Sunday December 15th
1 Corinthians 9
Isn’t freedom a wonderful thing?
I heard about one time when the Fourth of July was coming around, and this nursery school teacher decided to use that holiday as an opportunity to tell the children in her class about patriotism and freedom.
"Boys and girls, we live in a great country," she said.
"One of the things we should all be very happy about is that, in this country, we are all free."
But one little boy stood up in the back of the room and yelled out, “NO”.
The teacher was surprised, and she asked him, “Why did you say that Johnny?”
He shook his head from side to side, put his hands on his hips and said,
"I am not free. I'm four."
So maybe we’re NOT all free! But the Apostle Paul was!
He begins the ninth chapter of 1st Corinthians with these four questions:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
Keep in mind that often times in Paul’s letters to the churches, he was responding to people who had come to target those churches after he had left, and were spreading lies and criticisms about Paul.
In that first verse he is defending four truths, which I will list here in reverse order:
4. That the Corinthian church was a work that he had established for God
3. That Paul had literally seen the risen Jesus
2. That he was an apostle
1. That he was free
The rest of this chapter focuses mostly on the aspects of Paul’s apostleship and his freedom, starting with this in verse 2:
2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
That’s probably a combination response to both #2 and #4, his apostleship and his role in starting that church.
Since Paul had established the church in Corinth, he is essentially saying to them, “Other people might not recognize me as an apostle, but you folks surely should.
If I wasn’t sent by God to reach you with the gospel, you wouldn’t even know who Jesus was.”
The word apostle means “one who is sent” and Paul had clearly been sent by God to bring the gospel to Corinth.
In the next section, Paul is going to defend himself against another false accusation. As we saw when we studied the letters to the Thessalonians, there were people trying to accuse Paul of being a con man, or a snake oil salesman, who was making a profit from the church.
Here’s how he answers that accusation:
3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink?
That’s a pretty basic statement. As we will find out as we continue reading, Paul never took any money from the Corinthians. But he probably was treated to some free meals at the homes of some church members. So he argues that there is nothing wrong with receiving hospitality from brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, we all have to eat and drink don’t we?
The next thing that he mentions is quite interesting for several reasons:
5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
We know from chapter 7 verse 7 that Paul wasn’t married. And Bible scholars seem to believe that Barnabas was also unmarried at the time of their missionary work. What Paul seems to be saying is that if Peter, or James the Lord’s brother, or any other married apostle came for a visit, wouldn’t you feed their wives too? Isn’t that just a basic courtesy?
Then he addresses head on the accusation that he and Barnabas were freeloaders:
6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?
The key point here is this “What would be wrong if Barnabas and I decided not to work, but instead allowed the church to support us while we focused on preaching?”
Don’t soldiers and farmers and shepherds earn their meals by doing their jobs? Why should it be any different for preachers?
Then Paul takes it to another level. He shows why it’s actually scriptural for the church to support preachers:
8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4, which says that an ox who is helping with the crops should get to eat some of the crops under his feet. That sounds fair, doesn’t it?
Then Paul says, “Don’t you think that verse also applies to the guy who is doing the plowing and the guy who is doing the harvesting, and to anyone else who is helping with the farming?”
And if that’s true about people who are planting and watering physical seeds, shouldn’t it also be true of those who are planting and watering spiritual seeds?!
Then Paul hits his accusers with the ultimate bombshell:
12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
Say what? We could have used that right but we DIDN’T!
Before driving that point home, Paul shows one more biblical example of why paying preachers isn’t wrong:
13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
Think about this: the entire Old Testament system at the temple involved sacrificing lots of animals, over and over, day after day. What do think happened to all of those animals after they were sacrificed?
I’ll tell you. The priests in the temple ATE THEM! And it was their perfect right to do so, according to the Law of Moses. They were serving God, and so they were being fed by God. And Paul says those who are serving God by preaching the gospel are also allowed to make their living from their preaching.
Then hit hits them with that same bombshell one more time:
15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.
After making point after point about why it would have been okay for him and Barnabas to get paid for preaching-
Paul undermines all of his accusers by simply saying, “It would have been perfectly fine for us to take an offering but we DIDN’T!”
He says that the points that he has been making all this time aren’t even about him, they are to show the church that they should take care of their leaders. Paul says that he would rather die than allow someone to weaken the gospel message because of anything that he did.
We saw the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–9 where Paul reminded them that he had worked as a tentmaker when he was with them, rather than relying on the church for offerings. In fact, Paul told the Philippian church in Philippians 4:15-16 that they were the only church that he ever took money from. And even then, he hadn’t asked them for any money, it was simply a gift that they wanted to bless him with.
Then in the next few verses Paul emphasizes that he gets a greater reward from preaching than any monetary gift could ever match:
16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Paul is kind of putting it this way: “Why would I expect you to pay me for something that I am going to do whether I get paid or not? And my reward from God is that I can do it purely as an offering unto Him, even though I have a total right to receive money for it.”
Then Paul goes on to say that not only is he choosing to relinquish his right to get paid, he is relinquishing ALL of his rights:
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Remember that the opening words of this chapter were “Am I not free?”
Here Paul says, “Yes, I am totally free in Christ but I will set aside my freedom and become a slave to others for the sake of the gospel!
I am free from the Law, but I will obey laws and customs that I don’t have to obey in order to reach the people who follow those customs!
One commentary says that “When ministering to Jews, Paul conformed to the Old Testament ceremonial regulations even though he knew that these matters were not essential. When ministering to Gentiles, Paul was willing to live like them.”
In many ways, this is what was driving Paul’s discussion at the beginning of chapter 11, when he spends so much time talking about head coverings and hair length for men and women in church. Does that stuff really matter in and of itself? Absolutely not.
But did it matter in the culture of the Corinthian church, in a city where temple prostitutes shaved their heads?
Certainly it had more meaning then, for that group of people, as they were needing to establish their own identity in Christ. In chapter 11, verse 2, Paul tells them to “hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.”
As we saw in Chapter 7, some of these things were suggestions by Paul, not commandments from God, designed to help them navigate through their culture.
Paul was also saying this:
I am free from weakness, but I will share in the weaknesses of others so that I might have an opportunity to share Jesus with them!
All things to all men. Whatever it takes. And for one purpose only – for the sake of the gospel – so that souls might be saved!
And in the final verses of this chapter, Paul uses examples from running and boxing to emphasize his dedication, and I think this is not just for him, but maybe as a reminder to us as well:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
When Paul says, “I discipline my body” he is also reminding his readers that they must discipline their bodies if they expect to win. As Christians, we must be willing to set aside our selfish, fleshly interests for the sake of serving God.
To emphasize the point of all of this talk about freedom and discipline, I want to look at two verses from this first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 6:12
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
Do you see a pattern here? What is lawful for me? What do I have the freedom to do if I want to?
Say that again:
I have a LOT of freedom as a follower of Jesus…but…
But…not everything I am free to do is profitable.
But…not everything I am free to do is edifying.
But…some things that I am free to do might turn into habits that will master me, or rule my life, and I refuse to be mastered by anything other than Jesus Himself!
Do you understand the difference that is being shown here?
Let’s just use this simple example: Am I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, free to go to the casinos?
Yes, I definitely am. But will it be PROFITABLE? Most likely not! Will it be edifying? Quite possibly not. And could it possibly become a habit that could gain mastery over my life? That’s certain a potential danger, isn’t it?
And could it become a stumbling block for another believer? It might.
That’s simply one example of why I might decide to lay aside my freedom, choosing to forgo an opportunity that I’m FREE to do, but maybe I shouldn’t do.
I think a lot of this kind of decision making falls under that title of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional,
“My Utmost for His Highest”
Why would I want to use my freedom as an excuse to participate in behavior that is far less than my best, my utmost? Didn’t Jesus give me His best, His utmost?
Shouldn’t my goal always be to reach for God’s highest, even though I’m free to choose things at a much lower level?
Let’s be mindful, as we move forward together, that if each one of us is reaching for God’s highest, then imagine how high we can go with the things of God’s Kingdom together?
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.