THE BIRTH & THE THREAT OF LEGALISM
Michael F. Blume
© 2008 Michael F. Blume
1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
The principle of seeking to improve oneself through self, human effort alone, as opposed to seeking God's strength through prayer and reliance upon Him to improve, is the basic message contrasted between the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. In short, there is much preaching and teaching, even in referencing God's Word, to coerce people to make themselves better. This coercion, though, is without emphasis upon our need of God's empowerment which makes it false teaching. People use the Bible all the time and distort it when they propose a false teaching, although many of them do it sincerely in mistaken error. That is why it is so important to discern as to whether or not the teaching we are receiving is leaving us with the impression that we must make ourselves better without any concept of how to seek God for strength in order to be better, or not.
The spirit of the knowledge of good and evil that is ministered in too many circles of churches leaves one feeling guilty and inadequate, as though we can never be good enough for God. The message associated with the fruit of Life leaves a person with proper understanding that God made us righteous the moment He first saved us. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to give the world life. Therefore, teachings that leave one feeling condemnation are not from Jesus.
Also, it is important to know that any thought of having to suffer in order to please God is simply outrageous! Far too many believers think they must earn God's concern for them through personal suffering. Suffering is part of the Christian experience, yes. But suffering does not improve our relationship with God. It is referred in the Bible in instances of our need for chastisement and development of our character. When it comes to having a relationship with God, Christ suffered for that on the cross. Hence, the Bible teaches in Romans 5 that we have access to God by the blood of Jesus. Access means favor to be in His presence. Anything by way of suffering that has to do with making us people who please God has been accomplished for us through the work of the cross. The work of the cross made us into people who please God simply the cross made us His children. Loving parents love their children simply because they are their children. Jesus noted that our love for our children is a mere shadow of God's love for us as His children. So why would we think God looks at this any different than we do as parents?
If our concept of pleasing God stresses our need to do good deeds in the world or to suffer for Him, then we have been eating from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Let me emphasize, though, that this does not mean we should not be doing good works. But as far as our standing in righteousness is concerned, we are made righteous when we are saved by receiving the gift of God's imputed righteousness (Romans 5:18-19) without having committed any good deeds. Pleasing God to the extent that we are considered righteous is the key difference. Good deeds please God, and the Bible teaches us to be careful to maintain good deeds (Titus 3:8). We must ensure we do not go to the other extreme and live loose lives due to thinking our behavior does not matter. Behaviour matters, but we must know in what manner behavior plays a role in pleasing God. For the purpose of deeming us righteous, though, God does not look for good behavior.
It becomes a question of how do good works please God. If we seek to please Him so He will make us righteous, there are not enough good deeds we could perform that will accomplish that. But if we seek to please Him by good deeds simply for the sake of doing something generally pleasing to God, then that is acceptable. Let's not put the cart before the horse when it comes to righteousness. How our minds associate righteousness with what we do is the important difference between whether or not we adhere to the false doctrine of salvation by works or to true teaching. If we are born again, we already have been made righteous by our new births.
The issue of good deeds deals with the outward realm of things, obviously. Outward issues are manifestations of inward states of being, but are only the outcropping of the inward. The real focus is never on the outcropping of something, but on the root and cause of it if we wish to see change. Paul said if the root is holy then so are the branches (Rom. 11:16). One can try altering the nature of the branches all one wants, but the root determines the nature of the branches.
Paul also said that we should focus our attention on the unseen, inward elements of our lives. He said this because the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18). That being said, it is also of utmost importance to determine what aspect of ourselves is the major focus of our biblical understanding. We will either have an emphasis upon outward aspects or inward aspects. From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh (Matthew 12:34). The mouth speaks words that are the outcropping from the root of the heart. Therefore, what we speak about the most concerning God and ourselves as believers reveals what our emphasis is. The heart should be anyone's focus. What types of sermon themes do we love to hear the most? Where is our focus -- upon outward issues or inward?
One brother told me that his favorite topic of a sermon has always been of the "holiness" theme. By saying "holiness" he meant outward standards of the way Christians should dress. This brings up another important point which we must speak about before we get back to our point concerning outward or inward emphasis. How did the way we dress ever become synonymous with the term "holiness" to the point that the first thing a person thinks about when they hear the word "holiness" is their clothing? "Holiness" is not how we dress, but is more correctly the root of how we dress, or how we do anything for that matter! "Holiness" actually means "belonging to."
In old English culture, the term "holy" was used in a simple concept such as describing something that merely belonged to someone. A man often said things like, "This leather bag is holy to me." He did not mean it was something involved in spirituality, or something spiritually sacred that he worshiped, but only that it belonged to him. Because we belong to the Lord, "Holy" implies a whole lot of things not associated with something belonging to anyone else! But take note that, technically speaking, just saying something is "holy" is merely saying it belongs to someone. The only question is whether or not it is holy to yourself or to someone else. Because anything that belongs to the Lord cannot be unclean or sinful, we associate cleanness and purity and righteousness with the term "holiness". But that is only due to our standpoint in speaking of things belonging to God.
Correct understanding of terms is so necessary to avoid confusion and mistaken understanding. Changing the term "holiness" to refer to clothes is just one example of how terms are distorted from their original meanings. Such a distortion would not be so terrible if it were not that the biblical passages that refer to holiness are misunderstood by such people. If one thinks holiness refers to how we dress alone, then reading the passage, "Be ye holy as I am holy," would cause someone with this error in mind to think we must dress a certain way because God dresses that way. And that is ridiculous! Since God is a Spirit, and has not flesh and bones, we must conclude God could never be holy since he could never wear modest clothing, or He could not be holy at least until He manifested in flesh as Jesus Christ.
Due to much emphasis put upon the outward style of dress of the world contrasted with a chaste and modest appearance associated with Christians, the term "holiness" has lost its original meaning with many Christians. It erringly became synonymous with modest appearance. It is important to note that true holiness is only in the heart of a believer, and describes a state of being. It will indeed manifest itself in all our outward activities, but not just in the way we dress. Holiness must manifest in the way we treat people and the way we speak and talk! Holiness should manifest in how we worship God as well.
Basically, holiness should be thought of in anything we do as a result of belonging to the Lord. But holiness is a state of being and condition of a soul alone. And only God can make us holy, since only He can make us belong to Himself. As a result of belonging to him, or being holy to Him, our responsibility is to behave in a manner conducive to that state of being. But when we restrict holiness to the way we dress and look, there is ample ground for the enemy to deceive us and see us never concerned with the state of our being and how we treat people. I have seen more so-called "holy" people tear the eyes out of others with their words and attitude and ungodly behavior, who felt they were "holy" just because they dressed modestly.
Many Christians who have never known holiness to refer to anything but clothing styles are often the victims of bad attitudes and hot tempers and fusses with others. Not all are like that, but many are. You see, when emphasis is upon the outward far more in a Christian's understanding than upon the character and condition of the heart, the fruit of the Spirit is usually absent from such people. Things that are outward are fleshly and physical.
It is a fact that emphasis and concentration upon the flesh will cause a person to live a fleshly life in matters of attitude and treatment of others. Absence of such concentration and focus on the inward simply leaves people without care for the way they treat other people, and that can only result in extremely bad treatment of others. People strive for what is preached to them to strive for. If the things of the heart and attitude and spirit are not preached much, but outward appearance is preached more than anything, then people will strive more to be outwardly correct rather than inwardly so. We cannot preach it enough that love for God and love for each other, and how we treat each other, should be the utmost important thing in our lives. While some people are more concerned with outward dress standards, the biblical "standards of the heart" go unchecked.
One brother told me of his "old-time religion" father who had such a vicious temper, that he afflicted many, many people around him in times of his impatience. Yet in every case, he was sure to very humbly apologize and make things right afterwards, which was noble. But he never got victory over his hot temper. It seems that through the decades emphasis of the fruit of the Spirit was never preached to this man as much as how one dressed. This dear old man's experience is just one example of how a person becomes unbalanced and severely carnally-minded due to over-emphasis upon the outward.
There is something suspect in a person's Christianity when they prefer hearing preaching about the way we dress more than anything else. Jesus actually told us what to prefer above everything else, and that was seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He did not tell us to seek first the notions of how we should dress! Everything else falls beneath seeking God's Kingdom and His righteousness. Paul even said that of all the issues he sought after in his Christianity, the greatest goal he had was to "know Christ in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering". He wanted to be found with the righteousness which is of God by faith, and not that of his own works, when the Lord would come for him.
Philippians 3:8-11 KJV Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (9) And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (10) That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (11) If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
Why do we not take Paul's example and likewise seek this above all else? Our hearts should sincerely prefer ministry, preaching and sermons concerning a closer relationship with the Lord, about our character and attitude with others, and the fruit of the Spirit more than anything else. Otherwise our hearts are seeking things that fall short of what God intends us to seek after most of all.
How many have ever heard it said that just as a uniform of a police officer, or airline pilot, or military personnel make known those various professions, the manner in which a Christian dresses makes their Christianity known to the world? Such a viewpoint has been heard many times by this writer. Basically, the idea is that the Christian is known by the world through the means by which that Christian dresses. Not only is this taking focus away from the inward to the outward, but it patently contradicts Christ's own words about this issue when He said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35).
Never in the entire Bible is clothing ever associated with anything to do with letting the world know we are Christian. The only purpose modest clothing serves is to simply appear modest! It's the common sense thing to do when you are a Christian. In fact, this purpose of modesty is often destroyed in some cases when Christians dress so outlandishly old-fashioned that they draw attention from all passers by. Consider the Amish! They do not make people think of Christ, but of some overly old-fashioned religious people.
Modesty is not just avoidance of lustful appearances that incite adultery and fornication in the hearts of others, but is simply not drawing attention to oneself in any manner. Not all modern styles of dress are immodest! So long as something is feminine and modest for a woman, and masculine and modest for a man, it is conducive to Christian apparel. When it loses modesty, it is no longer acceptable.
One day a thought came to me. I was observing discussions of Christians on various Christian discussion forums and watching how so many of the topics focused around varying outward issues. There was much chat about issues that one finds particularly emphasized in the book of 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians is introduced with Paul's words describing the Corinthians' severe carnality, and how he could not write to them anything that was very spiritual since they would not adequately be able to receive it. He had to write to them about things that fell under the category of what should be spoken to immature Christians whom he called infants! When you read through this book, Paul discussed favoritism of preachers, what we build upon the foundation of our Christianity, defiling physical bodies, tolerating fornication in the church, the issue of marriage and divorce, eating meats offered to idols, financial support of ministers of the Gospel, taking one another to court, headcovering, length of hair on men and women, symbols of communion being contradicted by disunity, gifts of the Spirit and lack of Christian love, and what happens after we die. Pretty well everything discussed amongst those forums circled around these same issues! What does that tell us about the maturity level of the average Christian? Paul called all those things "milk" that one feeds to infants, and not the "meat" of the Word (1 Cor 3:1-3). What especially made Paul comment about the Corinthians immaturity was their treatment of one other in the church, which he listed as envying, striving and dividing. Paul later told the Galatians in chapter 5 that they who did those very things would not inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21)!
One should never abandon all concern for the outward, to be sure. We must be careful to maintain good deeds. However, legalism is detected in circles where the outward is mentioned more than the inward. It is true that there are two extremes to most all things -- and that certainly is involved in this topic. There is the extreme of total abandonment of concern over the outward and the other extreme of over-concern of the outward without any concern for the heart. But when people think of how they dress as soon as the term "holiness" is mentioned, something is extremely wrong.
Amongst the issues of the outward that many people home in on more than many other elements, is the issue of hair in 1 Corinthians 11. Scholars agree the issue is speaking of a then-present custom of a veil or headcovering, and that it is a mistaken notion to consider the first half of the chapter to be speaking about hair. Hair is mentioned, but it is not the subject. Hair is merely a reference from nature to show that long hair suits a woman and not a man giving a hint that a veiling is meant for a woman and not a man during Christian worship. If hair were the subject, then Paul spoke quite ridiculously in requiring this as a covering for women only when they pray or prophesy. Hair cannot be removed and put on again for times of prayer and prophecy.
In some circles it has been proposed that a woman's head covered means that hair has not been cut in any manner. This is unreasonable in light of what Paul said.
Those who insist that uncut hair is the issue of the chapter find themselves in a precarious position of contradicting the definition of a single word from one verse to the next!
1 Corinthians 11:14-15 KJV (14) Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (15) But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
The phrase "HAVE LONG HAIR" is translated from a single Greek word, "κομάω" in the King James Version. The uncut hair doctrine takes these two verses and says a man cannot have hair on his shoulders or touching his shoulders or back. Some claim that the safest way to follow this thought is to have men cut their hair at the hairline. This has been abused, though, and men without hair at the "safe point" are considered outcasts in such circles. When it comes to women, it is taught by these people that it does not matter if a woman has hair down her back or only hanging down to the top of her shoulders, so long as it is uncut it can be considered "have long hair".
Using that rule, the word "κομάω" must change definitions from verse 14 to verse 15. A woman is allegedly required by God to never cut her hair or so much as trim half an inch off it. Never touch it with scissors at all! So, the teaching goes that men should keep their hair short and women never touch their hair with scissors. If "HAVE LONG HAIR" means to have hair uncut and untouched by scissors, then a man will not violate that rule so long as he cuts his hair. If we keep the definition consistent in both verses we read the following:
"(14) Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have uncut hair, it is a shame unto him? (15) But if a woman have uncut hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering."
The above thought requires a man to simply cut his hair in order to avoid having uncut hair and make himself shameful. So long as he touches his hair with scissors and cuts it, he does not "have long hair." If a man does not have uncut hair, but merely trims it only half an inch that hair is not considered "long" no matter if it is five feet down his back or not.
Immediately we will hear the response that five foot long hair is indeed long! I agree. But we must be consistent in both verses 14 and 15 as to what "have long hair" means. Does it mean "uncut" or not? We cannot say verse 15 implies uncut hair while verse 14 does not, since the term is the same in both verses!
Let's speak of this using algebraic terms to simplify our point. If we call the term "have long hair" by the variable A and understand that a man cannot have A while a woman must have A, then A cannot change definitions from one verse to the next. Whatever A means and includes in its definition in reference to what a man cannot do has to be consistent when we use it in the next statement regarding what women must do. Otherwise, Paul should not have said a man cannot do what a woman must do.
Changing the meaning of A from one verse to the next is like saying a man cannot A, but if a woman does B it is alright. Verses 14 to 15 show a contrast. The opposite element we find in Paul's contrast was not having long hair contrasted with having long hair. Paul placed the picture of a man not having long hair opposite to a woman having long hair in view for us to show how long hair appears better on a woman than on a man. How could Paul say something looks better on a woman than on a man if that something is not mentioned in both cases?
A common denominator must exist in making a contrast. To change what this "something" is that is contrasted from a man's case to that of a woman is like saying, "A man cannot drive a red car, but if a woman plays golf on Sunday it is acceptable." And that is ridiculous.
When anyone states that men cannot say they do not have long hair, if they wear hair down their backs and trim it off half an inch, but a woman who has hair down her back and trims off a half inch can say she does not have long hair, one is violating all reason and common sense when reading verses 14 and 15 in 1 Cor 11.
It has been argued that we must refer back to verse 6 to show a woman cannot touch her hair with scissors. That verse reads, "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. " This is the basis for claiming that κομάω can refer to something different for a man than for a woman. That still, however, violates the manner of speaking in verses 14 to 15. The definitions must remain constant in both uses of the term, whether or not there is an additional modifier added to the woman's case from another verse and not the man's. Paul would not have made the contrast if another verse changed the entire meaning of the common word from one verse to the next. He would have incorrectly spoken of apples and oranges in verses 14-15.
Yet others have argued that the Greek term "have long hair", or "κομάω", is a verb and means "let the hair grow". The claim was that the action in this verb can only be that of the hair growing. They reason that if this is the action, with no other action that can be considered, then cutting the hair with scissors stops that action and is the only reasonable explanation for a verb. This supports their teaching that a woman must not cut her hair whatsoever.
This is simply error. The definition of Thayer's dictionary says the following:
κομάω - komaō - 1) to let the hair grow, have long hair
Although "grow" is a verb, the verb in this instance is not seen in the growing aspect but rather the person "having" or the "letting" the hair grow. The definitions simply include the action of having hair that is long and letting hair grow. The action of growing is secondary to the subject.
James Strong's definition of the term is "to wear tresses of hair". Notice the act of growing the hair is not considered. It is the wearing of it. So, we cannot use the idea that the term is a verb to prove that Paul is teaching that long hair is uncut hair.
But whether or not hair is the subject of 1 Corinthians 11 is not really of the most concern, since Paul was rebuking the Corinthians about something not found anywhere else in the Bible! What does that say? That is the real issue.
A member of the church at Corinth was Chloe whose family members informed Paul of various undesirable situations going on in the assembly (1 Cor 1:11; 16:17). Whatever these people said to Paul is lost to us today. We do not have the letter or the tape recording of their chat with Paul. All we have is Paul's response to the entire church about those issues. When the headcovering is introduced to the table, after speaking about many other issues to be dealt with, we know these people mentioned this problem to Paul privately. He just stated in the end of Chapter 10 that no offence should ever be allowed to occur due to their lifestyle (1 Cor 10:32). This is significant. In fact, we read the last verse in chapter 10:
1 Corinthians 10:33 KJV (33) Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
And then chapter 11, that deals with the covering, says this in continuation of that statement:
1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
In other words, do what Paul did in not seeking his own profit but seeking that of man so that he might save the many. This is the introduction to chapter 11!
Chapter 11 is a rebuke to the women for not covering their heads while praying and prophesying, and Paul noted they were to keep the ordinances he delivered to them. Obviously Paul previously instructed the Corinthians women to cover their heads while the men ought not to do so. But that is not in the Bible. It was a private recommendation outside the bible's list of directives.
From chapter 8 through into chapter 11, Paul has been writing about issues that are not wrong themselves, but are wrong around certain people. We know this because of chapter 8's referenced to meat offered to idols. He said an idol was nothing, and so the meat was just food. He picks this up again in 10:16-33. There, he says to not engage in pagan rituals to eat that meat, though. And he summarized his thoughts by saying it is Christian to deny yourself of something acceptable if it is going to offend others. He said that is the way he handled things. And in chapter 11, the chapter that mentions hair, the first verse says to handle things the way he did. This makes the issue of the covering a cultural issue. Because it is a cultural issue, it is not something we should particularly enforce as a rule in every place a church exists.
Paul rebuked them for something the rest of the Bible never stated. This makes the covering an isolated, cultural issue that was only required for reasons of not offending people, just like meats offered to idols. You could eat meat offered to idols, but if it offended others you would be wrong in that isolated instance in doing so. The same principle is being applied with the covering, due to the entire context from chapter 8, and from chapter 10 reading into 11. Paul is using the same theme throughout.
We have these facts:
1) Paul did teach about offending others over things specifically not required by God, in and of themselves.
2) Paul introduced Chapter 11 by asking believers to follow his example of not offending others, which is associated with the teaching in chapter 10.
3) The issue of the covering in chapter 11 was involved in a custom.
4) Paul rebuked them for not keeping something the rest of the Bible never told anyone to keep.
Therefore, we realize that the issue of the covering is categorized with such customary things that Paul recommended Christians keep due to the issue of offense. The headcovering is not a biblical issue laid out for the church of all time. If a culture deems a covering on a woman's head to indicate submission, and Christians are living in that cultural setting, then the women ought to cover their heads to not offend. Submission to a woman's husband is her responsibility in any culture. And the cultural symbol of that should be maintained. The headcovering was synonymous with a woman's submission to her husband in the middle east, and still is in that region, for that matter. In the Corinth of two thousand years ago, people observed the Christian women not covering their heads in their worship and were offended at the thought! However, in cultures where this symbol is unknown and where no one would consider the thought that a headcovering indicates submission to her husband, the symbol is unnecessary.
Yes, Paul appealed to God's order of creation and man's headship over the wife in his discourse about the subject, but all those things focus upon submission of the wife to the husband. That is an issue that is indeed required throughout all centuries of the church no matter where the church exists. The symbol of that submission, though, is not so required.
Paul referred to the headcovering as just another issue involved in the overall conduct we should be portraying. That conduct is the practice of denying yourself of something that is not necessarily wrong, but offends people in an isolated, cultural instance. It is more important to not offend people than to continue with something that is technically okay for Christians.
Our correct knowledge of an issue cannot overshadow the fact that we are killing opportunities for onlookers to come to life by offending them, and are in effect killing those souls. This is another manner in which the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil will cause death. The fruit of Life urges us to deny self and give them life. Paul taught this principle throughout his epistles.
1 Corinthians 8:8-9 CEV (8) But food doesn't bring us any closer to God. We are no worse off if we don't eat, and we are no better off if we do. (9) Don't cause problems for someone with a weak conscience, just because you have the right to eat anything.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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