Ethical Issues in the Pauline Epistles (Part 2)
This article is a sequel to Ethical issues in the Pauline Epistles (Part 1) which dealt with such ethical issues as-Jewish and Gentile Christian relationship; and The believers’ conduct. Here, in part 2 of this same topic the discussion continues by taking on board such additional vital ethical aspects as- The Abuse of Christian liberty; Public worship; Household codes. The Universal ecclesia must have a clear attitudinal understanding of these issues in order to be the true ecclesia of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ibid, pp. 521-2.
The Abuse of Christian Liberty
The Corinthians, in their letter to Paul, raised questions concerning the propriety of eating the meat of an animal offered in a pagan sacrifice. According to David Lowery, the Corinthians’ questions apparently concerned: a) the acceptability of buying meet from pagan sacrifice sold in the market; b) the acceptability of eating the meat as an invited guest in a friends home; c) the acceptability of attending one of these pagan sacrifices and enjoying the meal of celebration, which followed in the temple precincts.13 These issues have to do basically with the Corinthians’ freedom and rights. For the more mature Corinthian Christians, as Paul explained, ‘an idol is nothing at all and there is no God but one, and as such eating food offered to idols was, in itself, inconsequential. However, not all Corinthians agreed that an idol was nothing. The weaker brothers who were led participate with the stronger brother have their conscience defiled. So, Paul’s response was that even though the stronger brethren can be justified for exercising their freedom, yet they failed to observe one basic and underlying principle – that is, love. Even though their knowledge about idols gave them freedom to participate, yet because of love for their weaker brother they should have refrained from eating. Therefore, Paul advises that the example of Christ should be followed. In this situation, it will involve giving up one’s freedom or right for the sake of the weaker brother.
With reference to public worship, three of the issues the apostle addressed were as follows: a) The state of the woman in worship (I Cor. 11:2-10); the state of Christians as the Lord’s supper (11:17-34); and the state of spiritual gifts (Chap. 12-14).
a) The State of Women in Worship
The problem concerning women in the Corinthian Church was about head covering. As David Lowery observed, ‘It seems that the Corinthian slogan, everything is permissible; had been applied to meeting of the Church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress. More importantly they seem to have rejected the concept of subordination within the Church (and perhaps in society) and with it any cultural symbol e.g. a head covering), which might have been attached to it.’ From the above quote it could be seen that the issue is not simply about head covering, but rather the behaviour of insubordination of women in public worship. Lowery further observed that Paul first laid down the theological basis of his counsel concerning this issue. Paul stated that for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation and she dishonors her spiritual head, the man. Paul argues that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man and the head of Christ is God. The woman therefore had to put on her head covering to honour the man.
b) The State of Christians at the Lord’s Supper
Ibid, p. 529
Ibid, p. 530.
According to Lowery, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the bread and cup were part of a meal, with the bread probably broken near the beginning and the cup taken at the end. By the time Paul wrote, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in two stages, which consolidated the partaking of the bread and cup at the end of a communal meal. The worship with the bread and cup came to be called the Agape. However, in the Corinthian celebration the agape meal had become an occasion not marked by love for fellow Christians but one of self-centered indulgence. Paul noted that an experience meant to build up the Church was actually having the opposite effect – ‘your meeting do more harm than good’. The Lord’s Supper should be the remembrance of a pre-eminently selfless act, Christ’s death on behalf of others. Instead, the Corinthian have turned this memorial into an experience of selfishness and brought disunity into the body. Paul made the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper very clear to the Corinthians. They were to celebrate in memory of what Christ has done for them – his death, burial and resurrection, and also in hope of his return.
c) The State of Spiritual gifts
The Corinthian believers manifest in their worship service the manifold gifts of the spirit. But the way in which believers used their gifts causes problems and brings disorder in their services. Especially the spectacular gifts, like tongues. They consider these gifts as sign of spirituality gift.
J.D. Douglas rightly observed that one of the distinctive features of Paul’s Epistles is the recurrence of the so-called household codes (Eph. 5:22ff, col. 3:18ff, I Tim. 2:8ff, Titus 2:2ff) though as Douglas stated, they are conservative in tone, yet they are clear indications that there were issues in the Churches which demands these codes.16 One of` these household codes, which deal with the relationship between ‘masters and slaves’, will be discussed. This particular relationship has been selected because Paul had to address this issue in a concrete situation between Philemon a slave master and Onesimus his runaway slave.
In his commentary on the Epistle to Philemon, Edwin C. Deibler Wrote, ‘Onesimus a slave of Philemon had runaway having evidently robbed the master (Phil, 18). His travel somehow brought him to Rome, where in the providence of God, he came in contact with Paul. Through this contact, Paul led Onesimus to know Christ as Saviour.’ Paul decided to send Onesimus back to his master, but was very much concerned how Philemon will react. So, in his letter to Philemon, he challenged him on the basis of their relationship with Christ to receive Onesimus as a brother.
In this article and its counterpart some of the ethical issues raised in the Pauline epistles have been discussed: 1 Jewish and Gentile Christian relationship. 2. The believers’ conduct. 3. The abuse of Christian liberty. 4.Public worship. 5.Household codes. The format used was as follows: first, the theological basis for Paul’s ethical teaching was examined. In this examination it was found out that Paul based his teaching on the doctrine of Christ – his death burial and resurrection, and on his example of humility and love. The underlying principle in Paul’s ethical teaching is that the church or the ecclesia of Christ is a new community of believers who can only influence the world positively and make disciples of all nations by their consistent Christian witness.
J. D. Douglas, New Bible Dictionary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962), p. 354.
Edwin C. Deibler, Philemon: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Illinois: Victor Books, 1983), p. 769.