Seeking to understand the words of Paul, the Messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ, where, in a letter to a group of Jesus believers, he referred to pagan ethics as a standard. Or did he?
In this essay, or series of essays, topics that are essential for understanding will be explored. Soon, in the last essay segment, we will use all those topics to build an understanding of Paul’s statements.
This quest, this desire to know the truth, drives on the desperate pilgrims – us. Beliefs that lead to a misunderstanding of Paul’s statements lead the pilgrim, inescapably, to a universe without hope. The pilgrim strives to find hope, fervently desiring to believe in the Hope offered by Jesus, yet comes to teachings of Paul that indicate that for some classes of sin there is no forgiveness, no love, no family, and no hope. For the pilgrim that ponders the depths of meaning, this becomes the ultimate nightmare – an unavoidable eternal collision with terrible and empty fate. As the pilgrim recognizes his existence, as it is proved by his pain, the pilgrim begins to see the subtle and complete catastrophe that existence delivers with unavoidable certainty.
Counselors advise the pilgrim to think of the certain destruction as applying to other people, a device they have found useful in their respective quests to prop up hope. But the pilgrim sees that if there is no hope for one class of sin, there is no hope for any sin. And the pilgrim sees that the words of Jesus ensure that there is no escape. And the pilgrim sees the truth in Paul’s clear statements describing the certainty of failure in other letters. No, if the mechanism to obtain true Hope depends on behavior, then Hope forever remains Distant. Close enough to desire, too far to reach. If the pilgrim is weighed on one tray of the balance scale with the righteousness of God Most High in the other tray, the act of measurement is not necessary – the farcical efforts to gain spiritual weight would be comical if they were not grotesquely absurd.
Can the measure of acceptability be any other than the righteousness of God? How can Jesus speak such clear words of Love and Forgiveness if the truth is that failure surely ends in damnation? If Paul is speaking condemnation for acts of failure, is he contradicting Jesus? Or is the salvation offered by Jesus a temporary reset of the balance scale?
It is difficult to write the above paragraphs because I am so anxious to discuss THE certainty of our Salvation, as Luke said when explaining why he wrote his account of the events.
But those thoughts are present in many people as they struggle with the dilemmas of belief. And having endured such spirit-rending dilemmas and finding freedom in the words of Paul, I consider it important to ensure this essay begins with a brief statement of the dilemmas that drive us towards the truth that is the message that Jesus brought.
We want an understanding of Paul’s statements that has basis in the truth that is the Gospel. To arrive at such an understanding we must build concepts that are accurate for the time in which the Letter was written. Although those days are in the distant past, we have sufficient resources to build these concepts. The knowledge is not “lost to history”.
This essay, or series of essays (depending on presentation), will examine several issues that are pertinent to building the concepts required to understand Paul’s teachings in that Letter. As I went through the journey of researching and seeking an understanding that is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, I found that such an understanding has reasonable basis. This was not a surprise, as I have come to trust that my God is Alive and is not the author of confusion. Yet again, I see that confusion comes from another source.
As stated in the previous paragraph, I hold the teachings of Jesus as the primary guide. This essay will contain several references to those teachings, with an assumption that the reader understands. Specifically, I believe that understanding the Kingdom of Heaven is essential to all understanding of the New Testament. So, having the Kingdom of Heaven concepts in your heart and mind as you read this will be beneficial. I did write an essay on that subject, but I insist that the concepts are available for any with ears to hear, as they honestly and humbly listen to the Master himself. The essay I wrote is not a new revelation from Jesus for the world. It was new revelation for me, as I desperately sought to know the real Jesus after a lifetime of partial teachings. What is new for me is never new for all. Over the centuries many others have seen the same.
This journey is lonely; there are few that pass through this gate.
The next essay will be posted soon.