Thursday 18th August 2022

1 CORINTHIANS 12

Imagine a football team that fielded eleven goalkeepers; or an army where everyone drove tanks; or a building firm that employed only electricians; or a cricket team full of fast-bowlers; or a hospital of nothing but brain surgeons!  They’d all fail or lose or go bust or even die!  The composition of a team matters as much as the numbers of people in it.  The most effective teams, when well led, consist of specialists in different areas who are truly united and who work together for the common good.  Groups of mediocre all-rounders rarely set the world alight or accomplish much!

This principle is the main theme of 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14, actually.  There are sections that deal with unity, sections on diversity, and sections on team motivation, with practical advice on how to put it all together.  Typically, Paul mixes these all together and the blend is even better than the individual parts.

The Corinthian believers had started their pagan lives by following individualised religions, following disparate idols, and had become used to dealing with false ego-centric prophets, conflicting doctrines, and dubious lifestyle advice.  As believers in Christ they needed to understand that there was one God who is entirely consistent, made up of three divine persons in perfect unity and speaking a coherent gospel message to the world.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are never in disagreement, never contradict and always work together for good.  Even in the incredible diversity of Christ’s church is seen a singularity of purpose, plan, and priority.  (See 1 Cor 12:3-7.) 

Paul’s first point – after emphasising the unity of God – is that all God’s people are unique, different from one another, potential specialists at what they do, channels of the miraculous and full of God’s wisdom.  Our roles are literally God-given and mapped out by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Spiritual ‘specialists’ are capable of amazing work for the Kingdom of God and can accomplish huge tasks when filled with the Spirit’s power.  And because of these specialisms, everyone relies upon everyone else to get the whole job done; no-one is able to do every task and every individual is essential to the success of everyone else.  So the very fact of their diversity is the ‘glue’ that bonds the body together in unity!  That ‘glue’ is a need, a dependence and reliance upon one another.   

Paul illustrates this principle not with sports teams or hospital personnel or army roles, but by using the human body itself with its limbs and organs.  We are members of the one body that is called Christ; and he is specifically our head!  The term ‘Membership’ – which we use in so many ways in today’s world – is derived entirely from the Christian doctrine of being part of Christ.

Paul then shows us that, logically, not only is our diversity God’s power for unity in Christ’s Body, but it also means that each one of us is indispensable.  No-one is more important or less important than anyone else.  If any individual, through selfishness or through poor self-esteem, denies the rest of the membership the benefit of his/her presence and gifting, then the entire Body is that much poorer.  So, let us resolve not to harm the Body of Christ by denying our brothers and sisters the love, the service and the gifting that God has placed within our hearts. 

SONG OF SONGS 1 – 8

What is Song of Songs really about?  Why is it in the Bible?  Its title (in 1:1) is “Solomon’s Song of Songs” (or “Greatest of Songs”) and indeed Solomon is mentioned seven times in the song too.  1 Kings 4:32 says that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs – and this may therefore have been the best of the lot.  The date of authorship is unknown but would have been around the 10th Century BC if Solomon himself was in the fact the author (which I shall assume from now on).  Its theme is unmistakably and unashamedly a celebration of the passionate romantic love and sexual union between a man and a woman, as a wonderful and joyful part of God’s creation.  This book has always been regarded as a legitimate part of biblical wisdom literature, validating its portrayal of intense erotic love – within the proper context of betrothal and marriage – as a great gift of God, to be received and enjoyed with gratitude and celebration.

I believe that this theme is the main purpose of the inspired scripture, as originally written and delivered to the nation of Israel.  It uses beautiful and descriptive language to ‘flesh out’ Genesis 2:23-25 and to widen our understanding of the Lord’s creative purpose; He is, after all, the ultimate marriage-maker!  Solomon, the song-writer, has used subtle and delicate language to describe the beauty and intimacy of the love relationship and its activities, always avoiding crude titillation and yet painting a picture of wonderful closeness, tender love, and intense passion – attributes that God himself intended to be embedded within all marriages and courtships.  Solomon uses analogies within the biological world, within food, drink, jewellery, and horticulture, to make his erotic comparisons; it is artistic, it is beautiful, and it works!

If that was the original meaning to its original readers (vital to understand and interpret any passage of scripture), it has been given additional meaning by Jewish and Christian teachers; it is seen as an allegory of the love between God and Israel and, later, between Christ and his Bride, the Church.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there a direct quote from Song of Songs, however, which keep these theories in perspective and do not justify us making too much of them – particularly at the expense of the book’s original purpose.  It is true that in Revelation 21 and 22, there are several references to the New Jerusalem – the Church – coming down as the Bride of Christ.  And in Jeremiah 2:2, the Lord says: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown”.  But to read too much of this into The Song would be ‘eisegesis’ (putting meaning into the text) rather than ‘exegesis’ (getting meaning out of it).  This is, of course, a danger in all biblical interpretation, where we have a pet theological theory and use it as a kind of ‘filter’ to interpret every passage in the bible.  It is dangerous and leads eventually to heresy (literally ‘an imbalance’); biblically one then ceases to learn any more from the Word of God.

You can read the whole Song for yourselves – it really does work best if you read it aloud in one sitting.  If you are married or betrothed, then read it together, taking the appropriate man’s and woman’s speeches, rather like a great Shakespearian play!  Next time you have a wedding anniversary, why not plan to read it together like this?

Some key verses that interest me:

1:4b.  “We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine”.  A good relationship will delight and inspire those around it, not just the couple themselves.

1:5-6  “Dark am I, yet lovely…”  “…darkened by the sun…”  “…they made me take care of the vineyards…”.   Deeply browned skin was not considered desirable, but the verses here say that she was nevertheless very beautiful.  Solomon seemed to think so, anyway!

1:13.  Myrrh was used to perfume royal wedding robes (Psalm 45:8).

1:16-17.  Verdant bed, cedars as house beams, and firs as rafters:  they were lying outside under the stars!

2:4.  The banquet hall and the banner are metaphors for a public expression of love; every lover wants eventually to be recognized as such, publicly.

2:11-13:  Signs of Springtime imply times of love and fertility! 

2:16  “My beloved is mine and I am his”.  This phrase occurs three times and gradually changes to put more focus on the other person’s rights and needs (see 6:3 and 7:10).  Relationships, especially healthy love relationships, will always mature to be more ‘giving’ than ‘taking’.

3:1-4.  Shows that separation is something that can increase the passion of a relationship and make you appreciate their presence when they are close by.  It also warns you not to take your beloved for granted.

4:1-15 is a fabulous description of the bride’s beauty from the bridegroom’s perspective.  Since beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, we need to practise looking!  Brush up your observational skills!

4:16.  You can do whatever you like in your own garden!

5:10-16  These give the bride a chance to describe her lover too.  She ends with: “This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem”.  Lover and friend: what an amazing God-given combination.  You cannot go too far wrong if you choose to marry your best friend (of the opposite sex), assuming that there is the necessary spark of passion too.  (I speak from experience here!)

6:4-9  These allow Solomon to be suitably descriptive too.  And he elevates her above the sixty queens and eighty concubines to call her the very best!

6:13.  Interesting that she is called the ‘Shulammite’ (or ‘Shunamite’) girl.  There was a very stunning, beautiful such young woman who warmed King David’s bed (literally, not metaphorically) in the last year of his life (1 Kings 1:1-4).  It is just possible that Solomon had fallen in love with her?  He would also have been very angry – fuelled by jealousy – when his brother, Adonijah, attempted to usurp Solomon’s kingship by attempting to marry the Shunammite girl; see the full story in 1 Kings 2:13-25.

Song of Songs chapters 7 and 8 are highly descriptive and suggestive – leaving little to the imagination.  The book ends with a sense of continuation; this is a love-relationship that will last and will turn into a great marriage.  Human passion does change as time goes on, but that fire of love should continue to burn more brightly and become more mature, respectful, selfless, and no less exciting.  God made us that way!  If you think that your own marriage relationship has rather dried out (in the hot sunshine?) or has become full of weeds, then ask God to help you water it again and remove the barriers to intimacy.  Perhaps also ask wise friends or leaders for advice.

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