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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + September 7, 2016

II Corinthians 6:11-16
Mark 1:23-28

II Corinthians 6:11-16 (NKJV)
"O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

Mark 1:23-28 (NKJV)
Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, "Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!" But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

Commentary 

One of the most common ways in which the Holy Scriptures speak about salvation is to speak of two roads, or two ways, one of which leads to Life, and one of which leads to destruction. This begins as early as the book of Deuteronomy, in which the Lord set before His people life and death, blessings and curses, and called upon them to choose. Joshua, after the conquest of the land of Canaan, likewise called on the people to choose on that day whom they would serve, be it the Lord, or some other gods. This idea is meditated on throughout the wisdom literature that we find in Scripture, particularly in the book of Proverbs. Ultimately, it is taken up by Christ in His teaching, as He speaks of the strait and narrow way which leads to life, which few find, and the broad and easy path which leads to destruction. Christ eventually even says that He is the Way, and following upon this, we know from the book of the Acts of the Apostles that before the Faith was called Christianity, it was referred to as 'The Way' by those within and without.

One of the particularly important elements of this metaphor is that it makes plain that, if there are two roads which are leading in two different directions, it is impossible to walk down both of them at the same time. While a person might try to straddle the difference between the two, it will very quickly become impossible and require that person to make a choice, to continue down one or the other. However far one chooses to travel down one or the other road, he or she is that much farther from both the other path, and its destination. It likewise makes apparent what is required of someone who discovers that they've been traveling down the wrong road, and who wishes to not continue to follow it through to its terrible destination; that person must turn around and go in the other direction which leads toward Life.

In his epistles to the Church in Corinth, St. Paul discusses many issues facing that assembly, but if one were to look for a summary, or for a general category into which many or most of the issues fall, it could be summarized that many of the new Christians in Corinth, having come from a Gentile background, still wanted to keep one foot in the pagan world from which they came while also being Christians. They wanted to, as it were, add Christian faith to their lives without their lives otherwise being transformed or reshaped in any way. This took any number of expressions that the Apostle attempts to deal with in his letters, including continuing to participate in pagan festivals and sacrifices, marrying, and marrying their children to pagans, continuing with lawless sexual practices from their former lives (St. Paul speaks directly of group sex and incest taking place within the community), and countless other expressions.

This was in keeping with the general mindset of the pagan Roman world. Religion at that time was not so much a system of beliefs (such as those offered by the philosophical schools), but a set of cultural traditions into which one was born, and which one kept and followed. If someone moved to a new location or if a resettled population brought their own cultural traditions to an area, they would continue to keep their native traditions, but would also show respect for and participate in the traditions of the new area or people group. This was seen as an enriching of one's life by adding more to one's spiritual and intellectual life. This viewpoint is not foreign to us today, particularly in the United States. Faiths which in other countries are holistic cultural traditions are, here, often 'sampled' by people of other religions or of no religion at all. Bits and pieces are taken from Buddhism, Yoga and other forms of Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and mixed and matched together, and this is seen not as betraying one tradition for another, but as enriching a person's spirituality through diversity.

Scripture, however, tells us that "all the gods of the nations are demons" (Ps. 95:5). St. Paul does not deny the existence of spiritual powers outside of the Holy Trinity, however, he questions their orientation and purpose. The pagan gods of the surrounding cultures, according to the Scriptures, were real spiritual beings with real spiritual power, but while they promised fulfillment, peace, prosperity, wisdom, success, sexual gratification and the like, what they in fact brought about was the destruction of the human person. To follow these spiritual powers is to be led down the wrong road, the wrong way, one that ends in death.

The pinnacle of being spiritually gifted in the first century was to be possessed of one of these spirits yourself. The Greek philosopher Socrates, for example, in Plato's Theatetus, proudly states that he has a demon dwelling within him who whispers wisdom to his soul as a defense against his detractors. The Greek oracles uttered their prophecies while possessed by spirits, in the case of the famous Oracle of Delphi, she was possessed by Apollo. Likewise, when the Roman emperors demanded that sacrificial offerings be presented to them during their earthly lives, they stated that these offering were not given to them as men, but to their genius, the divine spirit that dwelt within them. We see in Christ's encounter with the demon possessed man in today's Gospel, however, that such possession does not make someone a spiritual adept or grant them special insight, rather, it makes them a slave to a malignant spiritual being, controlling them through their passions, to bring about their destruction and the destruction of those around them.

Today's readings from Scripture again make the spiritual truth clear. To follow Christ means to travel in a direction opposite to that of the world, and the spiritual powers to which the world has devoted itself. It requires us to sacrifice our previous values, our previous way of life, our previous way of seeing the world, no matter how long held or appealing those old traditional ways of living may be. It is not possible to plant one foot in the world and the other in Christ's Kingdom. We are called to live a way of life that is different from, and set apart from that of the world, to attempt to mix the two does not enrich one's life, but pollutes it. The answer to the demon's question, "What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?" is and must always be, "Nothing."

Questions to Ponder

  1. We in modern society are by and large materialist, and so we rarely acknowledge the existence of 'gods' and demons and spirits as they did in earlier ages. However, despite all of our believed sophistication, we still pursue ideas like 'Beauty', 'Wealth', 'Power', 'Wisdom', 'Sexuality' and 'Destiny' with the same kind of intensity and passion that the ancients would identify as worship. What have you been willing to offer as a sacrifice to these ideals? Your dignity? Your money? You physical well-being? Your marriage? Your children? Your time? Your future? When we chase after these things, we wind up empty. Only Christ delivers on the faith and hope that we place in Him.
  2. St. Paul reminds each of us that we are the Temple of the Living God. How do you live differently because the Holy Spirit dwells within you? Other than going to church as often as you do, how is your life different than it would be if you were not Christian? Is there a difference in the way you work at your job due to your Faith? Is there a difference in the way you relate to your spouse, or seek a spouse? Is there a difference in the way you deal with your children? What are some things that, if you are to be consistent, you would need to change in your outlook and behavior in your work and home as someone trying to follow Christ in their entire life, every minute of every day?
  3. Make a list of 10 beliefs or principles that you live your life by, the ideas that really shape how you interact with other people, look at the world, and decide what your position or opinion will be about issues. Now look at each belief you have listed and attempt to discern where it comes from. Is it from the Scriptures? Is it from the teachings of the Church? Is it an application of your Orthodox Christian faith? Or is it from the teachings of a political party? Or from some other religion? Or from some other philosophical or psychological movement or school of thought? If some of those beliefs are from sources other than Christ, what changes would you need to make in those beliefs to bring them into line with your Christian beliefs, knowing that we cannot travel in two directions at once?

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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