I Corinthians 12:27-31 — Being eager for gifts

I wonder sometimes how much more God would give us if we would only ask.

Too often we refrain from asking because we are afraid we are being selfish, or that in some way our motives our wrong.

Now don’t me wrong.  We ought to inspect our motives.  But at the same time, it shouldn’t stop us from asking.  If in the midst of our asking, God convicts us that our motives aren’t right, then of course we should repent.  But one thing that we should remember is that God is a God that loves to give good gifts to his children, and so we should never be ashamed to ask.

That includes spiritual gifts.  And so Paul says,

But eagerly desire the greater gifts. (31)

What does he mean by the greater gifts?  We’ll look at it later, but it seems from chapter 14 that he’s talking about the gifts that build up the church.  (14:12)

And that’s the main thing we should be thinking about as we pray for gifts.  Not how much having them will build up our reputation in the church or how much they will be for our own spiritual benefit.  But how much it will bless the people around us in the church.  Spiritual gifts should have us looking outward, not inward.

The other thing that we should remember as we seek spiritual gifts is that God gives them to us as he sees fit (11).  He has given us our place within the body, and he will equip us with those gifts which can help us fill that role.

He may give us more than that, but the simple truth is that he never promises to give us whatever gift we ask for.  As Paul says,

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?  (29-30)

This of course is a rhetorical question, and the answer is of course “No.”

Still, it can’t hurt to ask for more gifts, especially as you look at what you’re doing and you see the gifts that could help you accomplish that ministry better.  So ask.

And then trust that God will give you whatever you need to accomplish the tasks that he has given you.

You may be surprised at just how often he says yes.

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I Corinthians 12:12-30 — How we see others in the body

I talked last time about how we see ourselves as a part of the body of Christ.  But how should we see others?

Paul writes,

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (12-13)

The key thing that Paul is saying here is that we are all one.  Sure there are many parts within the body, but we are ultimately one body, and all the parts belong to each other.

He then says that we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body and we were all given one Spirit to drink.  Because of this, because it is the same Spirit that has placed us into the body, and the same Spirit that works in each one of us, how then can we look down on others?  When we see others, we should see the Spirit who is living within them.  Should we then despise the Spirit and his work in them?

We saw earlier that Paul strongly states that we cannot say to another member of the body, “I don’t need you,” for we all need each other.  All of us are essential to the proper working of the body.  (21-22)

More, Paul says,

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.  (23)

Recently I broke my right ring finger playing basketball.  I never knew how indispensable it was.  I couldn’t grip anything with it wrapped in a splint.  Typing became an absolute pain.  Things I used to take for granted became difficult if not impossible with my ring finger injured.

Paul adds,

And the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.  (23-24)

Compare our feet with our hands for example.  I’ve heard people talk about the beauty of another’s hands, but I don’t think we ever talk about the beauty of a person’s feet.  That said, I would daresay that feet get massaged much more than hands do and we’re careful that the shoes we wear not only look good, but also make our feet comfortable.

And so Paul concludes,

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (24-25)

“Equal concern.”  Again, this goes totally against the selfish and prideful attitudes people have towards others and their gifts.  Do your gifts make you more concerned about yourself, or about others?  Are your gifts making you more inward-focused or outward-focused?

When you look at Jesus and all the powers he possessed, he never used them to glorify himself.   Rather, he was always outwardly focused, caring for the people around him.

Paul then adds,

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  (26)

Pain is a funny thing.  It tends to focus your mind on the part that hurts.  Every other part of your body may feel fine, but when you break your finger like I did, you don’t think, “Oh, I’m 99% healthy.”  You think, “Ouch!”

And that’s how we should see others.  When we see our brothers and sisters in pain, we shouldn’t just ignore them.  We need to reach out to them and minister to them.

For as Paul said,

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  (27)

So let us never look down on others within the body.  God doesn’t.  Neither should we.  Instead we should see them as God does, as people honored and valuable in his sight.

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I Corinthians 12:4-30 — Funny, I don’t feel so special

For  a lot of people in the church, they see the giftings of others in the church and they get an inferiority complex.   They hear that God sees them as a special and as important to the body, but they just don’t see it. But time and again, Paul points out to each one of us just how special we are in God’s sight.

He says in verses 4-6, “Hey, are you feeling inferior because the gifts others have seem superior to yours?  It’s not as if your gifts come from China and theirs come from Japan.  They both come from the same source, and they are both equally well made and valuable.

“And it’s not like you’re working for McDonalds and they’re working for the President of the United States.  The same Lord that has given them their duties has given you your duties.

And it’s not as if God has delegated an angel to help you with your work while he himself is helping others with their work.  God is working in you just as much as he is working in them.”

Still, some people almost feel like God made a mistake when making them, and so he just threw up his hands after making them and said, “Well, I have to do something with them, so I guess I’ll put them there.” But as I mentioned yesterday, verse 18 clearly tells us that was not the case.  Rather,

God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (18)

I don’t think there’s any way you can take from that passage that God made some kind of mistake when he made you. More, when we look at the context of that verse, we see Paul saying,

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be…If they were all one part, where would the body be?  (17, 19)

In short, you’re right where God wants you to be.  Because of that, there’s no way anyone can rightfully say of you, “I don’t need you.”  Rather, you are indispensable to the body.  (21-22)

You may hear that and think, “I’m not indispensable.  Anyone can do my job.” That may or may not be true.  But let’s put it this way.  Your toes can probably do some of the things your fingers do, so technically, you may not need your fingers.  But your toes can in no way do the job of your fingers as effectively.

And maybe technically, you don’t really need two arms, you only need one.  But if you only have one, your remaining arm can become fatigued from overwork and start to lose its effectiveness. Sure other people may be able to do the same thing you do, but if they don’t have your gifting, they can’t do it as effectively.  And even if they have the same gifting as you, even if they have it in larger proportions, if you are not doing your part, however small, to relieve the pressure, they can get tired and burn out.

So use the gifts that God has given you, whatever they may be.  God has placed you where you are for a reason.  Don’t let anyone despise you and don’t you dare despise yourself either.

As one person inelegantly but correctly put it, “God don’t make junk.” How do you see yourself within the body of Christ?

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I Corinthians 12:4-18 — For God’s purposes, for God’s glory

As I think about the problems of pride and jealousy within the church because of spiritual gifts, I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that we forget our lives, as Rick Warren once put it, is not about us.  We were not created to live for our own purposes and our own glory.  Rather we were created for God’s purposes and God’s glory.

We see this in verses 4-6.  We all have different gifts, but it’s not as if those gifts were something we created within ourselves.  Rather, they were gifts given from God himself.  And as Paul said in chapter 4,

For who makes you different from anyone else? (God).  What do you have that you did not receive? (Nothing).  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?  (For no good reason).   (4:7)

Yet so often, we act as if we are God’s gift to man.  In a sense, I suppose we are.  We are to be a blessing to those around us.  But that is not for our glory and for our benefit.  It’s for God’s glory and for the benefit of those around us.  Like I mentioned in the last blog, the gifts we have been given are to be used for the common good.  (12:7)

Paul goes on to say,

All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.  (11)

Again, we see that these gifts are not only from the Spirit, but it is he who decides, for his own purposes, who to give them to.

Paul then adds,

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  (18)

Here again we see that it is for God’s purposes that we are given our place in the body.

Because of this, there’s no room for pride.  It is for God’s purposes that you have been placed where you are and given the gifts you have received, not your own.

And there’s no need for jealousy.  God has specially placed you in where you are for his own good reasons.  It’s not that he said, “Well, I kind of messed up when I made you.  I can’t use you for much, so I guess I’ll just stick you here.”

Rather God, when he created you, looked at you and said, “I have a special purpose for you.  I need someone to fill in this position for my body, and I specially designed you to fill that need.”

How about you?  Do you see your gifts as something that should bring you glory and fulfill your purposes?  Or do you see them as something that should bring God glory and fulfill his purposes.

A self-centered attitude concerning your gifts will lead to jealousy and pride.  What kind of attitude do you have?

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I Corinthians 12:4-30 — Gifts given to unite, not divide

As I read this passage, I can’t help but think that Paul still had in the back of his mind the problems of division within the Corinthian church.  He had already dealt with it twice in this letter, and though he doesn’t specifically criticize the Corinthians for being divided about spiritual gifts, I think he saw a very real danger of that problem seeping into the church.  I can hardly question his judgment because we see that kind of division today.

So from the very beginning, he makes clear that our gifts should not be used to divide the church, but unite it.

He says,

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (4-6)

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before, but we see the Trinity in the gifts of the Spirit very clearly here.  Different gifts, same (Holy) Spirit.  Different kinds of service, same Lord (Jesus).  Different kinds of working, same God (the Father).

And I think Paul’s point was that just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have different functions and yet remain the one God, so our gifts may be different, but we should remain one as a church in heart and mind.

He makes this crystal clear in the very next verse, saying,

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (7)

Notice here that the gifts are not given to us for our own personal benefit, as most gifts are.  Rather, each gift was given to us to benefit the people around us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And so once again, there should be no selfishness in our thinking when we consider the gifts of the Spirit.  Rather, we should always be thinking, “How can I use these gifts God has given me to benefit others?”

What does this mean for us practically?  There’s no room for pride or jealousy when it comes to spiritual gifts.

Paul says on one hand,

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  (15-16)

Yet some people in their jealousy for others’ gifts act this way.  They get bitter because they don’t like the gifts that God has given them.  Or they see others that seem to have the same gift they do but in greater proportion.  As a result, it drives a wedge between them and God and between them and that other person.

Paul then points out the opposite problem,

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (21)

In this case, people look down on others with “lesser” spiritual gifts or gifting, and basically brush them off as being unnecessary or unimportant.

Both attitudes are wrong, and both attitudes bring division in the church.  And ironically, it all comes about because of gifts that were meant to unite us.

This is getting long, so I’ll continue this discussion in the next few blogs, but for now, ask yourself, “What is my attitude toward others?”  Are my attitudes concerning my gifts and the gifts of others causing unity in my church, or division?

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I Corinthians 12:1-3 — Discerning the spirits

If there is one thing that you can count on Satan to do, it’s that he will counterfeit the good things God has created.  In place of a loving marriage, for example, he will promote sexual promiscuity.  In place of a lasting joy that fulfills, he will substitute temporary pleasures that ultimately leave you empty.

The same is true with spiritual gifts.  Satan counterfeits the very things the Spirit of God does in the lives of believers.  Within the cults and occult, for example, you will see counterfeit tongues, healing, miracles, and other things.

And so Paul was very concerned that the Corinthians be able to discern the real from the counterfeit.  He wrote,

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.  You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. (1-2)

How were the Corinthians influenced and led astray is not clear, but in all probability it was through the counterfeit spiritual experiences Satan gave them.  So Paul gives them a very basic test to discern what was coming from God and what was not.  He said,

Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (3)

One test that we see is that no one can curse Jesus and be led by the Spirit.  It is impossible.  Every once in a while we’ll see that extreme and those are easy to detect.  But Paul goes on to say that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

So many people in the cults, occult, and other religions will say wonderful things about Jesus.  “He was a very good man.”  “He was a great religious teacher.”  “He was a prophet.”

But one thing they will not admit that he is Lord of all.  That he is indeed the one true God in human flesh.

A word of caution, however.  Just because someone says, “Jesus is Lord,” doesn’t necessarily mean their words come from the Holy Spirit.  I said before Satan throws out many counterfeits.  Did you know he also has a counterfeit Jesus.  Paul talks in II Corinthians 11:4  about “another Jesus.”

The Jesus of the Mormons is one of many gods, and is the spirit brother of Satan.  The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the archangel Michael.

So whenever people say, “Jesus is Lord,” we also have to ask the question, “Which Jesus?”  The real or the counterfeit.  And the only way you can tell the difference is by comparing the Jesus they preach with the Jesus of the Bible.

The key thing then, when discussing spiritual gifts and spiritual experiences is to discern where these things are coming from.  Are they coming from God?  If they are, they will be completely consistent with what the Bible says.  And that starts with acknowledging who Jesus is.  That Jesus is the one true God come to this earth in the flesh, and that he is Lord of all.

So let us not just believe that every spiritual thing we see and experience is from God.  Instead, let us test all things, holding fast to what is good.  (I Thessalonians 5:21)

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I Corinthians 11:32 — Though the Lord disciplines you

Before I go on to chapter 12, there is one last point I wanted to touch on.  Paul writes in verse 32,

When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

Sometimes we sin, and God brings his discipline into our lives.  And because it’s painful, we start to think that God must hate us now.  That he’s given up on us.

But Paul says here that is not the case at all.  He tells us that when the Lord disciplines us, he does it so that we will not be condemned with the world.

In other words, he does it to lead us away from the path of destruction the world is going down.  We saw an example of this earlier in chapter 5 where Paul told the Corinthians concerning the unrepentant brother,

Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.  (5:5)

Again, the point of discipline was not to destroy the man, but to save him.

So remember that when God brings discipline in your life, it’s not because he hates you.  It’s not because he sees you as his enemy.

When you actually were his enemy, he sent his Son to die for you.  And if he reconciled you to himself when you were his enemy, how much more will he work to reconcile you to himself now that you are his child?  (Romans 5:6-11)

Are you going through God’s discipline now because of your sin?  Take heart.  God still loves you.  He hasn’t given up on you.  So though you may feel the sting of his discipline, remember the words of the writer of Hebrews.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”…We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:5-11)

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I Corinthians 11:27-34 — Searching our hearts

As I’ve mentioned earlier, God does call us to search our hearts whenever we take communion.

Paul says,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.  (27-30)

That’s kind of a scary passage, especially that last part.  Apparently, because of their sin at the communion table, many of the Corinthians got sick and even died.

We don’t see that kind of judgment much, if at all nowadays, but I think God was trying to drive home to the early church just how seriously he took this problem.

Jesus died for our sins, but that does not mean we can just sin with impunity.  And if we take his sacrifice on the cross lightly, we will be disciplined.

So while we are to take special note of our own hearts at the communion table, I think it’s very important to take note of our hearts every day.  To pray as David once did.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  (Psalm 139:23-24)

Let us never take the cross of Christ for granted.  Let us never treat it as a doormat to wipe off our dirty feet.  Rather let us fall on our knees in gratitude for what he has done for us.  And as we come to him, and he shows us the sin in our hearts, let us have hearts of contrition and repentance, not only at the communion table, but throughout our lives.

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I Corinthians 11:26 — Until Jesus returns

One other thing that strikes me as I read this passage concerning communion is the last part of verse 26.  Paul writes,

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Until he comes.”

It’s something that most people don’t think about much as they take communion, but I think it’s important to remember.  Jesus is coming back.  And as we take communion, it should make us think about what we are doing with our lives until Jesus returns.

What should we be doing?  Paul tells us:  “Proclaim Jesus’ death to the people around us.”

One way we do that is through the communion service itself as we saw in my last blog.  But as we go out into the world, as we go into the workplace, into our schools, and into our neighborhoods, we need to be taking the gospel out to the people around us.  And we are to do this until Jesus returns.

As we get wrapped up in the things of this world, it can become so easy to forget that Jesus will come back one day.  That this world will not last forever.  And so communion is a way to remind us that all this is temporary.  And now we need to use the time we have left to share his gospel with those around us.

How about you?  Are you proclaiming the Lord’s death with those  around you?

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I Corinthians 11:26-34 — Proclaiming the Lord’s death

One of the things I wonder is how Paul would view communion as it is taken in the church today, particularly churches that are say, fifty people or more in size.

Why do I ask?  Because of the great controversy on whether to allow unbelievers to take communion or not.

Many churches say that unbelievers shouldn’t take it.  Others say it’s okay.  The church I attend goes with the latter judgment.

If I could go back in time, one thing I’d like to see is who was attending these communion feasts.  Was it only Christians?  Or were non-Christians there as well?  At a guess, I would say there were only professing Christians in these gatherings.

We see this in Acts 5:12-13 where there were many people in Jerusalem that highly regarded the Christians but would not join them, probably for fear of persecution.  And my guess is that was true of many places throughout the Roman empire.  There were very few, if any places, where persecution was not a real threat, and this would probably tend to weed out from the church any who didn’t believe.

So for the most part, everyone who would take part in these communion feasts would be professing Christians, and Paul probably never had to deal with this issue of professing unbelievers taking communion.

That said, it’s very interesting what he says in verse 26 of I Corinthians 11.  He says,

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

What’s interesting is that word “proclaim.”  Almost every time it is used in the New Testament, it’s talking about the preaching of Christ and the gospel.  And it seems to have the same sense here.  When we take communion, we are proclaiming the gospel to people.

But to who?  To ourselves?  I suppose that’s possible.  All of us need the milk of the gospel from time to time.  But it’s also possible that Paul is recognizing that there were possibly unbelievers in the congregation taking communion as well.

Time and again, we see in scripture people that were counterfeit Christians.  They looked like Christians, acted like Christians, but never were Christians (Matthew 7:21-23, Galatians 2:4, and I John 2:19 for example).

So even if we believe all the people taking communion were professing to be Christians, there were also probably people taking communion who were not truly saved.

What happens then when we take communion?  Not only are we remembering what Christ has done for us, but we are also proclaiming his death to the unbelievers among us, hidden or otherwise.

We’re saying to them, “Jesus died for you.  He is being offered to you now, that your sins might be forgiven and that you may have new life.  What will you do with him?”

And what does Paul say about the person who takes that bread and wine but in their hearts reject the offer behind it?

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  (27)

Why?  Because they have clearly been presented with the gospel and have rejected it.

Now to be clear, I don’t think this was Paul’s original meaning.  The whole context of this passage is Paul dealing with Christians who are abusing the communion table to indulge in their fleshly desires while despising the poor among them.

Paul makes that especially clear in verse 32 where he distinguishes between the discipline of the Lord for believers taking communion wrongly and the condemnation of the whole world for rejecting Christ.  Moreover, he never questions their salvation, but continues to call them brothers.

What Paul means by his words, then, is, “Examine yourself.  Make sure that you take communion rightly.  Treat your brothers rightly at the communion table so that you don’t drink the Lord’s discipline on yourself.  By sinning against your brothers in this way, you are sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”  (27-34)

But now as we lift this passage out of the context of a church in which everyone is claiming to be a Christian and putting it into the current situation where many non-Christian seekers are attending, Paul’s words become both an invitation and a warning.

By sharing communion with unbelievers, we are literally saying to them, “Here’s the gospel.  Jesus died for you that your sins might be forgiven and you can have eternal life.  Will you accept it?”

For those take the bread and wine in faith, they will be saved.  But for those who don’t and persist in that unbelief, they are basically saying, “I understand exactly what Jesus has done for me.  I reject it, and I now eat and drink judgment upon myself.”  (29)

And so the words “Examine yourself” takes on a new meaning for the unbeliever.  It’s no longer, “What will I do with my brother,” but “What will I do with Christ?”

And so perhaps that’s how the church should approach communion in a congregation in which unbelievers attend.  As a challenge:  “Here’s what Christ has done for you.  What will you do with him?”

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1 Corinthians 11:23-29 — Communion with Christ and each other

This is a passage that people often hear during communion.  Paul writes,

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 

It can be easy for us to take communion mindlessly, to treat it as a simple religious ritual.  And for the Corinthians, that’s exactly what they did, leading them to defile the communion table by how they treated the poor among them.

But Jesus said, “When you do this, when you take the bread and drink the wine, remember me.  Remember that I gave up everything for you.  Remember that I poured out my blood so that your sins could be covered and we could be reconciled.”

As we remember what he did for us, though, we need to remember that he also died for our brothers and sisters as well.  That they are precious in his sight too.

So then, communion should be a time that not only brings us closer to Jesus, but closer to each other as well.  And while we should remember that Christ died to reconcile us to God, we should also remember that Jesus died to bring us reconciliation with one another, that we should be all one.

Paul wrote in Ephesians,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.  (Ephesians 2:14)

Now to be clear, Paul was talking about the barrier between Jew and Gentile, the barrier being the law of Moses and all its requirements.  But the principle still stands, there should be no division between any Christian, whether it’s because of race, social status, or whatever.

Paul goes on to say,

His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  (Ephesians 2:15-16)

Again, Paul’s point is that whether Jew or Gentile, all now come to God through the cross, not the law.  And because of that there, should be no division between Jew and Gentile.  But it is no stretch to say that Christ not only died so that Jews and Gentiles would be one, but that all believers would be one.

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.  (Ephesians 2:18-19)

None of us should be considered outsiders in the church of Christ.  Whether Jew or Gentile, as Paul is primarily saying here, whether rich or poor, whether high in social status or low, Christ died that we might be one with God, and with each other.

Part of our remembering Christ during communion is remembering this one crucial truth.

Do you?  When you take communion, are you only thinking about your relationship with God?  Or are you thinking about your relationship with others?  As you take communion, how is your relationship with your brothers and sisters in the church?  Not just in the local congregation you attend, but with all the brothers and sisters you are in contact with?

I’m not just talking about discrimination.  I’m asking if your relationships are right with the Christians around you?  Or are you holding hurts or bitterness towards anyone?  If so, you need to get it right.  To not do so, and then to take communion would be to eat and drink judgment on yourself (I Corinthians 11:27-29).

How about you?  Are you one, not only with Christ, but with your brothers and sisters as well?

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I Corinthians 11:17-22 — The divisiveness that comes from pride and selfishness

In this passage, Paul once again addresses divisiveness in the Corinthian church.  We have already seen one example of this from chapter 1 where the Corinthians were arguing about which leader they were following (1:10-15).

But here in chapter 11, we see the divisiveness that springs up from pride and selfishness.  Paul writes,

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  (11:17-19)

Many Bible teachers seem to take verse 19 as teaching that we need all our disputes over scripture (leading to all the denominations we have) in order to understand the truth as it really is in the Bible.

While there may be some germ of truth to that, I have always tended to think that Paul was being quite sarcastic here.  “Of course you HAVE to have differences among you.  After all, you need to show which of you have God’s approval over all the others.”

In other words, I believe he was scathing them for their divisions because it was springing up from their pride.  In trying to prove their own spiritual superiority, they started looking down on others.

Part of that perhaps went back to the old way of thinking the Jews had which said that riches were a sign of God’s blessing.

And so during the communion feasts they would celebrate as a church, the rich would charge in ahead of the poor and gorge themselves on the food, probably because they were the ones who had bought it in the first place.  Their thinking probably was, “Hey, I bought this food, so I should be able to eat it.  If there are any scraps left after I’m done, then these others can take those, but I’m getting mine first.”

But Paul wrote,

Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!  (22)

Paul was saying, “What are you guys doing?  You are despising the very body of Christ that you’re supposedly celebrating by humiliating those of you who are poor.”

How were they despising Christ’s body?  By their pride and selfishness.

How about you?  Are you by your pride and selfishness causing division in Christ’s body?  Do you look down on others because they have less than you?  Do you despise others because they are less spiritual than you?  Are you always comparing your gifts to the ones others have, and selfishly hold on to “your territory?”

These kinds of attitudes can tear apart a church.

How do you see the people in your church?

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1 Corinthians 11:2-16 — Authority and submission

This is one of the most difficult passages in scripture to try to interpret and apply.  Many people have done so in different ways in relation to head coverings in the church.  Some have said it’s still necessary today, but most have not, saying that it was a cultural thing.  Honestly, I’m still trying to work out Paul’s meaning there, so until I come to a firm conclusion, I think I’ll leave that argument for another day.  (Don’t hold your breath, though).

Whatever conclusion we come to head coverings, however, I think there is a definite principal we need to take from this passage, particularly concerning our relationships in marriage.  Paul teaches,

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  (3)

Here we see something very important.  God has within his own nature the concept of authority and submission which is then reflected in our relationship with him, and in the relationships between husbands and wives.

Paul says here in the final part of the verse, “The head of Christ is God.”  What does he mean?  I think it’s pretty clear when putting together the different verses of scripture.

According to I John 4:14,

The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

And when Christ came into the world, he told the Father,

Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)

As he lived his life on earth as a man, he told the Jews,

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  (John 6:38)

But lest we think Christ’s submission to the Father was just a temporary thing while he was on earth, Paul tells us concerning the last days and the eternal kingdom to come,

The end will come, when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For [Jesus] must reign until [the Father] has put all his enemies under his feet…For [God the Father] “has put everything under [Jesus] feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.  (I Corinthians 15:24-25, 27-28)

In light of all these verses, I don’t think there is any doubt that Christ, though he is fully equal with God in nature, nevertheless submits himself to the Father, and will do so for all eternity with no disparagement to his nature for that submission.

Why do I go through all the trouble to make this point?  Because there are many who claim that for a woman to subject herself to a man’s authority, namely, a wife to her husband, is a disparagement to her humanity.  That she is somehow to be considered lesser than man for doing so.  And as a result, they balk when Paul says, “the head of woman is man,” and try to explain it away.

But Paul clearly states here that there is an order to things.  That the Son is subject to the authority of the Father.  Man is subject to the authority of the Son.  And woman is subject to man.  This does not mean that woman is not equal to man in her humanity.  Paul goes out of his way to dismiss any such idea as he said,

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (11-12)

In other words, though there is a role of leadership that God has ordained men to take, nevertheless, men and women need and depend on each other.  And there is no room for men abusing their authority over women.  Rather they are to honor and love them in every way, just as the Father honors and loves the Son in every way.  More, we are to remember that we are all subject to God because he is our Creator.

So I guess for you married women, the question to ask is, “Am I willing to submit to myself to my husband as the Son submits to the Father?  Are I willing to follow my husband’s leading as he follows Christ’s leading in his life?”

For you married men, the question to ask is, “Am I honoring my wife as the Father honors the Son?  And do I love my wife as Christ loves me and gave his life for me?”

If you’re a single woman who’s considering getting married, the question becomes, “Is my boyfriend/fiance subject to Christ?  Can I trust him enough that I will submit to him as I submit to Christ?”

If not, you had best put off marrying him until you can say yes.

And if you’re a single man, the question to ask is, “Am I subject to Christ in my life?  And how will my subjection to Christ play out in my role as husband when I get married?  How will it lead me to treat my wife?”

If you can’t answer those questions in a right way, you too need to put off marriage until you can.

Who are you subject to?

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I Corinthians 11:1 — No matter how good our role models are

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to consider carefully who we follow.  There are a number of good leaders out there, but there are a number of bad ones as well.    Because of this, it’s vital that we take a look at the fruit they are bearing in their lives, both the fruit of their teaching, and the fruit of their day-to-day lives.

That said, even if we are following good leaders, it would be good to keep in mind that even they are not perfect.  Even they make mistakes.  So let us never put them on such a pedestal that we equate them with God.  They make wrong decisions sometimes.  They sometimes are mistaken in the way they think.  And so as we follow their example, we need to be careful to filter the good from the bad.

That’s why I think Paul said,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Because ultimately, our example is Christ.  And where our role models conform to Christ’s image, so should we.  But in any area where they fail to conform to the image of Christ, we need to look not at them, but at Christ as our role model.  If we fail to do this, it will get us into trouble.

We see an example of this in Galatians 2:11-13.  Peter was one of the early leaders of the church.  If there was one person you would have thought you could look up to as an example, it would have been him.

But under pressure, Peter compromised when he shouldn’t have.  In Galatians, you see that he had been hanging out with the non-Jewish believers, probably eating their food, and having no problem with it…until some legalistic Jews showed up.  At which point, Peter started distancing himself from the non-Jews and only hanging out with the Jewish Christians.

Because he did that, the other Jewish believers followed his example, including a very godly man  named Barnabas.  And when Paul saw this, he scathed them all for their actions.

Peter, of course, was the most responsible as a leader.  But the others, by following Peter’s bad example, fell into sin as well.

So remember, no matter how good your role model is, don’t place them on the same pedestal as God.  They are not perfect.  They may be your pastor, your mentor, or even a famous Bible teacher, but they will all make missteps along the way.  Don’t follow them in those missteps.

Follow them as they follow Christ.  But where they don’t, make sure you keep clear of the pits they fall into.  And as you can, warn them and help them as they have so often warned and helped you.

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I Corinthians 10:23-33 — Who we are trying to please

We’re finally wrapping up this section today which really started in chapter 8.  And Paul closes by really pinning down one of the key issues the Corinthians had, the issue of who they were living for.  The issue of who they were trying to please.

It’s an issue many if not all Christians have to deal with today.

I have to admit, my “rights” are important to me.  And when my rights are trampled on, I get upset.  When I feel what is due me is taken from me, I get upset.  It annoys me just to have someone cut in line in front of me, for goodness sake.

And then I think of how I deal with my wife, or coworkers, or the people at church.  And it’s so easy to clamor for my rights.  To demand what I think is “fair” and what I feel should be coming to me.

But the truth is, when that’s what we’re focusing on, it shows that the one person we are trying to please above all else is ourselves.

The “strong” Christians in Corinth were that way.  They didn’t care that they were hurting their weaker brothers by the things they were eating.  They didn’t care if it caused unbelievers to reject Christ if they ate meat sacrificed to idols.  Why?  It was their “right” to eat.

We’ll see this selfishness later in that they were making a mockery of the communion table by the way they treated their poorer brothers and sisters.

And the question Paul asked them, is “Who are you trying to please?

“Yes, everything is ‘permissible.’  You are free to eat whatever you want.  But not everything is beneficial.  And you are hurting those around you by your actions.”

Paul then said,

Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (24)

In other words, “Don’t make your what’s good for you paramount.  Don’t make your rights and freedom the most important thing to you.  Put others in front of yourself.  If that means giving up food for the sake of your brothers or for the unbelievers, do it.”

Why?

Because ultimately, there is one person we should be pleasing.  And it’s not ourselves.  Who should we be pleasing?  Paul makes it crystal clear.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (31)

How about you?  In all that you do, who are you seeking to please?

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I Corinthians 10:14-22 — Participating with demons

In Japan, one of the things that many Christians struggle with is how to deal with Buddhist funerals and memorial services.

There is some disagreement in how to handle it.  Some people avoid the funerals and memorial services entirely.  Others attend but will not offer incense or follow the other outward rituals of prayer.

I can see both sides, and for the most part, I think I think attendance is a matter of conscience.  But I do think we need to be very careful about how far we go.  Whereas a person may go from one drink of wine and slip into becoming drunk or even becoming alcoholic, I think it can become easy to slide into compromise when attending these services.   Some might start to think, “Well, I may be offering incense, or follow the outward rituals of prayer at the Buddhist altar, but I don’t really mean it.  And after all, they are just things, not really gods.”

The Corinthians had a similar issue.  Paul had told the Corinthians it was perfectly okay to eat meat offered to idols.  But some had perhaps taken it a step further.  Not only were they buying meat from the market or eating meat at friends’ houses, they were also actually participating in the feasts celebrating these idols.

Perhaps they were thinking, “Well, I’m not really worshiping the idols.  I’m just having fun with my friends and family.”

Some may have even used the excuse, “I’m just showing love to my family and friends by celebrating with them.  And besides, these idols are nothing anyway.  They’re not really gods.”

But Paul says,

My dear friends, flee from idolatry. (14)

He then points out two things.  He points to communion first, and says, “When you are joining in these communion feasts, aren’t you participating in the blood and body of Christ?”  (16)

In other words, “By taking the bread and the wine, are you not showing the communion that you have with Christ?  That you now have a relationship with him through his sacrifice on the cross?”

He then points to the sacrifices the Israelites gave in the Old Testament.  One of the offerings they gave was the “peace offering.”  They would actually take part of the burnt sacrifice home and the family would eat it together, as a sign of the peace and communion they now had with God.

So, Paul says, when you take part in these feasts, are you not doing the same?  Are you not showing that you are having communion with these idols?

What was the real problem with these idols?  They were just metal or wood after all.  Paul tells us, saying,

Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. (19-20)

In other words, when they participated in these feasts, they were really having communion with demons.  And when people offer incense and pray at Buddhist altars, they really do so to demons.  Can we do that?

Paul’s answer is an emphatic no.

No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (21-22)

I think we would do well to remember to be careful whenever we deal with spiritual things, to think about what we are really dealing with.  God?  Or something else?  Not only with idols, but with things like astrology, Ouija boards, or tarot cards.  Some Christians think they are just games.  But in reality, they are participating with demons.

Let us not do that.  Rather, as Paul would say in another letter,

Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.  (II Corinthians 7:1)

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I Corinthians 10:12-13 — Warning and encouragement

In this passage, we see both warning and encouragement concerning temptation.

First Paul writes,

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (12)

I think this was especially pertinent for those who thought they were “strong” in their faith.  As I mentioned before, there were many who were “weak” in faith in that they had tender consciences.  In particular, they could not eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols without feeling guilty.

Others today may not have that particular problem, but they feel guilty about drinking a glass of wine or beer.  Others may feel guilty about playing cards.

And it would be easy for the “strong” to look down on the “weak” and say, “Look how much more mature as a Christian I am.  Look how much stronger my faith is.  I can do things that these others can’t.”

But Paul tells them, “Be careful.  You may think you’re strong, but if you stand in your pride, you could easily fall yourself and prove yourself weak.”

A glass of beer, for example, could turn into two or three or four leading you to get drunk.  And if that happens too often, that could turn into alcoholism.  In either case, you have just stepped over the line into sin.

But even if you never do, you can fall into the sin of pride, such that you look down on others and abuse your freedom causing them to fall.  Or you could fall into other sins entirely.  You start to fail to trust God in your decisions at work and start compromising God’s values for the sake of the business or for your own position.  Or you lose your temper with those around you.  Or someone hurts you and you cling to unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart.

There are numerous ways in which we can fall.  But if we walk around in pride, we can become blinded to our own faults just as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day.

So Paul warns us, “Watch yourself.  You may not be as strong as you think you are, and you can fall just as easily as anyone else.”

But then he gives a word of encouragement.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (13)

The word “temptation” has two senses.  One, of course, is temptation to sin.  But it can also mean trials.  And Paul says that whatever temptation or trial you may go through, God knows your limits.  And he will not let you go through more than you can handle, but he will always provide a way for you to stand despite what pressures come against you.

There’s also comfort in knowing that we are not alone.  Some people think, “I’m the only Christian who struggles with this.  Why am I so bad?”  And Satan would have you believe that.

But Paul makes clear that whatever temptation you go through, others have gone through it too.  One of the benefits of confessing your sins to others is that you soon find out that many of them struggle with the same things you do.  And while you may be weak individually, together, in the Lord, you can find strength.

How about you?  Are you feeling strong?  Be careful lest you fall.

Are you feeling weak?  Be encouraged.  You are not alone.  Others have gone through the same things you are going through now.  And God will always be with you to help you stand.

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I Corinthians 10:1-11 — The point of all these stories

A lot of times Christians tend to avoid the Old Testament, and only read the New.  After all all, isn’t that where all the important stuff really is?

While it is true the ideas of Christ’s work on the cross, salvation by grace through faith, and other things are more clearly spelled out in the New Testament, I think it’s important to point out that the New Testament writers didn’t just chuck the Old Testament as unimportant.  Rather, time and again, they keep pointing back to the Old Testament.  They quote from it, recall stories from it, and draw application from it.  Jesus did this, and so did his apostles.

My point?  So should we.

Paul starts this chapter by recalling Israel’s journey through the desert on the way to the promised land.  He then tells the Corinthians,

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  (6)

And again,

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.  (11)

In particular, Paul was talking about idolatry, sexual sin, and failing to trust in God.  And he said, whenever we read these kinds of stories and the consequences the Israelites incurred because of them, we should take warning and “instruction” (NASB) from them.

For that matter, that’s true of any “Bible story” we read.  We are not to read them simply as fairy tales as unbelievers often do.  Nor are we to read them as we would read a history book.  But as we read them, we are to pray and ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me here?  What are you trying to say?”

And when we come to these stories with that kind of heart, God will teach us.  It’s the one thing I’ve tried to do throughout this blog.  Not simply to relate the facts, but to relate the application to our lives as well.

But as much as we are to read this way for ourselves, we are to do this for our children as well.  It’s great, of course, to read Bible stories to our children at night.  My wife and I try to do that every night with our daughter.  But one thing I always try to do is put in some application, no matter how simple it might be (and it needs to be simple, since my daughter’s only 5 years old).  It might be, “God can provide our needs if we ask.”  (Feeding of the 5000, or God feeding Elijah in the desert).  Or, “It’s important to obey God.”  (The story of Adam and Eve).

In short, remember that these are not just “stories.”  God meant them for our good, for our instruction.

Do you read them that way?

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I Corinthians 10:1-12 — Disqualified

In chapter 9, Paul warned the Corinthians to be careful that they not be disqualified from the prize.  The main point there was that they should stop being self-centered.  Their self-centered way of thinking, in particular, their insistence on their rights at the expense of their weaker (in faith) brothers was putting them in danger of losing their reward for serving Christ and his kingdom.

And Paul had told them that he was willing to give up everything, even his rights, in order to make sure that he would not lose his prize.

Paul then expands on this idea in chapter 10.  He talks of the Israelites who God had brought out of Egypt, and he compares their experience in the desert to the Christian experience.  They were all baptized by water, dying to their old life and becoming the people of God.  They all took part of the bread that came down from heaven (a picture that Christ uses of himself in John 6:33-35).  And they also drank of the living water (a symbol of the Holy Spirit — see John 4 and 7:37-39) from the Rock which Paul also says was symbolic of Christ.

But did they receive the prize of the promised land?  No, they were disqualified and their bodies were “scattered across the desert.”

How were they disqualified?

Some were idolaters.  And part of that was indulging themselves in “pagan revelry.”  In other words, they were partying hard in celebration of this “god” they had made (referring to the golden calf in Exodus 32), which perhaps also included sexual sin.

Whether they committed sexual sin or not at that time, they definitely committed it in Numbers 25, and many perished as a result.

Still others tested the Lord by grumbling against him and failing to put their trust in him.  They showed this in the desert when they complained about a lack of food and water (Numbers 21:4-9) and also when they refused to enter the promised land because they feared the inhabitants that were there (Numbers 14).

And Paul writes,

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (11)

In other words, all these things were pictures for us.  Pictures of what?  They were pictures to show you that you may have been baptized, taken communion, and been filled with God’s Holy Spirit but you can still lose out on the prize. And mostly you lose it by focusing on temporal things, the pleasures of this life as well as the trials we go through life.

By focusing on the pleasures of this life we lose focus on what’s really important: God and his kingdom.  By focusing on the trials and hardships of life, we often start to lose faith and drop out of the race.

So Paul warns us,

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (12)

Let us not lose our prize by focusing on the temporary pleasures of this life.  Namely, let us not lose our prize by being so love with the things of this world that we lose our love for God and for our brothers and sisters.  And let us not lose our prize by losing faith due to the trials we suffer through.

Instead,

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  (Hebrews 12:1)

How about you?  Are you in danger of being disqualified for the prize?

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I Corinthians 9:24-27 — Whatever it takes

This is a pretty famous passage in scripture.  And it compares our life to a marathon. We are all running the race God has put us in.  The prize we’re running for?  The crown we receive from Christ for accomplishing the task he has given us, namely the task of spreading his kingdom.

What is that crown?  I don’t know, but it seems from Jesus’ teaching that we receive his praise and and are invited to share in his happiness for all eternity.  More, we receive even greater responsibilities in the eternal kingdom because of our faithfulness to him in this world.  (Matthew 25:21, 23)

The question is, “What will we do in order to get that crown?  Will we do whatever it takes?”

Paul writes,

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  (25-27)

Let’s put it this way.  If you’re going to run a marathon, you are not merely thinking of today and how to please yourself.  Rather, you are willing to sacrifice the pleasures of today in order to achieve a greater goal.  You’ll sacrifice those potato chips and hamburgers and eat only healthy foods.  You’ll put aside the time you spend watching TV and surfing the internet in order to run hours at a time, no matter how hard it is.  And by doing that, you put yourself in a position to win the prize.

In the same way, if we are serious about spreading God’s kingdom, we can no longer make ourselves and the pleasures of this world the focus of our lives.  We need to sacrifice some of the things we want in order to serve the kingdom.

For Paul, as we mentioned before, that meant sacrificing a salary from preaching in order that he might reach more people.  It meant sacrificing his freedom as a Christian sometimes and only eating kosher foods when he was with the Jews.  In other cases, if he was with a person that felt like it was wrong to eat meat that was offered to idols, it meant giving up his freedom to eat that as well.

But so many of us are self-centered.  We think only about pleasing ourselves.  We are so concerned with our rights, that we trample on the feelings of others.

Others of us are stingy with our money and fail to give those in need.  Or we are stingy with our time and guard our free time like it was gold, even when others need us.

Still others of us are too concerned about the rewards we’re getting here on earth from the ministry we are doing.  In other words, our motives aren’t right.  We’re seeking wealth or respect from those we are supposedly serving.

And all of these attitudes will leave us disqualified for the prize come judgment day.

Are we willing to do whatever it takes to win the prize? Are we willing to give up the pleasures of today to gain something far greater?  Are we willing to sacrifice our rights, our time, our money, and our pride now for the sake of the crown awaiting us?

Or will we continue to focus only on what we can gain in the here and now and find ourselves disqualified for the prize?

What will you choose?

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1 Corinthians 9:16-23 — Our attitude in ministry

It can become so easy to become self-absorbed in ministry.  To think, “What am I getting out of this?  Where’s the respect?  Where’s the financial reward?” Yet for Paul, there was an inner fire to preach.  He said,

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  (16)

Paul’s words remind me of Jeremiah’s when he said,

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.  (Jeremiah 20:9)

So for Paul (and Jeremiah), financial reward, respect, and everything else really had no bearing in his thinking on whether to preach or not.  He had to preach or be miserable. He went on, saying,

If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  (17)

What does he mean by this?  He’s saying that by preaching with a heart of joy and love for the Lord and for others, he has reward.  He says in verse 18, he found his reward in being able to offer it for free.  Why was that a joy?  Perhaps because by doing so, it brought people into the kingdom that might not otherwise have come in. Like some people today, there were probably those that were skeptical about Paul’s motives.  They thought ministers like him were just in it for the money.  But Paul was able to disarm those suspicions by saying, “Hey, I want nothing from you.  I merely want to give you what I have:  forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.” In fact, whenever people looked at Paul, they saw someone that didn’t want to take from them, but to serve them.  He was always giving up his rights in order to minister to them.  And because of that, more people came into the kingdom, increasing Paul’s joy (19-23).  Not only that, Paul knew it brought joy to his Lord’s heart as well. But even if Paul didn’t have a heart for the people, nor a heart to do what God had asked him to do, still he would have had to preach because like it or not, it was a charge God had given him and no one else.  And if he didn’t do it, God would hold him accountable. You see this in the parable of the talents.  One guy had no love for his master, and was in fact afraid of him.  Because of this, he did nothing with the money his master had given him to invest.  And his master held him accountable for it.  (Matthew 25:24-30) Jeremiah certainly knew how it felt to be compelled to to fulfill the charge God gave him despite his feelings.  In chapter 20, you see that his preaching was not particularly voluntary.  He spent his time complaining to God that God was being unfair to him and that all the people were abusing him.  (Jeremiah 20:7-8) And yet he preached because of the fire that burned within him that he could not hold in.  Like Paul, he was compelled to preach and woe to him if he didn’t. But how much better if we serve from our hearts?  Not because we have to, but because we want to?  Life is so much more rewarding when we do so.  Ministry is so much more rewarding.  And most importantly, we will receive reward from our Lord when we see him face to face. How about you?  What kind of heart are you serving from?

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I Corinthians 9:6-15 — Supporting our pastors financially

Why give to the church?  Tithes aren’t a New Testament command.

Many Christians try to make this argument.  And quite frankly, I agree that tithing isn’t a New Testament command.  But supporting our pastors financially is.

Paul writes,

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?  (7)

In short, no one.  And the point in the latter two illustrations are very clear.  If you take care of something, you should be able to reap the benefits from that which you care for.  If you care for a vineyard, you should be able to eat some of the grapes.  If you take care of a flock of goats, you should be able to drink their milk.

And if a pastor is caring for a church, he should be able to reap the benefits from those whom he ministers to.

Paul then buttresses his argument by pointing to the law of Moses where God said an ox that plows the grain should be able to eat some of the grain that falls to the ground. And he points out that God is not so much interested in oxen as he is people. He thus stretches the illustration to include the people working in the field, that they also should reap the benefits of their work.  And then he applies it to ministers of Christ, saying,

If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?  (11-12a)

Paul goes on saying that temple workers get to eat the temple food, and that the priests who offer the sacrifices get to eat from the meat.

Paul then concludes by saying,

In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (14)

Now Paul gave up that right for his own reasons.  But that doesn’t mean we should force our pastors to live like Paul did, working second jobs to get by.

Why not?  Because when our pastors are forced to work second jobs, it takes time away from ministering to us.  It takes away from their message prep time.  It takes away from time they could use visiting and counseling the people in the church.  It takes away from their time praying for the people in the church.

The church I attend is only 10 years old, and so for some time, our pastor has taken a lower salary while we have been building our congregation, and as a result he has had to work part-time jobs in the past.  Our assistant pastor hasn’t had a salary from the church for years, so he too has had to split his time.  Because of the financial situation of the church, there’s been no way around it.

And if that’s the way it has to be, then pastors will do what they have to.  My pastors have and I am so grateful to them.

But it’s not ideal.  And if we are going to force our pastors to take second jobs, then there’s no way we should be complaining if we don’t feel they’re giving the time to us that we’d like.

Jesus has commanded that we take care of our pastors financially.  How about you?  Are you doing your part?

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I Corinthians 8-10 — Giving up our rights for the sake of the kingdom

Sometimes as we look at passages in the Bible, it can be easy to take scriptures out of their context and lose the overall force of what the writer is trying to say.

That’s why I’m lumping chapters 8-10 together for this blog, and then later will take different parts of it individually.  Because while there are interesting things we can learn in the individual parts, I don’t want to lose the overall gist of what Paul is saying.  Put another way, I don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

What is Paul trying to say here?  Basically he’s saying the kingdom of God is what is most important, not our “rights.”  And sometimes, we need to sacrifice our “rights” for the sake of the kingdom.

We saw this in chapter 8.  Paul said, “We have the right to eat anything we want, even food sacrificed to idols.”  But then he said, “But if what I eat is going to call my brother to stumble because he thinks eating such food would be sinful, I’m not going to eat it.  In fact, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”  (8:13)

He then anticipates the Corinthians complaint, “But it’s my right to eat it!  Why should I give up my freedom for others?”

Part of it he answers in 8:12, pointing out that if we cause a brother to fall, we are sinning.

But then he points out to his own life.  He says, “I have a lot of rights as an apostle of Christ, but I don’t insist on them.  I have the right to get married and take my wife with me on my missionary journeys, but I don’t.  I have the right to get money from those I preach the gospel to.  In fact, scripture and Christ himself commands it.”  (9:1-14)

Why didn’t he take advantage of these rights.  Most probably because he was preaching to a lot of poor people and he didn’t want to take their money knowing it might cause them hardship.  Another possibility was that he didn’t want anyone to accuse him of trying to profit off of the gospel and taking advantage of those he was preaching to.  All of these things would hinder the gospel.

He then talks about how he made other sacrifices for the gospel.  For those Jews who were bound by the law, he lived by the law.  One way he may have done that was by only eating kosher foods when he was with them.  For the Gentiles, he became like them, eating whatever food they put before him.  For those who were weak in faith, he avoided doing things that would offend them.

That may have seemed too much to the Corinthians.  Like he was giving up too many of his rights.  But Paul compared it to like being in training for a race.  Sometimes you have to give up what you like to do or eat so that you can be ready for the race you’re going to run.  And if you don’t, you could lose out on the prize because you lived for yourself instead of Christ and his kingdom.

And so he concludes in chapter 10,

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.  (23-24)

And again,

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God… Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (31-33)

So as you’re considering your “rights,” the question you really need to ask is this:  “Who and what are you living for?  Yourself?  Or God and his kingdom?”

If it’s the former, you will find ultimately find reward.  If it’s the latter, you will find yourself saved, but only as one escaping the flames.  (I Corinthians 3:15)

Who and what are you living for?

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I Corinthians 8 — How we wield the knowledge we have

This passage in many ways is very similar to Romans 14.  Because of this, I want to put more of my focus on the first few verses and how it relates to the rest of the passage.

Paul writes,

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (1-3)

Paul was dealing here with a situation in which some of the Corinthian Christians were bothered by other believers eating meat offered to idols.  They felt it would be wrong to do so, and as Paul wrote in Romans 14,

The man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.  (Romans 14:23)

But there were others in the Corinthian church who knew that eating such meat had no effect on their spiritual life, that Jesus had in fact said that all foods were clean (Mark 7:19)

The problem was that knowledge led to pride, and that pride led them to flaunt their freedom in front of their weaker (in faith) brothers and eat this meat that was sacrificed to idols.

This in turn was leading some of the brothers to break their conscience and eat this meat too.  And because they weren’t eating from faith, they were sinning.

And so Paul really gets on these Corinthians who were causing their brothers to fall.  He told them, “Yes, you know that eating food offered to idols is okay because the idols are nothing and are not real gods.”

But Paul tells them,

The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  (2)

What is Paul saying?  I think he’s saying it’s not enough to just have knowledge.  You also have to know how to wield that knowledge.  And if you don’t know how to wield that knowledge, then your knowledge is incomplete.”

How are we to wield the knowledge we have?  With love.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1)

Knowledge in itself can be a source of pride.  “I know!  You don’t.”

It is that kind of pride that often leads people to argue theological issues that go round and round but never go anywhere.  Even worse, it’s the kind of pride that causes people to look down on and judge other people.  And it’s the kind of pride that causes division in the church and tears it apart.

That’s what was happening in the Corinthian church.  And so Paul reminds them, “Your ‘knowledge’ is not what pleases God.  It’s what you do with that knowledge.  Are you building people up with that knowledge?  Or are you tearing them down?”

Paul concludes by saying,

But the man who loves God is known by God.  (3)

How do we know if a person truly loves God?  John tells us in his first epistle:

Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  (I John 4:21)

That’s exactly what the Corinthians weren’t doing.  They were using their knowledge not to build people up, but to tear them down by eating meat sacrificed to idols in front of their weaker brothers.  The result?

So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. (11)

And Paul warns them,

When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  (12)

Paul then shows them how their knowledge should lead them to act in the current situation.

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.  (13)

How about you?  How do you wield the knowledge you have?  Do you use it to puff yourself up, while destroying your brother or sister?  Or do you use it to build them up?

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I Corinthians 7:29-31 — Because our time is short

Our lives are really but a breath.

I was talking to a friend recently whose wife’s father passed away at age 44 due to a heart attack.  That’s kind of scary, because I’m very near that age myself.  Tomorrow is truly not promised to us.

Jesus could come back.  Or we might simply get hit by a car.  (I nearly got run over by a bike rider today.  Obviously he has no concept of what a red light means).

Whatever Paul meant by “the time is short,” in this passage, we would do well to remember that we won’t be here on this earth forever.  And it should affect the way we live.

Paul wrote,

From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none (29).

Kind of strange words.  Obviously, from looking at the rest of the passage, he’s not saying we should divorce our wives (or husbands) or ignore them so that we can do ministry.

But what I do think he’s saying is that our lives should not be centered around our spouses.  Rather, our lives as a couple should be centered around God, and doing the things he has called us to do for his kingdom.

Nor as a single should you center your life around finding a husband or wife.  Rather, seek God’s kingdom first, and if God is willing (and most times he is), he will provide a partner for you as well.

Paul then says,

Those who mourn, [should live] as if they did not. (30a)

All of us go through hardships in life.  We see tragedy and death all around us.  And when these things happen to us, it’s healthy for us to mourn.  We need to mourn.  But we cannot live the rest of our lives in mourning.  We need to get back up on our feet and return to the work God has for us.  As long as we remain in mourning, we chain ourselves to the past, and cannot find the future God has for us.

Paul goes on, saying,

Those who are happy, [should live] as if they were not.  (30b)

Again, kind of a strange saying.  But sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own happiness, we get complacent, and we stop moving forward.  As much as our grief can chain us to our past, so can our happiness if we are merely resting on our laurels.  We need to move on.  For while we may be happy, there are many around us who are not, and who desperately need the One who gives us our joy.

Those who buy something, [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.  (30c)

In other words, remember that the things of this world are temporary.  We can’t take our money or possessions with us when we go to heaven.  We can only take two things:  our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow believers.  So let’s live that way, not focusing on things, but on God and others.

Your time on this earth is short.  How are you using it?

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1 Corinthians 7:17-24 — Trying to undo your past

All of us have regrets in life.  I know that I do.  I can see how I have hurt people in the past, and I wish I could undo all that.

On a lesser level, I look at decisions I’ve made and wish I could undo them.  For a long time, for example, I fought the idea of coming to Japan.  Had I given it up to God much earlier, I would have directed my college education in that direction, perhaps majoring in Japanese or in teaching English as a second language.

But all that’s in the past, and I can’t undo what I have done.  None of us can.  So what do we do?

That’s the question the Corinthians faced.  Some of them had married unbelievers before becoming Christians.  And now they were hearing the teaching that a Christian should only marry Christians.  As a result, they were asking Paul, should I divorce that person?  But Paul said no.  As long as the unbeliever was willing to stay with them, remain married to that person.  Don’t feel like you have to undo what you did before you became a Christian.

Others perhaps had become Jewish converts before coming to Christ.  Now they were hearing that Gentile Christians shouldn’t get circumcised.  So they were asking Paul, “Should I get the marks of circumcision removed?”  (verse 18, ESV).  But Paul, while affirming that Gentile Christians shouldn’t get circumcised, tells those who were already circumcised not to worry about it.

Still others had perhaps sold themselves into slavery because of a debt they owed, and now they regretted it.  But Paul told them, while they should try to gain their freedom, not to worry too much about it if they couldn’t.

Instead, Paul wrote,

Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. (20)

In other words, don’t get twisted up with regret because of the situation you find yourself in due to your past decisions.  God can use you right where you are.

I don’t think there’s anyone today who’s all twisted up over being circumcised or becoming a slave.

But there are Christians who are married to unbelievers.  And God says, “If possible, stay there.  I can use you to make a difference in your family.”

Some Christians are divorced and have remarried, or their ex-spouse has remarried.  God says, “Don’t feel like you have to get back with your ex.  Focus instead on ministering to the one you’re married to now and to your children.  And focus on ministering to the other people I’ve brought into your life.

Other Christians are in prison because of their past crimes.  And God says, “That’s okay.  If you can get paroled, great.  Get out.  But if not, serve your time there in prison.  I can use you right where you are.”

In short, wherever you are now, and however you got there, God can use you.  And so Paul says,

Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (17)

And again,

Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.  (24)

So let’s not get twisted up with guilt and regret because of our past.  Rather, let us determine to do the things God has called us to do now.  For as Paul wrote, what happened in the past isn’t so important.  Rather, in the here and now,

Keeping God’s commands is what counts.  (19)

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I Corinthians 7 — When it’s wise to put off marriage. When it’s wise not to.

For a variety of reasons, many people not only in Japan, but in America as well are putting off marriage until their late 20s and into their 30s.

In some ways, that’s probably a good thing.  There was no way I was ready for marriage at age 19 or 20 as some of my friends were when they got married.  (I must admit, I was a bit surprised and perhaps a bit skeptical at the time, but they remain happily married to this day).

But everyone is different, and what is perfectly fine for some people is not for others.  And that’s what Paul points out here in this passage.

Again, one of the main questions some Corinthian couples had here was the issue of whether it was appropriate for them to get married or whether it was better to put it off, in some cases permanently.

And Paul gives us three things that we should think about when we’re considering whether to get married or to put it off.

I think one thing to consider is your attitude toward marriage.  Namely, are you going into it totally committed to making it work, or are you going into it already planning an out?  In other words, are you thinking, “Well, if things don’t work out, I can always get divorced.”  If in the back of your mind you are not committed to marriage and are already leaving the back door open, you shouldn’t get married.  Why?  Because Jesus said it was to be permanent.

Paul wrote,

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (10-11)

This was the application that Paul drew from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:3-12.  Even Jesus’ disciples were shocked by it at the time, saying, “If that’s the case, it’s better not to get married.”

And if that’s the attitude you have, don’t get married.  Put it off until your attitude changes.  And if it never changes, then it’s best for you to never get married.

Another factor to consider is your circumstances.  Because of the Corinthians’ “present crisis,” Paul advised them to put it off.  He said,

But those who marry [in these less than ideal circumstances] will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.  (28)

Paul was probably talking about the circumstances of persecution of the church, as I mentioned before.  But I think we can draw in a larger principle.  There are circumstances in which it would probably be best to put off marriage.

One might be finances.  If you are not financially prepared for marriage, it will be very tough, and it is in fact the reason for many divorces in society today.

Another reason might be your own emotional baggage that you have to deal with.  Perhaps you were abused by your father or by previous boyfriends. That kind of thing can have a huge effect on your relationship with your spouse.  And in that kind of situation it is best to put it off until you resolve those issues.

But whatever your situation, Paul gives us another consideration to weigh.  Struggling with sexual temptation may seem to be a bad reason to get married, and certainly it’s not the best reason to get married, but it is also a very real issue for many people.  And Paul writes,

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (8-9)

Paul is saying here, “If you’re feeling intense sexual desire for your boyfriend or girlfriend and you don’t feel that you can control it, then get married, even if the circumstances don’t seem ideal.”

That said, Paul again says if you can at all control your desires for a time, it’s better to put things off until you get your other issues resolved.  By getting married too soon can put a strain on you and your marriage.  But by God’s grace, if you are committed to your partner with no back doors, he can bring you through whatever marital struggles you go through.

So the really big question you need to ask yourself before getting married is this:  Are you willing to commit yourself to your spouse with no back doors?

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1 Corinthians 7 — Good to be single?

Looking at this passage, it would be easy to say that Paul was less than enthusiastic about the institution of marriage.

He never says with exuberance, for example, “Yes!  Marriage is a great thing!  Get married.”

Instead, he says things like, “If you get married, you haven’t sinned (verses 28,36).” Hardly a ringing endorsement.

He later says the one that marries does what is right, but the one that remains single does even better (38).

What do we make of this?

Perhaps rather than seeing it as Paul downplaying the goodness of marriage, we should see it as Paul trying to make crystal clear the goodness of being single.

Paul’s words go so against the words we often hear from our family and friends.

“Hey, isn’t it about time you get married?  You’re not getting any younger, you know.”

“You’re such a beautiful young woman.  Why aren’t you married yet?  How about this guy?  Or that guy?”

But Paul makes it clear: “Hey, if you’re single, that’s a good thing!  Why?

An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife–and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world–how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.  (32-35)

Speaking from experience, I can agree with Paul that it is much easier to serve the Lord as a single than as a married man.  As a married man, I always have to keep my wife in mind and my daughter as well when it comes to ministry.  It of course helps that my wife is also a Christian and is fully supportive of what I do.  But I have to keep everything in balance: spending time with my wife, spending time with my daughter, spending time in ministry.

The single person doesn’t have to worry about keeping that kind of balance.  And Paul says that if you can live your entire life without any urge to get married, that’s a gift from God (7).

How can you tell if you have that gift?  Well, let’s put it this way.  If you don’t consider your singleness as a gift, you probably don’t have that gift.  :-)

But whether you have that gift or not, remember this:  God can use your time as a single for his glory.  You can touch so many lives around you, and make a huge difference in this world for him.  I know so many people who have used their time as a single to do just that.  For some, God blessed them with a spouse later.  For others, God gave them contentment with being single.

So if you are single, don’t mope around, depressed that you haven’t found that special someone yet.  Rather, determine to take advantage of the time you have as a single person to serve God, trusting that if it’s his will, he will bring the right person into your life at just the right time.

How are you using this time God has given you as a single?

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1 Corinthians 7:10-16; 39-40 — Marriage and divorce

It’s kind of hard to decide how to parse this passage because it keeps jumping between subjects.  But I thought since I talked about marriage last time, I’d keep with that topic here.

And here, Paul re-emphasizes Christ’s ideal for marriage.  He says,

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  (10-11)

Here, Paul is drawing from Jesus’ own words when talking to the Pharisees.  Jesus said to them,

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  (Matthew 19:4-6)

And again,

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (8-9)

I won’t get into details concerning Jesus’ words here because I’ve already done that here and the two succeeding blogs.

But the point Paul is making here is that marriage was intended to be permanent, and that’s how we ought to view it.  He says again in verse 39,

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.

Which of course goes both ways.  A husband is also bound to his wife as long as she lives.  And so as much as it depends on us, we need to work to keep our marriage alive.

But what if it doesn’t depend on us?  Paul addresses that in verses 12-16.

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

This is pretty straightforward, so I’ll just make a few comments here.  First,  when Paul says, “I, not the Lord,” I don’t think he’s saying his words aren’t authoritative.  What he’s saying is that Jesus never specifically spoke about this situation where an unbelieving spouse desires to leave the believing spouse.  And so Paul says, “Since Jesus didn’t address that situation, here’s what I as his apostle, say to you.”  And as an apostle, I believe his words on this topic are authoritative.  If an unbelieving spouse desires to leave you, let them leave.  God will not hold you responsible for that.

Second, just because your spouse isn’t an unbeliever doesn’t mean that you should automatically leave them.  By staying with them, God’s hand is on your family, and it gives him more room to work in the life of your spouse and your children, because God can work through you.  “Sanctified” here doesn’t mean saved, but “set apart.”  And I think when any family that has a believer in it, God takes special notice of that family to work in their lives.

Finally, notice that Paul emphasizes in verse 39 that if you’re a single Christian, you should only be marrying a Christian.  He speaks specifically to widows here, but it only makes sense that he is speaking to all singles.  You should only marry a person that belongs to the Lord.

Sometimes people think, well, if I marry a non-Christian, I can witness to them and they may be saved.  But Paul tells the believer to let an unbelieving spouse go if the unbeliever wishes to leave.  Why?

How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  (16)

Answer:  we don’t.  There are no guarantees.  And if you marry an unbeliever, I have seen many cases where the believer ends up miserable.  Marriage is tough enough when believers are married.  But when two people have fundamental differences in their faith, it can cause even more hardship.  And so it’s best to avoid that kind of relationship from the beginning.

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I Corinthians 7:1-5 — Sex in marriage

The need for sex is a very strong one.  I think one reason God created us that way was so that people would come together in marriage and have children together.

And yet, as I mentioned yesterday, there are special parameters God has given concerning sex.  It is only to be enjoyed between husband and wife.

Particularly in Japan, however, it seems that “sexless marriages” are on the rise.  Numerous articles have actually been written on the subject.  Corinth was also having its issues concerning marriage and sex, and so they wrote Paul about what they should do.

In answer, Paul wrote,

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. (1)

Literally, he says it’s good for a man not to “touch a woman” or as other translations put it, “to have sexual relations with a woman.”  But considering that sex is only meant for within marriage, the NIV translates it “not to marry,” which is probably closer to the sense that Paul is trying to say.

Why does he say so?  Because of the “present crisis (26).”  In other words, this was not meant as an absolute for all peoples at all times.  But it was Paul’s advice under the circumstances, which many scholars take to be persecution the church was suffering through.

And it was just his advice, because time and again in this passage, he emphasizes that he is by no means prohibiting marriage.  He says as much in verse 2.

But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.  (2)

Paul recognizes here that because the sexual urge in people is so strong, it can lead to sin unless they find a way to fulfill that urge.  And again, one main reason God gave us that urge was so that two people would come together in marriage, become one, and have children.

It is, in fact, a picture of our relationship with God.  That we are joined with Christ, with he as the groom, and we as his bride, and in that joining we give birth to righteousness in our lives, the fruit of our love for him.

But anyway, Paul says when you get married, feel free to enjoy a life of sex with your spouse.  More, he encourages couples to make it a regular part of their lives.  He writes,

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife,and likewise the wife to her husband.  The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.  Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (3-5)

There are some key principles of marriage that we need to remember here.  Namely, that when we get married, we no longer belong to ourselves alone.  We belong to each other.  And so Paul says don’t deprive each other sexually except for short times so that you might devote yourselves to prayer.  And even then, that decision should be made mutually.

But then he says, be sure to come together again.  Why?  Because if you don’t Satan will swoop in with sexual temptation.  This is especially true with men, but also true with the women.

How many marriages are damaged because couples don’t follow the Lord’s instructions.  Instead husbands and wives find their sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, ultimately destroying their marriage, not only causing pain to themselves, but to their children as well.

Let us not do that.  Let us find satisfaction and joy in our own husband and wives, and never seek to find it anywhere else.

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1 Corinthians 6:13-20 — The problem with sexual sin

All sin is of course bad.  But Paul here says there is something unique about sexual sin, particularly for the Christian. He says,

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? (15a)

He explains further later,

But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.  (17)

And again,

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (19)

But what happens when we sleep with a prostitute?  Paul tells us, saying,

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” (16)

In other words, the sexual act was created by God not simply for pleasure or procreation, but to bring a special union and intimacy between man and woman.  It joins you to that person not only physically, but emotionally.  And when you sleep with a prostitute, you join yourself to her in that way. With those two things in mind, Paul then draws a very ugly picture of what happens when we join ourselves with a prostitute,

Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? (15b)

I don’t think I need to explain any further on what Paul is saying. But not only is sex with a prostitute wrong, all sexual immorality is wrong. What is sexual immorality?  It’s any kind of sex outside of marriage between a husband and a wife.  Sex between husband and wife is blessed by God.  Anything else is condemned by God, and is so listed in verse 9. The problem with sexual sin is that it affects us in a way that no other sin does.  It binds us to the person that we sleep with. Paul tells us,

All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (18)

I think most people can understand that.  But again, our bodies are members of Christ.  So when we join ourselves to a prostitute, it’s like we’re joining Christ to a prostitute.  When we join ourselves to another person’s husband or wife, it’s as if we’re joining Christ to that person in adultery.  When we join ourselves to a person that we’re not married to, it’s like we’re joining Christ with that person in fornication. I don’t know about you, but that’s too terrible a thought for me to even consider.  So as Paul says,

Flee from sexual immorality…You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.  (18-20)

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I Corinthians 6:12-20 — What freedom in Christ does not mean

One of the key things that Paul taught in his letters was freedom from the law.  That we are no longer under law, but under grace.  But much as people do in this time, people in Corinth were corrupting that teaching.

Paul had just finished lambasting the Corinthian church for the way they were treating each other, and he told them,

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  (9-10)

How were the Corinthians responding?

“But you said, ‘Everything is permissible (or “lawful”)for me.’  So why can’t I do these things.  It’s my life, after all.”

But Paul answers, “All things may be lawful for you, but not all things are beneficial.”  We will see an example of this in chapter 8, where he says that eating food sacrificed to idols is lawful, but we shouldn’t do it if it will cause another Christian to stumble.  Our eating such food would not be beneficial to our brother’s spiritual well-being.

He then says again, “All things may be lawful for you…but you should not be mastered by anything, least of all sin.”

Paul expands on this in Romans,

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  (Romans 7:16)

Many times people start out choosing to sin, but ultimately find themselves in slavery to it.  Gluttony is an example of this.  Pornography is another.  In both cases, people start out by indulging themselves, but in the end, find themselves out of control.  Even if the doctor says they need to lose weight or risk suffering a heart attack, they can’t stop.  And even if pornography is destroying their marriage life, they find they cannot get away from it.

Some of the Corinthians said, “But God created us to eat. That’s why he gave us stomachs, after all.  And he created us as sexual beings.  God created us to fulfill those needs.  Why then all the restrictions?”

But Paul reminds them that while God did indeed give us stomachs and create us as sexual beings, nevertheless, meeting these needs were not the main purposes for which he created us.  We were not created simply to live for and please ourselves.  Paul said,

“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” (what the Corinthians were saying) –but God will destroy them both. (13)

In other words both food and the stomach are temporal things, not eternal.  We weren’t created simply for indulging our stomachs.

And Paul goes on to say,

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (13)

Put another way, our body is not meant for sinful purposes, but for the Lord’s.  We were created to be his temple.  And he paid a great price on the cross that we might be his.

Paul wrote,

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (19-20)

What does freedom in Christ not mean?  It doesn’t mean that you live for yourself and indulge yourself in sin.  Rather, it means being set free from the sin that was destroying you.  It means being free to walk with God without fear of being punished.  Rather we walk in the knowledge that God loves us, and is now dwelling in us through his Holy Spirit.  And each day we live out the purpose for which we were created for: to love, honor and glorify God.

How about you?  How are you using your freedom?

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I Corinthians 6:1-11 — How we present ourselves to the world

Lawsuits just seem to be a way of life in the States.  You can get sued by anybody for just about anything, no matter how ridiculous your claim might be.

Lawsuits are much less common in Japan, but we still see them here.

And they were apparently common in Corinth, even among the believers.  And Paul was flummoxed by two things.

Number one, how badly one brother or sister could treat another.  Number two, the reaction of the hurt brother or sister, namely dragging the one that hurt them into court.

More, the ones who were hurt started acting badly themselves, perhaps under the guise of fighting fire with fire.  Paul tells them,

You yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  (8-10)

In short, don’t fool yourself.  You may call yourself a Christian, but if you are living this way, in unrepentant sin, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Some people say that this means you can lose your salvation, but I would tend to question if this person were really saved in the first place.

But Paul takes the assumption that they are truly saved and says,

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (11)

In short, “You all have been washed cleaned and set apart for God.  You’re supposed to be different now.  How then can you treat your brothers and sister this way?”  In this, I think he addresses both the offending party and the victim.

Then concerning the concept of lawsuits among believers itself, he says, “You guys are going to judge the world and even angels someday.  And yet none of you are competent to handle these internal matters of the church between yourselves?” (2-5)

The other thing that really bothered Paul was that they were bringing their dirty laundry in front of unbelievers.  Because of this, unbelievers were seeing the terrible things believers were doing to each other and saying, “Is this what a Christian is?   They’re no different from us.  They hurt each other and treat each other unfairly just like we do.”

In short, it was a stain on the church, which is why Paul said,

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (7)

The Corinthians were defeated in two ways.  First, Satan was having his way in the church by having them fight each other instead of him.  Second, their in-fighting was wrecking their reputation in the Corinthian community.

Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by the love we have for each other (John 13:34-35).  But as we look at how we treat each other in the church today, are we living that way?  Or are we being defeated by the enemy as he turns us against each other?

 

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I Corinthians 5 — When brothers and sisters flaunt their sin

I mentioned yesterday that I needed to make some clarifications in the things that I said.  Basically, there are two things I want to note.

First, I don’t believe Paul is saying that we need to disassociate ourselves with brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin.  The key word here is “struggle.”

All of us struggle with sin.  All of us have sins that we have to deal with day in and day out.  And some of those sins can be persistent.  But struggling with sin is completely different from blatantly sinning.

When you are struggling with sin, you are doing just that:  struggling.  You know what you’re doing is wrong and you are grieved by it.  Deep in your heart, you desire to get rid of those sins in your life.  And day by day, you’re coming before God in prayer and asking for his help.  In that kind of situation, it’s probably best to also ask your brothers and sisters for their support in both prayer and accountability.  But if you fall, you should also be quick to grieve and repent of your sin.

“Blatant sin” is where you openly flaunt it with no remorse over it whatsoever.  You say, “This is the way I am, and I am not going to change.  You are just going to have to accept me as I am.”  And if people try to confront you with scripture, you find ways to explain it away or justify yourself.

That’s what this brother in Corinth was doing.  He wasn’t struggling with sin.  He was openly flaunting it.  And Paul says here there is no way you should be associating yourself with such a person.  If you do, that kind of attitude of open defiance will spread throughout the church like yeast in bread.

The second thing I want to clarify is the spirit with which we discipline the person.  Note that Paul says here, “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief [by this man’s sin]?”

Our attitude toward that person should not be of arrogance, but of grief.  And it should be our greatest desire that they come to repentance.  That’s the second purpose of putting a person out of fellowship (the first being again that his attitude doesn’t spread throughout the church).

Paul says,

Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.  (5)

“Hand this man over to Satan.”  That sounds pretty harsh.  But what Paul is saying is, “Since this man is flaunting his sin, let him go out into the world without the protection of the church and let Satan have at him.”

Why?  Because we want Satan to destroy him?

No, because our hope is that like the prodigal son, he will come to realize the absolute misery of sin and come to repentance.  The result?  His sinful nature is put to death and he himself is saved when Jesus comes back.

In short, our whole attitude toward this person should be one of love.  But love does not mean just accepting him when he is blatantly sinning.  It means grieving, and letting him go until such a time as he comes to repentance.

Let us never forget the seriousness of sin.  It was so serious, Jesus had to die for it.  And to flaunt our sin in the face of Jesus’ death is to “trample the Son of God underfoot,” and to “insult the Spirit of grace.”  (Hebrews 10:29)

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I Corinthians 5 — Proud of tolerating sin?

Tolerance.  I’ve talked about this somewhat in another blog, and it’s one of the key buzzwords in American society.

And as I’ve said, showing tolerance is fine in that you can disagree with a person and still be at the very least civil, and hopefully even friendly with them.

What this means for us as Christians is that we need to be tolerant with those who are not.  They do not believe the same way we do, and so we cannot expect them to act as we do.  With that in mind, we are to love them, spend time with them, share the gospel with them, and pray for them.  That’s what Jesus did.  He was a friend of sinners.  He spent much of his time, in fact, with sinners, completely scandalizing the “religious” people of the day.

But Paul is very clear here, we cannot be tolerant with people who claim to be Christians and yet blatantly flaunt their sin.  And yet, sometimes churches, in the name of “love” and “acceptance,” do just that.  That’s the problem the Corinthians had.

A man in the Corinthian church was sleeping with his father’s wife.  My presumption is that this was not his own mother, but his step-mother.  Even so, this was despicable even among the secular Corinthian community.

But the Corinthian church was apparently saying something like, “See how loving we are?  See how accepting and forgiving we are?  See how broad-minded and tolerant we are?  Even though this man is sleeping with his step-mother, we still welcome this man in our church.”

When Paul heard of this, he was horrified.   He said,

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (6-8)

Yeast in the Bible is almost always used as a picture of sin, which is one reason why for the Jewish Passover Feast, they never put yeast in the bread.  Years later in the New Testament, we see Jesus breaking the Passover bread saying, “This is my body.”  And the picture was of Jesus’ sinless life, and how he was broken for our sins.

At any rate, Paul is telling the Corinthians, if you let this sin go, it will spread within the church.  If you let this Christian continue to blatantly flaunt his sin, it will cause other believers to follow his example.  So he said, “Get rid of this yeast of immorality, malice, and wickedness.  Instead, be a people, a church, that is pure and filled with sincerity and truth.

He goes further, saying,

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (11)

Very strong words.  Not very “loving” according to many churches today.  But very clear.

Again, though, Paul makes a distinction between the immoral unbeliever, and the blatantly immoral believer, saying,

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? [None.] Are you not to judge those inside? [Absolutely!] (12)

Paul then concludes,

God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (13)

Should the church love sinners?  Yes.  But should we accept blatant sin in the life of a believer in the name of love?  No way.

That said, there are some clarifications that I think should be made which I will get to tomorrow.

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I Corinthians 4:14-21 — Who we follow

As we go through life, there are any number of people that we look up to as our examples, starting with our parents, then teachers and coaches, to pastors and so on.

And hopefully, all of them are good mentors to us.  But Paul reminds us here to be very careful about who we choose to follow.

There are many people, even in the Christian world, who sound good.  But as Paul says,

The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (20)

And so Paul said when came to Corinth,

I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. (19)

That’s the question we need to ask ourselves.  What power is behind the people we are following?  Is it God?  Or is it something else?  Natural charisma?  Money?  Position?  Or is there even an evil spiritual power behind them?

How do we tell what kind of power is behind them?  By the fruit that they bear.  Jesus tells us,

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.  (Matthew 7:15-16)

What kind of fruit do we look for?  The fruit of their teaching and the fruit of their lives.  Paul himself points that out when talking of Timothy and himself.

For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (17)

When we find such people in our lives, we should follow their example.  As Paul said,

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (16)

But when their fruit is rotten, we need to run as quickly and far away as possible.

How about you?  Who are you following?

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I Corinthians 4:6-13 — Warnings against pride

C.S. Lewis once called pride, “The Great Sin” in his book Mere Christianity.  Why?  Because it’s pride that builds walls between us and God, and also builds walls between us and others.

We see the former right at the beginning of world in the garden of Eden.  It was the pride of wanting to be like God that tempted Eve and caused her to fall. It was pride that apparently caused the fall of Satan as well.

And here in this passage, we see the pride that was tearing apart the Corinthian church, and putting a wall between Paul himself and the Corinthian believers.

From verses 4-13, and also 18-19, it appears that a number of the Corinthians were looking down on Paul.  That through their pride of what they had and what they knew, and because of their self-satisfaction in life, they looked at Paul in all his weakness and suffering as if he were somehow inferior to them.

But Paul tells them,

“Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.  (2:6)

What does he mean, “Do not go beyond what is written?”

It’s not clear, but I think he’s referring to what we’ve been taught concerning our position in Christ.  Namely, that we are saved, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of his grace.  And if we remember we are all products of his grace, there is no reason to take pride in ourselves over others.  Or to argue that this person is greater than that person.

Paul makes this clear, reminding the Corinthians,

Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?  (7)

The answers: “God,” “nothing,” and, “for no good reason.”

Those are pretty humbling answers.

But so often we don’t think that way, slamming down walls between us and God, as well as with those around us.

Would that we were all fully cognizant of the true meaning of God’s grace in our lives.  How much better would our relationships be with God, with our spouses, with our fellow church members, and with all whom we associate with?

How about you?  What walls are in your life because of your pride?

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I Corinthians 4:1-5 — Proven faithful

The apostle James wrote,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

Those are pretty sobering words for me, because I am often put in that position of teacher.  God has given me his Word and the gift to teach it as a trust, and as Paul says,

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (I Corinthians 4:2)

The truth is, though, all of us have been entrusted with things from God.  We’ve been entrusted with our resources, our gifts, and our talents.  And God expects us to be faithful in our usage of them.  If we are not, he will hold us accountable.

And because he’s our judge, he is the one that we need to be most concerned with pleasing.  Not the pastors of the church.  Not the people at church.  Not anyone else around us.  Only God.  If we get too concerned with the praises of man, we become susceptible to pride at their praise or compromise at their displeasure.

Because of this, we need to constantly be searching our hearts.  Why do we do the things we do?  Are we doing them for the right reasons?  I struggle with this all the time.  To a degree, I fear what I will hear from Christ when I stand before him.  What will he say to me?

Paul, even though he had a clear conscience, admits that even he wasn’t always sure of his motives.  He said,

I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.  (3-5)

I think one of the main points he’s trying to get across here is to guard your heart from pride.  You may think that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, but that doesn’t make it true.

As Jeremiah wrote,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

The Lord responded to Jeremiah, saying,

I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 17:10)

So whatever we do, let us constantly be searching our hearts, and asking the Lord to do the same.  Let us ask that he reveal the motives of our hearts to us.  And that will go a long way to not only keeping us humble, but also to keeping us faithful with the trust he has given us.

How about you?  Are you being faithful with what God has entrusted to you?

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I Corinthians 3:5-9 — How we approach our work for the Lord

In a lot of ways, I’m kind of reiterating what I said yesterday, but certain things kind of struck me as I reread the passage today and I wanted to highlight them.

One thing is the privilege that we have to work hand in hand with God.  Paul said,

We are God’s fellow workers.  (9)

Think about that for a minute.  God doesn’t really need us.  He could do everything he wanted to accomplish without us.  But he chooses to use us.  And he invites us to join him in his work.  I read that and just say, “Wow!”

God doesn’t just save us to sit down and bask in his grace.  He wants us to also become an active part of his Kingdom.  And so he stretches out his hand toward us and says, “Won’t you join me in this work?  Let’s work together on this.”

The second thing we need to remember though is he doesn’t call us into this work to bring glory to ourselves.  Paul said,

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (6)

A servant doesn’t draw attention to himself.  For the most part, the best servant is invisible.  You barely notice he’s there, and yet all that needs to get done is done.  And in the end, he should say humbly,

We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.  (Luke 17:10)

Still, though an earthly master might not show any appreciation for his servant and even treat him as a nobody, God again sees us as his fellow workers.  And he gets down into the mud with us to do the things he has asked of us.

More without him working in us and through us, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.  For as Paul writes,

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  (6)

So where is the room for pride?  There is none.  Paul tells us,

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (7)

One final thing to remember in whatever ministry we’re is that the people we’re working with are not, “my people.”  Rather they are God’s field, God’s building (9).

Too often, we get wrapped up with marking out our territory in ministry.  And if we’ve been doing certain things in the church for a number of years, we mark those duties as our territory, and the people we’re working with as our people.

But the Lord assigns each person their own task, and sometimes those tasks change as he invites other people to join in his work.  And he does that for the betterment of his kingdom.

Yet many Christians become upset when Christ calls others into work that “encroaches” on their territory.  And they become jealous when they find that others are more skilled or talented than they are.

Let us remember, however, that each person has their part in the body of Christ.  Each person has been assigned their task.  And as much as we are fellow workers with God, we are also fellow workers with each other.  So let us work with one another, casting aside our jealousy and territorial way of thinking, realizing that it is God’s field, not ours.  It is God’s building, not ours.

Most importantly, let us focus on the relationship we have with God.  One of the main reasons he calls us to join him in his work is so that we can spend more time together with him.  And as we do, we will find joy.

How do you approach the work God has given you?

 

 

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I Corinthians 3:5-23 — With what we are building up the church

It’s interesting pulling this whole passage together.  Usually when I have read it in the past, I’ve taken different parts of it and looked at them individually, but I’ve never really read it as a whole.

What is Paul talking about here?  He’s talking about how we are building up our churches, and he warns us that we need to be careful how we build.

He reminds us first of all that Christ alone is the foundation of the church (11).  But with what do we build on that foundation?  The charisma of this pastor or this leader?  Jealousy?  Backbiting?  Pride?  Charisma isn’t bad, but you can’t truly build a church on a pastor’s charisma.  And the rest?  It will tear a church apart.  And so as each person, from the pastor all the way down the chain to the newest Christian, does their work within the church, they need to ask, with what materials am I trying to build this church up?  And depending on what we use, we will be judged.

Paul says,

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  (13-15)

In other words, none of us will go to hell because we fail in the duties that God has given us.  But we can lose our reward.  And some will literally get into heaven with nothing to show for all they did here on earth.  Why?  Their hearts were not right before him.  And again, Paul is pointing specifically to hearts of pride, jealousy, and division, things that can destroy the church.

It is with this in mind that he says,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (17)

The “yous” here are all plural in the Greek.  And Paul is saying, “You Christians collectively are God’s temple.”  Put another way, “The church is God’s temple.”  And if we do things that destroy the church, God will bring judgment upon us.  If our pride, jealousy, and divisive spirits tear apart the church, God will hold us accountable.

So Paul tells us to get rid of these things.  Get rid of the “wisdom” of this world that leads to pride, jealousy, and division.  Instead, embrace the “foolishness of the cross,” that would lead us to be humble and grateful to God, and accepting of those around us.

How about you?  Whether you’re a pastor or the newest Christian in the church, you have a part in building up Christ’s church.  With what are you building it up?

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I Corinthians 3:1-4 — Immature

In the previous chapter, Paul talks about those who are mature (6) and  those who are spiritual. (15)

But at the beginning of this chapter, he makes clear that the Corinthians fit neither description.  He said,

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1-4)

Very hard words.  But what would Paul say about you if he were to look at you?  More importantly, what would Jesus say about you?

Now let me be clear, if you are a young Christian, new to the faith, I’m not talking so much to you.  Obviously, as a baby Christian you have much to grow, and that’s fine.  But if a baby never grows up, there is something seriously wrong.

If my 5-year-old daughter were still drinking milk from a bottle there would be something wrong.  That’s cute in the early years, but not at 5.  If she were still crawling instead of walking, if she were still babbling instead of talking, those would be serious problems.

And yet so many Christians remain babies.  They never really grow up.  What do I mean?

In short, they remain worldly.  For the Corinthians, they showed this in that they continued to have hearts full of jealousy, and were constantly quarreling with one another.  They had hearts that were full of pride, comparing themselves to one another, and looking down on others.  And it was tearing apart the church.

How many churches today split for the same reasons?  How many Christians leave their churches for those very reasons?  Those are marks of immaturity.

So if your heart is still full of these things, how do you start to mature?  You need to get back to the basics, and it’s rooted back in the milk of the gospel.  Namely, that God loves you.  Not because of who you are, or what you have done, but because of who he is.  And he loved you so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins.

Why do we have hearts of pride?  Why do we compare ourselves with each other?  Why are we jealous of others and quarrel with others?  Because these basic truths have not sunk into our hearts yet.

If we really know that God loves us that much, what others think of us won’t matter.  There’s no need for jealousy or for comparisons with others because we know that God accepts us as we are.

More, we know that there’s no room for pride because we know that we have nothing to boast about.  As Paul will say later, everything we have we received from God.  And if we have merely received it (in contrast to working for it), where is the room for boasting?  There is none.

How about you?  Have these truths sunk into your heart?

Let us no longer be worldly.  Let us no longer be immature.  But let us soak ourselves into these truths.  And as we do, we will grow and become the people God desires us to be.

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1 Corinthians 2:6-16 — To know the mind of God

The thing about dealing with an invisible God is that you will never know anything about him unless he reveals himself to you.  And even when he does, what he tells you will be beyond you unless he gives you a heart that understands.

That’s one of the wonders of grace and salvation.  That though we can’t see him, he revealed himself to us.  And though we didn’t have hearts that could grasp what he was saying, he brought enlightenment to us through his Spirit.

That’s what we see in this passage.

Paul asks,

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  (11)

I’ve always told my wife, “Much as I’d like to be able to, I can’t read your mind.  If something is bothering you, tell me.”

It can be difficult to read people sometimes.  What are they thinking?  What are they feeling?  What are they planning?  And if it’s difficult to read people who we can see, how much more difficult is it to read God who we can’t see?

People in their own wisdom will never be able to comprehend God or his purposes.  Paul gives an example of this in verses 7-8, when talking about God’s plan of salvation.  He tells us that God had in mind from the beginning what he would do, but it was hidden from us.  God had given the Jews pictures through the sacrifices and pictures through the prophets about what needed to be done for our salvation.  And yet they couldn’t grasp it.  So Paul tells us,

None of the rulers of this age understood [the wisdom of God], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (8)

Even Caiaphas, the high priest, couldn’t grasp it, not even the words that came out of his own mouth when he said,

You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.  (John 11:50)

John said of those words,

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.  (51-52)

Talk about God using you in spite of yourself.  But Paul’s words in verse 14 are a perfect description of Caiaphas.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.  (14)

High priest though Caiaphas was, had someone told him that Jesus had to die for the sins of the people, he would have thought they were crazy.  Why?  Because he was without the Spirit in his life.

But we who are Christians do.  For Paul tells us,

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”– but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  (9-10)

And again,

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  (14)

And yet again,

“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.  (16)

Do we understand all things now?  Of course not.  There are still many things we see dimly.  Even salvation, which is one of the clearest things God has revealed to us, is clouded in mystery.  But as we draw nearer to God and mature, he will reveal these things to us even more as he teaches us his spiritual truths.  (13)

So let us pray, “Holy Spirit, open the eyes and ears of my heart that I might know you, and that I might understand all that you have prepared for me.”

And he will reveal himself to us.

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I Corinthians 2:1-5 — Speaking with power

This is a passage I’ve been thinking about recently whenever I’ve given messages at church.  Honestly, it’s something I need to keep more in mind whenever I write these blogs as well.

Paul wrote,

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.  (1-5)

If you do any kind of Bible teaching, whether as a Sunday school teacher, Bible study leader, pastor, or whatever, I think it would be worth your time to memorize this passage and meditate on it before every message you give.

I’d like to think that I’m a pretty good speaker.  I’d like to think that my teaching is clear and simple for those who hear.

But the truth of the matter is that while I may impact people through my words and wisdom, the change I can effect is limited.  Why?  Because my wisdom and my powers of persuasion are limited. More, I cannot infuse people with the power to change.  People may hear what I say and agree.  “Yes, I should love my enemies.  Yes, I should forgive those who hurt me.  Yes, I need to take off sin and put on righteousness.”

And yet, unless God is working in them, nothing will change.

What Paul recognized is that there is only one thing that truly brings about change.  The power of God through the message of the cross.  It is because of what Christ did on the cross that we can have a relationship with God.  It is because of what Christ did that our old nature died, and we have received a new nature.  It is because of what Christ did that we can put away our sinful past and find true life.

That’s why Paul said,

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  (2)

How about you?  If you are simply a church member, what kind of messages are you hearing at your church?  Can you say that the message of the cross is central at your church?  Or are the messages based on the wisdom of your pastor and the idea that you need to change yourself?

If you are a teacher, what is the focus of your message and preparation?  Entertaining your audience?  Showing your wisdom and knowledge?  Or is it preaching Christ and him crucified?  Is it letting his power flow through you as you speak so that their faith rests, not on you, but on Christ?

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I Corinthians 1:26-31 — No room for boasting

In illustrating the “foolishness of God,” Paul uses the people in the Corinthian church as an example.

Now if you were going to save as many people as possible, wouldn’t you start with the rich, powerful, wise, and influential?  Wouldn’t that make sense?  But Paul says of the Corinthians,

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (26-29)

This is not to say God doesn’t save the rich, powerful, wise, and influential.  Paul says here, “not many,” not, “not any.”

Still, God saves people not because of what they have or who they are, but because of his grace.  And time and again, he puts to shame those who claimed to be strong and wise by those who were, by their standards, their inferiors.  But these “inferiors” put the strong and wise to shame by one thing:  their faith in God.

For instance, God took an old man named Noah who was willing to actually take God at his word and build a huge ark when no one needed a boat that big (if they needed one at all).  Noah’s neighbors must have thought he was nuts.  But in the end, he was proven wise when the rain started to fall and the flood waters started to rise.

Later, God took the Jewish people out of captivity in Egypt and had them surround a fortified city, just marching around it for 6 days.  Then on the seventh day, they marched around it 7 times, blowing their horns.  Then they shouted and charged the city.  When Joshua’s soldiers heard this plan, they must have questioned Joshua’s sanity.  For that matter, the inhabitants must have wondered what those crazy Jews were doing.  But when the Israelites charged on that seventh day, the walls fell and they captured the city.

Years later, God took a bunch of young Jewish exiles in Babylon who refused to eat the food provided by the king because it was against their dietary laws, and instead just ate vegetables and drank water.  Their fellow exiles must have thought they were out of their minds.  In the end, these four men were not only healthier than their compatriots, but wiser and more capable as well.

Time and again, throughout history, you see God doing this kind of thing.

And he did it again through the cross.  What people considered as a sign of weakness and defeat, an ignoble death on the cross, God used for our salvation.  And he used it to save, not those whom the world admires, but those whom it despised.

People despise us because they consider us weak.  Because to them, only the intellectually inferior and emotionally crippled need God.  They despise us because we would put our trust in him instead of ourselves.

But ultimately, they will be put to shame.

A warning, however.  Remember that you have nothing to boast about if you are a Christian.  It’s not because of who you are or what you have done that God saved you.  It’s because of who God is and what he has done.  As Paul wrote,

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (30)

So as Paul concludes,

Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  (31)

Who are you boasting in?  Yourself?  You will be put to shame.

In God?  Then there is no room for pride.

What is your attitude today?

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I Corinthians 1:18-25 — The futility of human thinking and wisdom

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing a pre-Easter message for my church, Paul’s words in verse 18 here struck me.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I’ve been a Christian all my life, so the message of the cross is something that I’ve just always taken as “normal.”  I was taught it, so I believed it.

But I must admit, if someone were to start preaching, “Your salvation is found in the message of the electric chair,” or “Your salvation is found in the hangman’s noose,” I’d probably think you were out of your mind.

Yet that is exactly what many Jews and Greeks thought of Paul’s message.  Paul said,、

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  (22-23)

The Jews were looking for the power of God to save them, just as he had done in Egypt by sending plagues upon the Egyptians and parting the Red Sea for them.  Because God had done things that way in the past, they were expecting their Messiah to do the same.  But here, Paul preached salvation, not through Christ’s overcoming the Romans through signs of power, destroying them, but through Christ’s submission to the Roman cross.  Of getting beaten, whipped, and crucified by them.  And so they stumbled over the idea that Christ was the promised Messiah.

The Greeks, meanwhile, were impressed with human reason.  They were looking for what ideas Jesus might have that might stimulate their way of thinking.  But when Paul preached to them in Athens, he instead preached Christ’s death and resurrection, at which point most of them blithely dismissed anything he had to say.  “Who wants to listen to this kook?”  (Acts 17:31-32)

Which shows the problem of coming to God with our own set ways of thinking and in our own wisdom.  We expect God to meet our expectations, that all he does and all he says will match what our logic and “wisdom” tell us he should do.  And when he doesn’t we dismiss what he actually does say and do as foolishness.

But Paul says,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  (25)

I will be the first to admit I can’t understand all that God does and why.  How is it, for example, that Jesus’ work on the cross can pay for our sins?  How exactly does that work? How can one person’s act provide justification for us all?  I don’t know.  I’ve heard and used illustrations that explain it to a degree, and so I have an idea, but at the same time, I can see why people would  have trouble accepting it and think it’s simply foolishness.

But what we consider foolish, God will prove to us wise.  What we consider weakness on God’s part, he will prove to us strength.

And ultimately, as Paul quotes, God will, “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent.”  (19)

So Paul asks,

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (20-21)

We will never find God on our own terms, based on our own human wisdom.  Our thinking is too limited.  Too narrow.  If we are to find him, we must yield ourselves to him and his wisdom.  And that starts with acknowledging Jesus as Lord, because this Jesus who was crucified is to us now both the power and wisdom of God.  He is the power of God to save us.  And he is the wisdom of God incarnate that puts to shame all of our wisdom.

Won’t you yield to him today?

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I Corinthians 1:10-17 — Elevating people over Christ

I suppose it’s natural for people in the church to look up to Christian leaders as their example, and as the ones they admire.

After all, these leaders have been following Christ longer, and presumably have more wisdom and knowledge than we do.  More, we can actually see them, and have face to face conversations with them.

By no means am I saying that it’s bad to look up to people within the church as role models.  But the danger comes when we elevate them over Christ.  Instead of following Christ, we follow these leaders.  Instead of making Christ our example, we look solely at our leaders.

One problem that can come from this is divisions within the church, as the Corinthians had.  Some people were saying, “I follow Paul.”  Others said, “I follow Apollos.”  Others said, “I follow Cephas (Peter).”

And Paul gets very sarcastic saying,

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  (13)

In other words, “Who are you following anyway?”

Later, he would tell them in chapter 3,

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (3:5-7)

In short, “Stop elevating people over God.  The people are merely servants of God.  No one seeks to elevate the servant in the household, but the master.  So why do we elevate the leaders in the church when they are merely servants?”

But so many people do.  And we have seen it lead to divisions within the church today.

The other problem with elevating people above God is that they are merely human, and because of that, they will inevitably let us down.  And if our faith is based on the lives of these people rather than God, then when they fall or disappoint us, our faith will fall as well.

So let us not elevate people, no matter how godly they are, above him who died for us and rose again.  Let us not get into fights over this pastor being better than that pastor.  Each has their own work as God has assigned it to them.  It’s not our place to judge them, and we especially have no right to judge them compared to other pastors.  Leave the judgments to God who alone knows what he has required of them.

And let us not rest our faith on the faith of others.  Rather let us rest our faith and hope in God alone.  If we rest our faith on others, we will inevitably be disappointed.  But if we put our trust in Christ, we never will be put to shame.  (Romans 10:11)

 

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I Corinthians 1:1-9 — Sanctified and called to be holy

The church in Corinth, as we will see throughout this book, had its share of problems, many of them serious.

That said, it’s really amazing the things Paul said about the church.  He called them “sanctified in Christ” and called to be holy.

Considering their problems, it’s hard to see the former, and while they were called to be holy, set apart for Christ, they certainly weren’t living that way.

But it’s a reminder to me that God does not merely see where we are now, but where we will be.  And we are to look on other brothers and sisters in Christ the same way.  We are not to see them simply where they are at now in their Christian walk.  But we are to see them as people Christ has already set apart for himself.  They are now his.  And so as Paul did with the Corinthians, we are to remind our brothers and sisters that they are called to live that way.  To no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again.

Just as importantly, we need to see ourselves the same way.  It’s easy to look at ourselves as Christians and get discouraged.  We see our sins and how we struggle, and we wonder how God could accept us.  But let us remember that we have already be accepted.  God has already set ourselves apart for himself.  So now, let’s live that way.

But remember too that we don’t need to do this on our own strength.  For Paul tells us,

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  (8-9)

We may not always be faithful.  But God is.  And he will never stop working in us until the day we stand before Christ, holy and blameless in his sight.

How about you?  How do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ?  How do you see yourself?

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Romans 16:25-27 — The One Who establishes us

And so we finish off Romans.  I think it’s been one of the more fun books that I have blogged through.  And as we do, we finish up where we started.  With a reminder that salvation is ultimately the work of God.  Paul writes,

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God. (25-26)

Here we see the wonder of the gospel.  That years before Jesus came, God gave  glimpses of what was to come through the prophets.  It was something that was unclear for thousands of years, but found its clarity in Jesus Christ.  And now this gospel is clear for all to see that,

all nations might believe and obey him (26b)

But it’s not a gospel based on our works.  Rather, it’s based on the grace of God.  He is the one who establishes us in our faith, and in our salvation.  Before time began, he chose us, predestining us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.  Through Jesus, he paid the price for our sin.  And through the Spirit, he sanctifies us day by day so that we might become more like Jesus until the day we see him in glory.

That’s the wonder of salvation.  Not that we deserved it.  Not that we earned it.  But that through his grace, God’s love was poured out on us that we might believe and be transformed into his likeness.

So as Paul said,

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.  (27)

Indeed, amen and amen.

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Romans 16:17-20 — That we may not be naive

Here, towards the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul gives the church a warning.

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (16)

What exactly was Paul talking about?  False teaching.  It was a plague back then, and it is a plague in the church today.  And Paul tells us to watch out for them.

The problem is that those who teach false things often sound so good.  Paul wrote,

By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  (18b)

But in truth,

Such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  (18a)

And Paul tells us,

I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  (19b)

How can we safeguard ourselves against false teaching?  I think Paul gives us the key identifying false teaching in verse 16.  It is “contrary to the teaching you have learned.”

This is assuming, of course, that you are familiar with the true teaching of Christ.  If you are not, then it will be impossible to be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

Rather, you will live in a naive manner, prey to any wolf that might come to devour you.

The Romans were, however, grounded in the Word of God, and because of that, Paul said,

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over youThe God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (19-20)

So ground yourself in God’s Word.  Be hungry for the truth that is in it and you will never be deceived.

People who are trained to detect counterfeit money (like bankers) never start by studying the counterfeit.  They start with studying and handling the real bills.  And they become so familiar with the real bills, that when a counterfeit bill falls into their hands, they can almost immediately tell the difference, just by the feel of it, as well as other points.

In the same way, if you become real familiar with the truth in the Word of God, you will never be deceived.

So let us make it our goal to become familiar with what’s true and good.  And “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”  (20)

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Romans 16:1-16 — Working hard, tested, and approved

Here in this passage, we see Paul sending greetings to different people in Rome.  These were people who Paul really appreciated.  Some supported him financially, others worked side by side with him in ministry, others had spent time in prison with him for the sake of the gospel.

But two things really strike me here.  Time and again, he refers to those who worked hard in the Lord (all of them women).  And he talks about a man named Apelles, who was tested and approved in Christ.

I was just thinking how I’d like to have people say those things about me.  That I worked hard in the Lord.  That I was doing all the things that God asked of me.  And that through whatever circumstances and trials I might go through, that I have been found approved in Christ.

More than that, though, it’s my deepest desire that when I go to heaven, God would say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

For while the praise of man is wonderful, it is the praise of God that really counts.

How about you?  What would God and others say about you?

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