TUESDAY AFTER TENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
Only hold fast what you have until I come.
The churches in Pergamum and Thyatira have been faithful despite bloody persecution; therefore, they receive lots of praise. In Pergamum Satan built his throne—the enormous heathen temple that the Germans dug up about one hundred years ago and is now in East Berlin. It was dangerous to profess the name of Christ there. The church, however, persisted in doing that. Even the church in Thyatira has persevered and their latter works, unlike the Ephesians, exceed their first works.
Despite this, everything's not all right. Christ has something against His faithful servants. They're too easygoing and lenient with those who come with false prophecy and try to destroy the church. John mentions them only by their assumed name in the Old Testament (the Old Testament was written "for our instruction"!), but everyone knows what he means. We, too, can get an idea of what they were taught, especially because teachings like these were also opposed by Paul and Peter. It was false teachings of independence that brought mercy to immorality. It proclaimed that everything was pure and good for those who had the right knowledge. Therefore one could participate in eating meat that was sacrificed to idols without separating from the world. The boundary between heathen and Christian was erased. God was also found among heathens! A liberated view of sexual relations was also justified, the same kind that heathens practiced. Faith was, after all, something purely internal!
Christ's answer to all of this is a definite no. This is false teaching. It's not something one can give in to. It's no help that people who come with teachings like these call themselves Christian and want to be a part of the Church. They don't belong, and Christ wants nothing to do with them. It's possible that people like the woman Jezebel claimed to speak with prophetic authority, with insight that sees deeper and understands the Gospel better than anyone else had. They're still false prophets. They don't come with Christ's teachings; the teachings the apostles were faithful stewards of. It's probably just as an example of the deviation from the apostle's teachings that Jezebel is described as one who "calls herself a prophetess." That's just what Paul prohibited. He used exactly that expression when he, a generation before, wrote to Timothy in Ephesus a letter that undoubtedly was read in the churches and repeated what he said to the Corinthians: "I do not permit a woman to teach" (1 Timothy 2:12).
In contrast to this, Jesus comes with a warning: hold fast what you have until He comes. Everything in this world changes. There's only one thing that's eternal: the Gospel. Heaven and earth will perish, but not the Word of Christ. It's the same warning we see in Jude: to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
My Lord and savior, my heart is in agony when I hear how sternly You speak. Why is it so hard for us to see Your truth and allow it to unite us? Despite the fact that I'm a great sinner, I have a hard time saying that someone else is wrong. Because You're right in everything, it must be wrong when someone contradicts something You've said. Give us the faith to always realize that You are right and believe in You more than anything else. May we never lose Your truth when people change and form it to fit themselves. Help us see it and dare to stand by it, for Your sake only. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER TENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Christ's messages to the seven congregations in Asia Minor are important reading for all of us. We see here several examples of the dangers that threaten us as Christians when we feel our Christianity becomes old and routine. While Paul's letters are written to recently formed or young congregations, Jesus' messages address congregations that have existed for a lifetime.
The first letter is addressed to Ephesus, the same church Paul wrote to some thirty years earlier. The congregation was still growing. Their leader was none other than the apostle John. They're praised for their work and steadfastness. Although their burden was heavy, they never tired. They rejected false prophets and exposed heretics. There is one problem with them: "You have abandoned the love you had at first."
This abandonment is a serious problem. The abandoned love is Christ's love, the love that's inside of us when we belong to Him. If we don't have that, zealous behavior or sacrifice won't help. Yet that's exactly what happens to us all through the years of toil and difficulty. We persevere. We labor and do our duty. However, what about love?
How can we preserve it? Or get it back? John, in Ephesus, teaches: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Love comes from God. There is only one way to get it: to receive it. There's only one way to preserve it: to receive even more of it. The danger is that we start existing on leftovers, on old forgiveness, things we've already received. Mercy is in the freezer. That's not mercy any longer, however. We must receive Christ and His life anew constantly. We are organs in His body. Organs live and survive only as long as there's blood flowing through them from the body. We need Christ's blood, His atonement, His resurrected life constantly, like a river that constantly flows. That's the secret of living in daily grace and forgiveness. Then we'll experience love and acts of love.
Lord, when will I learn that I cannot own You as one owns a painting or a wedding ring? I own You only when You give. You are with me only when You come with Your gifts out of Your unbelievable kindness. You come. You grant and give without interruption. It's only I who has such a hard time receiving it. Help me to come to You, constantly anew, just as I am, in the middle of daily life, with all my worries and vexations, with my old nature and all of my sins. Allow me to live in the miracle of forgiveness, in Your mercy that's always new, so I never wander from Your love. Amen.
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Jesus saw the city. The group had reached the crest of Mount Olive where they could view the holy city. There lay the temple with its huge vestibules and rows of pillars. The golden pinnacles on the roof sparkled in the sunshine and the smoke from the burning altars rose to the sky. David and Solomon had prayed here. Jeremiah had prophesied here. For a thousand years this city was the center of God's work on earth.
Now, Jesus knew, it was over. He could see the Roman embankments and hear the roaring of the battering rams. He knew the temple would be destroyed, its defenders would fall to the sword or be nailed to a cross, and the survivors would be forced into exile. Why did this have to happen?
"Because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44). God is the living God. He interacts with us and every new generation. No one can live on their father's faith or count on their piety. We must be converted. The call reaches us. It's not enough that our ancestors said yes once upon a time. It's not enough that we once said yes a long time ago either. Jesus is entering here and now. His Church is the New Jerusalem. We are the new Israel. Do we understand where our peace comes from?
You can fall behind along the way, as the apostle says. You start living on last year's forgiveness and worn out experiences. Once upon a time we struggled to obtain a Christian conviction. We know what true and false teaching is. Are we alive? Do I understand today where my peace comes from? Am I listening when the Word chastises me for newly acquired bad habits or negligence? Do I speak of these things in my confession? Is God's mercy really new?
It is questions like these that we're confronted with this week. Christ is present with His people in His Church. Is He crying over us? Is He coming to a house of prayer or a den of thieves?
We thank you, dear Lord and Savior, that You come to us anyway. You cried over the city, yet You preached every day in the temple. Maybe You're crying over us too. We know You have reason to. Yet You preach to us Sunday after Sunday, and every day we can read Your Word and be showered with its treasures. If our eyes are blind to something You wish us to see, show it to us. Don't allow our hearts to be hardened or our eyes to be closed. Don't take Your hand from us. Save us, O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.
The things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.
Paul is giving instructions about the church service. Those who have spiritual gifts may use them, but order must be maintained. Too many people can't talk at once. Even an inspired prophet should be able to keep quiet, if he really has the spirit of God in him.
Paul then adds that, just as in all other Christian churches, the women should keep silent. It's not permissible for them to speak. (He uses the word speak that in the New Testament usually means "speak the word of God.") "In the church," as it's interpreted in the old translation, means "during the church service." Paul said just before that those who speak in tongues should "keep silence in church" if there's no one there to interpret. He should "speak to himself and to God," in other words, at home during his devotions, but not during the church service, "in church."
In this case the women should "be subordinate," Paul says. He uses the same word he used in Ephesians, which meant, "fall into order under God," so everything functions in the division of labor God wants.
What order is Paul referring to, however? He says that it's "shameful for a woman to speak in church." It could mean that he wants them to exercise common decency. If that's so, this instruction could of course be altered when it became clear that a woman could speak publicly on other occasions. The difficulty in that interpretation is that it wasn't considered shameful in the Hellenistic world for a woman to be like that. The fact that the Corinthians allowed it at their church services was probably an effort to accept the customs of that time. Above all, we're faced with the difficulty that Paul presents two reasons here. The first is that the Law also requires it. When Paul refers to the Law, he means God's Law that also applies in Christ's kingdom. Then the determining factor comes. Paul knows he will be contradicted. There are those who refer to the Spirit and say Paul is wrong. Paul answers that if someone really possesses the Spirit, they will realize that what he writes here is a commandment from God. Paul realizes he is bound by Christ's commandments in this case. Christ directed his apostles to keep all that He commanded. Those are the same words Paul uses here. He knows this is a commandment from Jesus, and he can't ignore it.
Why would Jesus command something like that? The fact that He Himself lived after that rule is clear: He chose only men to be His apostles. We know what Paul and Peter suggested as the reason for this: In marriage God has divided up the duties between man and woman. Despite the fact that they're "heirs with you of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7) and equal before God, they don't have the same functions. What applies in marriage also applies in the Church, Paul teaches us. In both cases God has created an entity from two independent individuals. In that entity man and woman also have different functions. The man is the head of the family and the shepherd who teaches God's servants.
In the ancient church the word why wasn't necessary in cases like these. If they knew that when God imposed something, no more discussion was needed. Out of faith in Jesus they unconditionally followed His Word. Therefore it was an undisputed rule in the Church that the "shepherds and teachers" who led the congregation after the apostles would be men.
Dear Heavenly Father,, You see how divided Your Church has become because of differing interpretations of Your Word. Forgive us for our trespasses. Penetrate each and every one of us with Your Word so we correctly understand it and do exactly what You want us to do.
Lord Jesus, You sent Your apostles with Your Word and gave them Your Spirit so they would lead us on the right path. Help us to correctly understand the message You've sent through them. Help us to love it and stick to it, exactly the way You want us to, so Your will and no one else's is done.
Dear Holy Spirit, open our eyes and hearts, so we see the truth, and humble us so we can receive it and allow it to reign over our wishes and intentions. Come to us and fill us all so Your Church can be united in the truth, do Your will, and glorify Your name among men. Amen.