Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (ESV)
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First and Last
Thursday of Epiphany 3
29 January 2015
"We're all in this together," should be the theme of the church's life. Yet, individualism and self-rule intrude into her life. No one wants to give themselves up to serve an ideal greater than themselves. No one wants to appear to be less than the other. No one wants to put the needs of the church before his own needs. No one wants to be servant of all. No one wants to think more of the other than he does of himself. And why should that surprise us? We are a fallen race. By coveting divine freedom (Gn 3:5), we have turned in upon ourselves, focusing on the only god we know by nature: ourselves. Because of our divine pretentions we demand to be served, rather than to serve. The only ideals we serve are those we think will benefit ourselves. We will always seek to catapult ourselves onto center stage. We consider ourselves the smartest people in the room. Vain self-regard is an abiding symptom of our fallen state.
Our drive to be first leads us to misinterpret even those times when we find ourselves put in first place. When our peers choose to honor us or elevate our status, we presume that we are honored because there is something attractive or worthwhile about us. We are demented in our moral reasoning because of our self-centeredness: "It has to be about me!" Our moral dementia is mocked by the Savior who knows us only in His servanthood, who comes "not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28). We keep seeing things wrong, upside down, inside out, because of our fallen state. Only in Christ can we see things as they really are. This is meaning of the plea of the Psalmist: "Give me life in your ways" (Ps 119:37). Only in Him can we have the life that accepts death and yet shall live.
Recently, I attended meetings at which participants agonized over the struggles of the LCMS, in which funding challenges are causing much suffering, and to some portending denominational death. My comment, spoken very quietly, at one point in the meeting was, "We are dying to live." We believe in a God who brings life out of death. If God our heavenly Father sees fit to bring death to our church body, we know that a greater and more glorious life will arise from its tomb.
So too for our personal life, some things need to bring us death, so that Christ might live among us. We want to be first, yes, yes. But first to what? First to be last. Dead to be alive. Suffering to be free from sorrow. We must not grasp for primacy and misinterpret its meaning according to the god of our flesh or of this world. If we do, we will always see "wrong." We may be first at church, first at the font, first at the holy Communion, and first at Bible class, but that does not grace us with any more than the person who comes late. First and last are but temporal order, that doesn't change the sufficiency of grace; which gives us the whole load of God's gifts. Last week, there was a baptism in our early service. Friedrich Emerson was just over a week old and yet he had all the fullness of the divine grace and all Christ's gifts bestowed on him. This is why Jesus tells that we must become like a little child if we are to be saved (Mk 10:15). Children are the paradigm of the last becoming first in God's kingdom.
"If you are a Greek (that is, a heathen), and even one that has run into every kind of vice, even though you are a Scythian, even though you are a barbarian, though you are a true beast, and full of every irrationality, and burdened by endless sins, no sooner have you received the word concerning the cross and been baptized, than you have blotted out all these sins.
"But why then does Paul say, 'To the Jew first and also to the Greek' (Rm 1:16)? What does this difference mean? Especially since Paul often says things like, 'Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision' (1Co 7:19; see also Gal 5:6 and 6:15), how can he here discriminate, setting the Jew before the Greek? By being first the Jew does not receive any more of the grace, for the same gift is bestowed both on this person and that, but 'first' is an honor of time only. For he has no such advantage as that of receiving greater righteousness, but is only honored in respect of his receiving it first. Since in the case of those who are enlightened (you who are initiated know what is meant) all run to the baptism, and yet not all at the same time; one first and another second. Yet the first one baptized does not receive more than the second one baptized. Nor does he receive more than the person baptized after him, but all enjoy the same gifts. The 'first' then here is an honor in word, not a superiority in grace. Then by saying, 'for salvation,' he enhances the gift further, by showing that it stays not at the present point, but proceeds further."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 2
Lord Jesus Christ, You have become last for us, to put us first in Your kingdom. Rescue us from coveting the places of primacy, because in You we have been put first and have no need to scramble to be first. Help us to covet the service You offer us instead, by trusting You alone for our salvation. Help us to see how gracious You have been to us, when we look at our sins and spiritual poverty. Lift us up to dwell with You forever. Amen.
For Pastor Charles Wokoma as he prepares to return to Nigeria to teach God's people
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength to serve His gospel
For all those who mourn, especially the family of Irene Schroeder, that they would be kept in the true faith unto life everlasting
Art: CARAVAGGIO The Conversion of St. Paul c. 1600
© Scott R. Murray, 2015