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”?