Sunday December 1st
1 Corinthians 7
I heard a story about a little girl who went up to her dad, who was out working in the yard raking leaves. She stood right in front of him, looked up, and asked him, “Daddy, what is sex?”
The father was kind of flustered that she would ask him that question, and he was thinking of chickening out by telling her to go ask her mother, but he decided that since she had asked him the question, then he was going to do his best to give her a straight answer. So he proceeded to tell her, as best as he could, all about the details of what we call “the birds and the bees.”
When he had finished explaining everything, the little girl just kept standing there staring at him with a strange look on her face.
Finally, her father asked her, “What made you decide to ask me that question now?”
The little girl replied, “Oh yeah, I forgot. Mom told me to tell you that dinner would be ready in a couple of secs.”
There is a rather shocking truth to share with you today.
1st Corinthians chapter 7 talks about sex!
But that’s not actually the most shocking part.
1st Corinthians chapter 7 also tells us that some parts of God’s word might not be God’s words!
Let me repeat that: Some parts of God’s word might not be God’s words!
That really isn’t as shocking as it first sounds. If you think about it, we have a record of many different people’s “words” contained within Gods Word.
We have the words of Pharaoh, the words of Judas, the words of demon-possessed people, even the words of Satan written down as a part of our Bible. Those recorded words are a part of God’s Word, but that doesn’t mean that those people were speaking God’s WORDS!
Do you see what I mean?
And here, in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, we have some of Paul’s words incorporated within the context of God’s Word.
In order to make sense of this, we are actually going to approach this chapter backwards, starting with the last verse and finishing up at the beginning of the chapter. I think you’ll see why as we go along.
So in the final verse of this chapter, verse 40, the Apostle Paul says this:
“But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”
Paul is referring here to a statement that he just made in the previous verse, verse 39:
“A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”
Paul has a lot to say in this chapter about marriage, and about divorce, and about sex, but I want to go back to verse 40 to emphasize these words that Paul writes:
“But in my opinion…and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”
Wait a minute, Paul! Aren’t you the one who told us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”?!
Now you’re telling us that you “think that you have the spirit of God” to back up what you’re sharing as your “opinion”!
Do you see the significance of that?
And this chapter is full of similar statements.
Continuing with our backwards journey, we see this in verse 25:
“Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.”
This is followed by verse 26, which Paul has just identified as his own opinion:
“I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”
Continuing back further, look at verse 12:
“But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.”
Paul is clearly stating that this is from him, not the Lord.
Compare this to what he said just a few verse earlier in verse 10:
“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.”
Do you see the difference? Verse 10 is not Paul’s opinion, but the Lord’s command. Verse 12 is not the Lord’s command, it is simply Paul’s opinion.
We see one more example of this distinction in verse 6:
“But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”
Everything that Paul has just instructed in the first five verses is summed up as a “concession, not a command.”
This is a very important distinction, because as people who love God’s word and want to be obedient to His commands, we have to be able to distinguish between commands and concessions. Another way of putting it might be the difference between commandments and suggestions. That’s an important distinction, wouldn’t you agree? And we HAVE TO learn how to tell the difference between those two things.
Otherwise we will end up putting ourselves and others under needless legalistic bondage!
Do you understand what I’m saying?
Okay, so now let’s go to verse 1 to acknowledge something else that is significant about this chapter and the chapters that follow:
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
At this point in his letter, Paul is going to start responding to things that the Corinthians had asked him about in a letter that they had written to Paul.
This process of answering their questions will continue for several more chapters.
In this chapter, Paul seems to focus on questions regarding sex, marriage, divorce, and one’s status in life.
So let’s run through those topics in reverse order, starting with verse 17:
17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. 18 Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
Here Paul seems to be emphasizing that each of us can serve God just the way we are. We don’t have to become like everyone else. Maybe that’s why Billy Graham used the song “Just As I Am” for his altar calls. In using circumcision as an example, Paul is basically reminding us that both Jewish and Gentile believers are welcome to follow Christ. Gentiles don’t need to become Jewish in order to be Christians. They don’t have to follow Jewish laws and customs, or observe Jewish holidays. God accepts people from all different backgrounds. But the next example that Paul uses is even more surprising:
21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
Think about the immensity of that statement. Paul is saying that you’re certainly allowed to seek your freedom if you are a slave, but even if you have to end up staying a slave you can still follow Jesus, because we are all called to become servants or slaves of God!
And the final thoughts that Paul shares in this area, of not focusing on changing your situation, are about whether people who are single should stay single or get married:
25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
Notice that the main thing Paul is emphasizing is that time is short. We are only on this earth for a short while. Whether we’re single or married, it’s all just a blink of an eye before this earthly life is over. So if you’re married, be content in your marriage. If you’re single, be content in your singleness. It’s perfectly okay to get married if you choose to, but maybe it’s just as well not to in Paul’s opinion. And then Paul gives his reasons why in this next section:
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
Again, keep in mind that Paul is clearly identifying that those words are just his opinions and suggestions, not commandments from God. In the next few verses, Paul addresses fathers who may have daughters of marrying age, because in that culture, the father’s permission was required in order for his daughter to be able to get married:
36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.
So, keeping in mind that this is simply Paul’s opinion, it might be somewhat better if a man asks his unmarried daughter to remain single, but it’s also acceptable if a dad allows his daughter to get married.
And this brings us back to the top of the chapter, where Paul first addresses the pros and cons of marriage, and then addresses issues related to divorce:
2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
So, despite Paul’s belief that single people have certain advantages when it comes to being able to focus completely on their relationship with God, he recognizes that most people will chose to get married, and he sees that as surely better than living in immorality.
And Paul offers some really good advice about the importance of a healthy physical relationship between husbands and wives. He uses terms like “you must” and “stop depriving one another”, which sounds like he’s giving commands. But in the end he acknowledges that these are only concessions or suggestions, not commands.
Is Paul giving good advice? Absolutely! Intimacy is a wonderful gift to be shared by married couples. It’s of benefit to both partners physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But, are couples breaking God’s commandments if they aren’t “fulfilling their duty” in this area? Absolutely not!
There can be all sorts of reasons why individual couples might not be able to follow Paul’s advice in this realm.
Maybe they are dealing with medical issues. Maybe one of them is deployed in military service. Maybe one of them travels a lot for work. Are these things sins? Absolutely not!
Do you see why it’s important to know how to properly discern God’s Word?
People who don’t know the difference between a command and a concession can end up putting themselves, or their spouse, or other couples under condemnation for no legitimate reason at all.
Paul himself recognizes this, and spells out the distinction between what he “wishes” and the reality of our human condition:
7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
In a perfect world, in Paul’s way of thinking, more people would follow his chosen path, staying unmarried and focusing solely on the Lord.
(Keep in mind that this is Paul’s wish, not God’s wish. After all, God is the one who created marriage.) But Paul is also very aware that most people are not built that way, and so he concedes that marriage is certainly better than an ongoing battle with passion.
We could say that Paul is a realist about marriage, and the same can be said when it comes to divorce, which Paul addresses next:
10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
These two verses are clearly under the category of instructions “from the Lord”, not just from Paul. We know that God intends marriages to last “till death do us part”. He wants them to be a reflection of Christ’s love for the church, which has no end. It is an eternal love. And yet, many marriages end up not working out the way that the couples had hoped. So Paul adds this advice of his own:
12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
Paul’s final piece of advice on divorce is to try to hang in there with an unbelieving spouse, hoping that your godly influence might lead them to salvation. Paul also says that if they want to leave, you’re fine if you let them go. He says that we are “not under bondage in such cases”.
And I think that’s ultimately what we need to grasp from this chapter. God has no desire for us to live “under bondage”. Paul writes in Galatians 5:1 that “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.”
The purpose of the gospel was to set us free from bondage and fear. 1 John 4:18 reminds us that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
Let’s choose to live today in the knowledge of God’s perfect love, and not to allow fear to rob us of freedom.
How Dare You? (Issues Series)
1 Corinthians 6
Sunday November 10th
1 Corinthians 5
I’ve heard it said that “singing in the shower is all fun and games until you end up getting some shampoo in your mouth – then it turns into a soap opera!”
There are some people here who know a little secret about me – I watch General Hospital. It’s only on Wednesdays when I stop by to visit my parents before returning to church for the Wednesday night service, but I’m able to keep up on the story for two reasons:
Now I know that soap operas can sometimes have pretty steamy story lines, but those are nothing compared to what Paul had to address in 1st Corinthians 5 verse 1:
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”
How’s that for an exciting plot? So what was really going on here? There are several possibilities according to Bible commentators:
One possibility is that this man’s father may have died, and then the son married the woman who would have been his stepmother. The other possibility is that the father is still alive and the son is having an affair with his stepmother behind his father’s back, or even openly. In any case, this type of inter-family relationship is explicitly condemned in Leviticus 18:8. And although the culture of that day tolerated a wide range of immoral activities, Paul points out that even the pagan gentiles were embarrassed by this kind of behavior.
Paul also isn’t very happy about how the Corinthian church had been dealing with their soap opera:
2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
This verse is the key to Paul’s real concern. The fundamental problem here wasn’t just the sexual sin of one messed-up individual, it was the failure of the Corinthian church to deal with the sin—in fact, Paul was disturbed because they had a sense of pride about how they were accepting and tolerating it.
That’s a big issue in our culture today, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be very tolerant and accepting of whatever anyone else chooses to do. If you express an opinion about someone else’s behavior possibly being sinful or ungodly, you are immediately labeled as “intolerant”.
But Paul is clearly NOT going to tolerate this behavior in this church that he established, even though he’s now far away from Corinth on his missionary journey. He says:
3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul is physically absent from the Corinthian community, but he tells them that he was there with them in the Spirit during their service, and that he actually passed a prophetic judgment in their midst. His judgment is that the church should forbid this offender from attending their fellowship. Just kick him out! In fact Paul goes so far as to say that he is willing to “deliver this man to Satan”!
Of course that all sounds very harsh, but we have to understand that Paul’s stated purpose in his judgment is the man’s salvation. He believes that the man’s restoration can only be achieved if he is made to repent and his sinful tendencies are overcome. Paul refers to that process as “the destruction of the flesh”.
Then he returns to his concerns about these church members boasting about how “tolerant” they are:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?
Paul compares the Corinthian’s tolerance of sin to leaven, or yeast. Leaven was often used in the Bible as a metaphor for a spreading sinful and corrupting influence.
That’s why, during the annual Feast of Passover the Israelites had to remove all leaven from their houses.
We see this in Exodus 12:15 for example:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
Do you see that idea of being “cut off” from fellowship?
Paul seems to be making a direct reference to that practice when he says this to the Corinthians:
7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
If the cleansing out of leaven was important in the Old Testament, Paul says it’s even more important with Jesus as our Passover lamb. Because He was sinless, we should strive to walk in holiness as well, in order to honor Him.
The next part of Paul’s explanation regarding the issue of dealing with sin might actually surprise you:
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
The first thing that I want you to notice here is that Paul makes reference in verse 11 to the fact that “actually, I wrote to you” about this already.
This means that, prior to writing the letter which we call 1st Corinthians, Paul had already sent another letter instructing these same Corinthians about this same issue!
In other words, he had previously told them to separate themselves from believers who practiced immorality.
And that’s a key distinction that Paul is emphasizing here. He’s saying that he never meant for them to stay away from “the immoral people of this world”.
Otherwise, how would they be able to evangelize?
Paul certainly understood that there was no real value in staying away from unbelievers who sin, because ALL unbelievers sin!
The issue that Paul is dealing with here is staying away from BELIEVERS who sin, so that by draw a line of dis-fellowship it will cause them to get their lives back on the right track.
Paul actually seems a bit frustrated that these Corinthian believers didn’t get the point of his original teaching. At least that’s what it would seem like from how they were treating the sin situation right under their noses!
Possibly the Corinthians had misunderstood Paul, and thought that he was commanding them to maintain separation from the sinners in the world. So he explains again that what he had in mind was separating from anyone who claimed to be a Christian but whose life and actions clearly contradicted the teachings of the faith.
Now, my bible commentary says that this injunction to expel or shun offending church members (going so far as to say “not even to eat with such a one”) is primarily referring to life within the church and probably does not mean that all personal contact of any kind was to be avoided.
(In others words you didn’t have to avoid them at the supermarket)
That view especially makes sense when we compare this situation to what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Do you see the balance there? Don’t associate with disobedient brothers and sisters, but remember that they ARE still your brothers and sisters!
In verse 13 of today’s chapter Paul quotes the command found in Deuteronomy 17:7 which says to purge or expel the wicked from Israel. “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
In doing that, Paul is drawing an important parallel between the Old Testament Jewish community and the New Testament Christian church. This is something that he will emphasize again when we get to chapter 10.
The bottom line is that these verses tell us that the church has the authority to exercise discipline within its own fellowship, but it does not have the authority to regulate the behavior of non-Christians. Sinners gonna sin! But believers gonna stop sinning!
So how did this apply to them back then, and how does it apply to us now?
Well, for starters, we can confidently conclude from 2 Corinthians 2:3–11, that the Corinthian church finally did obey Paul’s instruction, and that this man did repent of his outrageous sin.
Let’s look at that account:
3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
Paul is making reference here to the fact that he knew that his rebuke would make them sorrowful, but that their sorrow wasn’t his ultimate goal. His true goal was to show love to them by bringing correction to a situation that clearly needed to be addressed. And what was the response to that loving rebuke? Look at verse 5-8:
5 But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. 6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority,7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
Paul says that true source of everyone’s sorrow wasn’t him, it was the man who was sinning. That man’s sin caused pain to the entire church community. Paul then refers to the “punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”
This means that the majority of people in the church had obeyed Paul’s instructions and cut this brother off from fellowship. Paul also says that this “punishment” was “sufficient”, meaning that it accomplished its purpose by causing the man to repent.
Now that the man has repented, Paul says, forgive him, comfort him, and reaffirm your love for him, because we don’t want “excessive sorrow” to overwhelm him.
Sometimes it’s important to know when enough is enough.
Once a person has repented, they are clean in God’s eyes, and we need to see then as cleansed and renewed also, rather than continuing to remind them of their sin.
And Paul adds a few more verses to explain why this is so important:
9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
In verse 9, Paul tells the Corinthians that his original instructions – to cut the man off from fellowship – were sort of a “test” to see how obedient they would be. Since they were obedient, and now that the goal of the man’s restoration has been accomplished, Paul says that he has no reason to harbor any un-forgiveness towards this person.
And the most important point that Paul is making, for the Corinthians and for us, is that holding on to un-forgiveness plays right into the hands of the enemy.
Paul says, “We are not ignorant of his schemes”.
We know how Satan works. We know that he is the accuser of the brethren. So why should we allow him to use us as his co-accusers?
I think that’s the most crucial lesson that we have to learn today about this “issue”.
As Pastor Josh pointed out last week, we aren’t supposed to be in the business of running around judging each other, and yet there are clearly going to be times when we need to hold each other accountable. That’s what families do for each other.
There are times when we need to say, “Hey brother, I’m concerned about some of the choices that I see you making.”
“Your behavior doesn’t match up with the standards of a Christ-follower.”
There may even be times when we have to say, “I’m not sure that I can hang out with you if you’re going to keep choosing that ungodly lifestyle.”
But that’s never the ultimate goal. It’s simply a step towards the goal.
Because the ultimate goal is always to see that brother or sister restored to a proper relationship with God, both in their heart and in their behavior. And once they have started to turn their heart back towards God, we should be running out to meet them like the Prodigal Son’s father!
The only one who wants to keep reminding them of their sin, and putting them through guilt and shame, is Satan.
And we certainly don’t need to be helping him to carry out his schemes of condemnation.
The devil is always working to keep people separated from God and from each other. God is always working towards reconciliation.
Look at these verse from 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Let’s choose to make that our heart today towards any brother or sister that is struggling in their walk. If we need to bring correction, let’s do it gently, in a spirit of humility, knowing that we’ve all stumbled and fallen short at times.
Remember Jesus’ instruction that we should begin by removing any log from our own eye before we start pointing out specks in other people’s eyes.
And consider Paul’s wise words from Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Always keep in mind that the ministry that we’ve been given is one of reconciliation – helping people to get back to a right relationship with God and with the family of God. The Corinthians did it, and so can we.
The theme over the first four chapters of Corinthians is, " Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought." Everything we now are, all the wisdom we now have belongs to Christ. We own nothing as it says in 1 Cor. 4:1, we are mere managers of God's mysteries.
Have you ever went to a business where the manager acted as the owner? If there is a big problem, the manager only has so much authority; you are going to want to speak with the owner to resolve the matter. Christ is the head we better not supersede our authority as spiritual leaders, or we will be humbled for thinking we are more superior than we indeed are.
As managers, the one who evaluates is the Lord; we need to trust leaders in God's hands rather than judging them trying to determine their real intent, only the Holy Spirit can do that. We must receive from Christ through each other and not put a man on a pedestal.
When leaders forget who is really in charge, their pride will lead to their downfall, for in the Kingdom of God it is the humble who are exalted. Those who are in Christ realize that they are the fools of this world, the dishonored, the persecuted, what has been discarded as garbage. Yet they endure it graciously, as servants of the Lord.
Unlike the world who can talk a good game, we can back it up; we got the power of God. Our life is living proof that Jesus Christ is resurrected and is continuing His works in and through us.
So, Paul tells the Corinthian church as their spiritual Father, "What do you want? Should I come to you with a rod, or in love with a spirit of gentleness? Wow! What a statement! We must be honest with those we love and be willing to discipline when they refuse to take heed to our warnings. Those who are soft are those who don't really care. If we truly love someone we will be truthful even if it hurts.
Sunday October 27th
1 Corinthians 3
I wanted to share with you this morning my 3 favorite quotes about immaturity:
If I had a dollar for every time someone called me immature…I’d buy so many hot-wheels!
My wife told me I was immature and needed to grow up. Guess who's not allowed in my tree house anymore.
My girlfriend left me because she thinks I'm immature. Now it’s Christmas day and I’m crying my eyes out. Because I just found out that Santa isn’t real.
God’s plan for His children is that we would grow up, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually as well!
Here in chapter three, Paul addresses a problem plaguing the young Corinthian church—spiritual immaturity.
There’s an old saying that goes: "You are only young once, but you can be immature forever." Sadly, the Christians in Corinth had a lot of growing up to do.
Paul opens the third chapter in this letter with these words:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.”
The reality is—physically or spiritually, we all start off as babies. Growth takes time. When Paul first planted this church in Corinth, it was only natural that these brand new believers would be spiritually immature. They were babies in Christ. They needed to learn the foundations of the faith.
But as we mature in our faith, we ought to grow up little by little. We ought to develop a more Christ-like spirit and attitude. We ought to understand more and more of the Bible. Paul puts it this way in chapter 13 in this letter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”
It had been a few years since Paul first started this church in Corinth, and they were still struggling with immaturity.
Paul then talks about one of the things that is keeping them from growing in maturity:
3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul had started this church in Corinth during one of his missionary journeys (we read about it in Acts chapter 18).
But shortly after Paul left to visit other cities, another traveling preacher arrived in Corinth—a man named Apollos. Apollos had a natural gift for teaching and he made an immediate impact in Corinth. He spoke boldly, interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures effectively. He debated against the opponents of Christianity forcefully and convincingly. Apollos basically continued the work that Paul had started.
Of course, Paul is quick to point out that it was God—not him and not Apollos—that brought about the growth of the church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, God harvested!
Paul also talks about growing in terms of serving. He writes,
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul is comparing the church to a building that is still under construction. The foundation of the church—for all believers—is Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one else will do. A building is only as solid as its foundation and anyone that doesn’t make faith in Christ the bedrock of their beliefs and ministry is doomed to collapse.
But even if we have that right foundation, that doesn’t ensure a lasting structure. Paul compares our works—our ministry and our serving—to construction materials. We can either build with weaker materials like wood, hay and straw or with precious stones, gold and silver.
Jesus laid the foundation of our lives with his ministry of preaching, teaching, and serving. When we carry on that kind of ministry, we build upon his foundation. But Jesus cautioned his disciples, saying, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
As one commentary put it, the Corinthian Christians were more interested in “serve us” then service. Immature Christians say, “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs and blesses me,” not, “I’m looking for a place where I can serve and be a blessing.” As we mature in Christ, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift towards living a life of service to others. A mature follower of Jesus stops asking, “Who’s going to meet my needs?” and starts asking, “Whose needs can I meet?”
As he calls the church in Corinth to a higher level of maturity, Paul closes out this chapter with a warning:
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
Do you think that warning has any application to our lives today?
Let’s start by looking at this warning from 2 Timothy 3:1
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
Are there difficult times in our world today? I would certainly say so. And the times may be getting even more difficult!
I think that we as a church are going to have to face a difficult challenge. This will be a challenge that will test our maturity as followers of Jesus Christ. It is an area where I hope we can show more maturity and grace than the Corinthian church did.
But before I address the specifics of the issue, I want to add this additional scripture from Ephesians 4:1-6
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Paul uses the word “implore” when he asks the Ephesians to work towards unity and peace. He is essentially begging them to be patient, humble, gentle, tolerant and loving towards one another. He says that we all have the same Lord, the same Father in heaven, the same Holy Spirit and the same hope. We’ve all been baptized in the name of the same savior.
Can I “implore” you this morning in that same manner?
What are you talking about, Pastor Steve? We don’t have issues with Apollos and Paul. There is no “jealousy and strife” among us. We are not “fleshly”. We are not “walking like mere men”.
I’m not saying that we are. But I need to warn you that there are “difficult times” ahead, particularly as we enter into this next election cycle.
I think most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
I think it’s fair to say that if dwelling in unity is good and pleasant, then dwelling in disunity is bad and unpleasant!
But we don’t have to allow disunity to enter into our church.
Let me use this example to shed some light on the situation that we’re facing.
Let’s say that Paul and Apollos are candidates who are running for office.
Why would people want to vote for Paul?
He was a strong voice for the gospel. He was bold. He wrote powerful letters. He planted churches. He was willing to risk his life and suffer hardship in order to reach the world for Jesus.
Why would people NOT want to vote for Paul?
He had participated in the murder of Stephen. He had persecuted and arrested many believers. He had gotten into a very public argument with Barnabas over whether or not to take John Mark along on their next missionary journey.
What about Apollos? Why would people want to vote for him?
He was well-learned, a good public speaker, and he could argue convincingly against unbelievers.
So why wouldn’t someone want to vote for Apollos?
Well, he didn’t even know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so Priscilla and Aquila had to pull him aside and correct him. And then Paul had to fix the misunderstanding about baptism caused by Apollos’ lack of knowledge.
And while we’re at it, let’s throw in a third candidate, Cephas (or Peter). Paul mentioned in Chapter one that some of the Corinthians considered themselves to be followers of Cephas.
So why would anyone want to vote for him?
He was bold. He was the first person to recognize that Jesus was the Son of God. He wrote two books of the New Testament. He fought to defend Jesus by cutting off the High Priest’s servant’s ear.
Wow! Then why wouldn’t anyone want to vote for Peter?
Hmmm. There was this little thing about denying three times that he actually KNEW Jesus. And he had a little impulsivity problem. And even though he was married, we never hear about his wife! That’s a bit of a concern.
My point is simply this – none of these three men would’ve been a perfect candidate, because in reality there ARE no perfect candidates. As Paul put it, they are “mere men”.
And we are also “mere men and women” who have to try our best to decide which candidates for public office are most deserving of our support, despite their flaws.
Some believers choose to cast their vote for candidates who take strong positions against abortion and for traditional family values. Those are certainly good issues for Christian voters to consider.
Other believers place a higher priority on candidates whose focus is on caring for the poor and defending civil rights. And those are clearly some important biblical values as well.
Some of this comes down to different viewpoints based upon our individual backgrounds and culture.
Let me share with you something that a friend shared with me about cultural issues:
Cultural sensitivity allows us to respect and value other cultures with no hidden agendas. It is acknowledging that differences exist between us, but not assigning values to those differences by saying that one is better than the other, or one is inherently right and the other is wrong.
It is building an environment that encourages discussion and strengthens teamwork through education and acceptance of other viewpoints.
I think those are wonderfully encouraging words.
In the end, there is a way for us to handle these challenges, and it is shown to us in Romans Chapter 14.
Here Paul is discussing the differences of opinions that were occurring regarding what kinds of foods to eat and what holidays to celebrate. And in verses 12 and 13 Paul puts it this way:
“So the each one of us shall give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore.”
Doesn’t that seem like a good plan for how to handle our differences of opinion?
You are going to have to give an account to God for who you decided to vote for and why. And so will I.
You don’t have to answer to me and I don’t have to answer to you. We both have to answer to God.
So let’s not allow fleshly strife and contention disrupt our unity as a church family.
We’re allowed to disagree. We just need to do so respectfully and in love.
One thing that I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me regarding the upcoming election is this reminder:
Whether we end up with the same president or a new president for the next four years, we will still have the same king – Jesus Christ!
In Romans 14:13 Paul advises us, “not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
So just remember that wearing a t-shirt, a hat, or a campaign button to church that supports your favorite candidate might accidentally create a stumbling block for a brother or sister who sees things differently than you do.
Therefore we might want to choose to lay down our liberty in that regard for the sake of one another.
I think we’re mature enough to do that, don’t you?
Paul now writes the Corinthian believers, as usual, before he addresses issues, he reminds them of what Christ has done and admonishes them for the good they are doing. Corinth was a carnal city known for its immorality, people who were known to be immoral were even called "Corinthians." It was also known to be a place of public speaking where scholars and philosophers debated and people followed those they thought were most eloquent with the latest wisdom.
So when Paul wrote that God has called the church to be holy, it was to remind them that they are not supposed to be carnal like the unbelievers around them. When he thanked God for their great ability to teach the Word, he was reminding them that their abilities are not natural but spiritual and God should get all the glory.
Now to the issue at hand, which is division, the Corinthian church was behaving just like the world and comparing Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ. Some saying they follow this one while others say they follow that one, arguing about who is more anointed, who can speak the best. Paul rebukes them for such foolishness appealing to them that they live in harmony for Christ is not divided into factions, we are one church, one people, united in Christ. Nobody is anything without Christ, whatever we are is because of the anointed one and His anointing in us. People are not baptized under a particular church or person, they are baptized in the Lord.
We cannot get credit for what comes out of our mouth for we are just vessels of the Holy Spirit. The message of Christ should be simple, that is why those in the world who think they are so wise, reject it. Those who are called by God are often those the world has rejected, the ignorant, the foolish, the unwise, but to them, their hearts are open for it is "the meek that will inherit the earth." "This message offends Jews and the Gentiles think it is nonsense but God uses the so-called foolish of the world to confound the wise, those who are powerless to shame the powerful." "Those who were counted as nothing at all, to use them to bring to nothing that which the world considers important."
So, therefore we must not forget where we came from, and that without God we would be still nothing so our boasting should be in Christ and Christ alone. We need not exalt man like the world does, placing them on a pedestal where they don't belong. We are to honor God by honoring His servants but not in a way that exalts them apart from who they are in God with the understanding that all of us in Christ are part of the same body and therefore should all be honored as His chosen ones.
Sunday October 6th
2nd Thessalonians 2-3
I read a story the other day about a photographer who went to this haunted castle, hoping to get photographic evidence of this supposed ghost who haunted the place.
He didn’t want to frighten off the ghostly spirit, so he set up all of his camera equipment during the day, and then sat there, perfectly still, as the sun went down.
Finally, at around two o’clock in the morning, he saw an apparition drifting down the stairwell.
He quietly picked up his camera and slowly pointed in the direction of the ghostly figure.
To his surprise, the spirit actually stopped and struck a pose for him.
He could hardly believe his luck, so he gently squeezed his finger onto the camera button.
And nothing happened. His batteries were too low.
You see, the spirit was willing but the flash was weak!
Speaking of darkness and light, I want to review with you what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light in 2nd Thessalonians Chapter 2:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
We can see from these opening two verses that the church in Thessalonica was waiting for the return of Jesus. They were so eager for Jesus to return, that the apostle Paul was worried that they might believe false rumors stating that Jesus had already returned.
Remember that Paul had left town a while back, so he warns them not to believe these false rumors, even if they come in the form of “a message or a letter as if from us.”
Paul then goes on to give us very specific information about what will have to happen before Jesus does return.
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
So there are two distinct events that Paul identifies which must occur before Jesus returns:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
What about this “man of lawlessness” where have we heard of him before? Some people equate him with the anti-Christ or the “beast” from the book of Revelations.
Here is a description of him from a commentary:
“This is an individual embodiment of wickedness. He will draw away by deception those already inclined against the true God and will ultimately commit the sacrilege of thrusting himself upon humanity as its object of worship.”
Paul does not use the term “antichrist” here, but it is a fitting designation.
In reality, the Holy Spirit has been keeping this evil in check throughout all of history.
Paul explains it in verses 6-12
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Paul tells the Thessalonians in verse 6 that “you know what restrains him now.” But that restraining wasn’t going to last forever, because in verse 7 Paul says that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work.
John warned about the same thing in 1 John 2:18
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.”
When verse 8 says that “Lord will slay (the man of lawlessness) with the breath of His mouth” that is a fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 11:4
“But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”
That prophecy finds its final fulfillment in Revelation 19:15
“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”
Notice that according to verse 10, not only will the man of lawlessness be judged, but also all those who followed him and his deceiving signs and false wonders, because “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”
What’s even more fascinating to me is what verses 11 and 12 say:
“For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Do you see that? If people choose to believe lies over the truth, God is going to say “Go for it! Believe the lies if that’s what you want to do! But don’t be surprised when I hold you accountable for rejecting the truth!”
And what is the truth? The truth is what we call the Gospel. It’s that God came to earth physically in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. And that man lived a sinless life but then suffered a cruel punishing death on a cross, not for what He had done wrong, but for what all of mankind has done wrong. And to prove that He was no ordinary man – to prove that He had the power over life and death – He came back from the grave on the third day after the buried Him! That’s the truth. You can either accept it or reject it.
But remember, either choice has consequences.
Paul finishes this chapter by rejoicing with those who have accepted the truth:
13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
Can I tell you something very important today? God chose you. He has called you to find Him and to follow Him.
This is what Paul emphasizes as he closes out his letter in chapter 3:
Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.
As he closes out his letter, Paul requests prayer for the success of his ministry and for the protection of all those who spread the gospel, especially amidst persecution. Remember that Paul faced continual physical danger throughout his ministry.
That is absolutely true today well. Nothing can be accomplished in the ministry of this church without the faithful support of your prayers. We NEED you to be praying for us and with us in order to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for our lives and for this church.
And Paul is very confident that their prayers will continue and that God will use those prayers in his ministry:
3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
So what is Paul saying? “God has been faithful to me and He will be faithful to YOU as well. Let’s be faithful to God.”
Starting in verse 6, he moves from prayer to instruction:
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
Paul obviously see these “unruly” individuals as a serious concern, but he still refers to them as “brothers”.
One of the major issues with these troublesome individuals was their unwillingness to work. Paul points out that HE always worked when he was in Thessalonica. HE always did his share to contribute to the needs of the church, even though he really didn’t have to.
He says, “7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.”
He reminds them that he had the “right” not to work, because his main job was to preach the gospel, but he CHOSE to work in order to set an example of what daily Christian life should look like. And in Paul’s mind it doesn’t look like sitting around on your duff all day expecting others to take care of you. He puts it very bluntly in verse 10:
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
Why is this such a big deal? Is it really such a problem for someone not to pull their weight by contributing to the church community?
The problem isn’t simply what these people AREN’T doing, it’s what they’re doing INSTEAD of working!
Verse 11 says that they are “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.”
THAT was the real problem! With too much time on their hands, these folks were minding everyone else’s business instead of minding their own business!
12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Despite the problems that they are creating Paul still treats the offenders as fellow believers who need to be dealt with firmly but in love.
The last few verses of this letter are a final prayer and goodbye from Paul, with an interesting insight included.
16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul’s prayer is for peace “in every circumstance”, which is only possible by fully trusting God with our lives.
In verse 17 Paul points out that he is signing off on the letter in his own handwriting, which was apparently pretty distinguishable.
According to bible scholars, Paul often had the help of scribes, or secretaries in writing his letters, but he typically signed the final greeting in his own handwriting. He calls attention to this as a mark of the letter’s authenticity.
Why did this matter? Because if you remember back in chapter 2, Paul had warned the Thessalonians not to be “quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
In closing this letter with his signature, Paul is assuring the church that this was indeed the “real deal”, a letter truly written by Paul, and not someone claiming to be Paul.
Now consider this – in 2nd Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul says:
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
We are living letters, living messages, sent by God to carry HIS words to the world around us! Just as Paul’s letters were proven to be real because his signature was on them, so our authenticity as “letters from God” is proven by the “signature” of Jesus in our lives.
What does that look like to you this morning? In what ways would you says that the signature of Jesus is clearly written upon your life?
And how can we be open to an even greater signature of Jesus in every area of our lives?
Don’t you want the final words over your life to be signed:
“With love, from Jesus”?