. Today's Gospel reading tells us that the Son became Incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ in order to reveal these deep and mysterious truths to we human beings. Further, Christ made these revelations publicly, in the hearing of all, not in shadowy caves to a few select initiates, nor to only the most brilliant scholars who could comprehend some complex series of metaphysical arguments. Rather, He revealed the great hidden truths on which the world was founded, the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, through parables, through simple analogies to everyday human life, even the everyday human life of poor Mediterranean peasants to whom He primarily spoke.

What Scripture teaches us again and again is that the way of salvation, God's commandments, His will, even the most deep matters of who God is, are not far off and distant such that one has to go on a journey to find them. Nor are they so obscure and difficult that only the extremely well educated can understand them. Nor are they obtained through some mystic ritual of initiation done in the secret chambers for the elite. If you are able to truly understanding farming and the cultivation of plants, so the Scriptures teach us, then you will be able to understand the Resurrection, and the spread of the Gospel, and the future judgment. If you are able to understand the way of life of animals in the Creation, you will be able to understand the Lord's providential care for that Creation, and most of all for His people. If you are able to understand the way in which human beings relate to each other every day in a city in commerce and business, you will be able to understand forgiveness.

St. Paul teaches us in today's epistle reading that this is the case because we have received the Holy Spirit in our Chrismation. The Holy Spirit, God Himself, One of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of the Father who dwells within Him, now dwells also within us. Therefore God Himself is not far off from us. He is personally present within us, and if He is present, then so also is His Kingdom present within us, and His Wisdom, and there is nothing that through Him we cannot understand. A scholar in a state of the art library with internet access who speaks a dozen languages is at no advantage in knowing and following God, or in understanding His Creation, over an illiterate monk in a cave. If the Holy Spirit is dwelling in both, if anything, the simple monk has the advantage of fewer distractions to his prayer and less temptation to pride.

If this is true, and we all have the Truth within us, why does true wisdom and understanding seem so rare, and why do so many of us still struggle to find it? St. Paul goes on in today's epistle reading to explain why that is. In order to understand the things of the Spirit, St. Paul tells us, we need to learn to think about things in a spiritual way, rather than a fleshly (or carnal) way. This distinction which St. Paul makes between the Spirit and the flesh is one which is greatly misunderstood in our time and place. By it, St. Paul does not mean to contradict what we've said above. He is not seeking to oppose spiritual things on one hand with material things on the other, or to separate the way we live or daily lives from some kind of esoteric spiritual experiences we might have. Rather, the difference is one of perspective.

To see things spiritually is to see things in the Holy Spirit, meaning to see them from God's perspective, to see people and things as the Lord sees them. When St. Paul speaks of the flesh, he does not refer to our physical bodies, he has another word he uses for the body, rather, he speaks about the person we were before Baptism. The 'old man' descended from Adam and steeped in the sinfulness of this present world and age created by the sins of Adam and our own. Looking through the eyes of our sinful flesh, for example, we look at other people in terms of how they might be useful to us, in terms of satisfying our own desires or giving us some advantage. We seek ourselves first, and others only later, if at all. Our flesh, and therefore we when we are thinking and acting in a carnal way, are controlled by our pride, our greed, and the lusts of the flesh.

When, on the contrary, through a life of prayer and mortification (literally killing or putting to death) of the flesh we learn to see things and understand them spiritually, we see other people as human persons, each unique and created in God's Image, each precious to Him and therefore to us. We see everything in Creation through the eyes of God's love, compassion, and care. We are able to become peacemakers, because we are able to see what things are truly important, and therefore see past the fleshly causes of most strife. St. Paul compares this to growing up, becoming a mature adult as a Christian, as opposed to being a child who is concerned primarily about him or herself and his or her own needs being met. It is through the eyes of the Spirit that even the simplest farmer can see that a seed dies, and is planted in the ground, and from it blossoms forth new life, and understand the Resurrection.

It is through the eyes of the Spirit that a person can look into their own soul and see there the deep sinfulness that the Lord has forgiven them, and remembering it, overlook the sins of those who sin against them. It is through the eyes of the Spirit that a person can come to see and thereby know God Himself, who He is, and through knowing Him to love Him, and through loving Him to live a holy and a righteous life in the midst of a sinful world.

Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, St. James tells us in His epistle that, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (1:5). Let us strive day by day to become more mature as Christians by drawing close to God in prayer and by putting to death the flesh that seeks to drag us back into old patterns of sinfulness through fasting, vigils, and the learning of self control. If we are diligent and faithful in following Christ in the path He has laid out before us, we will receive the wisdom and understanding to see others, and every situation as God sees them, and ultimately that peace which surpasses all understanding.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, St. Paul will reiterate several times that spiritually they are still infants. In today's reading, his first example as to how this is true is that they are divided into factions, some claiming to be followers of Paul, others claiming to be followers of Apollos. If they were more spiritually mature, they would see that both St. Paul and St. Apollos were servants of God, and that it was Christ who they truly ought to all be following, as it is He who died for their sins and rose to new life, and He who is now reigning over them from Heaven. It is very easy to get caught up in the various personalities of church leaders, which turns into gossip and in the end produces factions. Have you found yourself getting caught up in a 'cult of personality' surrounding a Bishop or a Priest, either local or famous? Do you find yourself gossiping about 'church politics'? Do you find yourself deriding this or that Bishop or jurisdiction for whatever reason? All clergy and other leaders are servants of Christ who will be judged by Him on the last day, they should not become distractions from Christ Himself.
  2. Parables show us that Christ is present in even the most rudimentary parts of our day to day life in this world if we are looking with the eyes of the Spirit. Is there a separation for you between 'normal life' and Church? When you are cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn or doing other chores around the house, do you make time for prayer? When you are in the workplace, do you seek to follow Christ and come to know Him more fully through the people you work with and encounter from day to day? Do you see tasks that must be completed as annoyances and obstacles to doing what you'd rather do, or as opportunities to offer service?
  3. One of St. Paul's common metaphors for describing the Christian life is one in which our old sinful self must every day be put to death so that the person we were created to be can continue to come to life in the Kingdom of God. That 'old man' the Apostle often refers to as 'the flesh'. The Church gives us many tools to help us mortify (really: kill off) the flesh so that we can be free of it. Do you take advantage of the prescribed fasts of the Church to help put to death gluttony and the other lusts of the flesh? Do you sometimes sacrifice sleep for prayer, keeping a vigil, to battle laziness? Do you give generously to the Church and to those in need to fight greed? Do you volunteer for necessary work that others consider 'beneath them' in order to battle pride?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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