Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It

Tuesday Re-mix –

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5

Triage:  the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors  merriam-webster

“Triage” is the term for having to make quick, hard decisions (usually medical) about which wound or patient to treat first in order to do the most good.  In the spiritual warfare we call “church”, there are casualties…and none more so than when blatant and public immorality are at issue.  That is what Paul confronted in the Corinthian church, and his counsel is both passionate and harsh.  It is about spiritual triage.

If you are being honest, you will admit that you do not like this instruction from Paul one bit.  Furthermore, if you are like me, you have twisted and contorted and struggled to find some way of interpreting and teaching this passage that somehow takes the “harsh dogma” out of it and makes it more understandable…more palatable to the mainstream Christian…more “in line” with our notions of grace and mercy.  We do this in light of Jesus’ treatment of church discipline in Matthew 18 (“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”…remember how Jesus treated the tax collectors?) and in light of Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman (“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared… “Go now and leave your life of sin…”  John 8:11).  We want to reconcile the mercy and grace of Christ with the harshness and dogma of Paul, and we struggle…to say the least.

But the reason we struggle so much is that we use our own church culture as the backdrop for our interpretation.  We do this even though, in most of our cases, our own church culture knows very little of the kind of intimacy and interdependence of Christian brothers and sisters in the New Testament church.  We do not live in such loving community with one another that immorality on one part has immediate spiritual ramifications throughout.  In the church today, we usually are much more a social club than a family.  In that context, trying to understand matters of church discipline is a bit like your elementary school student trying to understand falling in love…there simply is very little cultural experience through which to relate.  In our relatively disconnected, privacy-oriented church culture, the spiritual cancer caused by blatant immorality does not spread nearly as quickly and efficiently…so the spiritual damage to the body does not become our primary concern.  Because in our culture, frankly, we just do not care all that much for one another.  Rather, we tend to focus first and foremost on the physical consequences of the immoral act, or perhaps on the emotional damage.  The spiritual ramifications (for both the sinner and the larger body of believers) are a more distant concern for us.

But that is not God’s perspective.  Scripture makes it clear that, in God’s eyes, the spiritual ramifications are the first and foremost concern.  The physical consequences, and even the emotional consequences,  play a backseat to the spiritual concerns.  In God’s “triage”, the spiritual brokenness is a much higher priority than any other brokenness at issue.  Therefore, the spiritual protection of both the church and the sinner are the highest priorities.  Once we accept that, it is not difficult to reconcile Jesus’ counsel with Paul’s counsel at all…in fact, they are both addressing the exact same priority: the spiritual well-being of all the players involved.

In our “social club” culture for church, it will always be difficult for us to understand God’s spiritual triage.  After all, our highest values usually have more to do with the preservation of the institution (our club) than with the well-being of a spiritual family.  So, until we start getting Christian community right, we will just have to trust God’s Word to help us with these decisions…even when it makes no sense to us.  We will just have to trust Him when He says to make the spiritual brokenness the priority.  And by the way, when can we start getting Christian community right?  Another post…another day…

© Blake Coffee
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12 responses to “Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It”

  1. I would advise leaders to show they really care before they correct. As you mentioned the cultures are quite different but caring is always a pre-requisite before correcting. Sincere concern and love establishes the true authority of God’s people. And above all be very gentle, Paul, IMO, was not infallible and probably grew more and more gentle with time, as the scriptures attest to with regards to Paul’s reconciliation with Mark.

    Galatians 6:1 NIV
    [Doing Good to All] Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

    2 Timothy 2:25 NIV
    Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

    Hebrews 5:2 NIV
    He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

    1. quiveringvisions Avatar

      That was great, Phariseeinrecovery! I loved the original post, but was thinking about … how Paul is treated as the mouthpiece for God-as-man by many modern Christian authorities, and how that causes so much ironic uncaring to be taken as “Truth”. Thank you for describing how Paul changes. I will look for that.

  2. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

    Quiveringvisions, I concur with you. I had to come to a realization that no man of God or otherwise, deserves to be put on the same level as Jesus Christ. I had to reach a point where I had to decide first and foremost that my authority above every one or everything else is Jesus Christ. We lose site of the fact that Paul and the other Apostles were mortal men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, no doubt, but fallible never the less. They were challenged with the New Wine, just like everyone else. Working from a culture of law to one of grace, they had to work on completely changing their worldview, a struggle for us all.

  3. Careful friends…all scripture was indeed written by fallible men. But at the same time… “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:15-16

    I would be careful about softening hard sayings from Paul (or any other scripture) by simply noting that he was fallible.

  4. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

    Thank you, I appreciate your brotherly advice for caution and so it is with all due respect that I pose the following scripture and question.

    2nd Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

    Looking at 2nd Timothy 2:12 How is it that women will be saved through childbearing? Is this in keeping with Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

    And can we detect a little bit of attitude against woman coming from Paul when he places the responsibility for mankind’s condition solely on Eve?

    In my pursuit of God’s truth I humbly welcome any and all correction. As a matter of fact, I learn a great deal more from my mistakes. At the same time I also have to be true to my conscience and know that in the end the truth will free me.

  5. Henry, thanks for these thoughts and this question. I am reading it in connection with the previous comments, and I assume that is your intention. You seem to be saying, “If we are not to consider the fallibility of Paul in our interpretations of his comments in scripture, then what do we do with his comments in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 [you wrote 2 Timothy, but I believe you meant 1 Timothy]?” I hope I am interpreting your comment and question correctly.

    My first response would be this: How does pointing to another one of Paul’s sayings which you do not understand help you better understand the first one? I’m not sure I understand the connection or the logic. Are you using the second saying (in 1 Timothy) as “further evidence” of Paul’s fallibility? Is that your point? I do not think that is a wise approach to scriptural interpretation…that “Paul says several things which I do not understand, therefore we must write those sayings off to his human fallibility.”

    You have raised a question about what is surely one of the most controversial, emotion-packed, often-debated scripture passages in all of the Bible: 1 Timothy 2:12-15. I’ll be honest with you, I do not know what all of it means. I have some thoughts and some educated surmises. As you research what other theologians and commentators have to say about this controversial verse, I think you will see what I mean. But coming to the conclusion that a portion of scripture is somehow wrong or mistaken because its writer is a fallible human is, for me, the very last conclusion I would come to about any Holy Scripture…because I truly believe 2 Timothy 3:15-16 and its applicability to ALL SCRIPTURE. More importantly, your OR MY not understanding these hard sayings of Paul is no evidence at all that the scripture is somehow mistaken or fallible. It is only further evidence that you land I are still seeing “as through a glass dimly”.

  6. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

    Thank you Blake your response has given me much food for thought. In the spirit of healthy discussion I put forth these thoughts. I appreciate this opportunity in which we can honestly and openly share our views. Pardon me if it is a little lengthy but this subject is of great interest to me. From the outset I state that I believe Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit but I do not believe everything Paul wrote was. It would be intellectually dishonest for me to accept 1 Timothy 2:12, which would be more fitting for the legalistic, misogynistic Taliban in Afghanistan.

    1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

    We all know women are not saved through childbearing but by the same sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. I believe we can discern this for ourselves and don’t have to suffer analysis paralysis or depend on theologians. All believers have the Holy Spirit to help them discern the truth.

    Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

    Over 2000 years ago Luke wrote that the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians because they examined the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. They were actually checking to see if Paul was giving them truth. I know you would agree that we also must examine to see if what Paul, or anyone else, writes is true. I know that many in the church believe that everything Paul wrote was inerrant but I no longer do. Unlike most I don’t rely on theologians or other men to discern what is truth but on our God given Holy Spirit along with the Holy Scriptures. My authority is Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit above everything even the scriptures.

    Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

    1 John 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

    John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

    The early church did not have a Bible for over 300 years depending mostly on the Holy Spirit. As you know Constantine moved in and in 331 AD called for a collection of books to be canonized. Then the church in its infinite wisdom withheld it from the common man until Wycliffe translated it in 1382 AD into English and Martin Luther translated it into German in 1522. It seems the church has turned the letters of Paul into a new book of Jewish laws. They are treated like a sacrosanct new book of Deuteronomy with Paul being the new Moses, but even Paul wrote that the letter kills. A legalism has infected the church that even Paul would be shocked to see, considering his defense of grace over the law in his letter to the Galatians.

    2nd Corinthians 3:6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

    Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

    The great prophet of God Jeremiah tells us that the law of God has been handled falsely by the scribes. What are we to understand from this declaration?

    Jeremiah 8:8 ” ‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?

    What is Jeremiah saying? Is it possible that the law of the Lord was tampered with? If we consider what Jeremiah is saying, strictly on its face value, we can easily entertain the idea that scribes may have falsely handled transcribing God’s word, but which part? We are not told exactly what portions were falsely handled. What is God showing us? God is showing us that we need to be aware.

    Let’s look at Jesus’ version of an Old Testament story specifically 1 Samuel 21:1 When we read Jesus’ version it does not quite fit the Old Testament version regarding David entering the house of God and eating consecrated bread. Jesus’ version describes David as being with his men but the Old Testament version describes David as being alone. Jesus mentions Abiathar as the high priest, but 1 Samuel 21:1 mentions Ahimelech as the priest who in fact was the father of Abiathar who meets David.

    Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

    David at Nob
    1 Samuel 21:1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” 2 David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” 4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here–provided the men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s things are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the LORD and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

    Clearly we come across two inconsistencies. The first being the name Jesus mentions as high priest Abiathar, who according to the Old Testament was the son of Ahimelech the priest and was not high priest when David went to Nob. Then we read in 1 Samuel 21:1 that David was alone but Jesus according to Mark 2:26 that David shared this bread with his companions.

    Which version are we going to believe? There is only one choice for Christians and that is Jesus’ version. Jesus and not the Old Testament is our authority. There is no authority higher than Jesus Christ and it is his word that takes precedence over anything and anyone else.

    Blake you and I may not agree on the inerrancy of the Bible, but I am sure we both agree that Jesus Christ is Lord and our main authority over everything else.

    Church does not save us. The Bible teaches us how to be saved through faith in Jesus but it does not save us. Jesus does not say that I have to believe in the Bible to be saved but that I have to believe in him through the message of the gospels. In the end what matters is my faith in Jesus above everything else.

    John 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

    Only our faith in Jesus saves us.

    Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

  7. Very sorry, Henry, for this late response. I just seem to have less time these days for this kind of discussion than I would like!

    Yes, you and I agree on so very much! We agree on what is essential to salvation and where salvation comes from. We agree on the supremacy of Christ’s authority over every other source.

    And you and I are not going to resolve here the debate that has raged for hundreds of years about the authority (inerrancy?) of scripture. Just for purposes of anyone else reading these comments, I will note very briefly the other side of these arguments:

    Jeremiah 8:8 has been translated several different ways into English. You have relied upon the NIV translation, as it does better support your position than, for example, the KJV, which more implies that the scribes’ writings were in vain, due to an unbelieving people. This, I believe, is more a hermeneutics problem than a textual problem. It seems a little odd to me that scribes would intentionally change OT scripture and then leave a smoking gun in Jeremiah 8:8 pointing to that fact.

    And speaking of odd (back to your point about Paul and 1 Timothy 2:15), I am with you on this: it is absolutely incredulous that Paul would ever think a person could achieve salvation by having a baby. Just looking at the brilliance of his theology in all of his writings, and the clarity with which he sets out the essential doctrine of salvation, how in the world could he then be saying that women could enter into a relationship with Christ by having a baby?! That, it seems to me, is the best argument for why he must have been saying something else!

    I am aware of the Mark 2:26 arguments as well. They have gone on for hundreds of years. I am no theologian, but I have read at least 5 prominent arguments (including yours, which incorporates 3 of the 5 arguments) and find none of them to be very convincing. The good news is, as you aptly imply yourself, there is no essential doctrine riding on these debates! Was Jesus wrong? Was Mark wrong? Was Mark’s source wrong? Is our interpretation wrong? Is our translation wrong? Is there necessarily any inconsistency here at all? I do not know. I will keep studying and praying and ultimately trusting the Lord rather than leaning on my own understanding.

    On the issue of inerrancy, I actually do not consider myself to be a strict inerrantist (in that I believe the scripture to have been inspired by the Spirit but not dictated). But I do believe that God has preserved His Word through all the thousands of translations and iterations over the centuries and that 2 Timothy 3:15-16 is still as true today as it always was. I admit that, if I believed there were mistakes in scripture, I would likewise be inclined to pick and choose which scripture I agree with and which scripture I disagree with, and that would leave much less room for genuine spiritual transformation in me. Moreover, if Jesus found inconsistencies or problems with the scriptures he was quoting, he certainly had ample opportunity to point that out when he spoke about them in Mathew 5:17 and Luke 24:44, among other times. As you and I both at least agree that Jesus’ words are authoritative, then I read both these passages as supporting my view of scripture.

    Thanks, Henry, for this engagement. I enjoy it! And I value and appreciate your leadership in God’s kingdom. We do not have to agree on everything for me to feel that!

    1. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

      Hi Blake, you are a blessing brother! I am grateful for your leadership and appreciate your responses. I have noted what you shared, especially regarding Jeremiah 8:8 and checked the Hebrew text which agrees with the King James version as you mentioned, thank you for that as it is great insight for me and I agree with your view on it in all humility.

      May God bless you and I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy Father’s day. I will be spending mine with our kids and our grandkids. : )

      In Praise of Our Magnificent and Loving God

      In Christ’s love

  8. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

    Hi Blake, in your research would you say that the King James Version of the Bible is your sword of preference? Also, what are your views on the Alexandrian Text vs. Byzantine?

    1. Hi Henry. I use several different English translations in my study, including ESV, NAS, and NIV. Occasionally the KJV. I usually start with the ESV.

      And as for your second question, I’m afraid I know very little about the Alexandrian v. Byzantine texts.

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