I’m teaching 1 Corinthians this Spring and we’ve noted repeatedly how Paul’s pastoral theologizing is completely dominated by eschatology.
The coming judgment, the resurrection of the body, and the transformation of all things orient his approach to the life of the church and the character of being Christian.
Paul notes quite often that “waiting” for God’s restoration of all things is central to the life of faith:
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25).
For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness (Galatians 5:5).
These passages aren’t throwaway lines but rhetorically climactic texts in which Paul stresses core identity markers of Jesus-followers.
In most of these texts, Paul is contrasting former pagan behavior with current Christian conduct on the part of his converts. Rather than lives of idolatry and the satisfaction of earthly appetites, Christians wait eagerly for God to send Jesus to save his people and transform them, along with the whole creation.
This contrast is present in the Galatians text cited above, and in two more texts:
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:17-21).
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
Paul’s eschatological orientation doesn’t involve a desire to escape from creation nor does it involve fascination about the spectacular details of end-times events.
It involves an intense and eager longing for God to transform creation, healing it of its brokenness and freeing it from Sin’s domination and Death’s devastation.
It seems to me that the level of comfort Christians enjoy determines their resonance with Paul’s theological vision.
The more comfortable our lives become, the less we yearn for God to send a Savior to transform and redeem.
The closer we get to pain and suffering, however, the more we look forward eagerly to the Lord Jesus returning to make all things new.
6 thoughts on “Waiting . . .”
Speaking of which– I’ve been puzzling over 1 Cor. 10 lately. Paul uses examples from Israel’s history to warn people who aren’t living correctly. But how are we to understand Paul’s view of God in light of his use of these examples? For example, does he expect that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ is going to strike down people who complain, or that thousands of the Corinthian church members will fall dead if they engage in sexual immorality, or that they will be bitten by serpents if they question God?
Thiselton’s and Hays’s commentaries are so helpful on this. The practices in which some in the Corinthian church were engaged had to do with exploiting the weak in their fellowship. It wasn’t merely “not living correctly,” but living with indifference to the ways their participation in pagan practices were hurting others in the church. So, Paul’s instruction has to do with how God will not take that lightly. Just as God judged Israel when they acted like pagans, God will judge those in the church who behave like pagans, especially when those behaviors do damage to the weak and vulnerable in the church. His outlook doesn’t portray a vindictive, puritanical deity, but one concerned for the poor, hungry, and weak who are being mistreated by the powerful and consumeristic.
Thanks so much! Looks like Hays’s is a commentary I will have to investigate.
If you are correct does that mean eschatology is only ever ‘future tense’; never the now?
An eschatology that embeds history seems immanently more useful than one never-to-be-reached-in-our-lifetimes, from the perspective of living Christian lives, dealing with hardship. Moreover, it would also seem to be much more useful in understanding the relevance of prophecy, which constitutes about 1/3 of the bible.
How can we differentiate exegeticly between an eschaton that is ‘happening’ from one ‘yet to be’?
Paul works from the “already, not yet” perspective, so quite often the eschatological blessings are here, now. But there’s also a coming judgment to look forward to, as well as the reality of full and final salvation. Have to discern what he’s saying text by text.
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