Saturday, February 28, 2009
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church before this letter. We don't have that document. God chose to preserve this document, but not the first letter from Paul to the Corinthians. When he wrote them before, he warned them not to hang out with people who are in the middle of sexual sin. Here he goes back and explains the meaning of that command. It's a pretty important explanation.
We shouldn't associate ourselves with people who indulge in sexual sin, greed, dishonesty, or idolatrous, but only if those people claim to be Christians. Maybe it seems odd to you that it's okay to be around really immoral lost people, but not immoral Christians. The reason that Paul lists is that it would be impossible to stay away from immoral lost people. Remember, lost people act like lost people. There are a lot of them that are immoral. There are some other reasons in addition to that one. For instance, we can't stay away from immoral lost people if we want God to change their lostness. God uses Christians to reach the lost. We have to actually be near them in order to do that. Also, a good reason for us to stay away from immoral Christians (or at least those that claim to be saved) is that the world needs to see that although there are bad people who refer to themselves as Christians, we don't accept them. Their actions are not okay with us. We have standards. We expect church members to sin. We also expect them to repent. The world needs to see that we stand behind what we preach.
1 Corinthians 5:11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people.
Notice how the list of sins given here (sexual sin, greed, idol worship, abuse, drunkenness, cheating) are habitual sins. We don't kick someone out of church if they get drunk once, or if they cheat on their taxes one time, or if they lose their virginity. We only go that far if they refuse to repent of habitual sin. We want them to return to fellowship with God, or to realize their spiritual condition. Just because a person believes that he/she is saved, that doesn't mean that they are. There are lots of people who are deceived into believing salvation is very different from what it really is.
When someone does habitually sin in these ways (living with a sexual partner, known for cheating in business affairs, is addicted to alcohol/drugs, or abusing his/her spouse are examples), God takes it very seriously, and He tells His people to do the same. We aren't just to punish them. We aren't just to keep them from being deacons. We are told to keep away from them altogether! Don't have dinner with them. Don't attach yourself to them in any way. The reason isn't that we hate them. We aren't to go out of our way to cause them trouble or hurt their feelings. The reason is that we want them to repent. The moment that they repent and return to the fellowship of the church, all is forgiven. All is forgotten. We treat them as we would any other brother or sister in Christ, though if they have sexual addiction, we won't let them work with youth for a while, and if they were known for cheating in business, we don't place them in a position in control of money. (We are forgiving, not stupid.) Most of the time, a truly repentant person would never ask to be in one of those positions anyway.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you."
Remember that unbelievers are going to receive their judgement. They don't need to know that we think that what they are doing is sin. When you meet a drunk, don't start by telling them that it is wrong to get drunk. Start by telling them that they are loved, and that God can fix them. Don't tell a girl who just had an abortion that you think she is a murderer. Tell her that God allowed His Son to die to cover all of her sins, and that He longs to take her in as His daughter. Lost people need grace, not a sermon on how horrible they are.
We have a responsibility, however to take firm action when our own people are sinning. We have been called out for a holy cause. There are certain expectations on our lives because of it. Sure, we'll fail, but we should recognize sin as a failure. God's forgiveness is big enough for all of our sin, but it should never be abused, and we should never be okay with abusing it.
Even if none of these arguments make sense to you, and if you still cannot imagine taking such drastic measures to deal with habitual sin in your church, the biggest issue here is that God tells us to. God tells us, through Paul's letter to the Corinthian church, that habitual sin, open sin, among the members of His Body is simply unacceptable. It is something that must be dealt with, harshly when necessary. It's His Church. He can run it as He pleases. Why on earth do we think that our arguments make any difference in light of that?
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Yesterday we talked about the Corinthian church, and how they were dealing with an especially egregious sin with one of their members. Paul told them to quickly organize a meeting and remove the guy from the membership of the church. It seems to harsh too us, but sin is harsh to God. Let's keep going to see the general principle behind this seemingly radical idea.
The rest of the church may have taken pride in the fact that they weren't caught in this particular sin (in this case, a man was sleeping with his step-mother!), but it's more likely that the arrogance that Paul is referring to is portrayed by their refusal to deal with the problem. They seem to think that they can call themselves Christians, come to church and talk like spiritual people, and then go home and not worry about the sin that fills their lives. Such arrogance is characterized by a lot of talk, but not much power to back it up in the lives of the Corinthian Christians (4:20).
These Christians believe that the sin of an individual in their membership has no affect on the rest. Paul uses a metaphor to contradict this belief.
1 Corinthians 5:6-7 Don't you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, since you are unleavened. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.
The word for yeast here is really leaven, fermented dough taken from a previous batch of bread that was then used to encourage fermentation in the new batch. It only takes a small amount of leaven to cause the entire new batch to ferment. Sin is similar. It only takes one open sin, one big, unresolved issue to ruin a church. God takes it seriously when His people refuse to deal with sin. It matters to Him. It should matter to us.
The Corinthians have been pronounced righteous by the power and grace of God (unleavened, according to the analogy). To allow this sin, or leaven, among them is to deny the righteousness granted to them. In order to deny that righteousness, they also have to deny the grace and power of God. It mocks God to live as if He didn't die for us.
Christ died to be our Passover. What does that mean? "Passover" is the term given to the way that God released His people, the Hebrews, from slavery in Egypt. God used plagues to overcome the Egyptians, the last of which was the death of the firstborn sons. In order to protect His people from the plague, God told the Hebrews to kill a sacrificial lamb or goat, one without blemish, and use its blood to mark their houses. By that mark, God would recognize His children, and His Spirit would pass over that house. (You can read the whole story in Exodus 7-12.) Christians are marked by the blood of Christ. We are now His children, and we are able to live without the judgement that we deserve. We are freed from slavery to sin by His sacrifice. It was not by our blood. It was not by our power. It took His death, and His goodness to us for us to be made clean from our sin.
1 Corinthians 5:8 Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast, or with the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The Jewish people celebrated Passover every year. It was (and is) the biggest holiday of Judaism. Now that we have a new Passover, we celebrate it, not once a year, but all the time because this Passover is eternal. We will never again need to shed blood. We are marked as the children of God from the inside, by the Holy Spirit. It simply will not do for us to live our lives as if we didn't know Him. We cannot allow ourselves to continue in old ways when we have been made new.
Unleavened bread was a part of the celebration of Passover. It was considered special bread. We are to be different, like unleavened bread. We are to be reserved for the purposes of God. We can't continue living in the old ways of malice and evil. We are to live in a special way, a way that is obviously different. The new life is characterized by sincerity and truth.
The Corinthians weren't especially good with sincerity or truth. They were concerned with defeating each other in debate, but not with understanding the Truth of God's Word or with applying that truth to their lives. They may have been able to lay out complex theological ideas, but they didn't live accordingly. They were insincere.
How are we different? Do our churches put up with open, disgusting sin from our members? We aren't talking about constantly going up to other church members and pointing out their every flaw. We all struggle with sin. The problem comes when we stop struggling and give in to the sin. We have to have expectations, not to legalism, but to purity. We are called to holiness. Do we expect ourselves and each other to strive for it, or are we okay with lazy Christianity?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Today's passage deals with sexual immorality in particular. The Corinthian church had a particular issue that they weren't struggling to deal with. They just didn't deal with it. A man was actually sleeping with his father's wife! Most scholars believe that this was his step-mother, or else the passage would have openly referred to him as his mother. This kind of sin wasn't even acceptable to people who didn't know Jesus, but it was openly known among the members of the Body of Christ! These people weren't just not holy, they were refusing to hold themselves to any kind of standard at all.
How did the Corinthians react to such appalling behavior?
1 Corinthians 5:2 (NLT) You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.
They still continued in their pride! They didn't repent. They didn't get angry. They didn't put any discipline into action. They just sat there, dwelling in their pride due to how well they could word things and debated each other. Maybe they were afraid of offending people. Maybe they were afraid of legalism. Maybe they were afraid of their own sins being brought out. But above all, they were arrogant. What does this arrogance mean? Why does it take arrogance to allow open sin to permeate our churches?
It takes arrogance to believe that we are somehow better than everyone else, above standards. It takes arrogance to become so hard-hearted to sin that we allow excuses (such as fear of legalism or offending someone) to prevent us from maintaining the purity of the Church of the Most High God. It takes arrogance to believe that God won't really do what He says. It takes arrogance to accept the freedom and forgiveness that cost Jesus Christ His life and continue in sin as if we still belong to ourselves. Our sin doesn't just reflect on us. As Christians, our actions reflect on God, very God, and it takes arrogance to allow His reputation to be tarnished so that we can engage in earthly pleasures that He has died to save us from!
It's a big deal to allow open sin to seep into our churches. God doesn't take it lightly, as we see here. Paul gives a solution to the problem in verse two. What is it? The only thing that can be done is to throw them out until they repent. This was much easier to do at the time this book was written because each area only had one church. You're kicked out of one, you either have to remove or repent. And that was the point. The goal was to bring this man (and his step-mom) back into the flock, as we see in verse 5. (We'll look at it in a few minutes.)
1 Corinthians 5:3-4 (NLT) Even though I am not with you in person, I am with you in the Spirit. And as though I were there, I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus.
Now, Paul talked about holding off judgement until Judgement Day in chapter 4. Here he says that he hasn't even met this dude, and he's already pronounced him guilty. What's up with that? There are some things that we can't know about, like methods of reaching people. We can dwell in the Spirit, pray, and study the Word of God, but we just can't be sure about some things. We may not know if it's a good idea to stick with hymns or incorporate contemporary worship into our services. We don't know whether we should use our money this way, or that way. They both seem important and beneficial to the Church.
There are other things, though, that the Bible clearly speaks to. There are some things that are sin, obviously grotesque sin. We know that it is wrong to divorce. We know that it is wrong to lie. We know that sex outside of marriage is always a sin. Those are things that God has already pronounced judgement on through the Bible. God doesn't want us to try to judge each other's motives or desires. We'll waste a lot of time if we're always dissecting things that we can never know. What He does expect, though, is for His Church to maintain a standard of holiness. That means passing judgement when things are obviously sin. That means placing people under the discipline of the church. It isn't easy, and it's always stressful, but it isn't something that Paul gives wiggle room for, is it? It would be unloving to the person struggling with that sin to not show discipline. Allowing a fellow believer to continue in a pattern of sin is cruel to that believer.
It should be noted that the judgement we're talking about here is reserved for saved people. We have no reason to judge people outside the Church! They're lost. Lost people act like lost people. We can expect certain things from those who are saved, but not from those who have no access to the Spirit of God, His discernment, or His power over sin.
Paul can't be there in person, but this can't wait for him to get there. This is an immediate need, but even in His absence there is a greater power at work here. The Corinthians are not going to be going into it alone. They have the Spirit with them.
So here's the plan: The Corinthians are supposed to meet and discuss the situation, depending on the power of the Holy Spirit. This meeting isn't about "Well, I just think that..." or "I'm just not sure that..." This meeting is to be centered on the power of the Holy Spirit. It is about what God thinks, not what we think. It's about His standards for His people, not our lack of them. It's about what He wants from His Church, not what we want from Him. (That sounds like a different business meeting, huh?)
1 Corinthians 5:5 Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.
This verse may throw you for a loop at first. "Wait a minute. The church is just supposed to toss this guy into eternal damnation? That's not too nice!" Well, there are two options for this guy at this point. Either he's lost, already on his way to Hell, but being deceived into believing he's saved, or he's saved but he is so incredibly entrenched in sin that he is completely out of fellowship with God. If it's the latter, this is a short phase. Such sin cannot last very long in the life of a Christian. God keeps those that He has brought into His family.
James 1:4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Ephesians 4:13-15 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
If this man is actually saved, he will quickly, if not immediately, repent from his sin when thrown out of the church. He will realize the severity of his sin, and return to the church, grieved over the tarnish he has caused to fall onto the people of God. It's more likely, I believe, that this man is lost. The church is feeding into his delusion of salvation by allowing him to continue to take the Lord's Supper and feel like a part of the church. They are condemning him to eternal suffering by refusing to pass judgement. He's never going to understand the power of the Holy Spirit, or the grace of the Father, if he doesn't understand the idea of holiness. Understanding holiness is a prerequisite to salvation, even if you don't know the actual word.
In order to receive eternal fellowship with God in Heaven, we must be holy in His sight. We are not. We are sinners. We are not holy. By the grace of God, He sent His Son to pay the debt created by our sin. We were then granted the holiness that rightfully belongs to Him. By His holiness, we are able to enjoy fellowship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. When we are saved, the power of God through the Holy Spirit allows us to live in holiness. We ourselves were not holy, but God made us holy, so now we are supposed to act like it. That's what it means when Jesus says, "But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect," in Matthew 5:48. We cannot rely on our own perfection and holiness, but we are to cling to the power of God in order to show off the holiness and perfection of God.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
You can read four chapters a day, marking one set of words (death/dead being a set and man/human/person/people being the second) at a time. That would mean that you read the last eight chapters two times over four days, if you choose to do it that way.
It doesn't matter as much how you do it, so much as it matters that you read and mark it carefully. Have a fun weekend. I'll see you again on Tuesday.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
We aren't just going to read it through without thinking, though. That won't help us much. As you read, I would like for you to underline wisdom/wise and power, preferably in two different colors. You could use two symbols, like circling one and putting a box around the other. It doesn't matter too much how you mark it, but you need to make sure that you mark both of these words every time that they come up in chapter 1-8.
We're going to do this after we complete chapters 8, 12, and 16, too. The reason is that we don't want to forget about how the whole book comes together. We can't remove the context from our study without showing disrespect to the Word of God. We will underline/mark different words each time, so after we are done, you will have a thoroughly marked 1 Corinthians, and that's a good thing. As long as you don't mark things out or add words, it's okay to mark in your Bible to help you understand it better. I believe that these excercises will help us to do just that.
Well, get to reading. It won't take that long, I promise.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
1. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5: Reserve judgement for God.
- Paul and Apollos are mere servants of God, trying to faithfully execute the work that God has planned for them.
- We cannot judge the work of another based on our own beliefs and ideas, for good or for bad. (We can use the Bible to determine if an action is right or wrong a lot of the time, but we cannot judge an individual because we can never know their heart.)
- God will reveal our actions, motives, and thoughts, and will judge our lives accordingly.
- 1 Corinthians 4:5 (key verse) So don't make judgments about anyone ahead of time -- before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.
2. 1 Corinthians 4:6-7: Gifts from God should be viewed with gratitude, not ownership.
- Paul is saying that even he and Apollos, though working hard and faithfully to proclaim the Gospel, are prime examples of God's grace, not of personal acheivement.
- The Corinthians wanted to view the strengths of their leaders as personal strengths instead of gifts from God. They were worshipping the receiver more than the Giver.
- We cannot boast, or even revel in silent pride, over the abilities and knowledge that God has graciously given us because they are not qualities of our own, but gifts that God has given us for His glory through His lovingkindness.
- 1 Corinthians 4:7 (key verse) For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn't given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
3. 1 Corinthains 4:8-13: Paul contrasts his own humility and suffering with the Corinthian's pride and life of ease.
- The Corinthians believed that they were already spiritually complete because they were able to word things well and had intellectual understanding.
- Paul suffered constantly for the cause of Christ, enduring the loss of physical needs, as well as serious damage to the reputation and respect he'd once had.
- These sufferings were not in spite of his love for Christ and dedication to His will. They were because of it. You can be in God's will, and life can still stink.
- Paul worked to deal with each struggle the best way. He and the other apostles blessed when cursed, endured abuse patiently, and dealt gently with those who insulted them. They didn't seek excuses. They sought righteousness.
- Remember, the result of the things that we do on the earth will not be seen while we are living, or even after we are dead. Even the name of Christ continues to be mocked and disrespected. Even after doing everything right, and suffering every shame, the full results of our sacrifice, and His, will not be revealed until the day of the coming of Christ. Then, and then only, will the fullness of His grace through us be revealed. In that day, our shame will become glory, and our foolishness will become wisdom. (Remember from 1:27 that God uses things that seem foolish to shame the wise, and the things that seem weak to shame the powerful.)
- 1 Corinthians 4:10 (key verse) Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed.
4. 1 Corinthians 4:14-21: Paul speaks to the Corinthians as his children, with love and discipline.
- Paul is not trying to tease or embarass the Corinthian people to get back at them for disrespeting him. He is being honest with them in order to help them grow in Christ.
- He takes responsibilty over them because he was the one who shared the Gospel with them. Although God has sent other to them to help them grow (and allowed other, false teachers to test them), Paul feels like a father to them because he was there for their spiritual "birth".
- He confidently asks the Corinthians to look to him and follow his lead, as he does with the other churches where he preaches. He also sent Timothy to help them understand how Paul is living and act as a living example among them.
- Paul promises his return, if it's God's will. A lesson that we can draw from this is that when we question God's schedule, we question God's wisdom and power. Faith in Him means faith in His timing and His ways. To question Him is to be arrogant before Him.
- The Corinthians could say the right things, but Paul believed that they were living apart from the power of God, as their arrogance would suggest. The Christian life isn't about sounding spiritual, but about drawing our power from the God of all Creation. That requires us to endure hardship and to persevere through pain, depending on Him all the way. Arrogance and God's power do not mix.
- Paul reminds the Corinthians that he can come to them in kindness, or he can come with discipline. It is up to them. A good parent, spiritual or biological, has the responsibility to discipline his/her children and to love them. To love them is to discipline them when they are outside of the will of God.
- 1 Corinthians 4:20 (key verse) For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power.
Friday, February 13, 2009
I had a difficult time understanding what arrogance had to do with Paul returning to Corinth. I read up on it, and consulted my very smart (much smarter than I) hubby, and it fell together. We already know that the Corinthian church likes cliques. They like to group off into little clubs of people who agree about just about everything, and who believe that they are smarter than everyone else. They're debaters. Debate was a very popular form of entertainment in that day, and many of the Corinthian Christians had studied it, and gotten very good at it. One of the tools that these people used to undermine their opposition was to make them appear less than trustworthy. The people who were against Paul wanted him to seem unstable, like he wouldn't keep his word.
1 Corinthians 4:18-19 Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. 19 But I will come -- and soon -- if the Lord lets me, and then I'll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God's power.
Paul isn't backing down. Although the Corinthians who are against him are saying things like, "He isn't coming back. He has no authority here, so why should he?", Paul assures the Corinthians that he won't just be back, but when he gets there... They better look out!
Paul also says somethings else here. It seems like a very quick blip on the screen, but I think that it was intentional. Paul points out Who it is that works his calendar. If he wasn't there, it wasn't by his decision. By questioning Paul for not getting there sooner, the Corinthians were questioning God! That takes some arrogance.
These people were good talkers. They could talk, argue, and debate Paul into the ground. But, Paul isn't as concerned about their public speaking abilities as he is their hearts and where they put their trust. He's ready to meet them head on, even without speaking ability in his corner. He was coming with the very power of God, and no debating strategy was going to be able to defeat him on that!
1 Corinthians 4:20 - 4:21 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power. 21 Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?
Now, if you don't think that this Corinthian church and the modern American church has commonalities, verse 20 ought to change your mind. There's a contrast in this verse between living and talking. We can fool people by our speech. We can make them think that we are more spiritual than we are. We can even make ourselves believe that we are more spiritual than we are. God isn't fooled by well-formed speech, and neither are Christians with strong discernment. Something that the American church desperately needs is a stronger sense of spiritual discernment. The Corinthians didn't have much, or they wouldn't have been so easily swayed by debaters who were completely lacking in the power of God. What's the common link? I believe that the reason that both Corinthian Christians and American Christians lack discernment is that we have allowed ourselves to slide into the culture. We aren't holy like we should be. We easily accept the terms of the world in which we live. We've already said that was a problem that the Corinthians faced (3:3).
When we allow ourselves to live in ways similar to the rest of the world, when we accept life on their terms, the Truth of the Gospel gets diluted, along with its power. Our minds aren't being trained as they should be to recognize the things of God, or to tell the difference between pseudo-Christianity and true Christlike-ness. The way to build up your discernment, then, is to study the Truth. Get to know Jesus better. Don't just study ideas about Him. Get to know Him personally. It's like a marriage. You can know all about a list of fact about a person. You could write a paper all about them. You talk like they do. You can explain their way of living. But it takes spending time with them personally before you get to know them for who they are. And it takes knowing God personally to understand the difference between talk and power.
Paul gives the Corinthians a decision to make. He can come and love on them, or he can come and discipline. Parents are going to understand this place well. There are those times when you desperately hope that your child will do what they should (obey, refrain from something they aren't supposed to do, etc.), so that you don't have to discipline them negatively. Parents want to show their children affection, and Paul has said already that he feels like a father to the Corinthians. Sometimes parents have to do the unpleasant thing, though, and be tough. Sometimes we have to do the painful thing, for everyone involved, and make our children temporarily unhappy for their benefit in the long run.
Next week will begin with a review for chapter four. After that we will read the whole book over two studies. There won't be much studying to it, but what we'll be doing is taking a step back and looking at how it all fits together. There will be a couple of things that we'll do to cement the message of the book of 1 Corinthians into our minds. I think that it will be beneficial, and, I hope, fun.
Have a fabulous weekend living by God's power!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Yesterday we read some things that Paul was saying to the Corinthian Christians, and he was getting pretty rough with them. Now he is softening his demeanor a bit.
1 Corinthians 4:14-15 I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 15 For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you.
Paul sees the Corinthians as spiritual children, in more ways than one. He recognizes that they are immature spiritually, as we saw in the beginning of chapter 3. He also feels a certain paternal link to them because he was the one who "planted" the Gospel among them. I could imagine that Paul would be afraid that his spiritual children would fail. He'd be afraid that they were limiting their joy in this life through disobedience. He would be nervous for their success. Although Paul recognizes that he can't control how the seed of the Gospel grows in their hearts (3:5), he still cares a great deal for them, and he wants to see them grow and flourish.
Paul obviously loves the Corinthians. I think about how he would react when he first heard how the Corinthians are prideful, divided, and deep in sin. I imagine it to be pretty similar to finding out that your son has been arrested for driving drunk at the age of fifteen. It's a shot to the gut. There's that careful three-way balance between expressing the anger you feel, the reproach they need to hear, and the love that still continues, no matter what.
1 Corinthians 4:16-17 So I urge you to imitate me. 17 That's why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go.
We've already talked about Paul's humility. And yet, here he tells the Corinthians that if they want to grow spiritually, they need to imitate him. That doesn't seem too humble, does it? Paul knows something that the Corinthians don't understand very well. He knows how to depend on the Holy Spirit. He knows how to let go of the things that most people, including the Corinthians, struggle to hold on to. Although Paul is fully aware that he is still lacking spiritually, he is also aware that God is powerfully at work in his life.
A lot of people are afraid of being spiritual leaders. They are nervous about teaching Sunday school, or "coming out" as a Christian at work. We don't want to make Jesus look bad by being His representative. The problem is that we are already His representatives. When we became Christians, we weren't called to a low-level Christianity. We were called to full-out ministry. That may not mean full-time service for most people, but it's no less important for plumbers, lawyers, and dance teachers to live out their faith than it is for a pastor. People are looking. If they can't tell that you're a Christian, or at least radically different from most people, then you're failing at the most important job that you will have, bringing God glory through your life.
We all want to be mentored, but there's always someone who could benefit from us mentoring them. Every church has young Christians who are desperate for someone to show them what it looks like to parent, shop for clothing, be married, and work as a Christian. We don't want the responsibility of being the one to show them. The fact is, we are already responsible for it. The Church is responsible for ensuring the growth of Christians, and the Church is us. When we deny that responsibility, it just means that we aren't doing it well.
It's hard, I know. We don't want to fail. We are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Well, don't worry. You'll make mistakes, no matter what. That's okay. God's bigger than that. Just do your job. Love, grow, dwell. You can't do it on your own, but you can do anything that God asks you to do, by His strength. Don't limit God's work in your life by leaning on yourself. Give Him full control of your life, and you'll be amazed at what can happen.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
- What did we say is the biggest (general) sin that the Corinthian church struggles with?
- What problem has this general sin led to?
- How did Paul say that he came to the Corinthian people? (chapter 2)
- What kind of attitude does this reveal Paul has?
We'll go over the answers after reading today's passage.
1 Corinthians 4:8-13 You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God's kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. 9 Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor's parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world -- to people and angels alike. 10 Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. 11 Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don't have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. 12 We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. 13 We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash -- right up to the present moment.
- What did we say is the biggest (general) sin that the Corinthian church struggles with? Pride
- What problem has this general sin led to?
Divisions among the church
- How did Paul say that he came to the Corinthian people?
In weakness, fear (timidity), and trembling
- What kind of attitude does this reveal Paul has?
The Corinthian church doesn't see their sin. Proud people generally don't. They may have an inkling that they're wrong about something, but there is a good chance that they are too busy being better than everyone else to realize what it is. Paul takes the bull by the horns at this point. He gets tough. I'm pretty sure that if he were a pastor in today's culture, he would've found himself jobless after this little rampage. But there are times when people need someone to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. This was one of those times.
1 Corinthians 4:8-9 You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God's kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. 9 Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor's parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world -- to people and angels alike.
The Corinthian Christians are comfortable. They see the full-out pagans around them, and it is easy to believe that they really are better. They see the simple Christians who can't make an argument is their lives depended on it (Paul may have been considered one of these), and it is easy to believe that God has revealed more of Himself to them because they are special. They take what they have for granted, never realizing that sin is crouching at the door. They're being careless, and it is chipping away at the holiness they are supposed to maintain.
Paul gets sarcastic with them. Let me paraphrase what he is saying (but realize my words are my words, not God's): "Obviously, you don't need me or anyone else to help you. You already have it all figured out. God's practically handed over the keys to His Kingdom because you have it all together. Shoot! I wish you were running the Kingdom of Heaven; maybe then our lives wouldn't be so hard down here. Look at us, suffering for the cause of Christ like fools when you have already achieved perfection!"
Paul's life is different from the Corinthians'. They sit around, debating one another on minor theological points, thinking that they are oh-so-smart, while Paul feels like he is on a long death march. He preaches the Gospel faithfully, but is only rewarded with suffering. He isn't upset with God because he is suffering. He is upset with the Corinthians because they aren't suffering.
Remember this is at a time when Christians are being killed publicly, for the entertainment of pagans. They would be stuffed into the bodies of dead animals, to be eaten by lions. Or they would be stoned, burned, or pulled apart piece by piece, all for entertainment. After a war, the prisoners who had fought for the losing side would be marched into the city. They would walk for miles, enduring humiliation as they made their way to the place where they would die. Can you imagine the thoughts that would go through their minds? How do you keep walking? This was how Paul felt at the time, but he knew that he wasn't on the losing side. He was being tortured for being triumphant.
1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. 11 Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don't have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. 12 We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. 13 We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash -- right up to the present moment.
Paul is creating a stark contrast between the Corinthians and himself. Pride has created a belief in the Corinthian Christians that they are something that they're not. They have handed over their holiness for position. I've made a little (and very simple) graph to illustrate the differences between Paul and the Corinthian Christians (and to prove that it's a very good thing I didn't go into graphic design).
What Paul is getting at here is that there should be a cost in following Christ, and that there will be a cost in following Him well. When we seek after our own glory, we cannot seek after His. The Corinthian people thought that they were wise, but they have clung to earthly wisdom above that of the Gospel. They have placed more value on their honor among men than God's opinion of how they are living their lives. They believe themselves to be powerful, but as Paul said earlier, Christ is the power and wisdom of God (1:24).
Let's end today's study with a look at the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. The Corinthian church struggled with the fact that man's logic doesn't always coincide with the Gospel, and the Beatitudes are a prime example of when human thinking collides with the ways of a supernatural God.
Matthew 5:3-12 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It doesn't make sense automatically, does it? We are told that boldness and go-get-'em-ness are the best ways to get to the top. We are told that suffering is a sign of failure. We are told that mediocre Christianity is good enough. Well, it isn't. These are the things that God looks for in His people. These are the qualities that can only come from dependence on the Spirit. They can't be gained in our own power. It takes Him to make into the people that He wants us to be. And that's a very good thing.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Paul has been dealing with the Corinthian church, a group of people who are having trouble gaining or maintaining any sense of unity because they insist on following different earthly leaders inside of the church. He has refuted this behavior several times because it is such a dangerous situation for a church to be in. Previously in this chapter, he has said that he and Apollos, who are two of the leaders that the Corinthians are so desperate to follow, are simply servants of God. He has said that even he cannot trust his own judgement as to the value of their work, so they cannot trust their own to decide which church leaders deserve a following and which ones deserve enmity.
Now he is explaining that it isn't just something that should be applied to he and Apollos, but it is a general principle to be applied to everyone. He has been quoting lots of Scripture throughout the early chapters of 1 Corinthians. Below, you will see a list of the biblical quotes he has used:
1 Corinthians 1:19 As the Scriptures say, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent."
1 Corinthians 1:31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, "If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD."
1 Corinthians 2:9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him."
1 Corinthians 2:16 For, "Who can know the LORD's thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?"
1 Corinthians 3:19 As the Scriptures say, "He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness."
1 Corinthians 3:20 And again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless."
Paul has made his point well, even without all of the quotes. Why do you think he chose to use so many quotes from the Scriptures?
My theory is that he has been trying to explain to the Corinthians that they can't trust other people with total loyalty as they have been. He has said that it was the wisdom of God alone that could bring health to their church and depth to their spiritual lives. So he needed to back up his argument with clear Scripture that backs him up. If he wanted them to believe him that they couldn't believe church leaders blindly, he need to have some authority, and that authority belongs to God alone.
The theme of these quotes comes down to this: those who seem wise according to the philosophies of this world, aren't wise according to God; those who are truly wise receive their wisdom directly from God.
Therefore, the Corinthians have no right to place any loyalty in any leader, whether he (or she) is wise according to the Scriptures or not. What they so admire is not from that person, but from God.
1 Corinthians 4:7 For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn't given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
Paul doesn't just question the judgment of the Corinthians. He also questions their right to make any judgments. Ego was a big problem for them. They had to relinquish any pride they had regarding the gifts that originated with the power of God. They didn't create wisdom, or kindness, or speaking ability. It was given to them. Yet, they still wanted credit for it.
There are very big consequences when we seek to align ourselves with certain groups. It is generally motivated by a belief of personal supremacy. (No matter how wrong another Christian is about some things, there is a really good chance that you're wrong about just as much in another area.) This motivation is sinful, Christian. How dare we believe that we are greater than another created being! God has made us all, and He has a purpose specially designed for His people. We are robbing God of His glory when we do such a terrible thing as allow divisions in an organization that belongs to God alone. You may not think it is such a big deal to have disagreements in the Church of God (not the denomination, but the true entity), but when people are following church leaders to the point that church unity is impossible, it is nothing short of sin!
I know that today's study wasn't uplifting, but it's what was there. You are loved, sweet one. You have been endowed by our King to serve Him in a very unique way, which is why divisions in church are so dangerous. Embrace your calling, and the love the One who called you!
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Paul identifies himself as a servant, as he mentioned previously (3:5). What kind of humility does it take to willingly place oneself under the total control of a Master? Yet, the calling is a high one. Paul and Apollos are the servants of a King, His messengers to explain His greatness. This high calling comes with great responsibility.
Every Christian is called to do something. You may be called to formal ministry, and you may not realize it yet, or you may be called to minister in your place of work. God needs lawyers, janitors, analysts, data entry technicians, nurses, photographers, teachers, and sales people. God needs people to minister where they are. Lost people very rarely walk into a church and say, "Hey! I'm lost; someone come and tell me about Jesus!" It takes Christians who see their jobs as a ministry, who open their mouths and preach (it doesn't require yelling, eloquence, or even spitting) the Gospel to their co-workers. It takes people who bring brownies for a co-worker's birthday, even when that co-worker is cruel. It takes Christians who are willing to work harder than anyone else, love more than anyone else, and sacrifice more than anyone else. It takes people who refuse to compartmentalize their lives. You are a servant, and you are responsible, not to men, but to God.
1 Corinthians 4:3 As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don't even trust my own judgment on this point.I find this interesting.
Paul is not only willing to be disliked by everyone else, he is admitting here that he can't even trust himself when it comes to determining the quality of work he was doing. What does he mean by that?People are corrupt. Good people, Christian people, are not what they are supposed to be. Our judgement is incomplete. We worry a lot about what people think about what we do, pastors included. Paul says that we can't take it too seriously, though, when people, godly people even, disagree with us. Remember that Paul has just been saying that God doesn't think the way that we do. We can't trust our minds because they aren't in tune with God.
Remember from chapter 3 when Paul was talking about building the temple with certain materials? Let's look back at those verses.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Because of God's grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have -- Jesus Christ. 12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials -- gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
Paul says, in both chapters, that God is the only one able to test the work that we do. This may leave you a bit confused, as it has me. How can we do anything if we don't know how to do it right? How can we make sure that the work we put in is worth anything if it won't be tested until the day of Christ's return?There are some things that we can trust for sure. We can know, for absolutely sure, that we are supposed to tell people about Jesus. It's in the Bible, very clearly.
Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus came and told his disciples, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
We don't know, however, exactly where we should do this. Which nation (the original word was referring to cultural groups, not political entities) am I supposed to go and make disciples out of? Well, we can pray. We can ask for guidance through godly people, always bearing in mind that they are imperfect in their judgement. But we know what we can't do. We can't be quiet. We can't refuse to tell. We have to open our mouths and speak. We can pray for God to bless our feeble attempts and make them more effective than we are capable of making them ourselves. The Christian life is not about safety. It's about obedience.
When we can't be sure what exactly we should be doing, we are still responsible to make sure that we are doing the general things that God has told us to do. Live in prayer. Be willing to change. (Remember, you can't trust your own judgement.) Go when He says, "go!" and stay when He says, "stay!" Know the Word of God. He has given us lots of good directions. Follow them.
1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that doesn't prove I'm right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don't make judgments about anyone ahead of time -- before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.
Paul admits that it is possible that he is wrong about some things, but he is living without guilt. That guilt-free life can only come from the peace of God. He knows that He is doing what He has been told. He knows that he is living a Spirit-filled life. He may not know how the results will come out, but he isn't afraid because he isn't depending on himself.
Don't make judgements ahead of time. Sometimes we think that we can judge someone else's ministry, lifestyle, or actions from the earthly results. We think that we can tell what "works" and what doesn't according to what happens here. Apparently, from this passage, not. God may not be looking at the same things we are. He may tell us to do something off-the-wall purely for the benefit of a single person. How can we determine the worth of such actions when we can't even see the heart of a person?
Most of us are hiding something, probably a lot of things, from other people, and from ourselves. It's going to take a supernatural Judge to sift through all of that. And He will. He is going to go through everything: our actions, thoughts, motives, and attitudes. From all of that He will determine the reward that you have earned. Jeremiah alludes to this in the book by his name.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? 10 But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve."
It may seem like an impossible position to be in. We want to please God, but here we find that we can't even understand how bad we are. Check out this verse from my favorite Psalm.
Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
It isn't hopeless, I don't believe. We'll never be able to rid out hearts and minds of all of the sin that pollutes it, but we can be more pleasing to God. This Psalm discusses the importance of God's Word in living a life that pleases Him. I think that knowing the Word of God and making it the standard of our lives is a key to living a life that pleases God. The other key thing, I think, is to pray and ask God to make your life into something that pleases Him. Today I'm going to leave you with Psalm 19. It's not long, and it goes very well with today's study. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.
Psalm 19:1-14 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. 2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. 3 They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. 4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. 5 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. 6 The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat. 7 The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The commandments of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are clear, giving insight for living. 9 Reverence for the LORD is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the LORD are true; each one is fair. 10 They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. 11 They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. 12 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don't let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Psalm 125:1-5 (NLT) Those who trust in the LORD are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever. 2 Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forever. 3 The wicked will not rule the land of the godly, for then the godly might be tempted to do wrong. 4 O LORD, do good to those who are good, whose hearts are in tune with you. 5 But banish those who turn to crooked ways, O LORD. Take them away with those who do evil. May Israel have peace! A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.
Psalm 125:1-5 (ESV) Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. 2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. 3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong. 4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! 5 But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!
I pasted this Psalm (each chapter of the Book of Psalms is a single Psalm) in two versions because I want us to think on it and meditate on it, not really break it down and study it like we normally would. You may want to memorize verse 2. That's some great imagery. Let's notice a few things from this passage to help us concentrate on what God is saying here.
- The people of God are secure, protected by a Mighty Warrior. We will endure struggles and hardships. We will have bad days when we doubt whether God is there at all. But He is. Even if things are terrible in this life, even if we die because we did what was right, we are more than conquerors. We will sit next to the God of all Creation when it is over, and the struggles and pain of this life will seem very, very small when we see them next to our King.
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Jerusalem was surrounded by mountains that were higher than the one it was sitting on. These mountains created a natural wall of protection against invaders. I found this to be an incredible image when I first read it. Contrast this wall of protection, created and upheld by God, very God, with the wall of Jericho. Jericho's was big, strong, and built to last, but it couldn't last when faced by the power and might of God. We can build fortresses with our own lives, placing faith in things that may be good, but they simply are not God. Those things will fail. Our fortress will be unable to protect us from the most disastrous consequences of our own sin. The protection given to us by God can. It is a protection that cannot be taken from us.
- God will not give us over to wickedness. The protection of God on a Christian's life isn't just from enemies of the physical or emotional type. He is also protecting us from the evil sin-nature at work in us. That is why a Christian simply cannot practice sin. We will stumble, and we will make mistakes, but God will not allow sin to rule in the life of a Christian. If sin has power over your life, you really need to do some soul-searching to discover if God dwells within you or not.
- God loves us and cares for us in order to gain praise. He stays true to His character by making sure that those who seek Him find Him. He will do good to those who are good, and He will lead those who are sinful away from His people in order to preserve the holiness of His Church.
Take some time today to be grateful. Grab a journal and write down some ways that you have seen God's protection in your own life. Pray a prayer of gratitude for the ways that God has proven time and again that He has no intention of leaving His children. Take joy in knowing that we serve a mighty God who loves righteousness, and ask that God will continue cultivating a love for righteousness in your own heart, for His glory.