Friday, February 27, 2015

Fridays with Fee: Part IV

I was also concerned that Paul's own theological urgencies get their proper hearing. From my perspective, it has been a blight on the landscape of much New Testament scholarship—probably related to our twin concerns to affirm pluralism and not to offend others—that we have been good technicians of the text, but have avoided theology like the plague. It is hard to imagine anything less fair to Paul himself who was an intensely theological person. So for good or ill, I wanted Paul's theological emphases, as I perceived them, to get their full hearing. Whether I have understood the Apostle adequately remains for others to judge, but surely one fails to comment adequately on Paul who does not try to "hear" him, to come to grips with what drives him, what motivates the words and the rhetoric -

Gordon Fee; "Reflections on Commentary Writing;" (Theology 
Today; 46.4; 1990; 387-392; here 389)

One of the hallmarks of Gordon Fee's classic 1 Corinthians commentary and much of his subsequent work for that matter, is his ability to tease out the theological emphases of the texts he examines. Not only is Fee a master exegete with all the requisite skills in which that entails, but he never loses perspective; he is able to discern the forest for the trees, answering the big picture questions on which theological analyses are dependent.

Today's "Fridays with Fee" looks at a small unit of  1 Corinthians, 4:1-5, and will illustrate that Fee does indeed give Paul's theological emphases a "full hearing."

In his introduction to the larger unit 1 Cor 4:1-21, Fee writes:

...The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a matter of creed for him; it was the singular reality that conditioned his entire existence. But not his alone. By way of the resurrection the eternal God had set the future inexorably in motion; the 'coming' of Christ and subsequent 'judgement' are inevitable corollaries, as sure as life itself. For Paul, therefore, those sure events radicalize present Christian existence. All merely human judgements are nothing in light of the final judgement; all merely human values, which weigh things heavily toward what might appear to be the favorable end of the scale, have already been judged and are now reversed by Christ himself.
Paul's problem is that in their own way the corinthians were also eschatological people, for they too had received the Spirit. But for them this meant not so much that the future determined one's present life as that one had entered into a new realm of being altogether. They had already arrived, as it were, but in all the wrong ways (4:8). What Paul is trying to do above all else is to get the Corinthians to enter his orbit, to see things from his eschatological perspective. There fore, it is not simply a matter of his being right and their being wrong on certain specific issues. It has to do with one's whole existence, one's whole way of looking at life, since 'you are of Christ, and Christ is of God' (3:23), meaning that 'you belong to Christ, and through him you thereby belong to God as well.' Without this perspective ourselves much of what is said here can be enigma; but it need not be, once someone has been drawn into Paul's orbit by one's own encounter with the living Christ (170).

1 Cor 4:1-5: This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Fee on 4:2:

Not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor 'initiative,' nor 'success'--the more standard contemporary requirements), but faithfulness to the trust, is what God requires of his servants. For Paul this means absolute fidelity to the gospel as he received it and preached it (cf. 15:1-11). His intent, of course, is not to provide a general maxim for Christian ministry--although it is still the only valid criterion--but to set up the singular criterion by which God alone could be his judge and which would therefore rule out the Corinthian 'examination' of him and his ministry (175).

Fee on 4:3:

Therefore, for Paul all merely human judgements against him, whether by the Corinthians or by others who would so judge him, are of little or no consequence whatsoever. The only judgement that counts is the final eschatological judgment administered by Christ himself. So much is this so that Paul includes any personal 'judgments' he might make of himself as equally inconsequential. He does not 'even judge himself,' not because he is irresponsible, or intends to be so, but because he is in the service of another. His personal evaluations of his own performance are irrelevant; what is master thinks is what counts. Besides, any such judgments also belong to this age. In his own worldview Paul stands too close to the consummation to be exercised by self-examination (176).

Conclusion regarding 4:5:

The application of this paragraph to the contemporary church seems self-evident. On the one hand, it is a word to those in the church who are forever 'examining' their ministers, and who in any case tend to do so on the wrong grounds. Corinth is not the only church that ever became disillusioned with its minister because he or she lacked enough 'charismatic' qualities. But God's Word to us is faithfulness, not success, is what is required of God's servants. On the other hand, although not intended so by Paul, by implication it is also a word to those who preach and teach, that they recognize themselves as 'under trust.' Their 'trustworthiness' is finally going to be judged by the Lord himself, on the grounds of their being faithful to the trust itself, the gospel. In that hour none of one's self-evaluations as to one's worth in the kingdom is going to count for a thing, only our faithfulness to the gospel itself (179).

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