[This is the prepared text for the sermonette/offertory given to the Portland United Church of God congregation on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, April 22, 2022.]
Good morning, brethren. We have enjoyed, I hope, a fine Days of Unleavened Bread and have examined ourselves by the standard of God’s laws and ways, and we are coming to the end of the beginning of this yearly rehearsal of the Holy Day plan of God. I would like to begin today’s message with a simple question: what was Paul’s attitude towards the law? If we are familiar with what is said by Paul by many who profess themselves to be Christians, we tend to find that these people view Paul as being very antithetical to the law, pitting the legal standard of the Bible against a forgiving grace that allows believers to live without the burden of obedience. That is not the Paul we find in the pages of scripture. What I would like to do today is to examine two particular passages of the Bible to demonstrate Paul’s commitment to God’s law and his particular use of the law as a model for the behavior of his audience in Corinth and by extension to us today.
We find the first of these passages in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. This passage was written for the period of the Days of Unleavened Bread and it contains a rather fierce reference to the application of the law of God for brethren. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 reads: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
These are not the words of someone who holds the law of God to be a casual thing or something that is not applicable to believers. First, let us note that he speaks of the brethren as being puffed up, which is exactly what you do not want to be during the Days of Unleavened Bread when we are supposed to symbolize the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Being puffed up means being thrown out of the house, like the rest of the cornbread mix and various other leavened products that we have been going without this week. For the sin of sleeping with his father’s wife–or stepmother as we would call her–he was to be disfellowshipped from the church, and in Paul’s language, delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. As a point of fact, it should be noted that this man repented of his sin and was restored to the fellowship of the brethren in 2 Corinthians, so thankfully he did not have to face the full destruction that was threatened. All the same, Paul’s attitude towards this particular sin is very severe.
Let us ask ourselves, though, where does this sin come from? Where is it listened in the Bible that it is wrong for a man to be with his stepmother? There is one place in the Bible where this particular incestuous relationship is strictly forbidden, and we find it in Leviticus 18:8. Let us read the first eight verses of this chapter for context and we will see Paul’s use of the law in 1 Corinthians 5. Leviticus 18:1-8 reads as follows: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. ‘None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord. The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. “
While it is verse eight that describes very briefly the biblical prohibition about sleeping with one’s stepmother as being strictly forbidden because of the dishonor it brings to one’s father, the whole passage itself sets up the tone of the various sexual sins forbidden in the entirety of Leviticus 18. We recently came to this passage when we discussed the dysfunctional relationship between Jacob and the two sisters he married in Leah and Rachel and how God’s unhappiness at the rivalry between them found its way into this same body of law. Paul, in affirming the fact that these laws continued to be valid for believers, was demonstrating his support of God’s statement at the beginning of Leviticus 18 that believers shall walk according to God’s judgments and ordinances and that those who obey them shall live by them and in obeying respect God’s authority over what is and what is not acceptable conduct. Believers are not to behave according to the corrupt and debased practices of Egypt or any other sinful and corrupt society that we may find ourselves in. Far from using his letter to the congregation at Corinth as a way of pointing out that the law has been done away with and is no longer applicable to believers, Paul takes a verse from this very relevant and very serious chapter and applies it to a believer at Corinth and sets an example for us that we too should be governed in our conduct by the judgments and ordinances of God like these ones.
We find a similar approach to God’s law taken by Paul when we look at 1 Corinthians 9, but here it is amplified by how Paul applies the law in this case. 1 Corinthians 9:1-11 contains an interesting citation of biblical law and an even more interpretation of it. 1 Corinthians 9:1-11 reads: “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?”
Although one might expect Paul to cite Deuteronomy 16:16-17 as a support for the taking up of offerings, that is not what Paul chooses to do. While it is our custom to take up an offering every holy day, such as this one, and if anyone needs an envelope, please raise your hands and an usher will provide you one, Paul chooses to focus not on the logistics of the giving of tithes and offerings but rather the moral point behind spiritual food meriting physical and financial backing on the part of members. In order to do so, Paul does not point to the laws about tithes and offerings that exist in the Bible but instead cites a law in Deuteronomy that appears to be unrelated to the issue at hand. Interestingly enough, this law is one that Paul cites twice in his letters, once here and once in the letter of 1 Timothy. If we turn to Deuteronomy 25:4 where this law occurs, we find it in an interesting context that is worth briefly discussing.
Deuteronomy 25:4 reads: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Paul, though, uses this particular passage as a means of talking about the responsibility of the support of religious work through the financial offerings of membership. Interestingly enough, this verse appears in a general context that discusses issues of social responsibility. The first three verses of Deuteronomy 25 discuss the limitations of punishment upon the guilty, in order to preserve the dignity of those who are convicted of various offenses. Likewise, the passage immediately following Deuteronomy 25:4 talks about the social obligations of levirate marriage in order to preserve the family line through marriage to childless widows. In this context, Paul finds that not only are oxen not to be muzzled while they are engaged in the work of treading the grain, but those who labor in the harvest of believers are not to be hindered through being prevented from enjoying the earthly as well as the heavenly rewards that come through such service. And while I could go into far more detail about the sort of service that this has involved around the world. I will leave it to you all to read the e-News and various writings in the United News and other places that provide such details in a more relaxed setting.
Let us therefore conclude. We have seen that in both 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 9, Paul went far above and beyond the expectations that professed Christians often have regarding his respect for the law. Paul’s attitude for the law was not only that it was still applicable to believers in Paul’s day–and by extension in our own, given God’s unchanging nature–but Paul amplified the application of the law beyond its most obvious surface interpretation. Not only did Paul affirm the continued validity of the moral law concerning sexual sin in Leviticus 18 for believers–an area our society rampantly disobeys, but Paul also applied a law originally about animal cruelty into a command that we support religious institutions with material offerings such as we are about to give. Let us therefore reflect upon and recognize Paul’s high regard and respect for God’s law and act as he did in having such a high view of its continued worth for believers in Christ. With that said, we will now take up the offering with music, and after that, we will have a congregational hymn led by Mr. Johnson as well as announcements by our pastor, Mr. Sexton. But first, the offertory music, which is titled… [reads announcement]