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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

 

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

 

 

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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)

 

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in I Corinthians, New Testament, Pauline epistles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 15:30-33 — Supporting those on the front lines

It is easy, sometimes, to forget that we are in a spiritual war.  But we are.

And many people are out on the front lines sharing the gospel.  Some are doing ministry at home.  Others are in foreign countries.  But whether at home or abroad, these people especially need our prayers.

Paul himself knew that.  If there was one person you would think could make it without others’ prayers, it would be him.  But he was particularly mindful of the fact that he couldn’t do it alone.  He wrote the Roman church saying,

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.  (30-31)

The word “struggle” really strikes me.  Sometimes we think of missionaries and other ministers as Christian supermen and superwomen.  But they’re not.  They’re human just like us.  They struggle just like we do, and they need our prayers.  So pray for them.

Pray for your pastors.  I talked yesterday about supporting them financially, but they also need your spiritual support.  Pray for them.

Pray for those you know are missionaries.  They need your prayers too.

Let us never forget those who are out there on the front lines.  All of us, hopefully, are doing God’s work wherever we are.  And whenever we do God’s work we become targets for Satan and his demons.  But those who are on the front lines are especially targets.  So let us not neglect praying for them.

More, let us send them our words of encouragement.  And as God gives us the finances to do so, let us support them in that way too.

It can be lonely out there on the front lines.  Let us remind those who are out there that they are not alone.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 15:23-29 — Sharing with those from whom we receive spiritual blessing

Money is always a touchy subject.  And talking about tithing always is within the church.  A lot of Christians argue that tithing is not a New Testament teaching, and I believe they’re right.  (There are others that do differ with me on this).

However, I do believe that the Bible is clear that we are to support those from whom we receive spiritual blessing.  I think we can see this principle in this passage, though the situation is not talking about tithing.

In this passage, Paul talks about how he was going to Jerusalem with a gift that the people from Macedonia and Achaia had given to support the poor in Jerusalem.

And Paul says a very interesting thing about it.  He says,

They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  (27)

Two things to note here.  They wanted to do it.  They had hearts that were willing to give.  But second, Paul said that in a sense, it was something they owed the Jews, because salvation came from the Jews.  (John 4:22).  That is, God chose to bring the Savior through the Jewish race.  The Jews, through people like Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, spread the good news of God’s salvation to the Gentiles, and as a result, many were saved.

So Paul says, “Since they have received these spiritual blessings through the Jews, they owed it to the Jews to share their material blessings with them.”

I believe the same is true with us and our pastors.  They have shared many spiritual blessings with us.  They dedicate their lives to us that we may know God better, and come into a closer relationship with him.  It is only right that we share our material blessings so that they can support themselves and their families.

But again, this needs to be something done, not simply from a heart pulled by obligation, but from a heart that is willing.  As Paul said in II Corinthians,

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (II Corinthians 9:7)

So if you’re not willing to give, don’t give.  But if you have a heart that is so in love with money that you are not willing to give to those that support you spiritually, then that’s an area that you’re going to need to grow in if you want to be like Jesus.

Jesus was a giver.  He gave up heaven for us.  He gave up his very life for us.

If we really love Jesus, shouldn’t we have that kind of heart as well?

How about you?  Are you a giver?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 15:14-22 — That people may see and understand

It is easy to look at people like the apostle Paul, and think that only people like him are called to be ministers.  It is true that he was given a special grace to take the gospel out to the Gentiles that they might see and understand the truth of the gospel.  It is because of him that people like us (non-Jews) are believers today.

But the truth is that all of us are called to be ministers.  We all have the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God so that those we touch might become acceptable offerings to him as the Spirit sanctifies them.  (16)

Some of you might think, “But I can’t do that.  I’m no minister.  I don’t have the power or ability to change lives.”

No you don’t.  But Jesus Christ does.  Paul himself gloried not in his accomplishments, as if it were by his power and wisdom that people came to Christ.  Rather, he said,

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.  (17)

And again,

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done. (18)

In short, it is Christ who changes people by the power of the Spirit (19).  But in his grace, God chooses to use us to accomplish this.

As has been said before, for some people, we are the only Bible people will ever read.  For some people, we will be the only people through whom they will ever see Jesus.

So let us fulfill our priestly duty that God has given us.  Let us share his gospel with them that,

Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.  (21)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Romans 15:1-7 — Accepting others where they are

If there is one thing I think we’d all like, whether we admit it or not, it’s the ability to change others.  To make others act in a way more palatable or acceptable to us.  Maybe it’s bad habits people have.  Maybe it’s a fault they have.

The truth is, though, we can’t change people.  We can try to bully people, make them feel guilty, or passively aggressively hint that they should change.

But Paul tells us here,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  (1)

As I’ve mentioned before, this is specifically in reference to those with tender consciences, those who who feel restricted by rules that are not required by God.

As I think of this passage today, however, I think of another application.  We may consider other people weak because of their bad habits, faults, etc, and ourselves as strong because we don’t have them.  More, we try to make them change, many times not for their own sake or for their own good, but for our own.  We’re trying to make others act in a way that pleases us.

But Paul is saying here, we should bear with the failings of those around us.  I like how the NASB puts it,

Now we who are strong ought to bear with the weaknesses of those without strength.

Many times as we deal with people, they simply don’t have the strength to change.  They may know they should change, but it’s a struggle.  And until God gives them that grace and strength, we shouldn’t pressure them, push them, or try to manipulate them.

Rather, as Paul says, we are to,

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (7)

How does Christ accept us?  He accepts us in our weakness.  I’m sure Christ knows every single fault and weakness that we have.  But he does not shove them all in our face and require us to change right here and right now.  But rather, he shows patience, love, and mercy.  And not only does he show us how to change, he gives us the power to change.

While we may have the ability to show people what needs to change and have ideas on how they can change, we cannot give them the power to change.  Only Christ can do that.

So let us show patience, love, and mercy to those around us, and leave the change in their lives to Christ.

And as we do, God will be glorified.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 15:4-13 — That we might have hope

Sometimes as we go through scripture, I think most of us wonder why God put all of the things he put in there.  For example, why did he put all the laws he gave the Jews in Exodus and Leviticus?  Or the stories of the awful things people did, stories of rape, murder, and so on.  Do we really need to read all this?

But Paul says something very interesting in verse 4.  He says,

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

In other words, God puts everything in his word for a purpose.  Through the law, for example, we see pictures of the God’s holiness, his justice, and his mercy.

Through the awful stories, we see the sinfulness of man, and just how bad things can get when people walk away from God and do things their own way.

But we also see the grace of God working through the worst of situations to bring out something good.

We see how through times of persecution, God delivered his people.  We see how even when God allowed his people to die in persecution, the peace he gave to them, even in facing death.

We see how through times of suffering, when God seemed far away, yet God was there all along and ultimately brought comfort to his people.

And because of all this, when we see evil in this world, when we go through suffering or persecution, we have hope to endure.  We find the encouragement to keep on going.  And as we do, we find the same God that was with his people thousands of years ago, working in their lives, is still alive today and working in us now.

So whatever you’re going through and where you are in life, let us immerse ourselves in the Scriptures.  Let us remember that God is not dead, but is alive and at work in us.  And as Paul prayed,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (13)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Romans 15:1-12 — Living as one

Paul sums up what he has been talking about in chapter 14 in this passage.  He starts by saying,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good to build him up.  (1-2)

Basically, the “weak” here are those with tender consciences which don’t allow them to do things that are actually okay, or on the other hand require them to do certain things that they don’t have to do.  We saw this in Romans 14.

The strong are those who don’t have those limitations or feelings of obligation.

But Paul says those who are strong should not condemn those who are weak.  Rather, they should look out for the good of those who are weak to build them up.

He then points to the example of Jesus, who though he was strong, put up with us who were weak.  He put up with a squabbling group of disciples who were selfish, self-seeking, proud, and in general a mess.  And he served them, even going so far as to wash their dirty feet (John 13).

More, he put up with people that hated him for no reason, who insulted him, and ultimately crucified him, and he interceded for them, praying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And then he died in their place, taking the punishment they deserved.

Now all of us, both Jew and Gentile, have reason for hope, because 2000 years ago, Jesus laid his life down for us.

So Paul tells us,

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (7).

And he prayed,

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (5)

God calls us to live as one.  And the key to that is not to focus on each other and our respective failings, but to focus on Jesus Christ, keeping our eyes on him, and following after him.  To the degree that we do focus on each other, it should be not to tear each other down, but to build each other up.

How it must tear at the heart of the Father to see his children biting and devouring each other.  Let us not be that way.  Let us live as Christ did, putting up with each other, loving and accepting each other, and serving one another.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 14 — Breaking conscience

There is one last thing that I should mention before leaving this chapter, and that’s the motivation of our hearts.  Why do we do the things we do?

Paul makes it crystal clear here what our attitude should be.  He said,

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  (6-9)

Paul’s reminding us here that we are not living merely for ourselves but for the Lord.  So when we regard one day as “holy to the Lord,” we do it not merely because of tradition, but because of our love for the Lord.  Whenever we eat or drink something, we do it not just to indulge ourselves, but we do it with a heart of thankfulness for God.

In short, whatever we do, we do it to the Lord.  Paul wrote in another passage,

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  (I Corinthians 10:31)

But if you are not doing things out of that kind of heart, that is sin.  Paul wrote concerning eating meat offered to idols,

But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.  (Romans 14:23)

Here, Paul is talking of a person who is bothered by the fact that the meat was offered to idols.  They can’t get out of their head that it was offered to something spiritually impure.  And because of that, if they were to eat it, it wouldn’t be out of a heart of thankfulness to God.  Rather it would be from a heart of, “I’m doing something wrong.  I’m doing something sinful.”  And if they were to eat from that kind of heart, it would become sinful to them.  Because it would come from a heart of, “I feel this is wrong but I will do it anyway.”  And God is never pleased with that kind of attitude.

My point is, we should never break conscience.  If our conscience tells us something is wrong, we should avoid it.  Even if we know other Christians think something like drinking is okay, if in our hearts it bothers us, don’t do it.  Even if we know other Christians sometimes watch R-rated movies, if it bothers us, don’t do it.

Everything we do should be done with a heart confident that we have God’s approval.

This is not to say that if we are confident that we definitely have God’s approval.  That’s why it’s important to read the Bible:  to be certain.  But where the Bible is silent or says the choice is up to us, let us live by our conscience, asking God to continually shape it and mold it so that we can live in a way that’s pleasing to him.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 14 — Dealing with each other in love.

In chapter 13, Paul said,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (13:8)

And again,

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (13:10)

In this chapter, we see a very important application of this verse.  We saw before that there were people who were bothered by their fellow Christians eating meat offered to idols.  It also seems that there were those who were bothered by those who drank wine.

We don’t see the former problem so much if at all in our society today, but we do see a lot of the latter:  Christians judging others over drinking.  Now the Bible is clear cut in saying “Don’t get drunk.”  But it doesn’t teach that we must completely abstain from alcohol.

Yet many Christians who drink alcohol condemn as legalistic those who don’t, and those who don’t drink alcohol often condemn as sinful those who do.

But again, Paul says, “Don’t judge others about these kinds of things.  Leave judgment up to God.  These are God’s servants, not yours.  They are accountable to him, not to you.”

And yet, Paul does say this.

If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.  (15).

So he said,

Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  (13)

And again,

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  (19-21)

In other words, as Christians, we shouldn’t just live for ourselves and think only of ourselves.  Rather, remember that you are accountable for God for your actions, and he calls you to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.  But if you do something that distresses them because they think it’s wrong, you’re not acting in love.  Worse, you could cause them to break conscience and fall into sin.  For as Paul wrote,

But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.  (23)

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, but the key point is that we should never cause someone to break their own conscience.

I heard a story once of some people at my church back in Hawaii.  Some of the guys were hanging out at someone’s house, and they all had a beer.  But unbeknownst to them, one of them was a recovering alcoholic.  And unfortunately, being with other brothers that were drinking, he started to drink too.  But unlike them, he didn’t stop until he got drunk.

Now it wasn’t their fault.  They didn’t know.  But it shows the problems that can happen if we abuse our freedom at the expense of our brothers and sisters.

So let us not be selfish in our thinking.  If our brother or sister is bothered by something that we do, then avoid doing that thing where they can see it.  Let us be sensitive to them and love them.  After all, Christ died for them too.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Romans 14 — Judging your brothers and sisters

If there is one problem within the church, it’s brothers and sisters judging each other.

Now I want to be clear, this has nothing to do with black or white issues.  Paul had no problems with judging others when it came to issues that were clear cut right or wrong.  You only have to look at I Corinthians 5 to see that.

But we’re talking about issues that the Bible either says nothing about or says is up to each individual Christian.  And here we see two of the latter.

Among the Christians in Paul’s day, there were arguments about eating meat and vegetables.  People who ate vegetables were condemning those who ate meat, perhaps because the meat had been offered to idols before being served as food at the dinner table.

Others argued about religious holidays, most probably the Jewish ones and whether Christians should continue to observe them or not.  The Sabbath was probably a particular issue they faced.

The key thing here is that Paul did not consider them black and white issues.  And Paul says here not to get into arguments over “disputable matters.”  (1)

These were issues that were purely matters of conscience.  Some Jews felt that they should continue to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.  And for them, to suddenly stop observing these special days seemed dishonoring to God.  The Gentiles, on the other hand, probably felt that it was a purely a Jewish tradition and had nothing to do with them.

Paul condemns neither.  He said,

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.  Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.  (5-6)

In other words, if you consider a day special because of your faith, then celebrate it.  God will honor that.  But if every day is alike to you, that’s fine too.

For those who felt bad about eating meat offered to idols, Paul said,

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. (14)

Paul was telling the Romans, “I personally feel that even if food has been offered to idols, it’s okay to eat it.  But if you feel bad about doing that, then by all means, don’t eat it.”

But then he said,

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  (3-4)

And again,

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  (10-13)

I really don’t think there’s much that needs to be added to this.  It’s about as clear as you can make it.  The main point is that God is our master.  He is the one we have to answer to.  So we have no business judging one another on things that are a matter of conscience.  So let us leave judgment to God.

When I was a teenager, I was working with other teens teaching Bible clubs to kids.  For the first two weeks, we went through a training camp.  But in between our classes, sometimes people played cards.  Now we weren’t gambling or anything, but there was one person there that was bothered by it.  She had always been taught it was wrong.

Now when one of the other teens heard this, he said, “That’s so stupid!”  He didn’t say it, but if he had been an adult, he probably would have said, “That’s so legalistic.”

But another guy said, “Hey, it’s how she feels.  Respect that.”  So we never touched cards again for the rest of camp.

We refused to judge her for her beliefs.  And she, though she did say our playing bothered her, didn’t condemn us for thinking it was okay to play cards.  The end result was that we kept harmony, and we were able to do great things for God that summer.

That’s what Paul is saying here.  We will not always agree.  But on issues where God says it’s up to us, or on issues where God says nothing at all, let us accept one another.  And if we do, we will make a difference in this world for Christ.

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 13:11-14 — Embracing the Day

When Jesus departed from this earth, and the disciples were left looking at the sky, an angel appeared to them saying,

Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

Luke tells us that hearing this they returned to Jerusalem with great joy worshiping continually in the temple (Luke 24:52-53), and they also waited for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2).  And when the Spirit came, they went out and turned this world upside down.

Now, years after this event, Paul brings all this back to mind, saying,

And do this (i.e., love each other), understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  (11-12)

In other words, knowing that the day of Jesus’ return is coming soon, we are to be awake, alert, and ready.  I love the ESV translation of verse 12.

The night is far gone; the day is at hand.

Paul’s saying, “The time when Satan ruled is long past.  The Day of Christ is at hand.”

He then takes the metaphors of night and day, and says,

So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  (12b)

In short, since the time of Satan’s rule has passed, and the time of Christ is at hand, let us put aside the deeds associated with that time of darkness, and instead put on the deeds associated with the light.  What are the deeds of darkness?  He tells us in verse 13,

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Most people, when they do evil, do it in secret, in darkness.  But Paul says here to step out into the light.  Act as you would when you know the whole world is watching.  More, act knowing that God is watching and sees all you do.

Note also that though Satan’s time has passed, though he has already lost because of the cross, nevertheless, he continues to fight.  So we are to be prepared for battle wearing the armor of light.  We are to have on the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the sword of the Spirit, and our feet fitted and prepared to take out the gospel.  (Ephesians 6:14-17)

Paul then concludes by saying,

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  (14)

We are to be people clothed Jesus Christ himself.  His power and his character should be resting upon us as we live each day.  And if we are clothed with him, then there is no room for feeding our sinful nature.

Again, I like the ESV which puts it,

Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  (14b)

So knowing that Christ is coming soon, let us be like the 12 disciples, living each day in joy, filled with the Spirit, and turning this world upside down for the sake of Christ.  Let us embrace the Day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Romans 13:8-10 — To fulfill the law

It has always seemed strange to me that Paul said,

For whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  (8b)

After all, isn’t loving God the other half of fulfilling the law?  Jesus did say after all that the two great commands are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Why then focus only on the latter?

I’m not sure, but I think perhaps the reason is that we cannot separate the former from the latter.  That if we truly love God, we must love our neighbor.  And if we don’t love our neighbor, we’re not truly loving God.

John says as much in his epistles.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  (I John 3:17)

And again,

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  (I John 4:20-21)

It’s very hard to argue with John.  How can we claim that we love a God whom we have never seen, while at the same time we hate the people around us that we can see?

How about you?  Do you claim to love God?  If so, how are you treating the people around you?  Are you loving them?  Or are you looking down on them?  Are you despising them?

If you’re doing the latter, it’s time to take a close look at how much you truly love God.

So as John wrote,

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  (I John 3:18)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 13:8-10 — A debt that can never be repaid

Paul’s use of words here are very interesting when you think about it.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.  (8)

What is a debt?  It’s something that you owe to someone else.  Paul is literally saying that we owe it to the people around us to love them.

Think about that a moment.  What would you say if someone were to say to you, “You have to love me.  You owe it to me.”

It’s hard to wrap your mind around it, at least it is for me.  Quite frankly, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably say, “Forget that.  I’m out of here.  I don’t owe you anything.”

Yet Paul says we do.  Why?

First, no matter who they are, they are people created in the image of God.  And for that reason alone, they are worthy of our love.

Second, God loves them.  And if God loves them, then we need to see them the same way.  As people deserving of our love.

But so often, we devalue people.  We see them as unlovable.  Why?

Sometimes it’s because they’re “different.”  Sometimes it’s because of the things they do.  And too often, it’s so hard to see beyond that.

But we need to remember that as people created and loved by God, they are worthy of our love.  To withhold that love from them is to tell God, “You made junk.  You are wrong to love that person.”

I think, though, there is another reason we owe love to others.  It’s because God loves us and gave his Son for us.  Jesus paid a terrible price on the cross to save us from our sin.  And it’s a debt we can never repay.  But since we have received a love and grace that we didn’t deserve, we owe it to God to pass on what we have received from him to the people around us, even if in our eyes, they don’t deserve it.  Jesus put it this way,

Freely you have received; freely give.  (Matthew 10:8)

How about you?  Are you passing the love you have received from God freely with those around you?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 13:1-7 — Doing what’s right…no matter who’s in charge

In this passage, Paul talks about the Christian’s relationship to government.  And the basic principle that Paul gives is that we are to submit to those in authority.

Why?  First and foremost, because ultimately, God is the one that put them there.  And so if you rebel against those God has put in authority, you are actually rebelling against God.

Second, God has instituted the idea of authority for the benefit of society.  Without authority, there would be total anarchy, and all of us would be living in fear.  So Paul says,

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. (4)

For the most part, because of authority figures in society, we have peace and stability.  And Paul tells us that as long as we do what’s right, we shouldn’t have any problems.

I think of Obadiah (not the prophet)  in I Kings 18.  He served in the palace of one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, King Ahab.  But he did such an exemplary job that Ahab put him in charge of running the day to day operations of the palace.  Yet, all the while, Obadiah feared God and did what was right.

Which brings up another point.  Sometimes what is right is contrary to what those in authority has ordered or wants.  What do we do in those situation?  Do what’s right.

So when Ahab’s wife Jezebel ordered that all the prophets of God be killed, Obadiah secretly sheltered 100 prophets from the king and queen, saving the prophets’ lives.

Daniel and his friends did the same, as seen in Daniel 1-3.  When they were ordered to do something contrary to the Word of God, they did what was right and followed God’s instructions instead.  So did Peter and the rest of the apostles when threatened by the Sanhedrin to be silent concerning Christ (Acts 4-5).

And in each case, God blessed and protected them.  Why?  Because they did what was right.  And in some cases, they even won the favor of those that initially were against them.

Paul says,

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  (3)

This is particularly true of the ultimate authority:  God.  If we do what’s right, we have nothing to fear from him.  Rather, we will be commended by him.  So if the desires of those in authority are against what God wishes, then we are to follow our ultimate Authority.

But even when we have to go against the wishes of those in authority here on earth, we are to respect them.

Paul says,

Give to everyone what you owe them…if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  (7)

That was the example of Obadiah, of Daniel and his friends, and the apostles.  And that’s how we are to act too.

Peter sums this all up by saying,

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (I Peter 3:13-16)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 12:14, 17-21 — When people hate us

One thing that the early Christians had to face, and Christians have to face to this day is hatred and persecution.

And Paul told the church how to handle it.  He said,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  (14)

Those words echo what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount.

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus himself, lived out those words.  When he was on the cross, facing those who put him there, he prayed,

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)

We are to do the same.  When we let bitterness consume us, it destroys us.  So Paul says, “Let go of bitterness and resentment to those who hurt you.  Instead, pray for them.”

He goes even further in verse 16, saying,

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Rather,

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

The wording is perhaps not the best here.  Paul is not saying, “Follow the moral standards of the people around you.”  He’s saying, “In the eyes of the people around you, whether they persecute you or not, do what is right.”

And that of course means not giving into bitterness or anger and taking revenge.

He then says,

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (18)

Sometimes this means simply agreeing to disagree agreeably.  Sometimes this means we need to apologize to someone even if we feel they shouldn’t have been hurt by something we did.  Sometimes it means finding a middle ground in which you don’t have to compromise the Word of God.  I have friends here in Japan, for example, that refuse to go to any Buddhist funeral or memorial ceremony, but they will go out of their way to serve their family or friends after the ceremonies in any way they can.

Finally, Paul tells us,

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  (19-20)

In short, remember justice belongs to God, not you.  God will bring all people to account for what they’ve done.  So don’t give in the desire to “fight fire with fire.”  And again, don’t hold on to bitterness.  It will only eat you up.  Rather, follow the example of Jesus and show his love to them.

Who knows?  Through your actions, they may actually come to Christ.  I wonder how much Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:60) for those who were killing him ate at Paul before Paul himself finally came to Christ.

So as Paul concludes,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (21)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 12:9-16 — Living as a Christian…with the rest of the body

It would be easy to look at this passage and just think that these are things we are to do as individual Christians.

But it’s important to note that Paul is saying all this within the context of the body of Christ.  He says first of all,

Love must be sincere. (9)

I love how the NLT puts it.

 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

It can be so easy, for example, to pretend as if we’re listening to someone talking, when all the while, our brain is a million miles away.  But don’t just pretend to take an interest in others, really take an interest in them.

He then tells us as a church,

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

As a church, we need to hate and fight against the evil that we see in this world, while clinging to what is good and right.  But that needs to start with what’s inside the church.

When we see bitterness and unforgiveness in the church, do we fight against that, instead embracing forgiveness?  When we see divisions and factions, do we fight to resolve them and instead embrace unity?  When we see pride and prejudices within the church, do we banish them from our midst, and embrace acceptance and love (verses 10 and 16)?  When we see blatant, willful sin, do we deal with it in godly discipline (I Corinthians 5)?  And when we see a person fall, do we gently work to restore them (Galatians 6:1)?

Paul goes on to say,

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  (12)

When we go through trials, are we supporting one another, giving each other hope, encouraging each other to stand throughout our trials, and praying for each other.  Do we,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (15)

We talked about earlier how it’s important to minister to those within the church, not just without.  Paul brings this up as well, saying,

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (13)

That’s what our Christian lives should look like.  Does yours?

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 12:3-16 — But don’t we need to go out?

I suppose I should address an objection that people might make concerning my last blog:  I said that one reason Christian fellowship is necessary is that we need each other.  We all have a role to play in the body of Christ, and that we have a responsibility to use our gifts to minister to each other.

Some might object, “But shouldn’t we be using our gifts to bless the world, not just the church?”

Yes we should.  But remember that many of the gifts we are given are meant first and foremost for the church.  Paul in Ephesians, for example says,

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.  (Ephesians 4:11).  

Why did Christ do this?

To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Think about evangelists for a moment.  If there is one gifting that is used to be outside of the church, it’s that one.  But Paul specifically tells us that one of the main purposes of the evangelist is to prepare God’s people for works of service.  As well as preaching the gospel, evangelists help encourage other believers to share their faith too.  They show other believers how it is possible to make a difference in the lives of their unbelieving friends.

And as each of these people Paul lists use their gifts, we all grow up in unity in the faith and become mature.

“Okay, Bruce,” you may say, “but my gifting is not from that list.”

It doesn’t matter.  Paul goes on to say,

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (4:15-16)

Again, we see that everyone in the church, every supporting ligament, every part, needs to do its work that we may all build each other up and become mature.

That’s why Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:10,

As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

So yes, using our gifts to touch the world is vital.  But we also need to use them within the church.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples:

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (John 13:34-35)

Notice that the way that people will know we are Christ’s disciples is by the way we treat each other.  And if we are loving and serving one another, people will see a difference in the followers of Christ, and that’s what will attract them to Him.

But if we are fighting amongst ourselves, living selfishly, and with an attitude of pride, they’ll rightfully ask, “So what’s the difference?  Christians are just like us.”

How about you?  Are you loving God’s people?  Or are you avoiding them?  Are you serving God’s people?  Or are you withholding the gifts God has given you from them?

 

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romans 12:3-16 — What destroys fellowship

It is so easy to think of the Christian life as an individual thing.  I suppose with the individualistic mindset of Western countries, this is particularly true.  But the Christian life is not meant to be lived alone.  We are meant to be in fellowship with other believers.

Yet there are many Christians who no longer attend church.  Why?  There are many reasons, but through Paul’s words, we can find one common reason.  Paul wrote,

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (3)

And again,

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (16)

If there is one thing that will destroy Christian fellowship, it’s pride.

It’s a pride that says, “I don’t need other Christians.  I’m fine by myself.”

It’s a pride that says, “These other Christians are at a much lower spiritual plane than I am.  What can I possibly get from hanging around them?”

It’s a pride that says, “I’m at a different social status than these others.  What do I have in common with them?”

It’s a pride that says, “This person has hurt me and that person has hurt me.  I’m not going to go back to church until they apologize.”

But Paul reminds us,

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (4-5)

Here we see an important truth:  All Christians are part of the body of Christ.  And we don’t merely belong to ourselves anymore.  We belong to Christ, first and foremost.  But we also belong to each other.

Why?

Because all of us bring something different to the body of Christ.  We all have different functions within his body.  And the whole body depends on us to fulfill that function.

So Paul says,

If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.  (6-8)

You may think that you don’t need others.  But even if that were true, others need you.  And God gave you the gifts you have to bless others.  Remember that in serving others, we serve God.  That’s why Paul admonishes us,

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (11)

But if we out of our pride withhold what God has given us from the church, God will hold us accountable.

Always remember:  we belong to the others in the church.  And they belong to us.  We need each other.

So let us get rid of the pride that would separate us from our brothers and sisters.  Instead,

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  (10)

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Romans 12:2 — To know the mind of God

I like how some translations put the first part of Romans 12:2.

Do not be conformed to this age.  (HCSB)

So often we talk about “the age we live in,” and how things have changed.  And things have certainly changed.  When I first moved to Japan back in 1995, email was still a “new thing,” as was the internet.  So back in those days, I used air letters, and if I needed to make quicker contact, the telephone.  Land lines, that is.

Now, of course, we have cell phones, email and Skype, not to mention social media.

But as well as changes in technology, we have changes in the way people think, particularly about morals.  Things that were once considered “sinful,” are now considered normal.  I wonder how many people remember what a couple “living in sin,” means.

More, we are now living in the age of “tolerance.”  Now don’t get me wrong.  Tolerance in itself is a good thing.  Tolerance basically means that even if you don’t agree with someone, you can still deal with them on a day to day basis in a way that’s civil, and hopefully even friendly.

But in this age, tolerance means, “All beliefs are equally legitimate.  And if you disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong or you’re wrong.  You’re both right.  So don’t you dare even think that the other person could possibly be wrong.  If you do, you’re being ‘intolerant.'”

Of course, this all goes out the window when these same people consider what Christians believe.  At that point, “tolerance” becomes, “You’re wrong.  You have to change the way you think.”

But if we truly want to know the mind of God, we cannot conform ourselves to the way this age thinks.  Because while the way people think changes over time, God never changes.

There are multiple pressures to conform.  They can come from society; they can come from family; they can come from friends.  And these pressures are everywhere.

I can particularly see it in Japan, with its emphasis on “wa”, which means “group harmony.”  One of the true few “sins” in Japanese society is the breaking of this “wa,” and it can get you ostracized in a hurry.

This is not to say that group harmony is itself a bad thing.  Paul himself writes,

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:18)

But there are times when the way you’re being pressed is contrary to the Word of God.  And we cannot let ourselves be conformed to this age.  Because ultimately, the patterns of this age will destroy us.  If we let ourselves go along with those patterns, we will end up hurting God, others, and ourselves.

So let us not be conformed to the patterns of this age.  Rather, as Paul puts it,

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  (Romans 12:2b)

How our minds transformed?  Through the Word of God.  By reading it, meditating on it, and by the power of the Spirit, living it.  And as we do so, we find life.  Because not only are our minds transformed, but our whole lives are transformed.  We find the way God meant for us to live from the beginning.  We find a marriage that works, relationships that work, peace in the midst of troubling circumstances, and joy within the darkest valleys.  In short, we find the will of God in our lives.  And we find that that will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

How about you?  Is your mind being conformed to the pattern of this age?  Or is your mind being transformed?

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Romans 12:1 — A living sacrifice

This is perhaps one of the more famous passages in scripture.  Paul writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

It’s always good to look back at what was said previously whenever you see the word “therefore.”  And as we saw, Paul had just written,

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.  (Romans 11:36)

Think about that phrase “all things” for a minute.  Among those “things” are us.  We were created from his mind and by his plan.  We were created through his power.  And we were created for him, and ultimately we will return to him, held accountable for how we lived our lives.

So many people scream, “It’s my life.  It’s my right to live however I want to.”

That’s only half true.  God has indeed given us free will.  So in that sense, we have the right to live as we please.  But it is not really our life.  We were created by God, by his power, and for him.

And it is with that in mind, Paul says that we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him.  He also calls it our spiritual service of worship to God.  The King James version puts it, “your reasonable service.”

In other words, it only makes sense that since we were created by God and for him, that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices.

What does that mean though?  Does that mean we are to die for him?  While some may be called to become martyrs for Christ, Paul doesn’t mean this.  He says we are to be “living” sacrifices.

I like to use the analogy of marriage when thinking of a living sacrifice.

In a marriage, the husband and wife offer themselves to each other.  And while I’m sure, for example, my wife would be happy to know that I am willing to die for her, she would much prefer that I live for her.  That I would set apart myself for her, and give myself to no other woman.  More, she would like to know that I love her so much that I want to please her, and find joy in pleasing her.  I, of course, desire the same thing from my wife.  And when husbands and wives live as living sacrifices toward each other, marriage works well.

In the same way, while God is happy to know that we’re willing to die for him, he would much rather that we live for him.  That each day, we would set apart ourselves (be holy) for him.  And he wants us to love him so much, that we delight in pleasing him.

Why would we do these things?  Because of his mercies toward us.  He himself became a man and laid down his life for us as a sacrifice.   While we were yet sinners, our backs set against him, and going our own way, Christ loved us enough to die for us that we might be reconciled to him.

And now that we know the love of God in our lives, it’s only natural that we respond with that same kind of love and offer ourselves to him, living lives that are pleasing to him.

That’s a living sacrifice.  How about you?  Are you a living sacrifice?

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged | Leave a comment

Romans 11:33-36 — A God who is beyond us

One of the things that amazes me is the people who think that if they were to argue with God, they could win.

More than a few atheists, when posed with the question, “If God exists, what would you say when you stood before him in heaven,” respond by saying they could argue why they didn’t believe in God while they were on earth.  And they seem to think they could reasonable argue their position before God.

But in this passage, Paul shows the utter foolishness and futility of that way of thinking.  In chapters 10 and 11, he talks about how God used the disobedience of the Jews to bring the Gentiles to salvation, and how the result of the Gentiles coming to Christ will be the salvation of the Jews.  In short,

Just as you (Gentiles) who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their (the Jews’) disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.  (30-32)

It’s here that you see a glimpse of how God’s foreknowledge works with predestination.  He knew how the Jews would react to Jesus, and he thus made plans to bring Gentiles into his kingdom.  But he also knew that if he did that, the Jews would then feel a longing for God, and thus turn to Jesus and be saved as well.

In short, God knows what his endgame is on the chessboard of the universe, and he knows how to achieve it.  Taking into account our free will and all our possible choices, he knows how to respond to each of our choices so that his will can be ultimately done.  People thus retain their free will and he maintains his.

As he contemplated this, Paul was simply overwhelmed, singing,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”  (34)

In other words, no one can match the wisdom and knowledge of God. It’s hard to match all wisdom and all knowledge, after all.  And because he knows all things and we don’t, it’s impossible for us to understand all his decisions unless he reveals it to us.  And even if he does reveal it, we’re still limited as to how much we can truly understand.

So when people argue, for example, about how a good God could allow evil in the world, they do so from ignorance.  They don’t have all the information that God has, and so all their arguments against him essentially amount to nothing.

Yet people argue as if they do know everything.  As if their arguments are unanswerable.  And so they boast that they could debate against God and win.  But when they stand before him, he will lay out on the table all the motivations of their heart, all that they knew or should have known had they taken the time to find out, he will lay out all the facts as they are, not as we perceived them in our pride, and ultimately, every mouth will be silenced and every person held accountable.  (Romans 3:19).

There is nothing that we can bring to the table that will stun God and make him say, “I never knew that.”

Nor will there be anything that we can point to in our lives to say, “Look at what I did.  I deserve heaven.”

For as Paul concludes,

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things.

Everything we have is from him.  All things came through him.  And all things will return to him.  That includes us.   

So we have two choices.  We can give glory to him, as Paul did, saying,

To him be the glory forever! Amen. (36b)

Or we can continue to rebel against him until the day come when we are silent before him.

How about you?  What will you choose?

 

Posted in New Testament, Pauline epistles, Romans | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment