Thought For The Month January 2024.
I rather like the round robin letters you get at Christmas time, but pity the poor Corinthians when Paul’s Christmas card popped through the letter box, containing sixteen chapters to get through. Yet by New Year’s Day, they probably thought it worth the trouble: if you are wondering about New Year’s resolutions, then Paul is the man to go to. You want three? His letter can offer at least three hundred. But three of the most extraordinary come in one of the lectionary readings for January (Revised Common Lectionary 1 Corinthians 6v, 12v-end); they still have remarkable relevance today.
Paul tackles first here a major problem for the early Christians. If the faith was spreading beyond its Jewish roots, which – if any – of the old Mosaic laws were still valid in the new religion? And if one jettisoned the dietary rules and male circumcision and all the rest, what laws then should one follow? Paul’s answer sounds simple, but is profound: all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. Every Christian has to apply to everything he or she does or thinks the test: is this, in the light of my Christian faith, the right thing to do or think? It is not an easy task – when we look at the war in Ukraine, for example, should we feel pleased when Ukraine scores a major hit against the Russians in their own territory, or should we deprecate the loss of civilian life? Should we support their ambitious aim to recover Crimea or push for compromise that would probably simply give Putin a chance to re-arm? As Christians we are called upon to engage with these moral questions and to think through our responses. So, first NYR from Paul: elections coming up in 2024 in both UK and US. Make an informed moral decision on whose concern for justice and compassion deserves your vote rather than on who will give you the best deal.
Next, the NYR many of us will be considering after Christmas: the Diet. Paul’s condemnation of over-eating has nothing to do with health or aesthetic considerations, but rather that gluttony is – like drug addiction, alcohol abuse, compulsive gambling and the rest of the so-called “deadly” sins – a failure of self-control. Paul focuses in this passage on the physical, but what he says could equally apply to such destructive mental obsessions as morbid self-pity and the illusion that one’s internet posts are self-evidently worth reading and writing and repeating. God wants our response to his love to be that of our whole person, and that cannot happen if part of that personality is dominated by such cravings and delusions. So second NYR from Paul: ration what is vexatious to the soul along with what is calamitous to the waistline.
Thirdly, Paul reminds the Corinthians of what Genesis says about a couple becoming “one flesh” – never one to mince his words, he daringly identifies this as happening through the sexual act rather than through the rite of marriage. Whatever the implications of this for the Church’s teaching on remarriage of divorcees or same-sex marriage – and they are, I would argue, profound – Paul’s emphasis is clear on the need to enter any such relationship “not lightly or selfishly, but reverently and responsibly” – there is not, nor should be, such a thing as “casual” sex. Even clearer, and the third NYR from Paul, is to think about your partner and what it means for him or her to be not just with you but at one with you. And, in 2024 (at least!) to act accordingly.
Finally, Steve Randell in his talk at Roxwell on New Year’s Eve reflected ruefully that many NYRs don’t outlast the January sales. Our redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ must count as the bargain of all centuries. But Paul’s letter reminds us: terms and conditions apply!
Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6 (extracts)
“All things are lawful for me,” you may say, but not all things are beneficial. I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” you may say, but God will destroy both one and the other. Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.