Tuesday, December 30, 2008

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Yesterday we began our study of 1 Corinthians. We discussed the similarities between the Church at Corinth and the American Church. Let's continue looking at what Paul is saying to the people in Corinth and what God is saying to us through this book.

1 Corinthians 1:4-8 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Corinth was a pretty intellectual place. Many cultures mingled there, much as they do in States today. When so many cultures, religions, and opinions come together, there is almost always a desire to blend ideas that should be kept separate. During this time in history, rhetoric, speaking for entertainment and to compel listeners to comply with the beliefs of the speaker, was a popular art form. People understood that language is an important part of being successful, and this culture greatly valued a thorough understanding of its use. The people of Corinth had allowed this respect for language is to develop into pride. Those who were granted spiritual gifts in speaking felt that they were more spiritual than those gifted in service, for instance. Those who had a better intellectual understanding of theology felt that they were holier than "simple" people who gifted in giving.

Yet again, there is a strong tie between the church to which Paul is writing and the church in the United States. How often do we elevate pastors who are eloquent above those who are humble? How often do we get the idea that great theologians must love God more than great servants? The gifts of knowledge and speech are extremely important, but they are no more necessary to the body than any other. God has gifted every believer for the purpose of edifying the body (building it up), and no one gift can be successful without the others in place.

Still, Paul is grateful for the gifts given to the Corinthian people. He does not demean their existence. It is no mistake that these people were granted a deep knowledge or the ability to communicate them. The gift is a good thing. It's the way that the Corinthians are using these gifts that are the problem. Head knowledge is wonderful, but only as long as it is applied.

James 1:23-25 For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

The Corinthian church was very good at looking in the mirror. They could describe what they saw beautifully, but their church was still utterly corrupt. Even with all of their knowledge, they were fools, instantly forgetting what they saw in the mirror. Please don't allow yourself to believe that this is an issue left in the ancient church. We are seeing pastors fall into sin at an alarming rate. I believe that this is due, at least in part, to placing too much value on knowledge and communication without the expectation of holiness. We assume that smart people don't require the accountability that we mere mortals do. We place them so high on a pedestal that even they believe that they are worthy of it. Words have replaced relationships, and thoughts have assumed the role of heart-felt reliance. This is a disservice to our churches and to the ministers who are being glorified with the glory that belongs to God alone.Remember the gifts of speech and knowledge come from God. It's His wisdom that great theologians are able to pull from His Word. It is His doing that they are able to put poetry to the Truth that they find there. We will see later in this book that Paul tells the Corinthians that any gift, no matter how good it is, is without worth if not accompanied by love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;1 but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing.

We'll come back to this passage in the proper time, but I couldn't close today's study without mentioning it first. No spiritual gift can stand without love. It is love that validates the gift, and it is love that defines its Source. The lost world around us needs to know that our great minds are different because their words come from a forgiven sinner who is completely changed because of the love of the Father. What makes us different is not how well we do things, though all things should be done well, but it is why do those things. Love, His love, changes everything. No ministry is successful unless its love overflows into the lost world around it.

John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

2Thessalonians 1:3 Dear brothers and sisters, we can't help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.

An Introduction to First Corinthians

The church at Corinth had problems. There were issues of disunity, pride, terrible sexual immorality, and attempts to integrate pagan beliefs into the Church. Maybe this sounds nothing like your church, but most churches struggle with one or more of these issues. We live in a world that struggles with the same issues as the world in which Paul lived. With that in mind, let’s see what Paul, under the inspiration of God Himself, has to say about them. It’s a practical, as well as theological, book to study.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This book, like most of the epistles (letters from apostles), begins with an introduction to its writer. We begin letters with the name of the person we are writing to, but it was customary to start with the names of the one doing the writing in this culture. Paul doesn’t just give his name. He begins by explaining what right he has to speak to the Corinthians. He has to defend his authority. Paul is not going to be easy on the Corinthians, so his respectability must be clear. This respectability comes directly from God. He clarifies his position of apostle by noting that it wasn’t a job that he chose. God chose him for it. There is a co-writer named Sothenes. There isn’t much that we know about him.

The first thing that he says about the church in Corinth is that he identifies her owner. This is the church of God. It belongs to Him alone. It is because of His ownership of the church that He is able to tell them how to run the place. From there he moves on to define what he means by “the church”. He isn’t talking to everyone who walks into prayer meeting. He is speaking directly to those who have been bought by the blood of Christ for the purpose of holiness. When we were saved, we were called to be sanctified. Sanctification is the process during which we are pulled out from the rest of humanity for the purpose of serving our King.

The Corinthians can be an arrogant people, so Paul reminds them that they do not have the corner on the salvation market. They share in the grace that God has offered to others. Sometimes Americans can take great pride in the fact that such a high percentage of our people claim to be Christians, but we do not deserve God’s blessing because of statistics. It’s only by God’s grace that anyone in North America can know the peace and joy of salvation, just as it for those in other countries. When we become prideful about the blessings we have received, we make it about us. (It should also be noted that a Christian nation is not defined by empty claims, but by faithfulness to the Word of God and actions that reflect a total dedication to doing it His way.) If it were up to us, dear Christian, we’d all be going to Hell. There are Christians all over this planet, of all different colors, with various levels of education, and in different economic classifications. We all partake of the same Body of Christ. We are a single church. We serve the same Lord. It is a privilege that we can do so. What an amazing thing it is that we are able to partner with followers of Christ that we have never met, and couldn’t talk to if we tried.

Even as Paul is gearing up to point out their weaknesses and sins, he prays that they will receive grace and peace. It takes grace for us to comprehend the Word of God, and what it is that He wills us to do. (Remember, grace means that we receive something that we could never earn because someone chooses to give it to us as a reflection of their character.) Although he is talking to Christians, God’s grace in their lives doesn’t end with fire insurance. It continues through grief over sin (yep, that’s a good thing), forgiveness of new sin, a deeper understanding of who God is, as well as a better comprehension of the calling the believer has received.

Paul continues by praying for peace in the lives of his readers. Most of the struggles in churches are rooted in a lack of peace in individual hearts. Church members are discontent in their families, or they are striving for control of a corner of their worlds, or they are simply unable to deal with things not going their way. When we are at peace in our hearts, we are able to mediate peace in the situations around us. We are willing to give ups small rights because we have been freed from what we deserve in eternity. How often do we focus on what we deserve in the areas of Sunday School space, refreshments, or time off from tedious ministries (which are not bad desires), but we forget that we have received life abundant already. In contrast to what we have, these things are miniscule. Yet, we allow them to rule us and create divisions among us who are called to a single purpose.

The only source of grace and peace in our churches, and in our lives, is God, the Father of Christ. Looking to any other methodology may work temporarily, but it isn’t going to last. Paul prays for these things because the people can’t make it happen. It’s only through reliance on Christ that the Church can function as she is meant to.

We’ll pick up tomorrow. I think that we will continue to be surprised at just how many issues in the current Church are dealt with in 1st Corinthians, and how many personal struggles are addressed in this book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John 1:9-13

I wrote this last week, but due to moving, I was unable to post it until now. I apologize. I'm sure that you were on the edge of your seats...

We’re going to go to John 1:9-13 today. These verses relate the identity of Christ to our lives.

John 1:9-10 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him.

Jesus is identified here as “the true light”. Verse 9 takes for granted that there are false lights in this world. There are things that masquerade their darkness for light, but they leave us the same as we were in the beginning. These lights aren’t light at all. They are simply pretenders, distractions from the true light of Christ.Notice also that Jesus, the true light, gives light to everyone. This light isn’t just available to everyone. All people benefit somehow from Christ. He makes all things clearer. His mere existence has brought enlightenment to all men, though not everyone is willing to accept the terms He requires. Even the lost are able to see things a little bit clearer because of Jesus.We already discussed that Jesus was involved in Creation. He made the world come into being. He made you. He made me. Yet, we didn’t recognize Him at first. We didn’t automatically understand that He is God. We didn’t see that He has a right to everything that we are and all that we do. We missed it. We are His creation, but we didn’t recognize Him as Creator.

John 1:11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.

Jesus came to the Jewish people, the ones that were supposed to be looking for Him, hoping for Him to come. They didn’t recognize Him for who He is. They saw a man, a plain man. They saw His skin and His apparent lack of power, and they stumbled. The light was there. He was visible to them, but they were still blind.Don’t think that we’re any different. We’re not. You and I were blind too. We still have trouble seeing clearly. How many times have you tried to muddle your way around a command, like “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6)? Or how often do you miss opportunities to share the Truth of the Gospel of Grace to someone who could die and go to Hell? Can we even count the number of times that we doubt God’s provision?

The light is come, dear one, but it still seems like this curse has kept us in the dark. Don’t let it! Fight for the fullness of light that can come only by spending time in the Word of God and dwelling in the Spirit of Truth. Knowing Him better draws us into the Light of Grace!

John 1:12-13 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn-- not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

If you know Christ, if you believe that He is God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and that He will do what He has said, and have placed your life into His care, then you have granted the right to adoption. You have been reborn. Now you are the member of a family that will not misuse your trust, and of whose company you will never tire. This birth isn’t about the plans men make. There is not a chance of mistake or mis-preparation. There is only peace in knowing that you have been drawn into a relationship with a Father who knows what He is doing. This is a miraculous birth, a completely new beginning from the Originator of all beginnings. In this new life, there is only hope, only peace, and only the love of One who will never fail you or leave you without answers when you truly need them. He is always there, and there is nothing that can separate you from His love.

Romans 8:37-39 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

John 1:4-5

Today we are going to continue looking at John 1 in order to get to know Jesus better. Yesterday we saw the unity between Christ and the Father. As we understand their bond through the Trinity, we are able to understand the power that Jesus brings. Because He was instrumental in Creation, we can be sure that He is able to re-create us. Now let's pick up right where we left off, in verse 4.

John 1:4-5 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Following the description of Jesus' role in Creation, we see that Jesus, referred to previously as the Word, is the bearer of life. Let's look quickly at Genesis to see how Jesus as life-bearer relates to Jesus as Creator.

Genesis 2:16-17 But the LORD God warned him, "You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden 17 -- except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die."

After God had created man, He gave Adam (along with Eve) a single order. It was so simple. So incredibly easy. Only a human could mess this one up. Adam was told not to eat the fruit of a single tree. Just one tree! He just had to keep his grubby, little paws away from one thing, and he could live forever, in harmony with God. When we're given the choice, we will never make the best choice on our own. We chose death. It's a part of who we are as humans. This is why Jesus came bearing life. We were dead in our sin. He had to come and fix it with His grace.

Why did Eve fall for the serpent's lies in the garden and eat the fruit? This takes us to our next point, so let's look back at Genesis.

Genesis 3:5 "God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil."

Here, Satan, a cunning and brilliant deceiver, is telling Eve that sin will bring enlightenment. In contrast, John is saying that the life that Jesus brings to us is the light. Light is able to help us see, to distinguish good from evil, true from false. We believed Satan when he said that such light could come from disobedience. We still do. Sometimes we feel like it would be freeing to just say what we desperately want to say, even if we know that it wouldn't please God. Sometimes we believe that we would be wiser if we were to "open our minds" to beliefs that we know contradict the Word of God. We want to find light from every source but The Source.

The problem is that the life that He brings comes on His terms. He is the Creator, after all. He sets the ground rules. Let's not forget what happened the first time that we disobeyed. He knows what provides true light, and that is the life that He brings.

From verse five, we see that the light that Jesus brings is obvious. It sticks out. It can't fit in. It's scary to those who have never seen light, maybe even painful. But it is what it is, and it is good.

We live in a dark world, precious one. The world is in denial about our condition. How many times have you heard someone say that the world is a dark and evil place, and the only source of help comes from outside? That truth is no fun. We want to believe that there is something here that can do the same thing that Jesus came to do. But there isn't. There is only one light in an infinite darkness.

That may sound like bad news, but check out the next phrase. It's a good one. "And the darkness has not overcome it." Even in the midst of infinite darkness, this light is powerful. No matter how much darkness you pour into the light, it cannot be extinguished. The light is bigger than the darkness, even if it doesn't seem that way in this world.

The word for overcome literally means, "lay hold of, seize," so there are a couple of ideas associated with it. The first is that the darkness can't grasp the light. With our own minds, the same ones that chose a piece of fruit over the Most High, we cannot look at the light and comprehend its importance or value. It takes an act of grace for us to get even a glimpse of the power that light brings. We just can't quite get a handle on it without the light pulling us into itself.

The other idea is similar to what we said earlier. This light will not be overtaken. The darkness can attack it, but at the end of the day, the light will prevail. It may not always seem like it, but we are on the winning team when we are in the light.

We've talked about who Jesus is, so let's quickly look at a verse that relates this to who we are in Him.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

We no longer walk in darkness. Because we know Christ, for those of us that do have a relationship with Him, we now walk in the light. And it is a wonderful light! By it, we can know where to place our feet so they don't slip. We can guide others through the perils of darkness into the light. We're not just talking about morality here. There are lots of people who are relatively moral, if there is such a thing. We're talking about placing our feet on the Rock. We are talking about placing our trust in the Creator and Bearer of Light who has bought us as His own possession. Some may not like the sound of being God's possession, but let me tell you, there is nothing sweeter than belonging to the Light and being a part of the Life that He has paid for. Take joy, you know the King of Kings! You never again have to know the pain of walking in darkness!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

John 1:1-3

I am sorry that I didn’t complete any studies for last week. My husband and I are in the process of moving to Alabama for a few months to be with our families before heading to training to do mission work in Nicaragua. My brain wasn’t functioning very well by the end of the day, when the kids were finally asleep. We haven’t moved yet, but this is going to be a priority for me this week. There are few things better than sitting down with God’s Word and exploring who He is and who we are in Him.

As we approach Christmas, I thought that it would be a nice time to look at who Jesus is. We’ll be looking at a couple of different passages in the process. The first is John 1:1-18. We won’t be covering the whole thing today, just a part.

John 1:1-2 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God.

The first phrase, “In the beginning,” is pointing back to the Creation from Genesis. John is pointing out that this book is a fulfillment of the story begun centuries before. He is also referencing the new beginning that Jesus represents. We’ll look at this a little deeper in a moment.

Jesus is given the name, “Word” in this passage. Why is He called that? As we already said, John is referring the Creation account from Genesis. In Genesis 1, creation took place according to the word of God. He spoke, and things, everything in fact, came into being. It was by His word that humanity came into being. Now it is by His Word that creation will be set right. Because of the power His word had in the very beginning, we can be sure that His Word will be powerful now.

Another reason that John may have used this term is that a word is an expression of the inner workings of an individual.

Luke 6:45 "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

Jesus says that the mouth speaks the things that are in the heart of a person. We can assume, then, that the Word of God reflects the heart of God. Jesus is the revelation of the hear of God. Through Him, God communicated His message to man. He became personal to us through the Word of His Son.

Next we see that the Word, Jesus, was not created. Some Jewish people believed that the Messiah was going to be a created being, inferior to God. John is dismissing this belief. Jesus was there, from the beginning, in fellowship with the Father. The Greek word for “with” could also mean “toward”. They were looking at one another. There was nothing between them. They were together, on the same side. This point matters because of what we know is about to happen. He’s going to leave God’s side to come to humanity. He is going to depart from the perfect fellowship with God to a cursed world, filled with sin.

Now we see that the Word wasn’t just near God, or just on His team, He was God. God wasn’t totally defined by the Word, but the Word was totally defined by God. What do I mean by that? (It does sound pretty complicated, huh?) What I mean is that Jesus is completely defined by God. There is nothing about Him that isn’t a revelation of God. But it is possible that there are characteristics of God that weren’t seen through Jesus. That’s not saying that Jesus was lacking any of the godliness, but it is saying that God cannot be fully described through the life of a man. Jesus, for instance, was not omnipresent. (Omnipresent means that He would be in all places at all times.) This was something that He gave up in coming to Earth. There are some things that are a part of who God is that simply cannot be represented in a human life.

The next line reiterates what has already been said. Is this redundancy? No, it’s emphasis.

John 1:2 He existed in the beginning with God.

By repeating a shorter version of what has been said, John is saying, “Let’s get one thing straight. Jesus isn’t like us. He’s eternal. He’s God.”

John 1:3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.

Why does John say “through”, and not “by” when referring to Jesus’ role in Creation? God the Father was at work during Creation. They were both there. The Father was doing the work, and Jesus was the tool He used to accomplish it. They were both necessary.

Again, by pointing to the role of Christ in Creation, John is pointing to the fact that we can have total faith in His power to re-create us. He can provide us with a new beginning through the power of His life, death, and resurrection. We can trust Him because He made us.

We will continue looking at this passage tomorrow. I hope that you are as struck by this passage as I am. The Word came to us! That is why we celebrate at this time of year, dear Christian!