From Jim McGuiggan... WHAT'S "HIS" POINT?


The occasion: A division has occurred over "preacher worship"
Paul's purpose: To heal the fracture
Paul's method: The way he frames his presentation
Paul's theology: The truths from which he draws his healing presentation

Each of these categories is distinct from the other though they are all interrelated and to ignore the distinctions helps no one.

If a division occurred over the correctness of paying taxes or the appropriateness of a Christian earning a living by making idols or the acceptability of a Christian marrying a non-Christian Paul would want to heal the fracture. No matter the occasion, it wouldn't matter what divided the assembly, Paul would want to cure it—his purpose would always be the same.

But the reason for the division, that is, the issue over which the assembly divided, while it wouldn't alter his purpose (which would be to heal the fracture), would shape the way he worked to heal it.

He wouldn't make the same presentation when dealing with "preacher worship" as he would if dealing with a division over whether a Christian should pay tax that was used for ungodly purposes. He may well use many of the same truths when dealing with either issue but we wouldn't expect him to make the same points or use the same phrases. How bizarre would it be if he meant to deal with a division over kosher food and spoke only about the value of "speaking in tongues" in an assembly setting?

Paul is a person and like every other person he isn't shaped by a single truth—theological or otherwise. A host of truths shapes his person and his convictions and while he might stress one of those truths while healing a fracture he would be speaking out of the depths of many essential and interrelated truths.

If he were dealing with the issue of "authority in the church" we could easily imagine him stressing the sovereignty of God (making the point that all authority finally resides in the person of God himself—rather than, say, an apostle or prophet or pastor or even an apostolic letter). Though he might stress God's sovereignty he would still be speaking on the basis of a broader foundation; a foundation that included sovereignty but involved other attributes and qualities.

To really understand Paul (or whoever) we need to know what occasioned the letter, what he meant to accomplish and how he words or develops his purpose as well as the truths he relies on.

In dealing with the nature of God's wisdom (as opposed to the world's wisdom) he would no doubt mention other attributes of God and take many others for granted. Still, if he wants to deal with the nature of God's wisdom we must allow him to do that. To go off preaching about all the other attributes that he takes for granted or mentions on the way through is to follow our own line rather than his.

We must allow his point to have centre stage. When Paul speaks of the cross we must be aware that he always sees it as an atoning self-offering but that is not the truth he always wishes to bring out. That truth is never left behind or denied but other truths about the cross are given their place. In Philippians 2:1-11 the cross (as part of the entire experience) of Jesus is used to call his disciples to a mindset and a life. In that section the truth about atonement is not in view. We must let Paul make his own point or we're not hearing the Holy Spirit at all, we're hearing our own voice, even if what we're saying is true. [You might want to see this, click.]

What does the writer mean to do with what he says?