Presentation on theme: "Presentation 16. Introduction How often have you heard someone describe another as a very spiritual person? But how do we measure and define spirituality?"— Presentation transcript:
Introduction How often have you heard someone describe another as a very spiritual person? But how do we measure and define spirituality? What is meant by it? The concept of spirituality varies among different Christian groups. In some circles the person who is continually speaking about religious matters is thought to be very spiritual. Others accept noisy exuberance as a mark of spirituality - the more ‘Hallelujah’s’ and ‘Praise the Lord’s’ produced the more spiritual one must be! In some churches the man who prays first, longest, and loudest earns the reputation for being the most spiritual man in the fellowship.
Presentation 16 Introduction The problem at Corinth was that they had been led to understand that Paul was not a very spiritual person. He was too normal to be truly spiritual. The Greeks had a very clear concept of spirituality. A spiritual man was a superior kind of human being, someone who could accomplish Herculean deeds for God, someone who emerges from every trial he encounters in life unscathed. Someone who regularly enjoys mystical experiences like the oracle at Delphi or the leaders of the Greek mystery religions.
Presentation 16 Introduction The spiritual leader should be a powerful figure. The Greeks despised bodily weakness and praised the strong dynamic personality. Humility was not a virtue in the Greek world but a vice. A great man would boast of his accomplishments. Paul did not conform to this pattern as is opponents were quick to point out. Paul was a weak man plagued by recurring illness. His opponents, by projecting a worldly image of spirituality also undermined the foundations of the Christian faith. Not only did they claim to be more spiritual than Paul, they preached an air brushed Jesus by playing down his suffering, his cross and his humble human origin! Paul would not permit that!
Presentation 16 Introduction Paul therefore recognises the necessity of letting all the hot air out of his rivals claims to be super spiritual. His intention is to show that these ‘super apostles’ could only describe him as unspiritual because they did not have a clue about real spirituality. Now it is because these rivals had made Paul the focus of their mistaken ideas about spirituality, he was obliged to make himself the object lesson in order to correct them. Its clear from the text that he felt uncomfortable talking about himself in this way. He does so only under protest. Lets consider the text.
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool: THE GAME Paul is saying, ‘It seems that in order to get you to pay any attention to me I have to behave like a fool. O.K. I will play your game’ v16. But then note how Paul uses irony to show up his rivals in v17-19 ‘I know you will put up with my little fit of insanity because you are so sane.’ He implies that his exhibition of boasting is nothing in comparison to that of the bullies whom they seemed happy to serve v20... This passage gives some insight into the authoritarian model of Christian leadership which the false apostles were establishing in Corinth, expecting in the typically Greek manner that the underlings in their midst would grovel in submission. Paul just had too admit with undisguised sarcasm that he wasn’t able to match these strong leaders in behaving in this way.
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool PAUL'S CURRICULUM VITAE Paul continues with this game by reluctantly setting out his claims to spirituality. He begins in the realm of genetics for the Greeks laid great store on a person’s ethnic origins. Very well says Paul here’s my pedigree... v22 This suggests that Paul's rivals were Palestinian Jews seeking to cash in on their background: the exotic foreign religious leader syndrome which has hooked so many in the West in recent years. ‘Very well’, says Paul, ‘if its exotic religious pedigree you are interested in mine is superior to that of my opponents’.
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool PAUL'S CURRICULUM VITAE Paul then lists his heroic exploits in v23-28. This list differs from the Greek heroic pattern in one dramatic respect… no mention is made of his great preaching crusades or the many who came to faith through his ministry. He does not include the theological best sellers he had written! He says nothing of the daring nature of his missionary travels. He fails to mention the apostles whom he knew personally. Indeed, there is nothing in this list that is impressive by Greek standards. Instead, we read of persecution, danger, and the crushing pressure of responsibility for the churches under his care.
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool PAUL'S CURRICULUM VITAE How did he cope with these difficulties? Does he emerge like Hercules after completing the tests assigned him, brim-full of confidence eager to take on still more demanding challenges. No look at v29.. Paul is speaking of his own moral and spiritual frailty. He is saying, ‘Even although I am an apostle, I am as ordinary as anyone else. I do not find it easier to cope with temptation. I am not of myself sufficient for all I am called upon to face. What these trials have done is produce in me a deeper sense of my own personal inadequacy’. This becomes the ground of his boasting cf. v30-31.
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool PAUL'S CURRICULUM VITAE Paul is saying I am not superhuman but ordinary. Indeed, to drive home the point he describes himself as the sort of person who, when danger seems ready to envelop and overcome him, runs away. That's what he did not long after his baptism v32-33... The Greeks warmed to heroes like Alexander the Greats who was not slow to climb the walls of enemy fortresses in order to capture them. Well says Paul I am the kind of man who climbs out of walled cities in order to avoid capture. Accuse me of natural cowardice and I will put my hand up to that!
Presentation 16 Playing The Fool PAUL'S CURRICULUM VITAE Do you see what Paul is doing? He is standing on its head the glamorous picture of spirituality that had been fed to the Corinthians. They thought that an apostle was a super hero who overcame every difficulty with consummate ease and experienced success at every turn. Paul says, real apostles experience the persecution and contempt of the world. Their lives are marked by danger, privation, crushing responsibility and an all-consuming sense of their own inadequacy. These are the things which Paul paraded before them. He did not despise weakness, he empathised with it. If he has to boast he will therefore boast of his weakness.
Presentation 16 The Realm Of The Supernatural Paul now goes on to discuss the Corinthians second expectation of a religious leader - experience of the supernatural 12v1-5... Paul describes a profound mystical experience. Paul is the man in Christ described in v2. He finds it hard to bring himself to speak in the first person because this is the kind of thing he would not normally publicly share. Note the following about this experience. First, it was a rare experiences it happened some 14 years previously. It was not a regular feature of Paul's Christian life. The second thing is that this experience was extraordinarily vivid; whether in the body or out of the body’. So real was this experience that he was not sure if it was a vision or some kind of physical rapture. So caught up was he with this experience that it eclipsed all normal consciousness.
Presentation 16 The Realm Of The Supernatural Thirdly, this experience was extremely special - ‘about a man like this I will boast’. The man who experienced this was marked out as being specially privileged by God. Fourthly, Paul regarded this experience as personal and private. He heard things ‘that a man is not permitted to tell’. The purpose of this experience was not that Paul would go around sharing all the details with others. It was between him and God. Indeed, it was impossible to share for this experience defied description. But more than that it was far too sacred to share.
Presentation 16 The Realm Of The Supernatural But Paul also considered it would have been wrong of him to share it v6... He did not want to influence people and what they thought of him by speaking of his spiritual experiences. This is an important point. If Paul had boasted about this he would have opened the door to all sorts of charlatans who would make wild claims about their wonderful mystical experiences. They would demand to be heard by the church because of their ‘experiences’. Their claims could not be tested! Paul preferred to rest his reputation on the way he lived and on the substance of his teaching v6 ‘ by what I do or say’ and not on the dramatic and mystical.
Presentation 16 The Realm Of The Supernatural A fifth thing to notice about Paul's mystical experience was its costliness v7... There has been a great deal of speculation about Paul's ‘thorn in the flesh’. It certainly seems to have been some kind of physical ailment [glaucoma and malaria have been suggested]. However, the important thing to understand is why this particular handicap was given to him. To stop him from 'becoming conceited.’ The danger of mystical experience is that it can produce pride. Notice Paul's response to this thorn in v8.... It was no easy matter for Paul to be reconciled to this thorn and learn to accept it. It took a deal of persuasion from God v9....
Presentation 16 Application Do you see the relevance of this passage? Many Christian leaders covet the outwardly supernatural, believing that to be ‘spiritual’ means, miracles, visions etc. Yet Paul insists that not every intimate detail of our spiritual life is to be shared. It can be cheapened by public exposure. Ought we not to be suspicious of those who are constantly speaking about the remarkable revelations they have had. Reticence in speech is a mark of spirituality. Mystical experience should never be used as a measure a person’s spirituality. Evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life is the criterion for spirituality.
Presentation 16 Application Paul did not seek mystical experiences. The experience he comments on here happened out of the blue not as a result of months of praying and fasting. Many godly people have gone through life without experiencing anything similar. One of the best known Christian Mystics, St. John of the Cross writes: ‘All visions, revelations, heavenly feelings, and whatever is greater than these, are not worth the least act of humility, being the fruits of that charity which never values or seeks itself, which thinketh well not of self but of others. Many souls to whom visions have never come, are incomparably more advanced in the way of perfection than others to whom many have been given’.
Presentation 16 Application There is a further point of application. Some insist that a mark of true spirituality is to have one’s prayers answered. But Paul prayed for the removal of this thorn on three occasions and God continued to say ‘No!’ Prayer does not act like a mechanical slot machine. God is a caring Father. He will not give us what is not good for us! This is something which needs stressed in a day when some teach in the realm of healing that God will always say ‘Yes!’ That was not Paul’s experience. God in his wisdom sees how he can use suffering to accomplish some greater purpose in our lives. This equips us for both an expectation and acceptance of suffering in the Christian life.
Presentation 16 Application This is not to say that we become Christian masochists or refuse to pray from relief from the suffering in our lives. But if our prayers are persistently denied we need to be prepared to consider that God is saying, ‘Allow me to use your suffering creatively for my glory and your good.’ Where does Paul’s thought lead? To the epistles climax in v9- 10… “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me… for when I am weak then I am strong”. This is the heart, the kernel, of Paul's experimental theology. Words that form a final rebuke to the Corinthian mind-set. Authentic spirituality delights in weakness because only in the acceptance and confession of that weakness does the Christian find the supernatural grace of God flooding in to meet his need.
Presentation 16 Conclusion One of my university lecturer’s taught that there is no such thing as paradox in Christian theology. I venture to suggest that he was quite wrong. Christian theology is full of paradox. Only in humiliation do we find God exalting us, only by dying to self do we find God making us alive, only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. And it is only when only when I am weak and convinced of that weakness that I am able to experience God’s strength. A blade of grass is a mighty weapon in the hand of God! We look for great men we should focus on a great God!