Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Am I Blushing?

If you aren't to embarrassed to continue reading, we are studying what 1 Corinthians says about marriage, and more specifically, sex within marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:4-6 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won't be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.

The first verse sends a pretty unpopular message: married couples have authority over one another's bodies. That sounds wrong, and it can be taken to mean something totally different than what it means. It does not mean that a man (or woman) has the right to abuse his/her spouse. It does not mean that a husband can tell his wife where to go every moment of every day, or that a wife should constantly nag his husband about where he is going or where he has been. It means that married couples belong to one another. Their bodies are meant for sexual use by their spouse, and their spouse alone. It also means that we have responsibility to one another as well. We are responsible for meeting the desires of that body as best we can, emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually.

God designed married couples to work in a particular way, which is why homosexuality is an issue. Men and women were created with equal worth, but with different psychological and emotional needs. Look at this passage from Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:23-33 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God's word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Marriage is meant to draw a picture of the relationship God has with His people, so the world can understand Him and how we relate to Him better. When women refuse to respect their husbands and submit to them, they are portraying that relationship inaccurately, which is a big deal. When a man seeks his own benefit above that of his wife, and takes advantage of her willingness to submit, he too is lying to the world about the ways that God and His people relate. A mistake on one person's part does not excuse him or her from fulfilling his or her duties in the marriage. It makes it more difficult, but through your obedience, your husband may be saved, as we will see later in this chapter. In order to give a testimony to the world of God's love and grace, which is the greatest task given to believers, we must maintain healthy Christian homes.

1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won't be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Okay, ladies. It's time to get to the nitty-gritty. How many of you have ever "held out" because your husband did something you weren't happy about? Show of hands? I see. No one wants to raise their hand while sitting alone in their den in front of the computer, eh? Well, I understand that.

Sex is not a bribe. It is not a tool for getting what you want out of your husband, or out of life in general. Sex isn't meant to fix a relationship, and it isn't meant to hold a marriage together. Sex can't buy love back from a disinterested spouse. Lack of sex is not a punishment, either.

This verse isn't saying that you have to "do it" every night if your husband wants it every night. What this verse is getting at is that we can't just stop having sex for a longer period of time with the purpose of punishing each other or manipulating the relationship. Marriage is meant to fulfill sexual needs, remember? That's not its main goal, but it is an important part of it. When we hold out, we are allowing our husbands to be tempted, which should be something that we protect them from.

You aren't his sex-toy. You aren't in existence merely for the purpose of bringing him pleasure. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that sex is meant to be meaningful for both of you. It is meant to be fun. It is meant to be satisfying. If you just can't get in the mood, do something really crazy and pray about it. I know, I know. It sounds nuts, but that's only because our culture says that sex and God don't mix. Guess what? It was His idea! Do it His way, and I think you may like it even more!

There is a good reason to take a break from sex. It's a great idea to have a sexual fast for a few days, especially when a big decision is coming up or you're facing a tough time in your personal lives, marriage, work, or at church. Just make sure that you're praying more. Redirect the excitement that you have had toward each other to God.

More than a few days is probably not a good idea, though. Hubby may end up having a hard time concentrating after that long. You know your husband. You can determine how long he should be able to go without intimacy. And you may very well be the one who needs to put the fast to an end. There's no shame in a woman who enjoys her husband so much that a few days without his touch make praying a bit difficult. Once concentration decreases, it's time to move on and enjoy God's design for sex once again.

1 Corinthians 7:6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.

The Corinthians might have brought the subject of sexual fasts to Paul, which may be why he refers to his response as a concession. Either way, sexual fasts aren't necessary. They don't make you a better Christian than if you decide against it. If you and your hubby can't agree, then drop the subject. It's okay. Paul doesn't command you to refrain from sex for the purpose of prayer, but if you want to, more power to you!

See? That wasn't so bad, was it? It didn't hurt or anything. The chapter isn't over yet, but most of the sex talk is concluded for a while, so exhale, already. I'll see you soon with the next study.

And Now, What I've Been Looking Forward To...

Okay, not so much. This chapter throws me for a loop. I have no problem discussing marriage or sex, but Paul's attitude in this chapter is hard for me, in my feeble-minded humanity, to grasp. It's my weakness, not that of God's Word, obviously. It's not so difficult when you're reading through this chapter quickly, but when you take it apart, well, it's not so simple...

1 Corinthians 7:1-3 Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to live a celibate life. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his wife's sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband's needs.

Here's something that hadn't occurred to me until just now: the Corinthians brought up the question of celibacy in the midst of all of their sexual immorality. Here they were, with members of their own church sleeping with family members (though not blood relatives), and they were debating the value of celibacy! We've talked about the arrogance of the Corinthians several times. What I'm gathering, though it is a far from conclusive theory, is that the Christians of Corinth may have been refraining from marriage in an attempt to seem more holy, but were falling to temptation because of it.

Celibacy is a calling. It's been called "the gift that no one wants". No joke! I'm grateful for my marriage, and the sex life that comes with it. Some people have said that no one should be celibate because it leads to terrible things like pedophilia. I would agree that forced celibacy, such as in the Catholic church, could have that affect. It would seem that Paul is leaning that way, too. I do believe that there are some people who can pull it off. There are some people who were born differently, and they have special medical circumstances that make it easier for them to refrain from sexual activity. There are other people whom God has designed purposefully for celibacy. They are rare people, but they are in existence. For them, it is not a sacrifice to remain single, just as it is not a sacrifice for our family to go overseas. It's exactly what we want to do!

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to live a celibate life. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.

Celibacy requires a lot of self-control and spiritual maturity, neither of which characterize the Corinthians. The situation of the Corinthian church proves that celibacy is just not a good idea for the members there. Like in American culture, sex and perversions thereof pollute the air. It's difficult to go a day without hearing and seeing all kinds of temptations that keep us (and kept them in their day) from living a holy life.For the Corinthians, it would be a good plan to marry.

Notice that there's a very specific formula for a marriage here: man + woman. Somehow this is a debate even in the Christian church! I'm not speaking about political issues here. The policies that I'm referring to are in churches themselves. Many churches disregard this teaching of Scripture as a merely cultural issue, but homosexuality is referred to time and time again as sin and a perversion of a wonderful part of God's plan. If we can't believe this basic teaching of the Bible, what can we trust?

Romans 1:26-27 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

1 Timothy 1:10-11 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.

Now, let's get one thing straight (no pun intended) before moving on. It is not okay to hate homosexual people. If a gay person walks into your church, you better treat them as well as you would treat anyone. He or she has been deceived by the prince of darkness. Your job is to show them the Light. That doesn't happen by yelling at them or kicking them out of the place. Now, if they claim to be Christians, that changes things. Once a person calls him- or herself by that sacred title, they are required to live by it, and it is for their good that the Church exercises discipline. For those that do not refer to themselves as Christians, (and that will usually mean that they do not attend church in our culture. Everyone says they're a Christians when asked directly in this country.) we are required to show our love through kindness to them, remembering that it was while we were still sinners that Christ showed His love to us (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:5).

We are to be loving toward all of God's precious creations. For those who call themselves Christians, but act like the world, that is through loving discipline. For those who do not claim to know God, we show that love through kindness and by telling them the Truth of God's Word.

1 Corinthians 7:3 The husband should fulfill his wife's sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband's needs.

People are supposed to enjoy married sex. It's meant to be fun. There are times when it's less than magical, but that's no excuse to pull away. (Mom, you may want to go to another site, if you haven't already. :) My goal is to keep my husband so incredibly satisfied that he is just too plain tired to want to have sex with anyone else. He's never struggled with sexual temptation before, but I have no desire to see him start struggling with it. I'm not saying that a lack of sex in marriage is an excuse for cheating. Nope. It's still terrible sin. But, God created people with sexual desires. Those desires are meant to be fulfilled in marriage.

Before getting married, our pre-marital counselor (my dad performed the wedding, but we saw someone else privately for counseling. It's called preventive medicine. Everyone should talk to a pastor or counselor before getting married!!!) told us to read a book called The Act of Marriage. At some point in that book, it said that if you are going through a phase when sex isn't as enjoyable as normal, you should make sure to have more sex. What? Huh? That doesn't quite compute, does it?

It's true, though. When I make a point of intentionally enjoying Edwin and I make sure that I'm in control of my own attitude, it's amazing how much more I want to have sex the next day! And the next. :) Look, I can't have sex every time Edwin wants to, but I can keep him satisfied. I can make sure that he is feeling loved through sex. Some people, and Edwin is one of them, feel loved through sex more than others. I prefer to talk for a while and then have sex. Edwin, on the other hand, feels much more connected to me after sex, so he wants to talk then. We compromise and just talk a lot.

Don't think of sex as a drudgery. Read Song of Solomon sometime. It ain't drudgery or work in that book, sister! If you are bored to pieces with your sex life, get help from a Christian counselor, or read a book (which is probably a good first step) like The Act of Marriage by Tim Lahaye, Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, or The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner. There is nothing wrong with buying something pretty and skimpy for the marital bedroom, either. Make a point of feeling sexy some night this week. That'll really throw that hubby of yours for a loop! I read about one woman who recommended giving your husband a tie by wearing it to dinner, with nothing else but heels. Just make sure the blinds are closed before that little dinner, and be prepared to stop in the middle of the salad. No matter how unattractive you think you are, he is gonna like it.

Find new ways to enjoy each other. We're going to keep looking at what 1 Corinthians has to say on this very racy subject in our next study. Until then, do your homework ;)!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter 6: Outline

1 Corinthians 6:1-8- Lawsuits between believers are unacceptable!
  • Because believers house the Holy Spirit, we should be able to find someone in the church wise enough to handle the dispute without taking it to outside authorities.
  • To take such issues to secular courts is to disgrace the church. No unbeliever wants to be a part of a divisive group of people! They want to see that the church of the Living God is different. That means that we may have to make some sacrifices to our personal rights in order to make God and His Church look good.
  • It is infinitely better to accept personal loss in order to preserve the glory of God.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 6:7 Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Those who practice sin are not saved.

  • Paul gives a list of sins that characterize those who are still lost: sexual sin, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, abuse, and cheating.
  • These sins are examples of unloving attitudes toward each other, God, and His temple, our bodies.
  • Believers were once sinners. Past sins do not negate the grace of God.
  • God has cleansed us with His Holy Spirit. He doesn't merely save us from Hell, He saves us from the power of sin altogether.
  • Those who are saved may sin from time to time, but they do not practice sin regularly. The Holy Spirit will convict His people, making sin unenjoyable. Sin should be hard if you are saved.
  • We, Christians, now stand before God with His holiness covering us. He continued making us holy through His power.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 6:11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:12-14: Although Christians cannot lose their salvation, they are called to the holiness fitting of God's people.

  • Sin is a slave-master. To continue in sin is to continue to live in slavery when God has paid the price for your freedom.
  • Christians have been reborn for the purpose of God's glory. We are to live for Him, even in how we treat our bodies.
  • Our bodies are temporal. Our need for food, our desire for sex, all such things will pass away. We need to concentrate on the things that really do stick. The things that we do for the glory of God will last, but earthly pleasures will be done away with.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 6:12 You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is good for you. And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything.

1 Corinthians 6: 15-20: Sexual sin affects a person spiritually, and is unacceptable for those who are the temple of God.

  • Sex is a physical way of joining the souls of two people. When we join ourselves with the wrong person (that would be anyone other than a spouse, who is of the opposite sex), we who are already joined to the Holy Spirit put Him in a place He does not want to be.
  • We are the temple of God. He dwells in our spirits, and makes our bodies His place of residence. Take that seriously! The Holy Spirit lives in you!!!
  • You have been redeemed from slavery sin for the purpose of being slaves to God. Slaves must be submissive to their Master!
  • He paid a high price to redeem us. You are a precious commodity to Him. That's great news! It comes with great responsibility to represent Him well.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 6:20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That is a High Price!

Today we are completing 1 Corinthians 6. Tomorrow we will have our regular review and outline. I've been trying to make the studies more manageable by shortening them a little. Although last week I only completed two studies (and I do apologize for that), I intend to continue doing three a week, just making them a tad bit shorter. Okay, let's dive right into our passage.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

What does the idea of running away make you think of? When someone runs away from something, they are generally afraid, really afraid. They aren't too concerned about what people are thinking about them, are they? No one looks particularly good while running, their faces all red and sweaty. Many people think that you have to be cowardly in order to run from something. In this case, running away from sexual sin is the smartest move you can make.Let's look at some examples:
  • You have a friend with a flirty husband. You can't tell if he's "for real" or not, but the flirting makes you feel really good. To run away would mean to make sure that there are no opportunities for him to flirt with you. His wife always needs to be around. No phone conversations with him while you're waiting on her to get to the phone, either. And, if at some point it becomes clear that he is doing more than just talking, you get out. If you think that he has been cheating on his wife, you need to tell her what you know for sure. Running away may mean leaving a friend behind.
  • Soap operas make you feel all romantic and giddy, but they also leave you dissatisfied with your own sex life and/or marriage. You have no intention on acting on those feelings, but it's hard not to think about it. It's time to run, girlfriend! That's right. Turn off the t.v. and put in a good movie (Fireproof, maybe?), read a book by a trustworthy Christian author, garden, surprise your husband at work with lunch. Just don't sit there allowing your relationship with your hubby to be threatened by something so stupid as a completely unrealistic soap.
  • Your husband has seemed unsatisfied sexually for a while. He's been looking at things he shouldn't, and that has only made it much worse. Now he's hinting that the two of you do things that you just aren't sure about. He's your husband, and you're supposed to keep him happy, right? What are you supposed to do? Allow me to say this, just because something isn't what your grandma told you was okay in bed, doesn't mean that it's unbiblical. God is perfectly fine with married couples working to find what, um, works. (You may want to read Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, or The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner for ideas what is a good idea, and what isn't okay for the Christian.) If he's asking you to do something that you absolutely know is wrong, like involving pornography or other people (gulp), you're going to have to do something drastic. It's time for a counselor, which isn't as drastic as some people think. If he refuses, you may have to separate for a while. Running isn't always fun, but it's what you're called to. Running doesn't mean leaving for good, though. Once he is willing to receive counseling from a good, Christian therapist, you can go from there. Separation is not meant to be permanent in this case.

One, last thing about running is that you aren't just running from something (sin), you're also running to something (righteousness). Run to the arms of God, and He will make it much easier to keep from getting back into those situations that caused you to run in the first place.

1 Corinthians 6:18-19 No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,

Sexual immorality actually occurs within the body. The Christian body is the temple of God. It is meant to be a place of communion with Him. When we have sex with a person, we are spiritually joined with them. When we are joining together with our husband (or wife, if you're a man who stumbled on this blog), it's a wonderful thing. Sex done God's way has a positive impact spiritually. All sexual expression outside of God's design, however, has a negative impact.

1 Corinthians 6:20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

The Christian is meant to have a deep spiritual bond. That bond is not breakable, and it connects us to God Himself. When He sent His Son and allowed Him to die on our behalf, He paid the price to redeem us from our sin. We were slaves to sin, but not we have been bought for His purposes. That's a high cost, dear Christian. Now that you belong to Him, you are called to certain standards.

I don't care if it seems old-fashioned to wait until you're married for sex. I don't care if it seems prudish to say that God desires for you to remain faithful to one person for the time that the both of you are alive. Sure, it may be difficult, but that's what you are called to.

Don't think that this is God punishing you. This is Him protecting you. Whether you believe it or not, sex is a spiritual act, and attaching ourselves to anyone and everyone is simply not a good idea. Other than the physical consequences, such as undesired pregnancies and diseases, there are deep emotional and spiritual consequences. It's pretty difficult to feel intimately connected to God when you're sexually connected to multiple people. How do you stand before God, knowing that the temple He has given you has been trashed by those who did not belong there?

Now, let's not get this wrong. God is not out to punish people for mistakes made long in the past. Paul is dealing with people who are still committing these sins. He's not telling them that they're hopeless. He's telling them that they have to repent of those sins to enjoy fellowship with God again. He's telling them to start running now, no matter what that leaves behind them. God can clean your temple, and He wants to. That is done by know what He wants from you and for you (reading His Word), and by the washing of His Spirit. Sin grieves His Spirit, and prevents Him from completing this task. Stay away from it, and allow the cleanness that only God can provide to wash away what you can never undo.

The death of Christ was not cheap. So, why are so many Christians acting so cheap? Maybe they don't know how precious they are to God. Maybe they aren't actually saved, and are being deceived into believing that they are. Maybe they don't realize just how much God had to pay to free them from the sin they continue to commit.

To know the price paid for you and to continue living your way is to intentionally discard the grace of God. It's disrespectful to God and His precious Son to continue in sexual sin. That sounds intense in a world that accepts premarital sex, extramarital sex, and post-divorce sex like they're par for the course. That's because our world has gotten it wrong. It isn't too hard to believe that when you think about all of the children who die due to abortions, and all the diseases caused by our sexual practices. Yep, the world has it wrong, but that doesn't mean that you have to. You can do things God's way, and I think that you will be amazed at how great God's design is for married sex. Remember, He loves you, and He uses marriage as a model for His love toward us. That's a pretty cool way of thinking about sex, isn't it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Deeper Intimacy

1 Corinthians 6:15-20 Don't you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don't you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, "The two are united into one." 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Sexual sin is described in this passage as a very dangerous thing. The danger comes from the fact that sex does more than just provide sensual pleasure.

1 Corinthians 6:15-16 Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ? So should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Absolutely not! Do you not know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For it says, The two will become one flesh.

"But," you say, "I've never had sex with a prostitute!" Well, that's good. I'm glad to hear it. That is the issue for many of the Corinthians, and it's given as an example. The point is this: When we have sex with someone, we are designed to become interwoven with that person. It isn't just a temporary physical bond, but a lasting spiritual and emotional bond as well.

As a Christian, you are a part of the body of Christ. His Spirit dwells in you. That means that you absolutely have to take your life seriously, as it affects Him tremendously. Whenever you have sex with someone, God is there. It can be a really great thing. God takes joy when His people take pleasure in something that He has created in the way that He has created it to be enjoyed. But it grieves Him significantly when His people seek their own enjoyment over His glory and their holiness.

1 Corinthians 6:17 But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

True Christianity is no religion. It isn't about ceremony or belief systems as much as it is about intimacy. I use the word intimacy intentionally. This passage is dealing with people who express desires for physical and emotional intimacy incorrectly. It also deals with the fact that a Christian is already intimately woven together with Christ. What we long for has already been given. The Holy Spirit ties us to the King of Kings, enabling us to enjoy the depth and breadth of the love of the Father!

With that kind of intimacy, it's hard to believe that Christians continue to buy into the worldly belief that sex is just sex, or that we should be able to sleep with whomever we choose, as long as we care about them. How ridiculous does that sound when we think about the fact that our actions are now tied to God Himself? How dare we trust our own judgement over the commands of our loving Father!?

We'll continue looking at this passage, and finish the chapter, in the next study. The next enstallment is going to focus on what it means to no longer own your own body. It's a scary thought at times, but it's the truth for everyone who is in a relationship with Christ. I look forward to continuing with you then.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Want What's Right

1 Corinthians 6:13-14 You say, "Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food." (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can't say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.

We've been discussing the way that we have been freed from sin for the purpose of bringing God glory through holiness. The Corinthian church was chock-full of sin, including lawsuits between believers and sexual sin so vulgar that even our culture would recognize how disgusting it is. The Corinthians understood things intellectually. They knew that salvation doesn't come by way of works, but through the grace of God poured out on those who believe in and on His Son. They used the freedom they were given in order to commit more sin. That is far from what they were re-created to do. They were robbing God of His glory.

The Corinthians had a saying, "Food is made for the stomach and the stomach for food." This is being used as an excuse for sexual sin. It sounds very similar to an argument that I've heard in our culture. I've heard from more than one person that God made our bodies, and He made them with a longing for sex. Therefore, it is fine to fulfill that longing however we desire. God made the desire, right?

People also long for justice. Sometimes the courts fail to execute justice. Does that mean that God wants us to murder someone who got away with a crime? People rightfully desire to receive credit when it's due, but that doesn't mean that we should go around bragging about everything we've gotten right. People are full of good desires gone bad. That's what the fall did. When sin entered the world, good things were twisted into other things. Good desires became bad lusts.

What's a girl (or guy) to do? Is there no escaping evil desires?

1 Corinthians 6:13 (Holman Christian Standard) "Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods," but God will do away with both of them. The body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

The desires that we struggle with and the longings that have been perverted are temporal. They are going to go away. In that day, our greatest longing will be fulfilled, or it will be intensified to such a degree that it will be unbearable, but there will be no escape. We were created for the Lord. Our bodies cry out for Him, as do our souls. The desires that we feel for sex and food are going to pass away, but they give us an inkling of what our souls crave the most. We want intimacy and fulfillment from God. The thing that we truly need above all else is oneness with the Creator.

The desires that we have here on earth are real, but they are not eternal. They have an affect on us, but they do not control us. We will be freed from them one day.

1 Corinthians 6:14 God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

When God raises us from the dead, we will be free from the affects of the fall. The good desires that we were meant to have will be fulfilled. Justice will be executed, either on the Son of God, or in Hell on the unforgiven. We will no longer need food because we will be completely satisfied with Jesus. We will no longer need or want sex because we will be with our true Husband, Christ.

We concentrate so completely on these earthly things that we miss out on the great things that are to come. We miss our focal point. By doing so, we miss out on the satisfaction that can be had on this earth. God is willing to develop in us good desires again. He is willing and able to fulfill those good desires.

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart's desires.

By feasting on the goodness of God, getting to know Him in a deeper and richer way, and choosing to make His priorities our own, we delight in Him. When we do that, He changes our desires. He restores them back to what they are supposed to be. When our desires line up with His desires for us, He can fulfill them, and we can be satisfied as we have never been before.

Read these passages from the Psalms about being satisfied in God, and rejoice! He wants to fulfill our longings!

Psalm 63:5-7 You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips. 6 When, on my bed, I think of You, I meditate on You during the night watches 7 because You are my help; I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings.

Psalm 90:14-17 Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. 16 Let Your work be seen by Your servants, and Your splendor by their children.a 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands-- establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 145:16-19 You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts. 18 The LORD is near all who call out to Him, all who call out to Him with integrity. 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry for help and saves them.

It may seem odd, but the way to be satisfied is to want the right things. You can't change what your heart desires, but He can. The first step is to admit that your heart is evil. Following it is going to get you into some big trouble. The next is to seek God by reading His Word and praying that He changes you to look more like Him. Be open to Him, and only Him. Then, allow Him to change you. He can do it, and when He does, you will have a joy like you have never known before!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Enslaved for Freedom's Sake

1 Corinthians 6:9-12 Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people -- none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is good for you. And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything.

We had a little, okay not so little, intro to this passage on Wednesday. The reason that I did that was because there are lots of misunderstandings of passages like this one that would lead you to believe that you can be saved at one point, and then lose that salvation by way of sin. I deeply believe that such a belief contradicts the Word of God and lessens the power of salvation. Do we really think that we can thwart the power of God by bad decisions?

So then, what does this passage mean? What are we supposed to get out of it? Remember the context. This book has dealt heavily with church discipline. Just before this chapter, Paul was talking about a man who was sleeping with his step-mother, and in the verses just prior to these, he discusses lawsuits between church members. It sounds a lot like there are some non-believers who have been deceived into believing that they are saved due to intellectual belief that is void of any real meaning. True faith is accompanied by godly works(James 2:26). That doesn't mean that the true Christian is sinless. It means that sin doesn't characterize the life of the believer.

Let's look at this passage, and let's see what Paul says under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people -- none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Let's list the sins described in this passage:
  • sexual sin*
  • idolatry**
  • adultery***
  • prostitution*
  • homosexuality*
  • thievery***
  • greed***
  • drunkenness*
  • abuse***
  • cheating*

I put one star next to the sins that involve how we treat our own bodies, usually sexually. I put two stars next to the sin that involves worshipping the correct, and only) God. And I put three stars next to the sins that involve how we treat people. Jesus says that the law and the prophets can be kept by loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and by loving other people as you love yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). So what does staying away from sexual sin (and drunkenness) have to do with those two ideas?

There is a great explanation later in this chapter, but for now I just want you to think about how hard it is love God completely while indulging in sexual perversions. Can you really believe that God means what He says when you do something that He has warned you not to? Do you really trust Him? Are you calling Him a liar when you join your body to someone who is not your husband? Doing things God's way is a way to express love for Him. It requires knowing His Word (with your mind), loving His ways (with your heart), and dedicating yourself to seeking to please Him (with your whole soul). Disobedience is not loving.

1 Corinthians 6:11-12 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is good for you. And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything.

Paul isn't jumping all over you for sins that are in your past. He isn't guilt tripping you for mistakes made before coming to know God. You were a slave to your sin, so you lived in it. But then something happened.

You were cleansed. You were made holy, right before God. This occurred when you called on the name of Jesus Christ and His Spirit washed you clean. That's a big deal. It is a change that reverberates into the rest of your life. You weren't just washed of past sin, but you were made clean. As far as God's concerned, you are holy, perfect by all accounts. It isn't free grace, but it is free to you. It took the blood of Christ to wash away all of that grimey sin, but He paid the price so that we can stand before a holy and just God without fear.

The Corinthians understood that if salvation was by grace, they couldn't lose it by sinning. Instead of living a life of gratitude, dwelling under that grace, they used it as an excuse to live their own way. They went back to living the same way that they had before they knew Christ. That was never the point. The goal of grace is change, freedom to live a life free from the power of sin.

We can be enslaved to sin. Sin may feel freeing at first, but ask any addict, and you'll know that they don't feel free. They are slaves to sin. You have been bought, redeemed from slavery to sin in order to serve Him.

Colossians 4:1 Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.

You will be enslaved to something, to God's will or to sin. Choose your master. If you are saved, the choice is made. When you were adopted as a daughter of God, you were called to live as a slave to His will. He has given you His Spirit in order to help you live the life that He has dreamed up for you.

Are you loving God with all of your heart, soul, and mind? Are you treating the people around you the way that you want to be treated? Are you forgiving others? What characterizes your life: grace or abuse of grace? God loves you, and He longs for you to live the kind of life that is only possible when you seek Him. It's a good life, though rarely easy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Were vs. You Are

1 Corinthians 6:9-12 Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people -- none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is good for you. And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything.

Here's the issue: God's Spirit dwells in the soul of the believer. He does not take up residence with sin. He finds it utterly disgusting, as we Christians are meant to. He changes the heart of the believer. He works in those who belong to Him. There is no such thing as a dormant Holy Spirit. He is at work! He does not leave His work incomplete. He may allow us to give ourselves over to sin for a season (a relatively short season), but He will bring us back every time.

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

If you get nothing else from this study of 1 Corinthians, please understand that God calls His people to holiness. He has granted us the ability to stand before Him with a holy standing. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that we were living in sin, but that we were made right. It's already been done for the Christian. Our salvation is just as sure as our past sin. just as the sin of our past cannot be undone, so is our secure is the salvation that God has granted to those who belong to Him. But He also desires for His people to increase in holiness by the power of His Spirit. If you keep falling into sin, if you practice sin on a regular basis, and if you feel powerless to get out of that sin, you need to call your salvation into question.

I'm not judging you. I am concerned. There are lots and lots of people who are placing their faith in a decision. Decisions do not get people to Heaven. The grace of God gets people to Heaven. And that grace ain't dormant, sister! His grace is active and alive in the soul of the believer. His grace doesn't just set us free from the consequences of sin; it sets us free from the sin itself. Baptism can't do that. A decision to "follow Christ" can't do that. Only grace can do that. So, how does that grace become active in the life of a person?

Faith. Faith unlocks grace. Christ died to set His people free from all sin, and He died to execute justice. In order to "get saved", a person must believe that sin is bad, Jesus is God, God is who He says, His death paid the price for our sin, and they must place faith in Him. That faith isn't merely belief. That faith unlocks the grace of God to come alive in the life of the Christian! That faith means that we no longer believe that anything else has the power to save us. That faith means that God is at work in us. That faith manifests itself in a cry for God to enter your life. It naturally leads to lots of decisions, such as the decision to be baptized. Faith means complete trust. The faithful person trusts God to save them, to provide for them, and to grant them power over sin. This faith, saving faith, changes everything! This faith brings grace, and grace brings good works and casts out sin.

Jesus describes this onset of grace as being born again when talking to a man who asked how he could be saved:

John 3:3-7 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God." 4 "What do you mean?" exclaimed Nicodemus. "How can an old man go back into his mother's womb and be born again?" 5 Jesus replied, "I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don't be surprised when I say, 'You must be born again.'

Paul describes those who have been saved as "a new creation":

Ephesians 2:1-10 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. 4 But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! 6 He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens,a in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by gracea you are saved through faith,b and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation-- created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

Did you catch that first line: we were dead! Spiritually, we had no life. We had no power to fight sin. When we are reborn, made new in Christ, we are re-created for a purpose: for the good works that God has laid out before us. Salvation is marked by the power of God, which is always accompanied by good works, not sin. That isn't to say that sin won't happen. That is to say that the Christian will never be mastered by sin. We will always be able to fight temptation. The question is: Are we fighting, or are we laying down and letting it defeat us?

Being faithful to the calling we have received as Christians isn't always easy. Sometimes it's downright painful! It's in those moments when God's power is the most evident. You don't have to live like you did! You don't have to fall into the pattern that you established because God has established a different path for you. He has presented it clearly in His Word. It is your calling, your privilege, and your joy to walk in it.

I say all of this to get us to the passage. This is just the introduction into Thursday's study. I didn't mean for it to be an entire study on its own, but I think that it was necessary.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

That's So Wrong!

1 Corinthians 6:5-8 5 I am saying this to shame you. Isn't there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? 6 But instead, one believer sues another -- right in front of unbelievers! 7 Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.



Have you ever thought about how strange it is to take a problem between two Christians to a non-believer? When you sit down in the chair at the salon and start complaining about all of the bad things going on at church, that's exactly what you're doing (that is, if your hairstylist is lost). And you probably get some advice, too. Don't we even care about the fact that we are giving the very body of Christ a bad image?



1 Corinthians 6:5-6 I am saying this to shame you. Isn't there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? 6 But instead, one believer1 sues another -- right in front of unbelievers!



Why does Paul say he's writing about this issue? That's right. He wants the Corinthians to feel shame. We always think that a pastor/preacher's job is to make us feel good. We think of church like a Christian pep rally. There's nothing wrong with joy and peace, but the Corinthians were not feeling a joy or peace that comes from the Spirit of God, but they were feeling an arrogance that comes from sinful humanity.


Here's the deal: when we have trouble resolving issues between believers, there is a lot more at stake than our rights. (If you haven't already, read this post about the biblical method for dealing with such issues.) It isn't that God doesn't care when one member cheats another, but there is another issue that trumps that one. God's reputation is decided in large part by His people. That means that we have to deal with problems between our people His way to make sure that we make Him look good. Like it or not, He is more important than you are. His glory is more important than your rights (or mine, for that matter)! We should be ashamed to allow non-believers to intervene. Christians have no place in a secular court over matters that could be dealt with inside a church. If you don't think that your pastor or a deacon can handle the problem, it's time to find a new church or elect some new leaders! (I only say this because I'm pretty sure that there is someone in your church who can help you.)


Those outside of the church do not have the Holy Spirit guiding them in their decisions, so they will not be able to resolve issues God's way. That doesn't mean that we are to ignore legal authorities. God tells us that we better make sure that we do. If a judge or law enforcement official tells you to do something, as long as it doesn't directly contradict the Bible, you are required by God to obey. But that's another matter.


1 Corinthians 6:7-8 Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.


Let's assume that you have taken the issue to the highest authority possible, whether that is the pastor, a board of elders/deacons, or a denominational group, and it is still unresolved. That's pretty unlikely, but for the sake of argument, let's just assume that it has happened. What now? The way to remain righteous in this situation is simple: let it go! So, you've been mistreated. So was Jesus! Forgive, like He did, even as He was on the cross, drawing His last breaths on this planet.


If it's an internal struggle between righteousness and getting what you want, it should be an easy decision for the Christian. We aren't called to fairness. We aren't called to ease. We are called to holiness. You may lose money. You may lose something that you worked hard for in the church. It's more important that the integrity of the Church is maintained than it is for you to get what you believe you deserve. (Remember, ultimately, we all deserve Hell. Thank God for His grace that doesn't give us what we deserve!!!)


Yes, church should be a place that maintains justice, but it has people in it. Fallen people. It isn't always going to work correctly, especially when we do things our own way instead of the way He has laid out. The Church is bigger than you or I can imagine. God has a good plan for us that will bring Him glory. The most important thing that we can do is let go of our desire to make church about us and allow God to run it His way. That means that we have to know the way He wants for us to run it. We have to read God's Word, invest in the tools we need to understand it, and develop our lives according to what we have learned.We'll continue looking at what God has to tell us through the book of 1 Corinthians. I look forward to seeing what God has to tell us. What a great God we serve that He would give us His wisdom through His Word and the power of His Spirit!

Friday, March 6, 2009

So Sue Me!

1 Corinthians 6:1-4 When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! 2 Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves? 3 Don't you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. 4 If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?

We live in a lawsuit happy world. It's almost seen as a way to get fast cash now days. In the Corinthian church, there were church members who were actually suing other church members. Can you imagine how awkward worship services would be if you're standing between litigants while trying to sing, "How Great Thou Art"? Paul isn't happy about this situation, either. Let's look at what he has to say.

1 Corinthians 6:1,2 When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! 2 Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves?

Paul isn't very subtle, is he? A literal translation (New American Standard-Updated) of verse 1 is worded this way:

1 Corinthians 6:1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?

Both translations use the word "dare" to describe the attitude of a church member who would sue another church member. What attitude problem does this make you think about? (We've discussed it several times in relation to the Corinthians.)

That's right... The Corinthian church is facing yet another result of their arrogance. They're so worried about getting what they think that they deserve that they don't even think about what God thinks about it or the affect that it will have on the church's reputation. They believe that their rights are more important than the glory of God or seeing His Kingdom grow.

There's another problem here. The Corinthians have more respect for the secular courts than they have for the decisions of the church. Their priorities are completely misaligned. It's true that the church may choose to extend grace to the offender when a secular court wouldn't. The problem is that the church is the organization designated by God to determine how a dispute between two church members should be resolved.

1 Corinthians 6:2 Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves?

Believers are supposed to be in preparation. We are supposed to be tuning our minds to the mind of God. We should already be practicing allowing the Spirit to make decisions for us. We should be submitting to His authority. When we take problems between believers to secular authorities instead of the people that God has set in place for such matters, we are second-guessing Him. We are pulling away from the life that He has designed for us to live. We aren't preparing for the ultimate destiny that lay ahead.

We're thinking too small. We're overly concerned about "what's coming to us", and not nearly concerned enough about the grandness of God's grace. We are counting the pennies that people owe to us when we should be counting the millions of dollars that we owe to a good and just God.We're playing dumb. We have the very Spirit of God at our disposal, but we're only availing ourselves to our limited (and comparably idiotic) minds. Such behavior is simply unbecoming to the people of God!

1 Corinthians 6:3-4 Don't you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. 4 If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?

Here's what I'm getting out of this passage: we are already in possession of the mental and spiritual abilities we need (as a church) to live God's way. If He tells us that we can make a decision, you better believe that He has provided a way for us to do it. We are going to judge even the angels, but Paul doesn't say, "And one day you'll also be able to judge these little bitty issues too." He says that we already can! So why don't we?

Why don't we trust our church leaders with issues between church members? There are a few reasons:
  • Our priorities are misplaced.
  • We have been allowing people who shouldn't be in leadership positions to maintain their office, or we have been electing deacons/elders who shouldn't be in office to begin with.
  • We are more concerned about receiving "justice" than we are about God receiving glory.
  • We're afraid of church leaders having too much power because they may make changes that we don't like. (We think we own the church, and we don't.)

I'm sure that there are other reasons as well. Maybe this hasn't been a problem in your church recently, or at all. Great! That's good news. The other question is, "How are you handling your church's inner issues?" We'll continue talking about attitude adjustments that we need to make in order to have a healthy spiritual life as a church, and as an individual in our next study.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 5: Outline

1. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 The Corinthian church has a member in horrible sin, but they respond only with arrogance.
  • A member of the church is sleeping with his step-mother.
  • Paul tells them that they should be responding with sorrow and shame, but they instead react in arrogance, and do not resolve the problem at all.
  • The only way to deal with such egregious sin is to remove him from the membership until he repents.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 5:2 You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.
2. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Paul presents the method for dealing with the issue.
  • Paul has the discernment of the Spirit, which allows him to grasp the situation, and even judge it, without being physically present.
  • The church must come together in a meeting. The Spirit of God will be there to guide them through the process of determining exactly how to handle it. He will give them the power that they need to fulfill the requirements God has given them.
  • The best thing for this sinful man is to remove him from the church and pray that he will realize his sinfulness and repent. (It is very likely that he is not saved, if he is living in such sin). By kicking him out, they are actually trying to bring him into full fellowship with God and the true Church.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 5:4 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.

3. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Paul uses an analogy to bread to explain the danger of not dealing with this man's sin.

  • The arrogance of the church reveals that they do not understand that the sin of one member affects the entire church.
  • The church is meant to be holy, different from ordinary people and groups, so we must have higher standards than everyone else.
  • The bread Paul is talking about is the same bread that was used to celebrate Passover. It wasn't leavened, so it didn't rise. A little bit of leaven changes the entire loaf. By allowing one sinful member to continue enjoying the church's fellowship, the entire congregation is altered into something less than holy.
  • Now that we have a new Passover in Christ, we are meant to celebrate with a new kind of celebration. This celebration is our holy lives. Beyond special bread and meat, we are to live everyday in holiness and submission to the authority of God, which presents itself in sincerity and truth.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 5:8 So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth.

4. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 We are required to maintain the holiness of the church, but not to judge outsiders.

  • Churches are meant to guard their membership from such things as sexual sin, greed, bad business practices/lack of integrity, abuse, chemical dependence, and idolatry.
  • Such sins are expected from those who do not believe, though.
  • We have to be around lost people, who will struggle with sins that we should find repulsive, in order to reach them.
  • There is a difference between a church member who is living in sin and a non-believer who is living in sin. We are called to holiness; they are not. We cannot judge them for not fulfilling a calling that they do not yet have.
  • We must, however, expect holiness from church members. If they claim to be saved, we must hold them accountable, even if we doubt their salvation. We cannot be lazy about disciplining such people, and we should even stay away from them altogether, though that is no excuse for treating them cruelly.
  • God will judge lost people for their sin, and it will be bad. Pray for them.
  • Key verse: 1 Corinthians 5:12 It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.

Bottom line: Lost people act like lost people; saved people should act like saved people, and the church has the responsibility and authority to discipline those that do not.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Little Talk About Attitude and Method

We've been talking about church discipline. The reason for this discussion is that it was quite simply the subject of what we were already studying, 1 Corinthians. If you haven't read last week's study yet, you can find the three parts below.

Before completing the outline and review for chapter 5, I wanted to look at a related passage where Jesus discusses methodology for correcting a fellow Christian. [It's a long one, I warn you. Spread it out over a couple of days if you need to. Remember, I take Thursdays off, so you can do the post that I publish tomorrow on Thursday and be all caught up for Friday.] It's some very good advice, and it fits beautifully into our study. Plus, I don't want you to get the idea that I want everyone who reads this study to start going around, announcing the faults of every Christian you meet. That might earn you a punch in the face, or at least a bad rap around the church.

Matthew 18:15-20 "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. 18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. 19 "I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them."

Read the passage above, carefully. Although this passage deals specifically with how to do deal with a believer who has sinned against you personally, it is a good methodology for dealing with a sinning believer in general. What is the first step that Jesus lists?

Matthew 18:15 "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.

What is the goal of speaking to that person according to this verse? The answer is that we deal with a sinning believer (notice, I said sinning, not sinful. We're all sinful.) in order to help them regain fellowship with the church and develop a healthy relationship between that person and ourselves. If we speak to them (privately), and they repent, we are to rejoice that they have done so! It's not just a good thing for the church, it's a good thing for us. You just made a new buddy, so treat them that way. Don't hold a grudge. Don't create division. Be a friend. Be grateful for their return to the fellowship of the church, which sin had prevented them from enjoying.

This is just a personal note: You should have a Bible verse, or two, or three, ready to explain to them what they're doing is wrong. You aren't there to judge them based on, "Well, I just think that..." issues. If the problem isn't a biblical one, then it's just as much an issue with you as it is with them. Make sure that your grievance is biblical. It's not like there aren't enough verses in the Bible to find one that backs you up if you have a real problem.

What is the next step, if that person refuses to repent?

Matthew 18:16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.

The next step is to take a person or two, not a large mob, to that person with you. The reason isn't that we want to gang up on him or her. The reason that we take another person or two is that we want to make sure that we aren't saying anything that could be taken inappropriately, and so that the person's reaction is witnessed, which will help us greatly in the next step. It may also help the accused to see that it isn't just you who has the problem. Although you've already given them a verse that shows that God takes offense to their behavior, they still may think that it's just your incorrect interpretation on the verse, not their sin, that is the issue.

What comes next?

Matthew 18:17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

If you and your homies still can't get the person to understand that what they're doing is wrong, then you take it to the pastor and deacons/elders. The best thing to do at this point is have a full-out meeting, like Paul suggested in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 5:4 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, I understand that a lot of churches just don't take sin among their members too seriously, so it is possible that the pastor and/or deacons/elders will blow you off. No, they shouldn't, but it's a reality. Take comfort in knowing two things: a) you handled it correctly, just the way that God wanted you to; and b) the pastor and church leaders will be judged for not handling it correctly. I am completely serious on that last point. God takes sin among His people very seriously, and He takes lackadaisical attitudes toward sin among His people very seriously as well.

The church leaders may not call a meeting, and that's up to their judgment, but hopefully, if there is real sin involved here (and you may be wrong; it happens), they will deal with it in some way. They may talk to the person themselves, or they may call a meeting for the leaders to discuss it. It is possible that the church will need to meet as a whole. This is most likely to be the case in situations such as a homosexual member of the church, live-in couples, pedophilia (child-related sexual issues), illegal matters, gross business misconduct, or other, very serious, matters such as these.

What does Jesus say we should do with these people if they simply refuse to admit their wrongs and repent ("I'll really think about what you said," doesn't count. Only a change in behavior will do.)?

Matthew 18:17 Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

Pagans and tax collectors were considered vile people to the Jewish people of the day. That's why the religious became so irate when Jesus went to eat with one (Luke 19). Even eating with such people was unacceptable. What verse does that remind you of? (1 Corinthians 5:11). Jesus doesn't mean that we hate these people, or talk badly about them. What He means is that we treat them like lost people who have been deceived into believing that their behavior is acceptable. We pray for them. We love them. But we do not allow them to worship with us. We do not allow them to associate themselves with God's most holy Church. They are loved by us, but until they repent, either of that particular sin which has calloused their hearts or of their sinful, unbelieving life (they may realize that they were never saved), they cannot be considered one of us.

Just one more little tidbit on tax collectors: Matthew, the writer of this book, was a tax collector before God called him to be a disciple. Just thought that might interest you.

The last three verses can be very difficult to understand. They've taken a little while for me to grasp, and I'm not totally confident in my interpretation. (I figured that you should know that before I delved in.) I am pretty confident, though, so I'm going to go ahead and share it with you.

Matthew 18:18-20 "I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. 19 "I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them."

Remember, God is talking about church discipline, not just general behavior. Jesus had said exactly the same thing to Peter just a few chapters before.

Matthew 16:18-19 (emphasis added) Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means 'rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven."

Jesus was talking to Peter about building the Church at the time. The Catholic interpretation of this passage is what leads them to believe in an infallible Pope. We protestants (I believe, correctly) disregard that as the correct understanding of the verses. Paul even confronted Peter (who was said to be the first Pope) about some sinful beliefs that he held regarding conversion to Judaism before becoming a Christian in Galatians 2. It is hard to say that he was infallible if he made such a mistake! (Infallible means "never wrong; always in the right".)

The context of both passages is about the Church, the body of Christ. What I believe Jesus is saying is that the Church has been given the authority to decide how to govern itself. We can choose how to deal with internal problems. It is up to the church when to kick someone out and when to accept them back. We are allowed to make the decision as to when a person is truly repentant, when a sin is a one-time deal and when it's a habit, and if a person has been misjudged.

That is not to say that a church cannot make a mistake, but there is a promise here. In the final verse of today's passage, Jesus promises us that God will not leave us without guidance. I don't think that this translation fully expresses Jesus' words, so let's take a look at the English Standard Version.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

This verse has been taken for its general meaning a lot, but I have rarely heard it discussed when dealing with church discipline. What He is telling us is that when we seek after His name, when we gather together as a people who love God and want Him to receive the glory, He will guide us. Not all church meetings gather in the name of Christ. Rarely do we genuinely seek after His will in our business meetings. When was the last time a church prayed about sending a letter of membership (only Southern Baptists can relate, I think)? The issue is simple. When churches make Jesus the Head of His Church, His guidance will be there. He has placed His seal on us, and gives us the authority to makes decisions regarding discipline.

Paul reiterates this concept in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 5:4 in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church.1 I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus.

A reason that churches neglect church discipline is that they're seeking after the wrong things. They want popularity over holiness. They want things their way, not God's way.

There is one more note that I want to make, regarding the attitude of correction. We must remember that we are all sinners. God loves us, and that's one of the reasons He made a way for us to be forgiven (the other is that He is just). Paul tells of his attitude while speaking to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 4:14 I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children.

Just as Jesus did in earlier verses of Matthew 18.

Matthew 18:12-14 "If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn't wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father's will that even one of these little ones should perish.

We have to remember our own sin in the midst of correcting another's.

Matthew 7:3-5 And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, 'Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye.

The meaning of these verses isn't that we shouldn't correct a believer caught up in sin, but that we must keep our own lives in check so that we can truly help someone when they need it. That includes checking our motives when we want to "help someone" realize their error. We can't use our own sin as an excuse out of church discipline, but we have to take our own sin just as seriously as we expect other people to take theirs. We have to be open to the correction of others in our church if we expect them to be open to ours.

If we saw the Body of Christ as it is meant to be, we wouldn't become defensive every time someone sought to help us out of the mire and muck of sin. We would be grateful. We wouldn't enjoy going to a fellow believer to point out their every flaw, and we would never kick them when they were down. We would lovingly help them identify the root of their sin and assist them in getting the biblical help they needed to overcome that sin for good. We wouldn't reject the plan that God has for His Church, but we would embrace it. That's a big dream. So big, in fact, that only God could dream it up.