Week 38, September 12-16
The book of Ecclesiastes is perhaps the perfect distillation of both doubt and hope. It doesn’t take a natural disaster or a global collapse of morality to cause doubt. In fact, most of the time, the mundane nature of life feeds doubt in our hearts and minds. The author of Ecclesiastes, probably Solomon, directly addresses the seeming futility of life with brutal honesty. But futility is the illusion, not hope. Once godly wisdom is sought and found, life is no longer futile. Existence only has meaning if there is a benevolent creator in the heavens who has not abandoned his creation.
Meaninglessness isn’t the result of an intellectual decision but of dealing with drudgery and dissatisfaction day after day after day. We want things to get better, but we don’t know how, or we feel incapable of making any significant change. For the believer, for the Christian, we must realize that these thoughts and feelings do not negate or contradict our faith. In fact, it is faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus that we actually have an answer for drudgery and dissatisfaction.
Solomon has sought meaning in all the same places that you and I do, along with every other person who has ever lived. We think that knowledge will change our perspective. It might be a palliative measure for a time, but there’s always another perspective to consider. We hope that more money fixes problems. Money may very well be an answer to poverty, but we can’t even begin to list the problems that money cannot solve. Some people look to power to feel better. But power and authority often require more from the individual than he or she is willing to give. We’re all prone to try to numb the pain and exhaustion of daily living by creature comforts. But creature comforts do nothing to fully and finally get rid of pain and exhaustion. Ultimately, Solomon finds that there is no earthly answer to earthly problems.
Our culture values easy answers. We want quick fixes. If a plumber can’t get to our house in 30 minutes, he’s a bad plumber, right? Not at all; we’ve just been rewired to demand quick and easy. But complex thinking, being able to disassemble a problem and reassemble it into a solution, is how humans are meant to address what ails us. Easy answers, arrogance, and pride are more closely related than we might like to think. Difficult questions do not have easy answers.
But in the end, Solomon realizes what Job learned the hard way as well. Complex problems are not a logical reason to reject the goodness of God. In fact, complex problems should drive us to him. Ecclesiastes is a book that clearly outlines the sovereignty of God over all of creation. If today did not go as we had hoped, if life is eroding around us, wisdom is turning to the Lord and praying that he might lead us into deeper faith and trust. That is the definition of a Christ-centered worldview.
How does Ecclesiastes point us toward Christ? Where does Ecclesiastes fall in the history of redemption? Part of the beauty of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament is that it could nearly fall at any point, in terms of its content. But specifically, even if we entertain the skeptical notion that Solomon didn’t write the book, then we at least know it was written by a highly educated, theologically-robust teacher of the people around the time of Solomon. The author of the book had massive wealth, houses, gardens, and many concubines, which sounds a lot like Solomon. The author also claims to have written many proverbs. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon dedicates the temple, and it reads like Ecclesiastes.
The book concludes by claiming that God is the good Shepherd who gives wisdom to his people. The nature of wisdom is that it is true regardless of time or culture. Godly wisdom is for all people, regardless of their spiritual status. But the unenlightened, the reprobate, deny godly wisdom and instead trust in their own wisdom. What is the result of turning to the wisdom of man to answer life’s problems? We begin to think that truth is subjective, because men can’t agree on what truth is. Only when we turn to the divine law-giver do we see truth as something objective, something true no matter the circumstance. This is the message of Ecclesiastes—situations change day by day, but the God of creation does not. Therefore, true wisdom is found in turning to him.
Song of Solomon 1-8
If Solomon wrote this book, then it was because he learned so much about what not to do in a marriage. The book of 1 Kings relates how many wives and concubines Solomon had, so he is not exactly a model husband. It is probably best to take Song of Solomon 1:1 as a reference to the book being written in his honor, by by him. Notice that 1:5 even mentions Solomon as if he was a distant character who appears again later.
Song of Solomon is perhaps the most difficult Old Testament book to interpret. Is it an allegory of God’s love for Israel? Or is it looking forward to Christ’s love for the church? Is Solomon the shepherd, or is he a his own character? Is it one single poem or a collection of like-minded poems?
In all the mess of interpretive questions, you might miss the place of “covenant” in the book. Many of these questions receive a direction, if not a full answer, when we frame the book within the Mosaic covenant. Song of Solomon 8:6 uses the divine name (YHWH, or LORD), which is the name used by the covenant people of God. The books of the old covenant, especially Genesis through Deuteronomy, express the importance of keeping marriage pure in no uncertain terms. Is there any human institution that needs to be recovered with any more urgency than that of marriage?
If taken as a whole, which I think is the most natural reading of the text since there seems to be a developed plot line, the story is presented in a picturesque bucolic setting. A shepherd and a shepherdess are passionately in love and in that wonderful state of courtship that leads to marriage. They fawn over each other the way you do when you’re in that situation. They anticipate the day they will be married and can enjoy each other the way a man and wife do. There should be no shame or awkwardness around the sexual intimacy of a bride and groom. Sexual intimacy is one of the few things, and perhaps the only that, that is only ever shared between a man and a woman.
With that in mind, I think the best interpretation shows how the anticipation of intimacy between and a man and woman is mirrored in the anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 5, the mystery of marriage is that it is a sign of Christ’s love for his people. If that’s true today, then it was true when the text was written, whether or not the fullness of that truth was recognized. As was the case with the prophets, they faithfully wrote the inspired text but did not understand the depth of their writings (1 Peter 1:10-12).
1 Corinthians 15-16
Having completed his commands on orderly worship, he now commends them to remembering the reason they gather at all: the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is not a myth but a historical reality. It is not a story we tell ourselves, like a fable, to inspire us to action. It is as true as any recorded event in history, but it carries even greater consequences. Christ appeared in his resurrected body to hundreds of people. There is no legitimate reason to doubt the resurrection.
There are those Christians today who deny a future resurrection, which makes it difficult to call them Christians at all. Apparently, that is not a new problem. Paul tells the Corinthians that if there is no general resurrection of all believers, then Christ has not even been raised; what consequence would his resurrection even have?
We are all either in covenant with Adam or with Christ. Those in Adam are dead in their sin. Those in Christ are given new life. Everyone who has ever been born is in league with Adam until the Spirit applies the blood of the Son to you. And just as Christ was resurrected, when Christ returns, we will be physically raised to new life in resurrection. After the resurrection, Christ will be in possession of the kingdom and hand it over to God. All evil and wickedness will be destroyed. Before the new heavens and new earth, death will finally be done away with.
In fact, baptism itself is absurd if there is no resurrection. I believe that’s part of the interpretation of “being baptized on behalf of the dead.” Not believing in the resurrection is as absurd as vicarious baptism. The sense is that if someone died as a believer but was never baptized, a living believed could be baptized a second time on the dead person’s behalf. There is no precedent for vicarious baptism for the dead until Mormonism in the 1800s. If we are justified by grace through faith, no one can be baptized on behalf of anyone else.
Paul is not saying that the whole church at Corinth has been baptizing on behalf of the dead. In fact he seems to insinuate it’s a small minority. He just says “people” instead of “you”. Also, the fact that he moves on from it without a single word of affirmation or denial when it is never mentioned anywhere else in Scripture seems to support that it is not to be considered orthodox baptism.
Our dead bodies will be resurrected and glorified into something recognizable but wholly incorruptible. This is our “spiritual body.” You are a living being; you will be a life-giving spirit. You were natural; you will be spiritual. You were of dust; you will be of heaven. We bore Adam’s image; so we will be Christ’s image.
The resurrection will take place in a flash. Christ will return at a point in time; the dead will be raised, and the living will be changed. We will both receive resurrected, glorified bodies at that time. Because of the fact of the resurrection, we should be immovable. Nothing this world can do to us can interrupt God’s plan of resurrection. Stand fast, believer.
Paul ends reminding the Corinthians that he will take up a collection once he arrives in Corinth, so be ready. He tells them that others are coming their way, as well, so be on the lookout. They will come to support you. Finally, he encourages the Corinthian church to stand firm. Let the world fall to pieces around you, but stand firm in the Lord. Resurrection is your future.
2 Corinthians 1-5
2 Corinthians comes about a year after 1 Corinthians. Many of Paul’s contemporaries had argued he suffered too much to be an apostle. If he was really sent by God, he would not have faced the persecution he did. Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament prophets proved that to be a ridiculous notion. Suffering often accompanies God’s messengers. Paul is partly writing this letter to confirm his apostolic status since it had been so publicly disputed.
Remember that Paul mentioned stopping in Corinth for a charitable collection. Before he could arrive, he sent Timothy, who reported a host of problems in Corinth. When Paul arrived in Corinth to address the issues, he didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome. He returned to Ephesus and wrote a letter he gave to Timothy to bring back to Corinth. He warned them to repent or face judgment. To his great joy, many of the Corinthians did, leaving only a small group of dissenters. 2 Corinthians is the letter he wrote acknowledging that repentance.
The first even chapters are focused on Paul’s ministry as an apostle. Affliction is not evidence against comfort and salvation in Christ. In fact, one brings the other. It is natural to question the place of affliction in the life of the believer, but we should trust that God uses all things for our good and for his glory.
Paul recounts why he’s not come to visit them again, reminding them of his call to repentance. He didn’t want to heap hurt upon hurt. It’s Paul’s love for the church at Corinth that he is patient with them. But he does see the need to re-establish his apostolicity among them again. It is through the apostles that the first churches were planted and established. The apostles built up the first church. The apostles are the foundation of the church.
Paul refers back to the narrative when Moses descended Mt. Sinai and his face was blinding from the glow (Exodus 34). Moses put a veil over his face, both to hide the glow so that he would be approachable and so that no one would notice the fading nature of the glow. It did not last forever. The glory of the new covenant, the ministry of the Spirit, is an even more glorious covenant. There was one kind of glory in the old covenant and a surpassing glory in the new covenant. And now, believers behold the glory of God through the Spirit in a way that is far greater than even the way Israel beheld the glory of God in Moses’s face and the old covenant. Not only that, but by keeping our eyes fixed on the glory of God, we are being transformed back into the perfect image of God, degree by degree.
Because of the surpassing glory of the new covenant, Paul will strive on regardless of the earthly consequences. Under the new covenant, if there is a veil, it is over the eyes of those who reject the gospel, those who are perishing. In this age, the god of this world, the devil, is active. He has blinded them.
The believer’s “treasure” is the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. “Jars of clay” is an image of human weakness; we are easily smashed and broken. What a glorious truth, that in our weakness, we can still behold the glory of Jesus Christ. That proves it is a work of God (4:7). Being able to withstand affliction because of the strength of God has always been the blessing of the believer. Paul quotes David from Psalm 116:10, because David says that he believed in God, even in his days of affliction. Affliction is only the temporary situation of the believer. It is “light” and “momentary”.
On the other hand, our eternal home is a building from God. On the last day, we will receive our resurrected bodies from heaven. Paul speaks of our bodies as our clothes. Upon our death, we will remove one set of wrinkly, dusty, sinful clothes, only to be given imperishable, unstained, sinless clothes. While we wait for that day, we remain in this body, in the old clothes. It would be better to be at home with the Lord, but his will for us is that we remain. But what is that to us? Both being in his presence and being on the earth pleases him.
While everyone will appear before the judgment seat of Christ on the last day, for the believer, judgment is not a matter of eternity but of a demonstration of our faith. All will be laid bare, both my works and Christ’s. This is an argument for various levels of reward in heaven, but in the same way our heavenly bodies will be different from our earthly bodies, we should not speculate too much on exactly what these rewards will be. The believer should have full confidence that he will pass the judgment.
Because of that glorious truth, we should seek to be reconciled to God. Beyond that, we should urge lost people to be also be reconciled to God. This is the “ministry of reconciliation”. Paul is not asking for accolades in telling the Corinthians they can boast about him, but he is emphasizing that what he and his fellow apostles had to endure was as nothing compared to their love for the Lord and his church. Therefore, we live for the Lord’s sake from now on. We no longer live as though this world is all that matters or “according to the flesh.” This is such a radical distinction that Paul can even say that we are an entirely new creation. There is no sense in relating to a new creation as if he or she was the same as the entirely different, old creation.
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