As a child I remember a learning game that recently came to mind while thinking about a New Testament letter.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an interesting study in human nature and in what he believed it means to be followers of Christ— together.
From his opening words he is focused on what it means to be a people centered in all that Christ has done for us. But as he continues he fairly quickly gives his readers reason to say. What’s wrong this picture? On page after page Paul paints word pictures that seemed to alarm him.
Everything leads up to what may be the most wonderful love song ever written.
As Paul continues it’s clear that he thinks he knows what’s missing and what it means to be followers of Christ— together.
Yet as Paul finishes up his letter he leaves us a final word picture that he says he’s giving his readers in his own handwriting. Here’s what he says: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1Cor 16:22).
“Let him be accursed?” “Anathema”? What’s wrong with this picture?
Did Paul really say, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed”? Seems to me that this is an example of how we need to do more than read inspired words on a page but to ask, what is the writer thinking? How could the writer of such a great love song— and challenge to divisive thinking— write that?
Am reminded of something else Paul wrote back in chapter 11 where he describes the way followers of Christ are drinking too much, insulting one another, and missing the whole point of breaking bread together around “the Lord’s Table”.
Yet Paul introduces their behavior in remembering Jesus’ death by saying, “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1Cor 11:19)
Once again how could Paul write a letter emphasizing the importance of “Christian unity” and love while acknowledging that there is a place for divisive behavior, and a time to say,“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed”? Could Paul possibly be writing that “in love”?
Is this a game of “what’s missing in this picture”, or something far more serious… and worth thinking about together?
Hint: Both chapter and verse and reading between the lines is at the heart of reading and understanding the Bible.
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