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Day 162 – Participation

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 10

Paul spends several verses outlining for the Corinthians the boundaries for eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Basically, he really wants to make the point that Christianity is something far different from paganism.  He wants the older converts to shore up their new brothers.  They must be careful not to give the impression that Christianity and paganism are equivalent.

Then Paul says something curious,

I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say.  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Paul says that by eating the bread and drinking the wine we participate in the body and blood of Christ.  He tells us that he can say that because there is only one bread and that therefore eating the one bread makes us into one body.  Can a symbol do that?  Paul seems to reject the idea that we are dealing with mere symbols.  The idea of participation is a very Jewish idea.  For example, at the celebration of Passover, the Jewish people do not consider it a historic event.  At the Passover supper, they ask the question, “Why is THIS DAY different from every other day?”  They answer, “Because this day WE are led out of Egypt.”  In a Jewish person’s thinking, they participate in the Passover as if it is a current event.

They also don’t have a top down – one-way covenant with God.  A covenant is a partnership or a family bond.  They make sacrifices to God at the Temple and then they eat those sacrifices to create, renew and keep that family bond.  The sharing of the sacrifices is what bonds the Jewish people into one body.  Paul continues:

Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Now, no one would doubt that Paul believes demons are real.  If the bread and wine of the Last Supper are merely symbols than it would be something less than the meat and wine sacrificed to demons.  Paul’s statements only make sense if he means to say that the bread and wine are, in fact, the Body and Blood of the Lord.

And the key is this idea of “Participation”.  The Gospel is about many things.  It is about the forgiveness of sins, it is about salvation, it is about Charity, it is about love and it is about God building a new covenant, a new bigger family expanded to include the Gentiles.  How is this to be done?  By participation! We are being saved to participate in God’s divine life.  In Chapter 3 of this same letter, Paul said,

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

How is this radical goal to be achieved?  We must be united to the Lord in a radical way.  We are mind, body and soul composites.  God knows this and he provides the food for all three.  He feeds our minds through the word.  He feeds our bodies by our good works, by living like a Christian we become more Christ like.  This is one of Paul’s messages to the Corinthians in this letter.  And what of our souls?  The primary way He feeds our souls is through participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord, the Eucharist.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 11

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Day 161 – Paul’s Duty

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 9

Today we read passages where Paul further annunciates his right as an Apostle to obtain a living from the congregation if he so chooses.  However, Paul makes the point that he has forgone this right in order to present absolutely no obstacle between a potential convert and the faith.  Paul’s concerns still hold true today.  How many of us have heard objections to faith because of elaborate vestments or expensive houses that the Church has?  How do we address this concern?  One of the ways is to always make our support of the Church voluntary.  Simply states, “Yes, the Bishop might have a nice house but that was because the faithful chose to build it for him to make his service to the Church difficult.”  Conversely, it is always the responsibility of our clergy to use the money and facilities entrusted to them with the utmost prudence.

Another aspect of Paul’s writing still holds true today.  Paul says, “I have become all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some.”  We still see this today.  I current example is Father James Martin, who has reached out to the LGBT community and some say has gotten ‘to close’ to them.  Perhaps though, that is what was needed, for a priest to get into their community and get “too close”.  I don’t pretend to know the specific and answer but I’m willing to trust that as long as Father Martin is in communion with his Bishop and the Church that he is doing good work.

Paul’s admonitions in today’s readings don’t just apply to clergy.  We are all called, to one degree or another, to forego earthly compensation in the spreading of the gospel.  We are all called to find the outcasts, the different, the lonely and ‘get in close’ and spread the gospel.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 10

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Day 160 – Meat Sacrificed to Idols

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 8

Paul next addresses what was a fairly big controversy in the first century.  As the faith spread out from Jewish to Gentile areas and the conversion of Gentiles became a greater focus the question of what to do with meat sacrificed to idols became a recurring issue.  Assuming, that sacrifices in pagan temples worked in practice similar to the sacrifices at the temple, in particular, that the person offering the sacrifice got back the carcass after the sacrifice was made it is not surprising that idol sacrificed meat was common.  The problem was common enough in that the Council of Jerusalem addressed in the first letter from a council (Acts 15).

The council prohibited the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.  Paul seems to take a slightly less rigorous stance finding nothing wrong with eating the meat per se but counseling caution on how it might appear to others.  While Paul’s thinking on the matter might appear at first look to be in conflict with the Council of Jerusalem, I don’t think that it is.  Paul is saying that while there is nothing wrong physically with meat sacrificed to idols the appearances are all wrong.  Paul emphasizes that a brother, strong in the faith, knows that meat is meat and it having been sacrificed to an idol doesn’t alter it in any way.  It is the appearance that is wrong because to a new convert it appears that the Christian, who believes in “One God” is honoring a different God.  Paul counsels that to strengthen the faith of the new brothers eating meat tainted with idol sacrifice should be avoided.  This is almost precisely the same logic as employed by the Council of Jerusalem.  They found no obligation on the convert to comply with Jewish ceremonial law regarding circumcision.  However, they decided that to facilitate good relations between the Jewish and Gentile converts and to strengthen the Jewish converts who were disturbed by the eating of meat sacrificed to idols that Gentiles should keep up appearances and not eat meat sacrificed to idols.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 8

 

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Day 159 – Paul’s Call to Chastity

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 7:25-40

In today’s reading Paul endorses chastity in the most emphatic terms possible.  In just fourteen verses he endorsed chastity in one way or another ten times.  He says if one is not married they should not seek marriage.  He says that those who have wives should live as if they have none.  He says that those that are unmarried can be concerned about the affairs of the Lord, whereas those that are married have a divided attention.  He says that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.”  In fact, he endorses chastity so strongly that he literally has to write that marriage is OK if you must and that marriage is not a sin, just to keep from confusing everyone.

We, in our present day society, have fallen so far from this standard that it seems almost impossible to us.  However, as Christians, we should consider seriously how true chastity would change our society and the world.  Sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, and divorce all would be positively affected by a chaste society.  Critics will say that the standard is impossible to meet and that people would still engage in sexual relations on the sly.  Fair enough, but should be base our moral and ethical choices on the fact that people have a certain likelihood of failure and sin.  Paul calls us to seek something higher.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 8

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Day 158 – Celibacy

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 7:1-24

Paul continues on today expounding on the rules for marriage and sexual relations.  He makes two statements that are particularly interesting.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.  I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.   To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.

In the context of the passage, Paul is clearly talking about celibacy.  He plainly states that he wishes that all were in this same state.  Then he says if a person cannot exercise self-control they should marry.  Thus, celibacy is a preferred biblically approved state.  Paul is of course an Apostle and a Priest.  Thus, this is one of the (but not the only) verses that help to establish the discipline of priestly celibacy.  It also establishes what should be the norm for Christians in society – chastity until marriage.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 7: 25-40

 

 

 

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Day 157 – Your Body is a Temple (Not a Synagogue)

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 6

We’ve all heard the expression, “Your body is a temple”.  Most people think its modern expression about health, a saying to remind you to eat right, exercise, and stop smoking.  Today we read where that expression comes from:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;  you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Here Paul had a choice.  In Jewish culture, there was only one Temple in the ancient world of any relevance.  That is, of course, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  Outlying towns had Synagogues.  The difference?  At the temple, a properly ordained priest could make a sacrifice acceptable to God.  A faithful Jew would travel to Jerusalem and bring their sacrifice to the Temple.  The Priest would sacrifice it and offer it up to God.  Then he would return certain portions of the sacrifice to the faithful who would eat it.  At a Synagogue, you had the Torah alone.  The scriptures were read and taught but there was no sacrifice.  Paul could have said, ‘your body is a Synagogue’, but he didn’t, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he chose “Temple”.

So, if your body is a Temple, what then in the sacrifice?  Paul tells us, “you were brought with a price.”  Of course, that price is the once and for all acceptable sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

But here another curious problem arises.  How then do you get the sacrifice into the temple?  How is the temple (your body) and the sacrifice (Jesus Christ) joined together?  Quite simply you must bring your offering to the Temple.  Then a properly ordained priest will offer the sacrifice that is acceptable to God. Then he will give it you and you eat it.  Jesus made a plan exactly for this with the Eucharist when he took bread and wine and said, “This is my body … this is my blood”.  In this way, the sacrifice and the temple are reunited and the temple again becomes the dwelling place of God.  This is what has been done in Christianity for 2000 years.  This is what happens in every Catholic Mass.  This is how the pattern of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new.

Paul says as much in the passages leading up to his reference to your body as a temple.  He decries sexual immorality.  Why?  Because:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

In the passage, Paul is talking about our physical bodies.  How can your physical body be a member of the body of Christ if our union with Christ is only spiritual?  The Catholic Eucharist is not a mere spiritual symbol of the sacrifice of Christ or a mere remembrance of his life and teaching.  It IS the successful sacrifice of Jesus made physically present again, when the Eucharist is consumed it sanctifies the physical Temple of the bodies of his disciples.  This is an important point.  The sacrifice of Christ is made once on Calvary and was successful.  Christ is not sacrificed again but that which was sacrificed is made present again so that it can be distributed and consumed by the faithful, just as it was in the Old Covenant.

“Your body is a Temple”, is not a statement about personal fitness, good hygiene, or even just good moral habits.  “Your body is a Temple” is a statement about the reality of Christian life that the God of the universe wishes to dwell inside you and sanctify your body and soul, to prepare you for your heavenly destination.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 7:1-24

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Day 156 – The First Excommunication

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 5

Recall that in Matthew 18, the Apostles were given the power to bind and loose.  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  At its highest level, the power to bind and loose give the Apostles the power to forgive sins (Jesus also conveys this authority to them explicitly) and the power to definitively define the dogmas of the Christian faith.  In addition, the power to bind and loose also necessarily entails a disciplinary authority.

Today we see St. Paul invokes that power in the most dramatic way.  There is an open and manifest sinner living among the Corinthians.  This man is engaged in an affair with his father’s wife.  Paul’s discipline in swift and sure:

Let him who has done this be removed from among you.  For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment  in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

There are no two ways about it – Paul kicks him out of the Church.  This is the first excommunication.  The word means what it literally says – to break communion.  Two things should be stated.  First, for someone to be kicked out of something that thing must exist in the first place.  In other words, even in the first century, the Church was a visible organization.  The Church is not just the invisible body of baptized believers.  This man is still a part (and always will be) part of the mystical body of believers.  However, he is kicked out of the visible organization that is the Church.

Second, excommunication doesn’t mean that the person is being sent to hell.  Make no mistake; this is a very serious thing.  Paul actually says this man is being delivered over to Satan.  However, the discipline is ultimately for the good of this man.  Paul says that he is doing this so that the man, “may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  Paul is willing to give up his body to hopefully save his soul.  By kicking him out of the Church, Paul is cutting the man off from the body of Christ.  This will lead to suffering, perhaps physical but certainly spiritual.  The hope is that this dramatic step, and the realization by the man of the seriousness of his sins, will lead to repentance.

Notice, Paul declares that HE (Paul) has pronounced judgment on this man IN THE NAME OF LORD.  This comes right after Paul telling us that he doesn’t even judge himself.  So we see here, that even though Paul will leave final judgment to Christ, it is his role and his responsibility to exercise the authority he has been given for the good of the Church.  This is not his own power but Jesus’ power which Paul has been given authority to exercise in Jesus’ name.

Paul extends this further and reminds the congregation that they have this responsibility too.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Again, two points should be highlighted.  Paul says, “those inside the church” should be held to the standards of the Church.  Again, this identifies a visible organization.  Second, the next time someone quotes to you the “judge not” passage (some people think the entire bible consists solely of those two words) bring them right to this passage.  Notice, Paul has no problem judging the ACTIONS of this man but he does not judge his soul.  We can and must judge actions, particularly manifestly sinful actions.  However, we do not judge souls and when we do judge actions it is to point out manifest sin in the hopes of bringing about repentance.

In addition, this whole episode strongly undercuts the idea of, “once saved always saved.”  This man was saved – he was converted and in the church.  Then he is not saved – in serious sin and kicked out.  And Paul hopes that he may be saved on the last day.

Finally, note Paul’s other reference:

… For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

What is “the festival” that Paul wants the Corinthians to celebrate?  We know it is not a Jewish festival and we know it can’t be a pagan festival.  We can tell what Paul is referencing because he refers to Christ as “our paschal lamb”.  Paul is referring to the last supper and the Eucharist.  So even from this early time, Christian worship was the Mass, with the Paschal lamb the focus.

Notice the sentence combines the present and past tense.  Christ IS our Paschal lamb, who has been sacrificed.  The sacrifice has passed but Christ IS the paschal lamb because he IS ALIVE and present in the Eucharist.  Remember that at the Passover, the lamb was sacrificed at the temple and then taken home and consumed by the family.  Jesus’ sacrifice is made once and for all on Calvary but Paul still refers to Him as the Pascal lamb and instructs the Corinthians to celebrate the festival.  Thus, in the first century they are doing as Jesus instructed, they “do this in remembrance” of him.  Christians from the beginning are consuming the lamb in thanksgiving and worship.  Christian worship, from the beginning, is the Lord’s Supper.  That is the festival that is celebrated.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 6

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Day 155 – Stewards of the Mysteries of God

Today: 1 Cor 4

There are so many things in the fourth chapter of First Corinthians it’s hard to know what to write about.  So when in doubt, start with the first sentence:

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

The Apostles are the “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  This had a specific meaning in antiquity.  Stewards ran the masters house and affairs.  They were responsible for everything from purchasing supplies, to running the staff, seeing to the education of children, etc.  Paul says this is the role of the Apostles in the Church.  But notice!  He had sent Timothy to Corinth with the same purpose:

Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

Timothy’s job is to ‘remind’ the Corinthians of Paul’s “ways in Christ”.  I.e., to teach – in effect to give a refresher course.  So we see here the Apostles send out others they have trained and given them a share in the teaching ministry.  And these emissaries from the Apostles have authority.  We know that because Paul is upset that Timothy has not been given the respect he deserves upon his arrival in Corinth:

Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.  But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.  For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.  What do you wish?  Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Paul is really throwing down the gauntlet here.  He says that Timothy’s coming was the same as if Paul himself came but some were arrogant and did not treat Timothy with the respect he deserved and more importantly did not take to heart his message.   Paul is saying that when he returns to Corinth he will see how tough these people are if this is not corrected by the time he gets there.  Thus, we see here the roots of the principle of Apostolic Succession.  The Apostles did not work alone.  As they traveled and evangelized they raised up (through the power of God of course) helpers, who learned the Gospel well enough to become teachers and the Apostles sent them out, as they themselves had been sent out, to preach and teach.

Two other important points:

  1. Paul calls himself “Father”. 

Remember, we read in Matthew 23:9, the “call no man Father” verse but here Paul explicitly calls himself the Father of the Corinthians:

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

Thus, we see clearly it is not the use of the term “Father” that is prohibited by Matthew 23:9.  In fact, here we see very directly that we have spiritual Fathers.  The “call no man father” prohibition of Matthew is not a prohibition of the use of the word father; rather it is an admonition to give no human man the love and adoration reserved for God alone.

  1. Going beyond what is written.

Verse 6 is sometimes used to defend the idea that we should rely on the Bible alone as the source of authority.

I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

However, if you read the passage as an endorsement of the Bible alone as the sole source of authority takes it too far.  In the first place, when Paul wrote this almost none (if any) of the New Testament had been written.  Thus, in effect, the original meaning of the passage would have to be “…not to go beyond what is written IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.”  I don’t think anyone would be able to justify a reading of the passage that in part carried that implication.

Second, we know that Paul has said in other places that the scripture must be interpreted in light of the Apostles teaching.

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. – 1 Thess 2:13

and

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. – 2 Thess 2:15

and

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. – 2 Thes 3:6

So what does the passage mean?  Paul is simply referring the Corinthians back to the OT verses he quoted previously in this letter.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” – 1 Cor 1:19

and

therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:31

and

For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 1 Cor 3:19

Notice, all the verses Paul had previously quoted in the letter deal with the same overall theme Paul has been talking about in the letter.  The issue is that the arrogance and the bickering of the Corinthians is inconsistent with the Gospel.  A Christian is to be humble and loving.  Paul is telling them that he lives up to the very advice that he has given them.  That is why the verse starts with “I have applied all this to myself…” and ends with “…that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 5

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Day 154 – God’s Co-Workers and Purgatory

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 3

Chapter 3 of First Corinthians is one of the best Chapters to illustrate how two things that are seemingly inconsistent can both be true at the same time.

Paul is chastising the Corinthians basically calling them “spiritual babies”.  He makes the point to them that if they were deepening their faith they wouldn’t be arguing amongst themselves.

Then notice what Paul says …

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

So Paul planted and Apollos watered but the seed only grows because of God.  So one can say it is God alone who saves.

But wait!

At the same time, Paul says, “each shall receive his wages according to his labor” and “we are God’s fellow workers”.  This is an important key to understanding God’s plan for salvation.  Absolutely, only God saves but he CHOOSES to accomplish the salvation of souls through the others and the works they do for him.  Thus, Paul can truly say we are God’s fellow workers.  Thus, both are true: God alone saves AND we are his fellow workers.

Remember the example of a mother baking a cake who lets her small child help.  Letting the child help doesn’t any way diminish the knowledge and work or the mother (who did not need the child to help in the first place).  On the other hand, the child genuinely adds something to the work being done and in fact learns to become more like the mother in the process.  This is similar to the way of works in salvation and how we truly are God’s fellow co-workers.

The second half of the chapter is the verse most commonly used to establish purgatory.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw –  each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

So, this work we do for the Lord will be tested by fire on “the Day”, which is the day of Judgement.  For the work that survives the fire, the good works, you will receive a reward.  For the works that are burned up, the person will “suffer loss” but will still be saved.  So on the day of our judgment, there is some state, or place, or process in which the work of our life will be tested.  In is not heaven because a person still “suffers loss”.  It is not hell because despite suffering the person will still “be saved”.  Thus is a 3third state where those things that are impure are burned or purged away.

They key thing to understand what Paul is saying that he is not saying that these works earn one’s entrance into heaven.  What he’s saying is that as a fellow worker with God we must be careful in the work we do on his behalf, but God’s mercy is great and if we fail in some respect, the failings will be purged away by fire, leaving behind only what is good and pure.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 4

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Day 153 – True Wisdom of God

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 2

Paul speaks today is some difficult and poetic styled writing.  He is trying to make the Corinthians understand that it is not their wisdom, or the wisdom of an eloquent preacher, or the wisdom of a wise ruler that is responsible for their salvation.  Rather, it is solely the wisdom of God, through the Holy Spirit that enlightens their minds and enlivens their souls.

Paul’s purpose in telling this to the Corinthians seems to be to take them down a notch.  Or, perhaps more correctly, to remind them that they are relatively still young and have a lot to learn.  He tells them, “yet among the mature we do impart wisdom”, implying that they have not reached the point of maturity yet.  In the end, Paul’s point is that God’s true wisdom is hidden.  If it were not, regular rules, both religious and secular, would readily discern it.  However, it is not easily discernable, rather it is revealed by the Spirit to the faithful in God’s time.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 3

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