My church has been going through 1st Corinthians since late January of this year.
This week we found ourselves in the middle of a text warning the Corinthian church that their actions were dangerously reminiscent of Israel’s during their wilderness wanderings (1 Cor. 10). Paul says even though Israel enjoyed a unique relationship with God their position did not shelter them from all the consequences of sin; “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (verse 5).
Apparently some of the Corinthians thought that their Christian liberty was so great that there was no need to be mindful of the peril their actions might represent to themselves, or the “weaker” believers in the Corinthian fellowship. “Therefore,” says Paul, “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (verse 12).
As I was studying this difficult passage I stumbled across the words “my dear friends” in verse 14 (as in the NIV). The New American Standard renders this phrase “my beloved” because the word here for “dear friends” (or “beloved”) comes from the Greek word agape, which means love, or “Christian love” (as the Aland Greek New Testament dictionary, 4th edition has). The King James has a combination reading of the phrase: “my dearly beloved.” The author of the most definitive commentary on 1 Corinthians I’m aware of to date writes that the popular translation “my dear friends” should be strengthened a bit; he suggests “my very dear friends.”
In the midst of a firm warning, there is tenderness.
Too often we read our definition of love into many Biblical passages and the result is either a distrust of the Bible itself, or a skewed theology and practice.
Our culture here in America largely defines love as affirmation. While love may at times need to be affirming, it also sees a place for warning and even rebuke. The Bible never condones truth without love (Ephesians 4:15).
But the reverse is true as well. Love shares truth.
Next time we read a difficult biblical passage in the Bible, we need to remember the loving God that stands behind them. We need to remember that often the words of warning or rebuke are preceded by words like “my very dear friends.”
My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.