Confident Christianity: Now Concerning Stewardship – 1 Corinthians 16

steward 2Back in 2002, Pastor Rick Gillespie-Mobley shared this illustration and I believe it will be perfectly understood by parents today:

One day James wanted to do something special with his five year old son Jimmy. He asked: “Son, is there anything you’d like to do right now?” Jimmy said, “I want some McDonald French Fries.” His father said, “If that’s what my boy wants, then that’s what my boy gets.” [The father and son] got into the blue and white Chevy truck and headed toward McDonald’s [Restaurant]. Jimmy’s lips and tongue were silently moving as he could taste the fries before they even reached the store. His Dad made the order, and Jimmy’s heart pounded when his Dad said: “Make it a ‘super-sized’ fry. James took the money out of his wallet to pay for the fries and a drink. Jimmy’s little teeth were ready to sink into those hot golden fries, before they made it to the table. When they sat down, grace consisted of “God bless this food amen”, but it seemed like way too many words to Jimmy who was eager to delight himself with this huge blessing of French fries. James was happy to see his little boy so happy over something so simple. He decided to join in the fun. He reached over to get a couple of Jimmy’s fries for himself. To his surprise, his son quickly put his arms around his fries as though building a fort and pulled them toward himself and said, “No, these are mine.” His dad was in a state of shock for a moment. He could not believe what had happened. James pulled back his hand and began to reflect about his son’s attitude toward the fries.

He was thinking, “My son failed to realize that I am the source of those French fries.” At the counter, I was the one who gave the cashier the money from my wallet. I did not give him the size fry he was expecting, but something twice as big. Yet here he is talking about his French fries. Not only was I the source of the French fries, he has forgotten that at 6ft 1 and 195 lbs, I have the power to take all the fries despite his little arms surrounding them as a fort. Or that if I wanted to, I could go back to the counter and bring him so many fries that he could never eat them all. He also does not understand, “that I don’t need his French fries. I could go back to the counter and get as many fries as I wanted.” As the Dad thought about it, one or two fries really would not have made much of a difference for him that day. What he wanted was for his son Jimmy, to invite him into the wonderful little world he had made possible for his son. He wanted his son to be willing to share the very blessing that he had provided.

steward 3It seems an instinctive part of our fallen nature as human beings for us to deeply believe we have earned things that we have clearly been given. When we realize we didn’t somehow earn what we have without assistance, some of us start to be willing to generously share what we have.

That little picture is what stewardship is all about. That is the subject of the last chapter of 1 Corinthians. In that portion of the writing of the Apostle Paul, God offered a model of how we are to steward our time, talent, wealth and opportunity. His example of a simple collection reveals a broader principle…

Key Principle: God provides wealth, opportunities and people to allow us to steward His resources in ministry, and to help us invite Him on the journey of life.

That principle reveals what God does, but the real question is: “How can we use what He provided in a way that pleases Him?” Paul offered some help by the Spirit of God.

The Stewardship of Money Used for Ministry (16:1-4).

First, Paul challenged the people of Corinth concerning their giving of an offering to other believers who were in trouble and needed help (at Jerusalem). Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 3 When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; 4 and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.

There are four details Paul offered in what he wrote that will help us as we steward the “things” God put within our lives.

Detail One: He said their giving had a defined purpose.

The projects were directed from the priorities established by leaders who were responsible before God not to misdirect the funds (16:1). It appears that Paul’s real goal was to unite the Gentile givers and the Jewish recipients in love, a task that was not easy to accomplish!

Detail Two: He instructed their provision be set aside in a systematic way.

Setting aside the funds for the giving was to be a deliberate venture (not haphazard), but at the same time it was not a sterile one! This was an intentional act of worship (i.e. Phil. 4:18 “spiritual sacrifice”) as an organized collection for specific and measurable goals (1 Corinthians 16:2a). They were helping and they KNEW they were helping. They saw the planned use of the funds. This wasn’t a “blind taxation” but a deliberate sacrifice for others.

Detail three: He told them giving was responsive to God’s direction:

Let’s take a few moments on this point. The people were directed to give as God provided for each of them (16:2b). There was no simple formula, but it was scaled according to the blessing God offered them individually.

The simple fact is that we have nothing without the help of another, and even our very lives came from God using the body of others. We are nothing on our own and never have been. Truthfully we possess nothing permanent of ourselves. All that we are, all that we have, all that we will ever become is tied up in the good gifts of God to us. Here is how you can verify this truth: If you really think something belongs to you; die and try to keep somebody else from taking it.

A Note on TITHING and the Believer

Let’s take a moment, since we are in a passage about giving in a planned way, and deal with the age old question: “To tithe or not to tithe!” Many believers were raised to believe that we owe God a tenth of our increase. That isn’t true. We owe God everything, but that doesn’t necessarily instruct us on how much to give in our local church, or to ministry needs in general. Let me unpack that idea a bit.

In terms of those who teach “tithing”, they will cite the record of giving in the “tithe” extending back to the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14:18-20, Abraham, after rescuing Lot, met with the enigmatic priest of the Living God name Melchizedek. After Melchizedek offered Abraham a blessing based on his rescue of people and goods, Abraham gave him a tenth of everything he has obtained from the battle. “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” —Genesis 14:18-20

Take a moment and consider this, not simply as a pattern, but as an event by itself. Did the inclusion of the story by Moses show that he intended the passage to teach believers to give to their Temple? If it did, was this to be later inferred in giving to their synagogue and after the advent of Jesus by believers in the church? In other words, are there any indications that Abraham’s act was to be instructive to us in an amount to give at our place of worship?

Consider this: Abraham wasn’t at Temple or church, and there is no internal instruction in the passage. In fact, there is a widely promoted theory of the passage that “tithing” in this text existed “before the conditions of the Law of Moses” and therefore superseded the Law. Yet, that reasoning is deeply flawed. While it is true that Abraham gave BEFORE THE LAW, his tithe was NOT from Abraham’s own wealth (Gen 13), but from the spoils of war. There are NO passages that indicate Abraham took anything from his own wealth at that time or any subsequent time. If we followed the pattern of that passage, we would give things taken from others and keep our own stuff. We would also learn to do it only one time.

“Wait!” some would argue. In Genesis 28:12-22, Jacob, after his visionary dream of Jacob’s Ladder (or stairway) and his reception of a blessing from God, promised God a tenth: “12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [h]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [m]promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”” —Genesis 28:12-22

It is true that is exactly what Jacob did. Here is the issue: There is no wider command in the passage that showed any broader application to other believers nor is there a record that God required this of him. He simply said that he did what was customary for a guardian king. In the period, a tithe was something you gave to a king or chieftain of an area in order to guarantee safe passage through their territory on a journey. You didn’t do it unless you passed through their property. Is the teaching of the tithe in this case a “deal with God”? Are we saying you should offer God “safe passage money” in a reciprocal agreement? I don’t think so.

It is also important to recognize the tithe was specifically in the Torah provisions mentioned in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). At the same time, most Christians don’t understand the tithing system was organized in a seven year cycle, (part of what is called the “Shemittah cycle”).

• Every year, the Bikkurim (or first fruits in the Bible) and the Terumah (called in the Bible a “heave offering”) were separated from the grain, wine and oil.

• The Ma’aser Rishon and the “Terumat Ma’aser” were specific gifts of a tenth of new agricultural produce, accompanying the gift to the priests of the Tabernacle for service compensation (Deuteronomy 14:22).

The idea was that these priests were cared for like “God’s princes” who “covered the people with protection” as a chieftain would when you passed through his territory. Unlike other offerings, where eating was restricted to consumption within the tabernacle, the yearly tithe to the Levites could be consumed anywhere as part of their compensation (Numbers 18:31). The “tithe” wasn’t a simple formula where people brought a tenth each week to worship, as is sometimes implied.

In fact, it was much more complicated. In years one, two, four and five of the Shemittah cycle, God commanded the priests to take the tithes to the “storehouse” where it would be distributed. This was likely NOT a command for a second tithe, but for tithe within a tithe, as seems clear in Nehemiah 10:38 (10% of 10% -or 1%, for the priestly charges).

In “year three” of the Shemittah cycle a “year of tithing” was called for from Deuteronomy 26:12-14 in which the Israelites set aside 10% of the increase of the crops and they were to given to the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. These “tithes” functioned like our taxes for the people of Israel and were mandatory, not optional giving. This tithe was distributed locally “within the gates” Deuteronomy 14:28 to support the Levites and assist the poor.

After many years in churches, I have heard the many reasons some simplified the “tithe system” and then argued to make it the pattern of giving in the church. Often these voices went to passages like Malachi 3, and argued for “consistency” in light of the idea that “God never changes” (Malachi 3:6). While God’s changeless nature is true, consider this: To move the tithe to the church because of the consistency of God’s nature is not a move to preserve faithfulness at all:

• Churches change when to give the tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12- The tithe was only given at certain times of the year).

• Churches change who receives the tithe (Nehemiah 10:38- the tithe could only go towards the Levites the poor, or festivals; not towards buildings or pastors).

• Churches change what was given as a tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22- The tithe normally only consisted of food and animals).

• Churches change essential uses for the tithe (The tithe was never used for initial building construction).

It seems clear the only thing the church has tried NOT to change is HOW MUCH is given – and even that is changed when one considers that tithing was not a “weekly deal” in the Bible.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to get you to give less money to your local church. I am trying to correct the mishandling of the Word and get you on a path based on consistent and obedient following of the text. There ARE passages on giving in the Bible. You should be giving to the work of your local church and its outreaches. I am not disputing that. Yet, the discussion by the Apostles in the various letters promoted giving but does not mention tithing. What IS mentioned are things of this sort:

• 2 Corinthians 9:7 talks about giving cheerfully,
• 2 Corinthians 8:12 encourages giving what you can afford,
• 1 Corinthians 16:1–2 discusses giving regularly (although this is a saved amount for a special Jerusalem offering),
• 1 Timothy 5:17–18 exhorts supporting the financial needs of Christian workers,
• Acts 11:29 promotes feeding the hungry.
• James 1:27 states that pure religion is to help widows and orphans.

In my life, the value of speaking of a “tithe” as a tenth was a way to help me get into the pattern of giving.

I started with it, not as a law, but as an easy way to calculate personal giving.

It was a means of offering me a starting place in obedience to a systematic giving. I don’t have to tithe; I must give as God directs in a sacrificial, systematic and deliberate way. I must seek God as I ask what amount to give of what He has provided. Yet, I found a tenth an easy starting place for me – and you may as well. Pastor Mobley reminded me of this when he wrote:

A tithe is nothing more than a penny out of a dime, or a dime out of dollar. If God sat with you at a table, and gave you 10 dimes, what would cause you to say no if God asked for one of them back? Yet 90% of all people who say they love God will say no God, this is mine. We get upset about paying 10% when God is entitled to the full 100% to do as He pleases. The moment God puts money into our hands, “we declare this is mine. I’ll only give what I want to give.” Up goes the fortress around our fries. We have no idea of how blessed we are and of all the things that God has done for us.”

Some are afraid to begin to give regularly and systematically. They need to grow into this obedience. Perhaps it will help to understand there are a few things we should know about God and how He will meet our needs financially if we obey Him in systematic giving.

The first issue deals with God’s power and ability. Five thousand can be fed from a few loaves and fishes, because little is much when Jesus touches it. God knows how to meet needs – we need to trust that fact of Scripture.

The second issue we need to face concerns God’s willingness to provide. Jesus said the Father is willing to give you what you need, as a good father would. Is there any good dad you know who would ask their child to go to the store and purchase some milk, knowing that the milk would cost $2.99 but you only gave them .50 to purchase it? Not at all! If you expected them to bring home milk, you’d give them enough money to do it, and you aren’t a better father than God is.

There are people always wanting to give God something they don’t have. Lord If I had a million dollars, I would…..most of us would start lying. You see tithing is never an issue of amount, but rather of attitude. God says, you keep the $500,000 you would have given if you had a million, but let’s talk about the $450 check you do get every week or every two weeks or once a month. I’d rather have that $45 which tells me, go ahead and eat some of your fries.

The third issue of beginning to trust regards what we should know about God’s history and desire to work in partnership with us in reaching people. God could have sent a full grown Savior, but He implanted a baby in Mary. God could have sent an angel to preach the gospel to the people in your workplace, but God didn’t do that – He left YOU and I here.

The only time God asked His people to test Him was specifically in relation to trusting His provision and giving back to Him in obedience. God didn’t command we become poor. He told His people in Malachi 3:10-12 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Detail four: Paul made clear the handling of the funds must be transparent.

In addition to believers learning to regularly and sacrificially give, Paul noted something else that was very important: The leader distanced himself from the handling of the money (16:2b-3) and the congregation chose the leaders that handled the money (16:3). Their leader gave credibility to the collection team, but had no other objective in being a part of the collection (16:4).

The Stewardship of Time and Opportunity in Ministry (16:5-9).

clock1 Corinthians 16:5 But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; 6 and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. 7 For I do not wish to see you now [just] in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door for effective [service] has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

• Planning: The stated plan of the letter (16:5-7) reveals it is not unspiritual to make a plan when we rely on the Spirit to guide us (cp. Proverbs 3:5-6). We must be careful of two extremes – Self reliance (rushing ahead and not checking with God); Fearful indecision – we will make mistakes (we must desire to do His will – John 7:17).

• Sensitive Correction: Even Spirit led leaders had to constantly reassess the direction of God (16:8-9).

• Priorities: When given the choice between solving the problems between believers and defending new believers, the leader chose the latter (16:9). This decision was later criticized at Corinth, but believers must choose, in part, based on the recognition of opportunities God is presenting to them!

At 12:55 pm the “mayday” call crackled through the speakers at the Flight Service Station on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The desperate pilot of a Piper A22, a small single-engine plane, was reporting that he had run out of fuel and was preparing to ditch the aircraft in the waters of Cook Inlet. On board were four people, two adults and two young girls, ages 11 and 12. They had departed two hours earlier [to travel] a distance of about 150 miles. Under normal conditions it would have been a routine flight; however, the combination of fierce headwinds and a failure to top off the fuel tank had created a lethal situation. Upon hearing the plane’s tail number, the air traffic controller realized that his own daughter was one of the young passengers aboard the plane. In desperation himself, he did everything possible to assist the pilot; but suddenly the transmission was cut off. The plane had crashed into the icy waters. Four helicopters operating nearby began searching the area within minutes of the emergency call, but they found no evidence of the plane and no survivors. The aircraft had been traveling without water survival gear, leaving its four passengers with even less of a chance to make it through the ordeal. Fiercely cold Cook Inlet, with its unpredictable glacial currents, is considered among the most dangerous waters in the world. It can claim a life in minutes, and that day it claimed four. …For reasons we will never know, the pilot of that doomed aircraft chose not to use the resources that were at his disposal. He did not have enough fuel. He did not have the proper survival equipment. Perhaps he had not taken the time to get the day’s weather report. Whatever the case, he did not use the resources that were available; and in this instance the consequences were fatal. I wonder how many other people have died needlessly like these four people did. … I also wonder how many have died without Jesus — spiritually speaking from others being poor stewards of the resources God has placed them in charge of. …The stewardship of resources is a serious business; and God’s will is that we give it serious attention. This demands that we have the right perspective on our resources, and that is possible only if we have the right focus on our source.” (Story from Kirk Nowery: “The Stewardship of Life,” Page 118. From a sermon by Michael McCartney, 12 dollars a changed life, 6/20/2012)

The Stewardship of People Encounters in Ministry (16:10-24).

fitting people 21 Corinthians 16:10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 11 So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. 12 But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all [his] desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity. 13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. 15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. 17 I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. 19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 The greeting is in my own hand– Paul. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Paul included instructions on the handling of various people on the team as an act of stewardship!

The Missionary’s Younger Helper (16:10-11):

1) Don’t hurt the worker – he is NOT simply a means to an end (10);
2) Respect him though he may have obvious faults (i.e. fear; 11a);
3) Do not corner him but allow him to do his job (11b).

The Missionary’s Colleague (16:12):

1) There can be no competition nor envy on the team.
2) There will be differences, yet we must graciously allow God to lead others!

The Local Church’s Ministry Team (16:13-20):

1) Everyone is responsible for their own growth (1 Cor. 3:1ff) and their vigilance in following Jesus (16:13).
2) Everyone must act and respond in love (16:14).
3) We must respect the people that minister faithfully under the auspices of the godly leadership of the work (16:15-16).
4) Even those who are leaders in the work enjoy the refreshment of fellowship (16:17-18)
5) We are only as strong as the love we have for one another! (1 Cor. 16: 19-20).

Elizabeth Dole, former Secretary of Transportation & Presidential candidate said: Life is not just a few years to spend on self-indulgence and career advancement. It is a privilege, a responsibility, and a stewardship to be lived according to a much higher calling.

God provides wealth, opportunities and people to allow us to steward His resources in ministry, and to help us invite Him on the journey of life.

The film Schindler’s List chronicled the heroic efforts of a German industrialist named Oskar Schindler. Through his unselfish activities, over a thousand Jews on the trains to Auschwitz were saved. After Schindler found out what was happening at Auschwitz, he began a systematic effort to save as many Jews as he could. For money, he could buy Jews to work in his factory which was supposed to be a part of the military machine of Germany. On one hand he was buying as many Jews as he could, and on the other hand he was deliberately sabotaging the ammunition produced in his factory. He entered the war as a financially wealthy industrialist; by the end of the war, he was basically financially bankrupt. When the Germans surrendered, Schindler met with his workers and declared that at midnight they were all free to go. The most emotional scene of the film was when Schindler said good-bye to the financial manager of the plant, a Jew and his good and trusted friend. As he embraced his friend, Schindler sobbed and said, “I could have done more.” He looked at his automobile and asked, “Why did I save this? I could have bought 10 Jews with this.” Taking another small possession he cried, “This would have saved another one. Why didn’t I do more?” (James Forlines, Men’s Beat of Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions, April 1999, 4.)

The Believer’s Circle of Truth – 1 Corinthians 15

resurrection 11 Corinthians 15 offers at least three important lessons concerning the Resurrection of Jesus and the future of His followers. These notes may be helpful to teachers of the Bible on this important topic…

Lesson One: Our message is based on very specific reported facts of history that define the family of faith.

The Apostle offer Ten Facts concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) that caused the formation of a body of “believers”.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Look closely at the specifics from the verses above:

1. It was brought to them in content and ANNOUNCED (euangellion – cp.1). It is found in a good message that can be verbally communicated. The Gospel isn’t a harsh message that brings condemnation – but a liberating message of full payment. We aren’t sharing RULES with people – we are declaring their bondage ended!

2. The hearer had to CHOOSE to “take it along with them” (receive is the term “paralambano” – 1b). It was an active reception. The Gospel requires response and grasping. It is an active and deliberate process – not a passive one. No one gets to Heaven by accident, stumbling in the pearly gate. They must decide to receive the message.

3. The choice caused the recipient to “take their stand” or “FIX THEIR HOLD” on it (stand is the term “histemi” – 1b). It changed the recipient in future action. Having decided on the veracity of the message, they must cling to that message. The life perspective changed, they are not fickle – but cling to the Cross.

4. The choice to receive the announcement and fix hold on it SAVES the recipient (save is “sozo” – from to rescue or cure – v.2a). If sin is the sickness, the Gospel is the cure. One must understand that without the Gospel a man or woman is not simply “impaired” but LOST. In John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The issue of SAVED and LOST is technically separation from the Father in Heaven.

5. The salvific effect occurs only for those who POSSESS the Gospel (the terms “hold fast” are a translation of “katecho” – to firmly bind to). This is not a casual acceptance of the concept – but a binding to the life of the recipient. A second emphasis of the BINDING nature of the recipient (after #3 above) should help to clarify that it must be a serious and real choice to be effective.

6. The Gospel was the HIGHEST PRIORITY message for the Apostle to bring to the Corinthian people (the term “protos” is translated “of first importance” – 3a). He taught them much over the one and one half years he was with them – but nothing was of higher importance in the public ministry.

7. Paul POSSESSED the Gospel before he shared it with them (the term “received” is again the term from verse one – “paralambano” – or choose). Though this isn’t essential, it shows that it was intentional on his part. The Gospel, because of its importance in HIS LIFE, was a burning message in the face of lost men and women.

8. The message includes DEFINED HISTORICAL FACTS: the “substitutional” nature of the literal death of Jesus for SIN (not political realities), the fact of His physical burial in a tomb and the literal understanding of the physical body’s Resurrection from the dead (15:5,6). A message without the components is a different message.

9. The facts were PROPHESIED from the Scriptures – the very Word of God (15:5). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry was drawn from the Prophets of old – and not some contrived story. In fact, without an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, one could not grasp the judicial terms of sin’s separation, and a sacrifice’s atoning nature.

10. The facts of the case were VERIFIED by many in the early community, and in Paul’s personal experience (15:8-11). Peter offered (2 Peter 1: “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 [So] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Without predictive prophecy, the Gospel is just a story made by men. Because God made promises, and God keeps His promises, and the Bible contains His promises – we can see that Jesus fulfilled God’s promises. No Bible – no salvation.

Lesson Two: The Message hangs together or falls together!

To make the argument clearer, Paul argued that NO COMPONENT of the message of the Gospel can be extracted without collapsing the whole – because the veracity of the account hangs together. A truth shrouded in lies comes from no source you can trust for your eternal destiny:

1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

In the case of the Corinthians, it is clear that some were struggling with the notion of the life after death for the BODY. They may have believed in HEAVEN, but saw no reason to elevate the physical body to a place that required literal resurrection. Paul rejected this out of hand. Look at his reasoning:

• If there is no resurrection – the message we told you of Christ included a claim that was not true! 1 Corinthians 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

• If there is no resurrection and the claim concerning Jesus was fabricated, you have believed an empty story of corrupt liars in the place of real faith! 1 Corinthians 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

• If there is no resurrection, you are not God’s people – but are still separated from Him! You are being persecuted for lies! 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

The point is that if the elements of the Gospel are not all present and true, then the message is not the good news at all! The message of the Bible is either TRUE or it is a terrible book of deception that has offered false hope to billions. One cannot simply argue that the text has “elements of truth” with occasional “misstatements” and “fabrications” without thereby implying the faith of Christ to be BOGUS.

The argument applies even more broadly! Consider for a moment how many other teachings hinge on the truth of this one. One such teaching is the place and work of Jesus now (John 14; Rev. 4 and 5). Martyrs like Stephen were NOT men of God if Christ is not Risen, but deceivers justly killed for their deception.

Lesson Three: The message of the Resurrection is also the beginning of a very PERSONAL promise of God to you!

The acceptance of God for the sacrifice of Jesus is found in the Resurrection. The FUTURE of the believer is also hooked to this truth as Paul made clear in the verses that close the chapter. Paul dispensed with the argument about the Raised Messiah, and simply showed the IMPLICATIONS OF THAT TRUTH TO BELIEVERS:

Messiah is the BEGINNING of a pattern. 1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. Christ is the first sample of what will become of the believer! He was the model; His resurrection an example of what God intends for men.

Look closely at the choice of the terminology of “ap-arche”: the term “first fruits”. This is a play on time in Lev. 23:9-14).

The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish. Paul spread the message first in the synagogues, then (after being removed!) he opened his preaching to others. The “common knowledge” of the Jewish believer may not have been extremely deep, but every Jew had knowledge of the feasts of the Jews.

The feast that God commanded every Jew to celebrate on the Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!).

Lev. 23:4 These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them. 5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover. 6 Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7 On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. 8 But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.'” 9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD. 13 Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the LORD [for] a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. 14 Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 15 You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD.

You may recall that tucked between the command for Jews to celebrate Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) was a “Feast of First Fruits”. This feast involved taking the un-ripened grain THE SUNDAY AFTER PASSOVER and bringing it to the priest at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to wave it before the Lord, make a lamb offering. The offering included a meal offering, a wine offering and special dietary commands for the day (Lev. 23:9-14). Since the earliest believers were Jews, the significance of this feast that they were commanded to keep “as a statute FOREVER throughout all their generations” (23:14) was not lost.

The most interesting thing about the Feast of First Fruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this is the only feast in the chapter to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday! Remarkably, all of the other feasts are all based on a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34).

The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the beginning of the “countdown” to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15), but it was much more. This was the day they celebrated the COMING OF A GREAT HARVEST! What a spiritual picture! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!

In the ancient Hebrew mind (based on literary evidence) harvest and judgment are linked together concepts. One is usually expressed in the terms of the other. This is true in the terms of the prophets as they express God “treading out the grapes of wrath”, in the same way Jesus used it (Mt. 13 “reapers” that were angels). To the Hebrew mind, God does not judge man. Man grows his fruit, and God harvests that which man grows. What YOU sow, YOU reap! It is man’s own doing that causes his rotten fruit in the end. It is this same connection that evoked the link between the Jezreel Valley (the largest growth and harvest area in the country) and the “Valley of Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16- the valley of God’s judgment of the nations).

In the Feast of the First Fruits, God intended that Israel would understand the offering to be about things to come. He wanted them to make a special time to thank God for the harvest that was ahead. It was an incomplete stalk, but God would bring the whole harvest in. Herein is the lesson of Paul to Corinth. He argues:

15:21 For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then [comes] the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.

• As a man he conquered death, for the actions of a man brought death! (15:21-22). He took back in body what Adam lost in the garden!
• Jesus was raised as the first fruits offering (15:23), then the end comes, eventually destroying even death! (15:24-26)

The early church celebrated the Sunday of the First Fruits, and began early to understand that this was the great symbolic show that God would bring about our resurrection as sure as the spring harvest follows the winter rains!

After the Jewish significance of the feast was forgotten (sadly) the Council of Nicea (325 CE) struggled to bring conformity to the timing of the observance of a “Resurrection Feast”, but division in the Apostolic Fathers remained for hundreds of years. Had they simply understood the Hebrew Scriptures, they would have understood the significance of the Sunday after Passover Sabbath (John 20:1)!

Is the resurrection for everyone? If so, when and in what order? (15:22-28).

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

It IS for everyone (22).
The order is specific (23-28):

1. Jesus first.
2. Believers at Jesus’ return – 1 Thessalonians 4 or Daniel 12 both sides of the Tribulation – one for Church and one for earlier Jewish believers.
3. Unbelievers before Jesus’ total victory – Rev. 20:11-15

On Feb. 27, 1991, at the height of Desert Storm, that Ruth Dillow received a very sad message from the Pentagon. It stated that her son, Clayton Carpenter, Private 1st Class, had stepped on a mine in Kuwait & was dead. She later wrote, “I can’t begin to describe my grief & shock. It was almost more than I could bear. For 3 days I wept. For 3 days I expressed anger & loss. For 3 days people tried to comfort me, to no avail because the loss was too great.” But 3 days after she received that message, the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m alive.” Ruth Dillow said, “I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I recognized his voice, & he really was alive.” The message she had received was all a mistake!

She said, “I laughed, I cried, I felt like turning cartwheels, because my son whom I had thought was dead, was really alive. I’m sure none of you can even begin to understand how I felt.”

Perhaps not, but some who walked the pages of the N.T. would have understood how she felt because they experienced the same emotions themselves.

One day they watched their best friend & teacher being nailed to a cross. They witnessed His pain as He cried out, “I thirst!” & “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” They listened as finally He bowed His head & said, “It is finished!” & “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” They watched as His body was taken from the cross & buried. All their hopes & dreams were buried with Him. Friday & all day Saturday they mourned, until finally, on “the first day of the week, early in the morning,” the scripture says, some women made their way along the path that led to His tomb, wondering who would roll away the stone for them.

But when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away. And an angel there told them, “You’re looking in the wrong place. You’re looking for Jesus among the dead. He is not dead. He is alive. He is risen, even as He said!” “He is Risen!” That is what we celebrate this morning. When all the evidence is in we’re convinced that Jesus is alive. He is risen from the dead, & what a difference His resurrection has made!

Dale Evans once said, “I spent most of my life searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Then I finally found it at the foot of the cross.”

Confident Christianity: “The Foundation” – 1 Corinthians 15, Part One

Glenn-BeckRadio personality Glenn Beck recently told a story about a hypothetical TV series he would like to make in order to drive home an important point. He set the opening scene like this:

Every episode would begin with a man doing something heinous. For instance, Beck said, “the man would appear closing a heavy metal door to a sealed gas chamber. He would then pull a lever and peer through a small peek hole into that gas filled room while watching people inside die horribly. That would be the opening 45 second. The scene after, Beck posited, the camera would find that same man playing with his children on the carpet of their living room. The entire episode he would be a fine, upstanding citizen, and a good husband and father. He would be scripted so as to win the audience. If you were watching him, you would like him! At the end of the episode, when you found yourself enjoying this man’s humor, attitude about life and basic mind frame – he would do another heinous deed. The entire series would agitate you with the contrast between the man’s normal life and his awful deeds. In the end, the story would beg you to ask yourself a question: “How could such a good man do such horrible things?” The answer is simple: He surrendered, little by little, his core beliefs to compromise for some seemingly good reason. Beck then closed his little parable with these words: “So it is when we think we should surrender some small part of our value system to make people happy. In the end, the price will be horrible.

I am not a regular listener to Beck. In fact, I don’t think I have actually ever listened to a program he produced before in my life. At the same time, when I was driving down the road the other day and this story passed by me quickly – its details stuck with me. Why? I suspect it is because of the passage I want to talk about in this lesson on 1 Corinthians 15. The passage is well known to be about the Resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, it is true to say the passage under consideration is as famous (among Bible students) for the theme of the Resurrection of Jesus as the notion that chapter 13 is known as a “love chapter”. The passage answers probing questions concerning the Resurrection of Jesus and even what is prophetically promised for believers – but that is not the MAIN POINT Paul made in the chapter. His point was closer to the idea Beck presented. It was this…

Key Principle: When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

If you go back and study antiquity, you will find the issue of the Resurrection was hotly disputed in ancient Jews, but it was also on the minds of several important Roman celebrity thinkers. When the Christian message spread, the notion came under fire across the Roman Empire. Let’s say it this way:

As Christianity grew it encountered the ideas of Seneca the Stoic philosopher and tutor of Emperor Nero in his youth, as well as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (who taught the body was inherently degraded but soul was, in essence a good thing). Add to that, in Corinth the believers of that city appeared to feel the spreading influence of some of Nazarene Judaism (literally some Jews from a Sadducean background joined the congregation at Corinth). Since Sadducees did not believe the Hebrew Scriptures taught a body resurrection of individuals, they therefore could not accept that Jesus’ resurrection was part of the justification message. Because of their knowledge of the Law, they were confusing the congregants by saying the Good News message of Jesus did not have to include the Resurrection.

Think of it this way: since (strictly speaking by the standards of old Atonement Law) men and women were rescued from wrath by the death of an animal – Jesus’ death was all that was necessary for the solution for sin. (15:12). According to that line of argument, the Resurrection would eventually be made to seem less important, and it would eventually fall from being an “essential of the faith” to being a mere appendage.

Watch this line of argument, because it is rampant in our day. People will say: “Stick to the essentials and don’t get bogged down in the details!” On the surface that sounds both well-reasoned and reasonable. On closer inspection, though, it is harder and harder to pin down what people think is included in the essential teaching of the faith.

Let me ask you frankly: “Do you think Paul would think defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman was essential? In his writings, as we have seen in the study of this letter earlier, he maintained those who would not restrict the marriage bed to those who are monogamously married to one of the opposite sex were to be ejected from the church. He noted in chapter 6 that such activities were part of the past life of some believers, but never the present – for participants in such things are “not part of the Kingdom of God.” Does that sound to you like a “marginal issue” or one essential to the practices of believers? Yet you will be repeatedly told (even by other believers) it is “majoring on minors” to insist that such behaviors remain immovably in the category of sinful practice.

Do you believe Paul would have been willing to surrender the literal Creation of the physical world as an optional belief? How about the notion that Adam and Eve were literal creations of the Living God? What would happen to the Gospel if that was a mere story in light of Paul’s writing of these words from 1 Corinthians 15:21 “For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”?

Let’s just lay it out so that every college student can understand what is at stake in swallowing the compromise of “keeping it simple” when it comes to sharing our faith. If Peter would have been willing to surrender the literal flooding of the earth by the Lord God, what would his words about future judgment come to mean when he wrote about literal Bible history in 2 Peter 2:4:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly [lives] thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day by [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment…”

Beloved, don’t be silenced by others who want to embrace practices long forbidden to gain acceptance to the world. The fathers of our faith would tell us to stand our ground and speak truth even when truth is not popular or widely accepted. The siren call to compromise is not new to this generation – it has beckoned believers ever since truth was written down for us in God’s Word. Paul faced that in this passage, and his test case was the veracity of the Resurrection account from the Word in 1 Corinthians 15. His problem may have been a different one, but his commitment was the same that I am calling out for you and I to make. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Paul argued the truth of the Resurrection was five things:

1. It was a timeless truth: The Gospel he preached was unchanged from what they heard when he came to them (15:1-2).

2. It was prophetically sound: The Gospel he preached was fully rooted in Holy Scripture, and included the following facts:

a. Messiah died as a penalty to pay for the sins of those who believe on Him (15:3) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Isa. 53:5-12; John 1:29).
b. Messiah was physically buried and bodily raised from death to life (15:4) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Ps. 16:8ff).

3. It was historically verified: Messiah was seen by His followers many times in many settings (15:5-7) and those who saw Him continually testified of this (15:7b).

4. It was a part of the writer’s personal experience: Paul was not boasting when he claimed that he saw and spoke with the Risen Savior and was commissioned by Jesus as the others who brought the message to the world (15:9-11).

5. It was a matter of the message’s integrity: If Messiah hasn’t risen, we have misled you and lied (15:13-16) and you are not God’s people (15:17) and those who died believing this are lost (15:18). We are all pathetic liars (15:19).

Our message is based on very specific reported facts of history that define the family of faith. They aren’t opinions of sages; they are facts of history.

The Apostle says these events caused the formation of a body of “believers”. Don’t get fuzzy on what we are taught in Christ! The truth is some that was announced by God and is a revealed set of truths. Move in on verse one again:

15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand

You will see that our message was brought in content and ANNOUNCED (euangellion – cp.1). It was found in a message OF GOOD NEWS that can be verbally communicated. The Gospel isn’t a harsh message that brings condemnation – but a liberating message of full payment. We aren’t sharing RULES with people – we are declaring their bondage ended!

You can also note the hearer had to CHOOSE to “take it along with them” (receive is the term “paralambano” – 1b). It was obtained by a deliberate reception. The Gospel requires response and grasping. It is not a passive reception of a baby in a baptismal font, but the decision of a thoughtful mind. No one gets to Heaven by accident, stumbling in the pearly gate. They must decide to receive the message.

Note the end of verse one. The choice of receiving Christ caused the recipient to “take their stand” or “FIX THEIR HOLD” on it (stand is the term “histemi” – 1b). The Gospel impacted the person who came to Christ and changed the recipient in future action. Having decided on the veracity of the message, they clung to that message. The life perspective changed.

Step back, then, for a moment. The Good News of Jesus has to be individually accepted and makes a change in the life of one who truly embraces Jesus. Is that YOU? Do you recall making the message of Jesus – that He came and died in your place for your sin – your chosen belief? Did that belief change your life choices and behaviors?

Paul continued talking about the Gospel, our essential message, and made clear some other important truths about it. He wrote:

15:2 [the Gospel] “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Here Paul made clear the choice to receive Jesus and fix hold on Him alone for our spiritual life SAVES the recipient (save is “sozo” – from to rescue or cure – v.2a). If sin is the sickness, the Gospel is the cure. One must understand that without the Gospel a man or woman is not simply “impaired” but utterly LOST. The lost condition is greater than a simple “brokenness within” – -it is a condition whereby they are utterly separated from God. It is to that condition Jesus referred when He said in John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The issue of SAVED and LOST is technically separation from the Father in Heaven.

Notice Paul said at the end of verse two the “salvific effect” occurs only for those who POSSESS the Gospel (the terms “hold fast” are a translation of “katecho” – to firmly bind to). This must be more than a casual nod to the concept – it requires a binding of Jesus and His work to the life of the recipient. A second emphasis of the BINDING nature of the recipient (after his statement in verse one) should help to clarify that it must be a serious and real choice to be effective. It is more than knowing the facts of the Gospel; it is surrendering control of life to Jesus.

We preached the Resurrection this past Sunday, as we have done since this church body began to meet in the early 1980’s. Yet, it is easy for us to lose track of how important this message is to our body. Look at verse 3:

15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…

Did you notice the Gospel was the HIGHEST PRIORITY message for the Apostle to bring to the Corinthian people (the term “protos” is translated “of first importance” – 3a). He taught them much over the one and one half years he was with them – but nothing was of higher importance in the public ministry.

The message of the church is and always was rooted in the salvation message. Jesus came to set us free from sin and open a way to God that was closed to most and temporary to the Jews of antiquity. The Temple provided a temporary covering over of the problem, but Jesus fixed the problem once and for all time.

Paul RECEIVED the message. He POSSESSED the Gospel before he shared it with them (the term “received” is again the term from verse one – “paralambano” – or choose). He was not unsure of its truth, or uncommitted to its details. In fact, he continued, the message included DEFINED HISTORICAL FACTS. Note the verses:

15:3b “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

The Apostle could not be more clear. Jesus died as my substitute for SIN (not for sime mere political posturing or a life example for men to learn from). He was here, and He was killed. His physical body was buried in a tomb and that same body came back to life from its dead state (15:5,6). A message without the components is a different message.

These facts were PROPHESIED from the Scriptures – the very Word of God (15:5). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry was drawn from the Prophets of old – and not some contrived story. In fact, without an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, one could not grasp the judicial terms of sin’s separation, and a sacrifice’s valuable nature to bring justification.

Paul wanted to be very clear that the whole message hangs together or falls together! He continued the teaching to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:12 “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

To make the argument even clearer, Paul shared that NO COMPONENT of the message of the Gospel can be extracted without collapsing the whole – because the veracity of the account hangs together. A truth shrouded in lies is not the source you can trust for your eternal destiny.

In the case of the Corinthians, it is clear that some were struggling with the notion of the life after death for the BODY. They may have believed in HEAVEN, but saw no reason to elevate the physical body to a place that required literal resurrection. Paul rejected this out of hand. Look at his reasoning:

• If there is no resurrection – the message we told you of Christ included a claim that was not true! 1 Corinthians 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

Can you really trust a message that is embedded with lies and half-truths? Following a flawed Bible is more senseless than living beneath a cracked dam! Either the Bible is true or it is a waste of your Sunday morning to learn from it.

• If there is no resurrection and the claim concerning Jesus was fabricated, you have believed an empty story of corrupt liars in the place of real faith! 1 Corinthians 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

If Paul was a liar and the other Apostles charlatans, we have no hope in Christ at all. He was a good man who died an untimely and unfortunate death – and nothing more. His moral teachings were those of a flawed man to be set beside other greats of human history. He is not alive and offers nothing for sure. Martyrs like Stephen were NOT men of God if Christ is not Risen, but deceivers justly killed for promotion delusion and deception.

• If there is no resurrection, we are not God’s people – but are still separated from God! We will be persecuted throughout history, only to die for lies! 1 Corinthians 15:16 “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The point is that if the elements of the Gospel are not all present and true, then the message is not the good news at all! The message of the Bible is either TRUE or it is a terrible book of deception that has offered false hope to billions.

One cannot simply argue that the text has “elements of truth” with occasional “misstatements” and “fabrications” without thereby implying the faith of Christ to be BOGUS.

The argument applies even more broadly! Consider for a moment how many other teachings hinge on the truth of this one. One such teaching is the place and work of Jesus now (John 14; Rev. 4 and 5). Either Jesus is our advocate, or He was a relic of history and nothing more.

Ah, but Christ IS RISEN.

It was long before promised in predictive prophecy. The Gospel is not just a story made by men – it was revealed truth by God Himself.

Not long ago two young ladies sat in our church for a sermon and came to a day of classes at GCBI. They were struggling with the idea that we can know if the Bible is true, and know that Jesus was Who He said He is. They asked: “How can we know it is not one of the other religions of the world?” It was a thoughtful question from true searching hearts. I replied as I will to you in this lesson: “The Bible is the only one of the ancient texts that is so thoroughly historically attested. Walk the lands of the Bible. Stick a shovel in their soils. You will uncover evidence after evidence of the Bible’s veracity in historical detail. Scholars do all possible to punch holes in the ancient record. Yet, consistently, one find after another silences their claims.

That isn’t all, but that was the beginning of my quest to know…Because God made promises, and God keeps His promises, and the Bible contains His promises – we can see that Jesus fulfilled God’s promises. No Bible – no salvation. Yet, our world is FULL of evidence concerning God’s existence and we are trained to look past it!

Let me take a moment and offer you a few straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there. Don’t forget to consider the fact the Bible claims that people have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God in Romans 1. God appears to be hiding in plain sight.

Is there any “hard evidence” that God exists? I think there is.

Start for a moment by considering the complexity of our planet, and how that design points to an Intelligent Designer who both created our universe, and sustains it today. There are countless examples demonstrating God’s design, but we are limited in time, so let us consider a small sampling of the evidence…

Our planet

Consider for a moment the unique planet on which we live. Did you know the size and position of earth have both been calculated by scientists to be ideal for its purposes? Consider this: the planetary size and position accounts for its exacting gravity. Its hold on the thin layer of gases extends a mere fifty miles above the Earth’s surface. A smaller planet, like the planet Mercury, would not be able to hold such an atmosphere, even if one could be produced there. Earth appears, at least so far, to be the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain flora and fauna, as well as animal and human life.

The Earth is located an idea distance from the sun for our living systems. The temperature variance the planet encounters (about -30 degrees to +120 degrees) is ideal for all its systems. Further from the sun, the earth could sustain no life, and all living materials would freeze. Closer to the sun and the surface would become a fireball and all life would be consumed. A slight fractional variance in the earth’s position to the sun would kill everything here. Yet, the Earth remains a perfect distance from the sun rotating around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph and allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be warmed and cooled with the turning. Earth has only one moon, but it is the perfect size and distance from the Earth to balance its gravitational pull. The moon pulls our ocean tides so our life waters do not stagnate, and pulls them out so that oceans do not spill over the continents.

The Simplest Component of Life

Consider for a moment something as ubiquitous as water…It is largely without color, odor or taste, and yet it is essential to most all living things on earth. Our plant life, our animal life and our human existence depend on water, because our very bodies consist of about two-thirds water. Water as a substance is uniquely suited to life: With a wide margin between a boiling and freezing point. Water is one of the primary ways we have been outfitted to live in an environment of fluctuating temperatures while maintaining a steady 98.6 degrees. It acts as a universal solvent for necessary chemicals, minerals and nutrients to be carried through our bodies. It is chemically neutral, and does not affect the makeup of the substances it carries. It enables substances to be absorbed and used by our body. Its unique surface tension allows water in plants to flow upward against gravity, pulling internal water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees. It freezes from the top down and floats, allowing fish to live beneath the surface of frozen regions. Since ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans, the earth was designed with the ability to remove salt from the water and distributes fresh water beneath the planet’s surface. The massive oceans evaporate and leaving their salts, forming clouds moved by the wind to disperse water over the land. This is a purification system supplying and sustaining life.

The Operation of Our Brain

Consider for a moment the design involved in your brain. You are, in this very moment, simultaneously processing information of many types from a variety of sources using a number of senses. You observe colors and objects, subconsciously note the temperature of your surroundings, regard the pressure of your feet against the floor, sort out automatically the variety of sounds around you, and even detect unusual dryness in your mouth. You are designed with an onboard system to store processes and emotions, thoughts and memories, sensory warnings and comnforts. Simultaneously, your brain tracks and paces functions throughout your body. Your hypothalamus sends messages to maintain your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger sensor and movement of the steadying muscles to keep you upright. Even the slowest thinking human brain is processing more than a million messages a second, while sorting the varied importance of all the accessed data. Without effort, you are filtering out the unimportant, and screening information while you focus effectively. You were constructed with an ability to reason, to emotionally feel, to envision and plan and relate to other people. Your eye has “auto focus” and is able to distinguish among seven million colors handling an astounding 1.5 million messages — simultaneously. While evolutionary theory focuses on mutation, adaptation and incremental, the theory alone has been unable to explain the initial source of the eye or the brain’s development – for it is the start of living organisms, separating them from nonliving matter.

The Cause of our Starting Place

Consider our beginnings. Our scientists tell us there is cause and effect. Where there is an effect, a cause should be sought to be real science. While our research has overwhelmingly concluded that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light as the singular beginning to everything – we are also told there should be no reason sought for in that event – all began as a random activity with not purposeful beginning. Scientists offer no explanation for the explosion of light and matter in which they say all things had a beginning.

Our Uniform Codes

Consider the intelligent codes from which life replicates itself and upon which it all depends. Our world operates by uniform laws of nature. One obvious question is: “Why?” Every day you have learned to count on the effects of gravity, the cooling of hot food, the constant motion of the earth which rotates uniformly in 24 cycles, and recognition that the speed of light doesn’t change How exactly did random forces create stable laws that remain consistent? There is no logical necessity for a random universe to obey consistent rules or abide by mathematically precise designs.

A closer examination of our own DNA code allows us to confirm that information provides a cell within us the required knowledge to determine its own behavior. We have an internal instruction manual so that in every cell of our bodies there exists a complex instruction code, made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. Using these four chemicals, there are three billion letters in unique order for each human cell!! The code, or DNA, instructs the cell to act in a certain way. Is it beyond reason to ask: “How did this information programming get introduced to each human cell?” These chemicals uniquely instruct in sequential code every detail of how a person’s body should develop. Natural causes presume no purposeful code, but our biological systems yield extensive evidence of encoding. If we had a random beginning, this is the only example of such precise instruction that has no one intentionally constructing it.

Turn our attention for a moment to a final question. How do we know Jesus is truly the way, and not another world religion?

Survey the major world religions and you will discover that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. Uniquely and surprisingly, Jesus made much more than that claim, actually stating that He was “One with God” according to the Bible. That alone sets Jesus apart from all the others. Jesus said God exists and looking at Jesus was seeing God Himself expressed in human form. He claimed attributes belonging only to God like the ability to forgive people of their sin, free people from enslaving habits, and offer people an abundant life here, as well as eternal life in heaven. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

Did Jesus offer evidence for the claims?

In short, in His time on earth people followed because He did what people can’t do. He was widely reported to have performed miracles. He healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He demonstrated power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people, walked on top of a lake, commanded a raging storm to stop for some friends. He told people, “If you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.” They followed in huge numbers for the time and place in which He lived.

The final act of His life on earth before leaving us was to be given life after death. He conquered death itself. It is not an incidental action – it was an evidence of Who He claimed to be. It is THAT act that caused even the most reluctant disciple to believe, change his life to follow, and die if necessary for the truth of Jesus. His Resurrection was the single irrefutable evidence that changed the first followers.

Though God does not force us to believe in him, He has provided sufficient evidence of His existence and then made Himself evident in the power of the Risen Son. It is not a side issue – the veracity of the message hangs on the historical events.

When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

Christ is Risen. He has taken the sting of death…

A man and his were riding along in the car with the passenger side window down on a beautiful Spring morning. The little boy panicked when a small bee flew into the car, because he was allergic to bees and one sting could mean terrible pain and even death. His father saw the boy’s panic as he reached over and grabbed the bee. A moment later he released the bee back into the car. The little boy cried, “Dad, get it out!” The father replied: “Hush, son! He cannot hurt you. I took his sting so that he cannot harm you!” That is what Jesus did to death. His Resurrection proved the Father’s satisfaction. It is essential to the message, and it is true.

Confident Christianity: “The Donut Principle” – I Corinthians 14: 1-19

cream-donutDid you ever get a cream donut and find it was all dough and no cream? I hate when I get something that isn’t what it is supposed to be – and so do most people. The other day I met a man who was a Christian, but his heart was filled with anger, suspicion, fear and hatred. He didn’t like immigrants. He didn’t like Christian programs on TV. He didn’t like politicians who claimed to be Christians. After talking to him awhile, I wasn’t sure he liked me, and I am not sure He like Jesus all that much. He was a cream donut missing all the good stuff. He was a man with judgment, but no love. He was, however, somehow surprised that he was unsuccessful at reaching people with the message of salvation. His grown children don’t take his calls. His family has no time for him. He is a Christian, but he is a very negative, very angry version of the original idea. He doesn’t know what he is missing, and he won’t listen if you tell him.

Do you ever deliberately use hyperbole when you share a story with someone? A hyperbole is a rather extreme form of exaggeration used in order to make a point. Some of them are humorous, but all of them leave you thinking about the point of the writer or speaker. The term comes from a Greek word meaning “excessive.” The truth is that even a boring story can “come to life” with its use. Consider these small examples from everyday life for a moment:

“I’ve told you a million times”
• “She is so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company”
• I am so hungry I could eat a horse.
• It’s a sleepy little town. I spent a couple of weeks there one day.
• I have a million things to do.
• I had a ton of homework.
• If I can’t buy that new game, I will just die.
• He is as skinny as a toothpick.
• That joke is so old, the last time I heard it I was riding on a dinosaur.
• You could have knocked me over with a feather.
• Her brain is the size of a pea.
• He is older than dirt.

One of my favorite examples of hyperbole can be found in Paul Bunyan’s classic opening of the American folktale “Babe, the Blue Ox” where he wrote:

Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid ‘afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”

Isn’t that a catchy way to get you to picture the cold? Hyperbole works. Now, this isn’t a literature or grammar course, so perhaps you are wondering, “Why is he explaining hyperbole to us?” That is a good question! The answer is simple: understanding hyperbole helps set the context of the very well known and often quoted text written by the Apostle Paul to the first century church at Corinth found love in 1 Corinthians 12-14; particularly the passage that describes love in 1 Corinthians 13. You needn’t look too hard to really observe the fact that Paul wanted to bring an extreme comparison into the lives of believers who thought they knew how to place proper weight and value on things.

Here is the truth: We often set the wrong values on things in this life. We don’t see our life the way God sees the time He has provided for us on earth. We think we know what is important, but over the course of our lives, even what we think is truly important changes.

Let me see if I can make this point more obvious, but pardon me for a few moments as I set the text in its context… Paul introduced the gifts or Divine enabling of the Spirit of God in 1 Corinthians 12. When we studied the passage in a previous lesson, we saw that Paul brought to the attention of the believers five misunderstandings that invaded their thinking on the subject of spiritual gifts.

First, Paul wanted believers to know that God absolutely was in the business of speaking and engaging them (12:1-2). Believers weren’t like pagans bowing to mute statues – they had a God Who hears and answers.

Second, the Apostle wanted to offer the people a few tools to discern truth from error (12:3). People who taught that Jesus was Master were speaking for God; people who demeaned Jesus simply weren’t speaking for God at all – no matter how well they put words together.

Third, Paul wanted them to recognize the uniqueness of each believer (cp. 12:4-7). Not every believer was given the same gifts because God wanted us to have a variety of enabling abilities to do a variety of ministries.

Fourth, he wanted the church to recognize there were (and are) no “spare part” Christians – all the varieties of believers with their various gifts were essential (12:8-11). It didn’t matter if some were more obvious in their use by God; only that God used believers as He chose.

Fifth, Paul wanted to address the sense of over-importance in some (12:12-31). Some thought they were more important because of their family background and pedigree (12:13). Some thought they were more important because of their obvious use by God (like the eye or ear in 12:14-16).

In the final analysis, the problem was that some people envied the gifts of others, and some exercised authority over others because of certain enabling they had – even though they neither earned nor deserved it. People, even Christians, don’t always place value the way God does. Because of that, Paul “stepped in” with some words from the Spirit of God:

1 Corinthians 12:31 [You have a variety of gifts of the Spirit] But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

In the face of people who didn’t lauded those with obvious gifts and easily overlooked other believers, Paul wanted to show they there was something far better than the best gifts and enabling work of the Spirit of God. It is something the church of Corinth needed desperately. It is something that every group of believers needs to recognize and reaffirm.

Look at 1 Corinthians 12:31 more closely. Do you see the word “excellent”? That term is the Greek word “hyperbole” – the term for an extreme. Paul said that all believer have gifts, and all believers are to be valued, but that isn’t the secret to seeing people come to Christ and having their lives changed. It isn’t even CLOSE to the best way to reach people. There is something EXTREMELY STRONGER that we can use. What is it?

Key Principle: The most superior (by far) method of drawing people into a relationship with Jesus that will transform them is by loving them while pointing them to the truth in the Word.

Love isn’t a second best tool for ministry – it is the best tool BY FAR. It is the EXTREME MEGA TOOL for showing Jesus to the world.

In this lesson, I am admittedly reaching back into the past to prepare us to move forward on the journey through the rest of this book. It is not intended to be a simple review; I am seeking to build a springboard from which we can explain the gifts more fully. Look at 1 Corinthians 13…

The opening phrase of the paragraph and the closing phrase act like bookends… “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love.” The point is the superiority of love over any display of gifted-ness. Your open heart and readiness to show love to someone will mean more and realize greater effectiveness than gaining five new enabling markers of the Spirit of God in your life.

In a world starved for truly loving relationships – God made the point that NOTHING WORKS TO CHANGE PEOPLE LIKE LOVING THEM. NOTHING.

Why? Paul explained:

Love is permanent; the manifestation gifts are temporary:

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

Don’t misread the verse. He isn’t saying that love always delivers the outcome you want. You can love your children deeply and they can still stray. When he wrote “love never fails” he was saying that when the earth is dissolved and time gives way to eternity – LOVE WILL STILL BE LOVE. It will still matter who you showed love to, and where you found love. He went on to write…

Love is much more complete; revelatory gifts are incomplete:

1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

The simple fact is that no amount of preaching can replace what a steady dose of loving will yield. Revealing the grand truths of God from the Word is a supremely important function of ministry, but people who don’t believe you both love God and love them don’t care about your insights. Pain and rejection block receptivity to God’s Word. Practical love and genuine concern are essential to reaching into the heart of another.

Love expresses maturity; gift reliance is immature:

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Love is “other person centered” action. Selfishness is the natural watermark of the immature. With that in mind, it is clear that focusing on my “star power”(of personal attraction) or ability will only focus people‘s attention on ME will end in self-absorption, while love (by definition) focuses on those I am called to serve.

Love is more insightful (clearer sighted) than fervent self-hunger for acquisition and use of spiritual gifts:

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I don’t think it is a secret that we see many a ministry built on great gifted-ness, but much less built on love.

The greatest and most lasting outreaches won’t be built on sheer wit of piercing argument. Polemics will always have their place, but they will come and then fade. Love lasts after all the reasons are forgotten. That doesn’t make the reasons unimportant; it speaks to what is the strongest tool in the toolbox to pull the ensnared from peril.

The best churches won’t be the ones who have incredible pulpit talent when it is not borne along by a loving congregation that wants to show care to one another. People will come for the show, but not grow into the looking like the Savior without the shaping of loving believers around them. It won’t work in the long run.

We can so easily get caught up in momentary talent that we forget the fuel of ministry isn’t talent or treasure – it is an active, deliberate, consistent showing of love. Nothing else will do what love does in the lives of people.

I am not going “gushy and soft” here – this is straight, hard Biblical instruction that calls on each of us to put our lives where our mouths are. Paul knew the Corinthians respected famous athletes for their talent. They lauded powerful displays of the Roman navy, so frequently visiting their city. They liked a “man’s man” and the commanding sense of victory. The loved the music of the Odeion, they coveted the roar of the crowd for the soloist in the pantomime. They prized the laughter of the crowds before the skilled comics in mime performances of their local theater. Corinth loved talent and displays of ability – and they wanted the Spirit of God to “feed that desire” in the giving and use of gifts, but God wasn’t gifting them to exalt them.
Here is the truth:

• Gifts should bring us better ability to love and admire one another without encouraging us to focus on each other, but rather on the goodness of God’s Spirit in equipping the undeserving!

• Gifts should offer us a sense of greater personal humility when we are used of God, because we become aware none of us are not the true source of our Spirit-enabled abilities.

• Gifts should offer us a fuller view of what God intended us to experience as He works in and through us, and we learn to let Him lead in the dance of daily life.

Jump past chapter 13 and keep reading for a few moments… As you drop into Paul’s discussion already in progress, remember Paul is speaking to a GROUP not an individual. What he tells them, he says to them as a local body.

First, he tells them BOTH the pursuit of love and the desire for God to reveal truth are things the church should DESIRE and CHERISH.

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

With all that we have said about love, don’t forget love doesn’t decrease the need to know the TRUTH from God that is revealed by that same Spirit. Prophecy in Scripture is simply “God’s view of the news!” Whether that prophecy relates to the future or to the present isn’t the point. We need LOVE to bind us to one another and TRUTH to offer us the marching instructions on the way we are to proceed.

Second, Paul highlighted a heart problem in those who wanted God to use them in front of others by enabling them to “speak in tongues.”

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.

Though tongues were from God, they were limited in use: Paul wasn’t “down” on tongues speaking, as that was a communication that God initiated as a manifestation of His own presence to the early believers at Corinth. He was, however, “down” on the fact that many who wanted that gift didn’t seem to grasp the extreme limitation of its use. Tongues without interpretation by another didn’t offer anything to the hearer, and tended to puff up the speaker. In the cases where tongues occurred in the Book of Acts, the languages appeared to be understood by some of the listeners who were from other lands, and recognized their “mother tongue” coming from one who didn’t study it.

The ultimate point Paul made was that prophecy requires no additional person to clarify it, and on its face will edify the hearers, while tongues could easily make the speaker feel special, but won’t help equip the body by instructing the hearers. Speaking great truths in a language no one can grasp doesn’t help confused people grab truth or wayward people experience conviction.

Though tongues were from God, they left could easily leave the “gifted” in an awkward position. Consider what Paul added.

1 Corinthians 14:4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

Do you want to look good, be affirmed by others and be seen as more significant? That isn’t the right motivation for ministry. Go into entertainment – there is a place for you there!

The motivation for ministry MUST BE the exaltation of the Father and His Son Jesus, by bringing others closer to Him. The best use of the prophet’s tongue will always be whatever message will pierce the heart with clarity, challenge and care.

Paul wanted them to recognize that tongues may look neat, but if their heart was to serve, build and edify – it was actually quiet awkward when no one interpreted. It was just weird babble that didn’t make sense unless you knew the language that was spoken. When the act of speaking is more important than the understanding of the listeners to whom you are speaking – you are self-absorbed. When you enjoy the sound of your own voice more than the aid of your friend – you are on the wrong page in your sharing.

Paul clearly argued the most important thing must be what the “hearers” understood – not how important the speaker looked.

1 Corinthians 14:6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?

What if we used the standard for all our speech of “what will it help” before we started speaking. What if we applied that to our social media, our neighborly discussions with those around us? How would that change what we say? Paul wanted people to value the truth God wanted to share more than they valued themselves as the vessel of the sharing! If others don’t grow in their walk when I share my insight, is it just to puff myself up? That is a question we should all contemplate.

The truth at the end of the day is this: noise without clarity is just noise.

1 Corinthians 14:7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.

People wanted God to grab their mouth and let them stand in the congregation and begin to utter things in a language they had not learned. Paul simply pressed, time and again, “WHAT IS THE POINT?” The point was to be seen. Romans were a culture that loved being on display. Their progeny walk the streets of Rome today in the “Passegiata” or nightly stroll to see and be seen. Every Roman specialist will tell you that Romans felt measured by others on the basis of their public display. Women wore things that would make Lady Gaga blush – just to be seen.

We can turn this into a discussion about tongues, but we will miss the larger point. There is an unhealthy attitude within all of us. There is a hunger to be noticed that goes beyond what is right. There is a desire to have others affirm our worth that substitutes for the Divine nod.

Let me as a pointed question: “Why did you wear what you did this morning?” For some perhaps, it was what they had clean! For others it was carefully thought out to attract the attention of others. Fair enough. Looking nice is a good thing, but it can be something more…

Can we not see that one can even MINISTER to be seen of men? Jesus chided Pharisees for that very point – and yet they live. They live in our churches, in our ministries, and indeed – they live in US.

Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly: “Our attitude as believers MUST BE to build others and not “place feathers in our own cap.”

1 Corinthians 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Here is the key point to the whole discussion on tongues: people who want to BE important aren’t as interested in God being important.

The noted Scottish professor from the first part of the twentieth century named James Denney once noted: “No man can preach Christ and himself at the same time!” For some movements, the tongues issue is still wrapped up in selfish garb. For other movements, it is the preaching gift that elevates – the Pastor is elevated to worship level. Still others elevate the service gift, oddly making celebrities even of greatly gifted servants. In the end, the problem is the same.

We must teach people to see Jesus, and we must stop “hogging” His glory. The greatest honor of our lives is to bring Him glory, not to be known. Personal affirmation will evaporate in the light of His presence.

I plead with you…Servants of Jesus must make every effort to stop feeding on the affirmation of men. It is a trap that will lead us to disaster! We must find our significance in Jesus and not in any status that will slip into oblivion and darkness with the ending of our sojourn on earth. Jesus is important; and our service empowered by Him is JUST THAT.

Stop for a moment, and look at Paul’s whole address. People wanted to be important, and that became more important than simply exalting Christ. Can you see that as a problem in YOUR life?

Let me ask a direct question: “How do you get people to really see Jesus in you and follow Him?

Some people think fighting will do the trick. They argue their politics and morality and think that represents Jesus. All they are doing ins inflating their ego and claiming Jesus’ blessing on it.

Pastor Brian Bill of Edgewood Baptist wrote something that stuck with me: “A man from Illinois decided to travel to Wisconsin to go duck hunting. He shot and dropped a bird, but it fell into a farmer’s field on the other side of the fence. As the flatlander climbed over the fence, a dairy farmer drove up on his tractor and asked what was going on. The hunter said, “I shot a duck and I’m retrieving it.” The old farmer replied, “This is my property and you’re not coming over here!” Well, this made the hunter mad so he said, “If you don’t let me come over the fence I’ll call my Chicago lawyer and I’ll sue you.” The farmer smiled and said, “Apparently you don’t know how we do things up here. We settle disagreements with the Wisconsin three-kick rule. I’ll kick you three times, and then you kick me three times, and so on, back and forth, until someone gives up.” The Illini liked this challenge because he thought he could easily take the old farmer. The Wisconsin Badger climbed down from the tractor and planted the steel toe of his heavy work boot into the man’s shin. The man fell to his knees. His second kick went directly to his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The farmer than landed his third kick to the side of the hunter’s head. The disoriented man slowly got up and said, “Okay, you old codger, now it’s my turn!” To which the farmer responded, “Nah, I give up. You can have the duck.”

In Paul’s words we can see that “We must surrender our bodies, minds, and wills to God and have a proper estimate of ourselves before we can effectively serve.” Your life will be able to present Christ, or present yourself. You will draw men, or you will repel them from Him into YOUR ARMS. Our calling it to bring people to the Savior.

The superior method of drawing people into a relationship with Jesus that will transform them is by loving them while pointing them to the truth in the Word.

About 20 years ago, when Saddleback Church in Southern California had grown to approximately 500 people, Rick Warren, the Senior Pastor, said, “Folks, I’m out of energy and the church is getting so big that I can’t do much more. As I read the Bible it doesn’t say I’m supposed to do it anyway…I’ll make you a deal. If you’ll do the ministry God’s gifted you to do then I’ll do my part which is to make sure you’re well fed.” Warren said they then “shook hands” and made a pact together. It was after that the church began exploding with growth (From Rick Warren’s sermon, “Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts”). What a great deal!

Let me make a similar deal with all who would be a part of the people of Grace. I will work tirelessly to teach and model – will you join me in taking your gifts and love people to Jesus? Can I count on you?

Confident Christianity: “The Essential Missing Ingredient” – 1 Corinthians 13

country musicSomeone heard a recent message from this pulpit and discovered in my well-disguised and cryptic preaching that I may not a big fan of country music. How they deciphered that is a mystery to us all, but as a result, and probably to torture me, they sent me a list of the “twenty-five funniest country music song titles.” I won’t read all of them, because I found some of them beyond my comprehension, but I admit, the ones that I can read led me to a crisis. I think I may need some new friends! Anyway, the list contained these gems that are supposedly about LOVE as sung in a country and western sound. The songs have titles like these:

2. I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself or Go Bowling.
4. I Sold A Car To A Guy Who Stole My Girl, But It Don’t Run So We’re Even.
5. Mama Get A Hammer (There’s A Fly On Daddy’s Head).
6. If The Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s Me.
7. She’s Actin’ Single and I’m Drinkin’ Doubles.
8. How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away.
9. I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You.
10. I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well.
11. I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim’s Gettin’ Better.
12. I Wouldn’t Take Her To A Dog Fight, Cause I’m Afraid She’d Win.
14. I’m So Miserable Without You; It’s Like Having You Here.
16. If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To, I’d Be Out By Now.
18. My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Sure Do Miss Him.
21. You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.
22. You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly.

I have to admit, some of these piqued my interest, and I am reconsidering my disdain for these eloquent expressions of tenderness. Obviously, if you read each title closely, there is a problem with some of the song writer’s definitions of “love.” I don’t know how to address such a variety of emotional disturbances, so I will simply point out that something has gone amiss in the lives of these singers and song writers that should be looked at by the American Psychiatric Association and perhaps even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms!

On the other hand, there was an old pop song from 1965 that came from Burt Bacharach and was popularized by Dione Warwick – a song that probably brings us closer to the theme of love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13, where today’s lesson in the Word takes us. The title was “What the world needs now” and the subject, unlike the titles of the songs above, was LOVE. Paul said it a bit differently. He wrote to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 12:31 [You have a variety of gifts of the Spirit] But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

There is something better than the best gifts and enabling of the Spirit of God. It is something the church of Corinth needed desperately. It is something that every group of believers needs. Paul said:

Key Principle: The church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; sometimes it simply lacks love for people.

It is unfair to share such an indictment out of the middle of a letter without context. Let’s take a moment and look back a step or two to set the scene for this powerful pronouncement… Since their disciple maker spent time with the believers at Corinth correcting five errors, and God preserved the record – they are likely something we not overlook in the context of this lesson.

Let’s take a few minutes and replay what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, and make sure we aren’t nurturing the same errors today! He cited Five Misunderstandings about Spiritual gifts. Reading the letter carefully, Paul wanted believers to know:

1. God speaks and engages them (12:1-2).

2. There are basic tools to discern truth from error (12:3).

3. Each believer is unique (cp. 12:4-7).

4. Each believer should be valued (12:8-11).

5. No believer should see themselves as overly important (12:12-31).

With those truths in mind, Paul continued his writing concerning the spiritual enabling believers have from God as he wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

His clear teaching made the answer to each rhetorical question the same negative answer. People have different gifts, and they are all essential to the body. The last two sentences, however, set up another essential teaching of Paul. The Apostle promised something BETTER than great empowering gifts. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

The body should seek from God the gifts that would fill out the needs of the whole group, but they should seek something else that was even more critical to the success of the work of reaching people for Jesus. They should seek the highest prized earthly possession of the church in her dealing with one another. They should seek to learn to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in the way God would have us love.

The truth is that love is more important than any gift, and often accomplishes more than all of them combined! Can you hear the idea of LOVE in these paraphrased verses:

• “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

• How about here: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy...” (Hebrews 12:14).

Over and over Scripture admonished believers to act in love toward others. It never claimed this would be easy. In fact, Scripture makes the point repeatedly that we will be taunted and suffer at time. Not everyone will be easy to love, but if it is at all possible, we are to attempt to live in peace and harmony with others.

Paul made clear the priority of love in four arguments (13:1-3)

He began:

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Some Corinthian believers thought they needed more or perhaps better gifts for their church to be more effective, but what they needed was something better than any of the gifts (12:31). They needed to understand, adopt and live out responsible and loving behavior to each other. It was easier for them to get caught up in a discussion about “how God did what He did” (apportioning gifts and operating them) than to understand that God commanded them to love each other, and leave the “universe running” to Him.

Here is the truth: Trying to figure out how God apportions gifts is NOT part of our job. God’s desire is that we focus on our responsibility in loving each other.

You can’t choose your gifts, but you will choose your behaviors (13:1-3). We are not responsible for the gifts we are given – but we are always responsible for our behavior. The spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as it pleases God, a truth very clear in 1 Corinthians 12:11 and 18. That is the Spirit’s job, not ours. Yet we are responsible for something more important than what gifts we have. We are responsible for using our gifts with a heart filled with love! The gifts are only as valuable as the love wrapping they come in! (13:1-3). Paul made clear that:

Love is more important than great communication skills! (13:1). It didn’t matter if Paul could sing like an angel or argue like a skilled lawyer – the work of making clear the truth required a loving vessel.

Love is more important than deep spiritual insight (2a). The gift of prophecy uncovered hidden spiritual truth, but it was of little value if issued from a harsh voice and cold life.

Love is more important than great vision in God’s work. (2b). Faith that moves mountains is dangerous in a loveless servant – they are liable to dump the mountain on the house of someone for whom they have only disdain!

Love is more important than self-sacrifice (3). Giving of one’s self is truly an act of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice comes from love. Many a parent raised a child out of obligation, but the house was cold because of the absence of true love.

Deep faith won’t make up for a cold heart. Both the traveling priest and the itinerant Levite mentioned by Jesus in the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” seemed to have plenty of faith. What they lacked was love. It was such a lack that it cried loudly to the man who lay beside the road broken and helpless. They crossed over to the other side of the path to avoid making his problem, their problem. In their rush to serve God, they left a man lying along a road to die alone, and nothing they would teach or oversee in the Temple that week would change that.

Did you notice that Paul didn’t finish verse three offering any less than EVERYTHING – self included? Faith isn’t enough without love, and the same is true of generosity! Giving without loving also falls short. Perhaps we give from guilt, or to gain status. Generosity can’t replace love.

Paul explained the practice of love in fifteen short but picturesque descriptions (13:4-7).

It may seem to hear it, but LOVE as God described it, is known by its practice. Love isn’t merely something you FEEL as much as something you CHOOSE to ACT upon. Paul made clear that love is not a mystical force (as in the case of some song writers who believe it is like mud you accidentally “fall into”). Not to sound cold, but love is a clear, calculated and consistent choice.

Song writers offer us the view that love is caught like a cold. They sing: “I just can’t help falling in love with you.” or, “You’ve lost that loving feeling.” or, “Hello, I love you. Wont you tell me your name!” That isn’t how real love works at all! The Bible teaches love is something we can control and are commanded by God to do. Jesus told the Disciples:

John 13:34, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

If He commanded it; we can do it! Even more… when a believer practices love – it can be measured (13:4-7). Paul wrote a description of its appearance:

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Take a moment and look at the description bit by bit, so we can build a broader view of what God meant by love we are to practically share with friends, family, church and community:

• Love is patient: makro-thumeo “long before burning temperature”. God’s description of real love is the kind that doesn’t “fly off the handle” and become rash in reaction.

• Love is kind: chrest-euo-mai: “to show one’s self mild or tender”. Love isn’t rough, but gentle. It isn’t harsh, but mild. If you find you bristle at the sound of someone’s voice and snap at them when they speak to you – you don’t love them.

Pastor Melvin Newland shared a story that I think fits well here. He wrote: “I heard a story about a woman who was standing at a bus stop. She had just cashed her tax refund check, so she was carrying more money than usual & was a little bit nervous about that. She glanced around & noticed a shabbily dressed man standing nearby. And as she watched, she saw a man walk up to him, hand him some money, & whisper something in his ear. She was so touched by that act of kindness that she decided to do the same. In a burst of generosity, she reached into her purse, took out $10, handed it to the man, and whispered to him, “Never despair, never despair.” The next day when she came to the bus stop, there he was again. But this time he walked up to her & handed her $110. Dumbfounded, she asked, “What’s this?” He said, “You won, lady. Never Despair paid 10 to 1.” Pastor Newland went on to make the point that kindness isn’t really kindness when it is self-serving, and it doesn’t always pay back in this life. (Adapted from Sermon Central).

• Love is not jealous: dzayloo means “to burn with uncontrolled impassioned fervor”. Love hasn’t caused you to lose control. Lust does that, but not love. It doesn’t push your mind into thinking terrible things about another – that isn’t love. People will say, “Love makes you do crazy things!” We know what they mean, but it really doesn’t. You cannot blame feelings for actions – that is the response of the “irresponsible.” Response – able means you are able to choose your response. In the law, we have made provisions for “crimes of passion” – but they are crimes nevertheless. The Bible simply offers no refuge to the person who says “I couldn’t help it; I just felt so strongly!” Our world has demoted truth and responsibility painfully, while it elevated feeling as the chief of all motivators. God made it clear – don’t blame love.

• Love does not brag: Perpereuomai means “to verbally celebrate or concentrate on self-issues and accomplishments.” By definition, love is “other person centered” and therefore not unduly focused on self. For every moment we spend justifying our own selfishness, we give up a moment in which we could have loved others. This may seem obvious, but the longer I live the more I see people starved for real love because they have settled for selfishness as a cheap replacement.

• Love is not arrogant: Phusio-o means “to become inflated and cause to grow in self-importance” and is the brother to “does not brag”. The idea is this: Loving someone keeps you balanced from thinking you are the center of the universe. When we teach children to “fit into” the family, we are teaching them to LOVE. When we indulge children and make them the center of every decision – we don’t show them that life is filled with situations where they will not be able to get their own way. I wish I could say this in a more effective way, but I am concerned at the number of selfish Christians who act in childish ways when they do not get what they want. Someone has fed us the idea that our needs must be first, so that we can somehow have enough to care for others. That would be fine if we didn’t fall into a bottomless pit and find our needs growing as we fed them. Love doesn’t take all the air from the room, but allows others to shine and considers the needs of others first. Self-promotion is arrogance. Pouting when we don’t get our way is a form of childish arrogance.

• Love does not act unbecomingly: as-kay-mon-eh’-o means “act in a way that tears down the other”. Love builds up others whenever possible, and never seeks to cut down the other, or smash their dreams. There are thousands of ways we do this, but a very important one can be found in what we SAY about someone in front of others, and even what we say when we are alone with them. Some people have wrongly developed the habit of reacting to hurt by verbal punching. It is not loving and often as destructive as physical punching. Loving someone, no matter what you have read, doesn’t mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” Quite the opposite. It means holding your tongue and training your speech. It means saying you are sorry for anything that pulls the other down. It isn’t your job to FIX the other, but it isn’t your job to DESTROY them either!

• Love does not seek its own: The word used literally means “not forcing their own way upon another.” You keep hearing words that are the intonation of the same idea – the opposite of loving is selfish. Think of love this way: whatever you would like people to do for you – do THAT to and for them. This is a thinly veiled plagiarized quote from my favorite teacher…. Jesus!

• Love is not provoked: The word par-ox-oo’-no means “sharpened” with a figurative idea of becoming sharp or pointed. Love isn’t wearing a razor thin knife edge so that is can cut back.

• Love does not take into account a wrong suffered: The terms logidzomai kakos mean “to keep an account or record of evils suffered.” Historiography and forgiveness don’t really work together. If you find yourself saving up “what he or she did wrong” – you aren’t acting in love toward the other person at all. With every exchange, you are making a longer list of what they have done wrong, and readying it for release. .

Stop for a moment from this description of love and think about something. Have you ever gotten so caught up in a movie that your face was streaming tears when the character on the screen was physically wounded or emotionally hurt? I remember my children watching animated movies with eyes transfixed to the screen. They laughed on cue and cried on cue. They were experiencing what the person in the story was experiencing. In a word, they were empathetic.

When was the last time you looked at some who are hurting in your life and FELT with them the pain they experienced? Compassion and empathy can often be found in abundance where people are loving as they should. Compassion drives us outside of our own pain and trouble, and into the pains of others. “What do you suppose it is like to face searing pain and loss deep inside and know that no one knows how much you’re hurting? What do you suppose it feels like to get to the point that most of your body won’t work correctly anymore and feel in your heart like God passed over your name on the “come on home” list? What are the struggles of a physically handicapped person like to THEM?

Love calls us to notice others. It calls us to care. It helps us get off the center of the stage of our own lives and put others there. Love is at the center of our evangelism, and lack of it is at the center of our ineffectiveness to reach others. Remember: “People will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care about them.”

• Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: It “does not celebrate getting away with breaking a rule”

• Love rejoices with the truth: It “celebrates truthfulness”

• Love bears all things: From the word stego which means “to cover over or thatch”

Love listens. It takes the time to care. It covers over the fact that what is being said doesn’t seem relevant or necessary. Love locks on to the value of the other person.

Erma Bombeck wrote about a time when she was tired of listening. She had listened to her son tell in minute detail about a movie he had just seen, after which she had received several telephone calls filled with what she felt was mindless chatter that never seemed to end. In genuine relief she was able to tell the last caller that she just had to rush off to the airport. She got into the cab, and the driver told her all about his son who had won a scholarship to college, and how he was making straight A’s. Erma sat and listened to it all, but didn’t know any of the players in the story. She thought, “Once I get to the airport I will have thirty whole minutes when I don’t have to listen to anybody. I can just sit here & read my book & not be bothered at all.” As she sat down, an elderly female said : “I bet it’s cold in Chicago.” “I suppose,” Erma replied without looking up from her book. “I haven’t been in Chicago for 3 years,” the woman said. “My son lives there.” “That’s nice,” said Erma. Then the woman continued on, “My husband’s body is on this plane. We were married for 53 years. I don’t drive, you see, and the funeral director was so nice. He drove me to the airport today.” Erma recalls, “Her voice droned on. Here was a woman who didn’t want money or advice or counsel. All she wanted was for someone to listen. In desperation she had turned to a total stranger with her story.” Bombeck continued, “She continued to talk to me until they announced that we were boarding the plane. We walked onto the plane and I saw her sit down in another section. As I hung up my coat I heard her say to the person next to her, ‘I bet it’s cold in Chicago.'” There are so many of us who just need somebody, sometime, to listen, just to focus on us and listen to what we have to say. Love helps us grow to listen.

• Love believes all things: to entrust and give credit to”

Cal Thomas wrote: Love talked about is easily ignored while love demonstrated is irresistible!”

• Love hopes all things: epidzo “have high expectations of”

• Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”

The point is this: because love is a chosen set of behavior, when a believer practices true love – it can be measured (13:4-7).

Paul made clear the permanence of love in three examples (13:8-13).

Paul established how important it was for believers to love one another while living out their faith at home, in their community and (in the immediate context) in the local church assembly. Gift cannot do what love can. He described the attributes of that love, and then turned his attention to the great truth about love: One hundred million years from now, it will be God’s love for us and ours for one another as followers of Jesus that will matter. Our gifts and contributions will fade, but our heart of love for one another will not. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The choice to serve with love brings about more lasting results than any other outworking of the Spirit. It is for this reason the Apostle proclaims that “Love never fails” in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Here is the truth: I fail all the time!” One preacher spoke for me when he said, “I have never had to apologize for my position, but I have oftentimes had to apologize for my disposition.” We may know what we believe, but we may act in ways that show us to be aloof from what is most important.

Sometimes what we think is important, just isn’t the main thing. The fact that even the lauded gifts that reveal truth (like that of tongues, prophecy and spiritual knowledge or enabled discernment) will be limited in their time and usefulness should have made believers want something MORE LASTING than gifts that tend promote selfish headiness. Though of God, they are incomplete in scope and content and temporary in use. Corinthian believers could not put all their faith in them for they would cease (1 Corinthians 13:9).

As each believer grew in faith, they needed to learn to leave the early things they trusted to discern God’s will and direction – and move on to trusting in God’s Word without the other manifest signs and works of God (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). Experiencing God dramatically becomes much less important when we trust God more fully. Believers were to grow out of dependence on overt signs from God and simply rest in God’s Word. The signs of God’s profound presence were there in the early days of their walk, but simply became less important as the people grew up.

Believers must instructed that loving behavior is the real key to serving God in a way that pleases Him – not spectacular gift use (13). Pursue love in the use of the gifts, or they will not be what they should be (14:1).

Content is subject to change in the ages, love should not be! (8-10). Dazzling displays are not the primary object, love is what should catch our eye! (11). We must not simply KNOW clearly the word, but SHOW clearly the word in love! (12). Other lesser things will help, but love will get the message to the finish line! Helpers include:

• Faith: the vision of what God can do with one who is completely sold out to Him!
• Hope: the enduring trust that you can have if you learn that God is Sovereign!

Yet, the essential pervasive ingredient must be love: the choice to act on behalf of another, even when they don’t respond in kind!

We often attempt to use the Word to unravel the mysteries of how God works, yet the point of the Word is to change US, not to fully explain the operations of God. We must focus on the call of the Word for us to change and conform to the principles of God’s Word, and cease worrying about whether everyone else is on the right path. We are here to show God’s love to people:

Some construction workers were building a high rise across the street from a hospital. As they were working on the 3rd floor they noticed a little girl standing in the 3rd floor window of the hospital watching them work. One day they looked across & saw the little girl hold up a poster that said, “My name is Lisa. What are your names?” So the next day the construction workers came back with some poster board & magic markers, & they all wrote down their names. “My name is Bob. My name is Bill. My name is Harry. How old are you?” The next day the little girl held up a sign that said, “I am 7 years old. How old are you?” Well, this went on for several days. But one day they noticed that Lisa wasn’t at her usual place in the window. At break time one of the workers called the hospital and asked for a third floor nurse. He asked if she could tell him anything at all about Lisa. The nurse said that Lisa had taken a turn for the worse and was now in Intensive Care. The workers pooled their money and bought some flowers, with a card and a little note. They sent it to Lisa in Intensive Care. Several days passed, when another sign appeared at the window, “Lisa passed away. Thank you for caring!” (Adapted from Sermon Central).

A few men were moved by a girl they never met, because they got caught up in thinking about HER struggles, and for a few days, they forgot about their own. They didn’t have the ability to help her medically, but they could show her love – and that drew them into her story. Let me say it again as we file out the doors and are tempted not to notice one another…

The church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; often it simply lacks love for people.

• It lacks the love to share the Gospel with the lost.
• It lacks the love to reach out to those who sit across from us and touch their lives.
• It lacks the love to rise above our own opinions, pains and feelings and take the time to see people who feel left out. It lacks love, and it will never be truly effective until it starts loving as we were told.

Can you help?

Confident Christianity: “A New Family Inheritance” – 1 Corinthians 12

baby-zoomWhen a tiny baby is brought into the room, people gather around to look at God’s new reveal; a beautiful baby girl. Sounds of pleased parents and grandparents give way to words like: “You know, she has your nose!” or “Look at that hair! She is definitely from your side of the family!” We have all heard comments like these. The fact is, we DO get many of our physical features from our parents and our genetic lines dictate much about everything from the shape of our little toe to the girth of our midriff. Obviously there are lifestyle factors, but let’s face it: Some of us were never going to be professional basketball players with more of our inborn “Sumo wrestler” build! In the end, we can all admit that some of our look is determined by how we care for our body, but much was determined by how God knit together the genetic chemicals of our biological parents. I do not appear to be Chinese, and there is a genetic reason for that fact. No matter how often I eat Chinese food, I will still not look like someone born of Chinese parents.

Think about someone you may know who was adopted by a family, and recognized early in life they didn’t look like the rest of the family they held dear growing up. That was true in my family. At a certain age, an adopted child may become somewhat curious about what their biological ancestors looked like, and a need to “connect” with them may emerge within them. Though they are content in most ways living in the family from which they emerged from childhood into adulthood, it is possible they will feel the need to feel attached to the natural family that brought them into the world. For some, they report a true emotional struggle. On the other hand, adopted children can feel special in a certain way, because they were born into one family and specifically chosen by another. If they focus on the sense of loss from the departure of their first family, they may experience pain. If they focus on the choice of their adoptive family, they may find deep encouragement. In a strange way, those same truths apply to people who hear the Gospel and believe, but recognize their ancestors didn’t know or respond to that message. Think about it.

In the first century, when people made a choice for the Gospel in Corinth and throughout the Roman world of the time of Paul, they found Jesus and celebrated a wonderful new life as believers have been doing since the Gospel was first made known. At the same time, the new believer faced the truth about a terrible loss. The early Christians at Corinth faced a deep and significant personal emotional struggle because when they came to Christ, they faced a loss some of us may never have thought about. It is at the heart of every missionary’s presentation to a first generation culture when presenting Christ. They personally gained new life, but at the same time they lost hope for the spiritual destiny of many of their natural ancestors. In Spiritual terms, they lost their natural family and found their adoptive one – something that is very hard on people who care deeply about their ancestry.

We must remember that Romans revered their dead ancestors. They lit candles daily for them, and believed their “pietos” (doing the right thing) included upholding the honor of all the family – both living and dead. As a Roman came to Christ, it became painfully clear that his family members were lost. A daily routine that once brought strength now brought an enormous sting of pain to them. They could easily feel they “lost” part of their family in joining the body of Christ. As a result, God revealed truths that would help them connect to the body in a more full way, and make a difference in the lives of people that would fill up the empty holes left in their heart. God gave them something to help soften and replace that some of the feeling of that loss; His Spirit was imparted to help them feel a part of the family of God through Jesus. In a sense, He gave them His Holy Spirit to connect their identities – and He supplied gifts to them, to help the body flourish and grow. God’s Spirit offered believers of long ago a new family, a new trail of ancestors – though they were not genetic. Though we don’t revere our ancestors in the same way, God continues to do the same for us. The Spirit acts both as our “family resemblance” between believers, and our “enabling vehicle” to energize in us abilities to contribute to building up the whole family. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: God gave every follower of Jesus enabling gifts to serve Him and to confirm in them their new family identity as part of our new inheritance in His family.

Our lesson today will remind us of an incredible fact. When we came to Jesus, we got more than salvation from sin and eternity in Heaven. We were adopted into a new family and received a whole new family identity and inheritance. We gained a connection to God’s Spirit that bonded us to the family. God imparted to believers the indwelling of His own Spirit with truly helped with identity as it offered a special sense of family in the spiritual adoption process. The Spirit’s coming into the life of a believer also had another very practical side in the accompanying gifts that endowed the body with abilities to perform and function in God’s power. The Spirit’s presence helped with identity, while the enabling powers or “gifts of the Spirit” assisted in making the work assigned by God for us possible.

At the same time, the work of the Spirit, particularly as it related to spiritual gifts left the church with some confusion – it appears that at least some of the Corinthian church wasn’t certain how these gifts operated to empower the body of Christ. There were apparently at least five specific misunderstandings that arose in the public services at the Corinthian congregation that gave rise to a question they wrote to Paul. We have only his response, not their question.

Five Misunderstandings

Reading it carefully, here are truths that attacked the problems they had:

1. Paul wanted believers to know that God was speaking and engaging them (12:1-2).

2. The Apostle wanted to offer the people a few tools to discern truth from error (12:3).

3. Paul wanted them to recognize the uniqueness of each believer (cp. 12:4-7).

4. He wanted the church to recognize there were no spare part Christians – all were essential (12:8-11).

5. Paul wanted to address the sense of over-importance in some (12:12-31).

Since their disciple spent time with the believers at Corinth correcting these five errors, and God preserved the record – they are likely something we should take some time to examine as well. Let’s take a few minutes and replay what he told them, and make sure we aren’t nurturing the same errors today!

Problem One: Recognizing God speaks (12:1-2)

The first generation of believers out of the pagan did not all know that God didn’t finish His work with them at redemption – He desired to continue to speak and direct followers fo Jesus throughout their lives. As some come to Jesus today from a Theistic Evolution, where God started the world but then stepped back – we may need to teach this anew. In the end, every believer must recognize that God is active in daily life. The issue isn’t whether God withdraws from man, but whether man will seek and follow God. Our Father is not a passive bystander, but desires to give us the prize of sensing His work in us as He walks through the day beside us and inside us.

Paul addressed the issue this way:

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.

In effect, Paul said, “Thank you for writing to me about confusion of direction in hearing from God. It is obvious to me that in your former life, you used to be led by the hand of priests toward “gods” that didn’t have anything to say. That isn’t the truth of your situation now.” (12:1-2). It is worth noting by the opening comment of Paul that spiritual gifts seem easily confusing to new believers. The church needed the Spirit’s enabling with their family identity, but they also needed more instruction on the work of the Spirit in regard to the functions.

Let’s face it: Corinth wasn’t the only group of believers who ever struggled with the issue of hearing from God. Every believer has to learn that God wants to commune with him or her daily and intimately. There is no part of life in which God desires to opt out. In fact, that is what God wants NOW as much as in the earlier centuries. Yet, I cannot believe there has ever been a time when that was harder to do than it appears to be today. For one thing, error has found a pocket sized “ready to access” compendium on the internet. People can read a Bible passage, and then look below any God-fearing writer’s article to find three other conveniently “suggested for you” articles that negate everything they could have ever learned from the good article. It is part of the noise of our age.

God wants to lead and teach believers, and He does it in a variety of ways. Sadly, the enemy works to confuse the clear and proper instruction with noise that sounds similar, but contains striking differences. Paul presented clearly the difference between right and wrong teaching – and much of that difference could be spotted in clarity of the goal of it. He noted the goal of Godly instruction should always follow the same pattern expressed to Timothy in the first letter…

1 Timothy 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Men and women of God must learn to recognize that right teaching will have this goal: We must seek to produce people who live a life of unselfish actions with pure motives, moral clarity and an authentic biblical world view.

• If we don’t give opportunity to serve in the body of Christ and in the community, we will become unbalanced theoretical Christians – and these invariably become critical and opinionated slothful believers.

• If we don’t keep proper light on MOTIVATION, we can get a room of people who come to find mates, gain customers, or look for someone to dump their responsibilities upon – but we aren’t making disciples of Jesus with them.

• If we don’t emphasize moral clarity, we will gather rooms full of people who have a SUNDAY GOD that doesn’t affect their MONDAY CHOICES.

• If we hobby-horse on a favorite subject and don’t teach the whole Word of God – our world view will be a warped one that our little group all believes – in spite of the fact that it doesn’t reflect what God’s Word truly teaches. We have to exercise a variety of muscles for balanced growth in our training.

Let’s say it this way: believers need to recognize that God is speaking, and waiting for us to listen.

Problem Two: “Discerning Truth” – Knowing what came from God (12:3)

Knowing that God still speaks is essential, but knowing how to pick out His voice of truth over the cacophony of noise is essential. Paul focused them on how to know with these words:

12:3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Many people were confused by religious sounding talk that didn’t representative God’s true Word. You may rightly ask: “How can you tell which words are true?” Paul offered two specifics:

First, if they speak in a way that demeans in any way the Person of Jesus, or warns that He is not the One Who alone can lead you to the Father, mark that as error. Christians believe Jesus is the unique and Eternal Son of God who existed with the Father and Spirit at Creation. He is One with the Father, and He said that exact thing when He came to earth.

Second, Paul wrote, if any man or woman portrays to be from God, but their teaching doesn’t emphasize and focus on the Mastery of Jesus over every areas of our life choices, back away from that teacher. God’s grace is a vital concept and is therefore very important to share. God’s mercy is wonderful, and we stand in need of it daily. Yet, if a teacher pushes you in any direction but that of surrendering to Jesus and following Him, they are pushing you to go in the wrong direction in life.

The truth is that Jesus is Lord of the entire universe, for the Father has crowned Him and endued Him with all authority. The truth is that first truth gives Him claim over every choice of my life – what I eat and drink, where I go, who I spend time with and what my life purposes become. Teaching that emphasizes these realities leads us toward God’s Word; while teaching that inadvertently detracts from either the glory of the Son of God or the mastery of the Master weakens believers and distracts truth seekers.

Only a believer would teach you to turn everything over to Jesus. Likewise, an unbeliever will invariably teach something less concerning the position and Person of Christ in your life.

To make the point clearer, let me suggest that ask som questions that will make things clearer if you are not sure. First, you may ask the first question: “Does the teaching cause me to live out unselfish actions from pure motives?” We want deliberately to produce WORKING CHRISTIANS, not just theoretical theologians. The world has seen too many who can postulate and theologize, and too few who are making an impact.

The Gospel isn’t just about the salvation WE GET; it is about the changed life WE HAVE, and the loving acts WE DO because of the changes HE MAKES! In an effort to steer people away from a “works salvation”, we sometimes forget that the TRUTH IS SUPPOSED TO CHANGE OUR WORKS!

Perhaps you will want to ask a second question: (When you engage Bible instruction) “Did the instruction appear to focus on producing disciples that grasp MORAL CLARITY?” Proper instruction of God’s Word must unapologetically define moral boundaries by what the Bible teaches – not what the crowd wanted His Word to say.

Perhaps even a third question should also be applied: “Is the goal of the instruction to produce believers with a biblical world view?” The term “sincere faith” means a straightforward look at what God says is true (1:5).

Don’t forget: Without an eye on the proper goals of our instruction – we will spend our energies on the WRONG GOALS.

Problem Three: “One Size Fits All” – Lacking of appreciation of the variety of ways God works through people

Paul continued as he addressed yet a third problem Paul dealt with also inflicts each gathering of believers of every age: Some cannot see the truth that God leads each of us in different ways according to our specific call and by the operation of our spiritual gifts. We need to keep in mind that we are all very different people. Paul explained that we won’t all agree on every priority even if we are all following God fully:

1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

God is not divided in His purposes, but complex in approach. He has one common goal toward which He is working all things, but that doesn’t mean we are all walking lock step in rows without a variety of approaches to life and ministry. Why? The simplest reason is because God made each of us differently. Add to that, at salvation he gifted us distinctly. We share a common goal to honor and exalt Jesus, but have differing calls to our specific roles in that endeavor, and see the goal through the eyes of our own gifts of the Spirit.

Paul made clear there were different kinds of gifts, services to perform for the Kingdom, and operations to fulfill God’s directives. He also noted that none of those in any way came from a “variety of gods”. Since Romans had gods for every practical function and operation of life, that was a point on which he wanted specific clarity. The God of Abraham is One, unified and indivisible. God is behind every unique operation that leads people to know, love and surrender their lives to Him. He also noted the purpose God has for gifting us, despite our variety and uniqueness – is the common good of the body of Christ.

You and I didn’t receive gifts to use on ourselves or for our own fame, etc. If you are a teacher – that gift wasn’t given to you to make you important, but to help you serve God by teaching well under the Spirit’s daily guidance. If you are person with insight and wisdom, you weren’t given that so you could judge the rest of us – but that you could warn us of danger before it arrives and gently prepare us to recognize truth from God. Look back in the Word: When God granted some a particular healing gift, it wasn’t to make them the center of attention!

The central issue of Paul’s words seemed to be the church had trouble accepting that not everyone felt called the same way, and did things the same way. Believers can easily get the impression the way THEY see things is the way everyone should see things in every respect. Though the truth should bind us together and that truth is found in God’s Word, our various gifts will insure that we approach problems differently. We will ask different questions of a situation that arises, because we have different experiences in our past and we see life through our own unique God-granted giftedness.

Problem Four: Spare Parts – the notion some gifts were less important

A fourth problem can be identified in the next few verses of the text:

1 Corinthians 12:8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Some in the church were apparently arguing about whether some unique manifestations in the lives of the believers were gifts of God, or mere expressions of differing personalities. They likely felt that some of the “so-called gifts” were unnecessary for the body. They were probably saying, “You know, Pastor, that stuff isn’t important! What we need here in Corinth is more of…” (cp. 12:8-11).

This is much like the person who believes the service each Sunday should be mostly singing and testimony time, with a few minutes of preaching and teaching – sitting across from the person who calls all the musical worship “the preliminaries” for the preaching. Though we all need some elements of the same healthy diet, we don’t all encounter God with the same force in the same way. In less mature believers, they can conclude that only their way truly matters, while the rest is not very important.

It is hard to spot it in the English, but the Greek text makes clear that Paul’s list actually includes three sub-categories of gift “types.” Let me explain: In Greek, the language in which the text was first composed, there are two ways to write to word “another.” The first is using the word “allos” or “another of the same kind.” The second word is “heteros” which means “another of a different kind. In the text, the term “another” is sometimes one, and other times the other word. The text reads this way:

To one KIND there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another of the same kind a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…

9 to another of a different kind faith by the same Spirit, to another of the same kind gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another of the same kind miraculous powers, to another of the same kind prophecy, to another of the same kind distinguishing between spirits,

to another of a third kind speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another of the same kind the interpretation of tongues.

In other words, Paul delineated three “kinds” of gifts in the lest of those he indicated in this text. The first type seems to be directions of God in wisdom and knowledge. The second type appears to be related more to extraordinary discernment and intense displays of God’s power. The third related to revelation of truth.

The point of the section was this: Every gift is important, even though they are grouped differently and operate with distinction.

Believers need to be careful not to see what they deem as important in an unbalanced way. We are gifted uniquely and our path to Christ came from many different directions! Not all men came to Christ from the same place. Some have a conviction, so deep, intense and real to us, yet it is NOT God’s call to all men everywhere. Our understanding of one another should be tempered by patiently spotting “where the other guy came from”. This isn’t pulpit pablum; it is terribly important.

Christians need to hear each other as we share our testimony stories to allow us to filter extremities in each other patiently. A man who came from a violent home may be much more sensitive to the violence in a film well accepted by other believers. A woman who grew up in a home with alcoholic parents may have no desire to be tolerant of another believer who will have wine with a meal. A man who came from an occult background may rage against anyone who would let their children eat from a candy bowl at Halloween… these are all perfectly understandable. In order for a body to grow, we must learn to listen to each other and hear the stories that helped the formation of people – because God’s work in them is individualized. He wants to grow all of us, but He works with us as individuals.

A patient church is a God honoring church, and that is a place where people will allow others to see things differently because they are wired differently.

I am not talking about the fundamentals of the Word, but rather issues impacted by gifting and personal history. Not only that, but we need to be learning to pull back from becoming harsh in our attempts to get everyone to “grow up” at the same rate. Patient instruction is the key to moving people from being “unaware” to allow the Spirit to use their Bible education to move them to obedience. Not everyone who is confused or even expresses the wrong opinion is evil – they may simply need loving guidance that will allow the Spirit to correct them.

Problem Five: Over-importance – Feeling too special (12:12-31)

The final problem is explained in the balance of the chapter. From what Paul wrote, let me pick out a few words:

1 Corinthians 12:12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. … 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, …. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.…

Opposite the side of the coin from those who saw some gift manifestations as “spare parts”, there were also some who got so excited about the sensation of the flow of the Spirit using them, they became convinced that their gift was the key to everything in the Word and the world. Some of us may believe the more of “our gift” that is deployed by the Spirit, the better the likelihood the place we minister will “break open for God and take off in profound ministry”! (cp. 12:12-20).

I remember a few years ago I was asked to speak to a conference about the chief priority of our church movement. Because of my “bend” and specific gifts, I emphasized discipleship and instruction. Satisfied that I hit the main need – that of training leadership for the future – I sat down. The next man got up and spoke on the need for prayer – and I could see that I agreed with HIM more than I agreed with ME.

I was answering a question based on my gifts, and he was answering it based on a deep walk with God. It is easy for all of us to answer questions of priority from a place of gifts and personality.

Paul broke the problem down this way:

First, he noted that we are all a unique and distinct package of God’s enabling gifts, but our distinctions are not bigger than our purpose together (12:12-20). The point of gift use was never to be the exaltation of any one gift or gift holder, but for the body to work together well for His purposes and His glory. He made the point that:

• The body functions to support ONE LIFE (12:12).
• Entry to the ONE body (in justification) made all other distinctions of less importance as it regards salvation (12:13). No one is MORE SAVED than the rest of the body.
• No ONE gift or holder should see his or her value as ANYTHING apart from the whole (12:14).
• No PART should over or undervalue itself (12:15-17).
• God arranged the parts and God gifts according to His master plan (12:18).
• We all NEED each other to function properly (12:19-20).

Second, Paul pressed them to respect the value of their differences and not simply be “wowed” by some who have more visible gifts (12:21-24). The most critical members of the body are not the most easily recognized parts, but the parts that keep the body alive and well. The honor of the part is GOD’S to ascribe – not ours!

Third, he urged them to see and function as though their care for another was a greater priority than their complete understanding of one another (12:25-26).

1 Corinthians 12: 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

The body must focus on the way it can pull its energies to the benefit of all and the progress of the whole goal. Each believer must deliberately fight the notion that others are not held back by their disobedience and stubbornness. When I refuse to yield to God – others in the body suffer. When I hide sin, I wound the body. I set back the team when I don’t discipline my body and work out….

Here is the truth: Each of us plays a specific type of role for God, yet these roles vary widely. We cannot anticipate that others will naturally understand our role, or see its significance (12:27-30).

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

We should answer more of our conflicts by understanding that we are all gifted uniquely, and may struggle to see things through the eyes of others who are gifted differently. Evangelists will believe the only thing a Christian should do is share Christ. Teachers will worry about what people are learning and feel that evangelists are far too focused on a “conversion” moment, and not on the necessary equipping. Administrators will worry about sustainability of ministry in funding, and staying above any suspicion in accounting. All have their place, but they will pull in different directions.

Remember that God will (if asked) balance out our group with the right combination of gifts if the group is obediently using those He gave and find a lack among them (12:31). That is why he wrote:

12: 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

Rather than teach people to be gifted in an area they are not, we should seek God to supply them, while covering the gaps. Churches that don’t encourage people to exercise their gifts, don’t know what they need, and don’t seek God for what they need. Slowly, they dry up by putting too much on a few and allowing most to coast doing nothing…

The modern church has spent too long turning God’s enabling power into a fight over how to use gifts. The whole topic of spiritual gifts has been a battleground for many years, going back to the first century church at Corinth. Some of the tension results from an overemphasis on certain gifts; other tensions come because we like to pick fights with those who are wired differently than we are.

In the next few lessons, the principles should clear up much of the fog and allow us to confidently operate within the Word. Our problem has not so much been people MISUSING gifts, and UNDER USING gifts. Let me end this week’s installment simply by asking – Do you know what your gifts are? Are you using them? Is the Body of Christ being built up by them?

Today, we recall the gifts of God to make us into one family, and to enable us to do the work God gave us. God has been good!

God gave every follower of Jesus enabling gifts to serve Him and to confirm in them their new family identity as part of our new inheritance in His family.

The sad truth is that many try to find contentment apart from the work of God’s Spirit within. They search for “more” and believe that will make them happy. It won’t! There is much evidence that left to himself without boundaries, men will not be content:

Howard Hughes was a billionaire when that word applied to almost no one. He wanted more so he went to Hollywood and became a film maker and star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid large sums to indulge every sensual urge. He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U.S. presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. Yet, this man ended his life as a pitiful sight. He lived in darkness, his arms covered with needle marks from drug addition, his finger nails were inches long and curled up in a grotesque way, his teeth were black and rotten. His hair to his waist, long beard. He lived like a hermit. He wore rubber gloves all the time and wouldn’t leave his apartment. He died weighing 95 pounds as a billionaire junkie.

Left to himself, Hughes destroyed himself. That is a graphic but accurate picture of men. God knows us so well, He doesn’t ask us to figure out a way to tough out life without Him. Do you need Him?

Confident Christianity: “Abuse of the Body” – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

spankingAs much as we hollered about it while we were growing up, I obviously survived a home where spanking was on the menu of options for discipline. It was, I am told by those in the know, an infrequent event, but I always felt it was a definite possibility when we were disobedient. The world renowned pushover Dr. Spock’s thoughts notwithstanding, I didn’t ever feel unloved be my parents, and I frankly don’t ever really recall getting spanked. I am told that I was, and I remember being concerned that I would be, but I have very few memories of any such actual events. Here is what I DO know, based on my parents work in my life: sometimes teaching requires correction. Positive reinforcement of behavior by one who is in charge is important, but not everything can be taught by affirmation.

As in the case of biological child-rearing, so discipline became a part of the “spiritual parenting” of the Apostle Paul as he dealt with young, growing and often erring churches. Perhaps no church represented so perfectly the erring first century Christian as well as the one at Corinth. To that body, Paul had much he had to write about concerning error. Like any skilled parent, he only offered correction after he affirmed right behaviors, and those observations were a significant part of last week’s lesson. As he continued addressing the Corinthians, Paul made the note the local church body was NOT doing all they could to walk with Jesus, particularly in the area of the instructed symbols of the church. As chapter 11 continued, the Apostle wrote:

1 Corinthians 11: 17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.

The text made clear that in the case of Corinth, the church observed some of the instructed “symbolic practices”, but were actually WORSE OFF because they did so! Sometimes, doing something regularly but badly is worse than not doing it at all – and clearly that was true in their case. Paul tried to bring them to the understanding that when the symbols are misused in a way that hurts the body; they no longer bring the help they were intended to offer the church. The symbolic observances of the church must always be subject to the truths they proclaim, and were commanded in order to help the church in her mission.

I observed a few years ago a time when the instructed observances hurt churches. In fact, in the 1980’s, the Jesus-commanded Ordinance of baptism, given to the church to offer us a reminder to regularly and publicly proclaim that our salvation was given by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through our faith in Jesus became a problem for the fellowship of churches of which I am joyfully a part. I personally know several churches that so poorly treated people over the practice and instruction concerning it, that some churches eventually disbanded and closed. What was given to the church to be a public display of our salvation became a public display of our critical spirit and religious list making. It didn’t start that way, but that is how it came out. Our movement of churches, now several thousand local churches worldwide, was deeply damaged by the attitudes and voices of that era, and we are still recovering from Satan aided, but self-inflicted wounds.

Paul made clear the Corinthian believers were wrong about what they were doing, and people were WORSE OFF for participating in some of the symbolic practices of the church. It was a display of selfishness, class distinction and careless living that hindered them. Here is the point of the whole section we are considering…

Key Principle: When practices become more important than people, religion replaces relationship… and that isn’t why God called us together!

As funny as it sounds, the church wasn’t designed to be a “religious” organization in the way the world uses religion. It wasn’t created to be a celebration by good people of moral concepts. The church was and is supposed to be a fraternity of the undeserving that come together thankful for God’s grace, and clinging to one another for His glory. It isn’t designed to be independent spirited but rather corporately motivated. I am not suggesting the days of the early church, where they “sold all their goods and had all things in common” was the only intended form, but I am suggesting the opposite, where “everyone watches out strictly for themselves and comes together to compare what they drive in the parking lot” is also not what God had in mind. Why do I claim this? If you read carefully the words of the Spirit through the quill of Paul, I am confident the truth will emerge that God wanted people to come together to care for one another. That is the heart beat of the church. When it is divided, it cannot be what it was meant to become.

The church was created to be a place where Biblical truth was explained and that in turn motivated Biblical relationships of men and women who recognized they were divinely thrust into a Biblical mission together.

The church wasn’t supposed to be a social club – but it was supposed to have the ability to foster relationships and lifelong friendships, so social aspects of the relationship were to be important. It wasn’t supposed to be a tireless call to workers to get busy, as in some spiritual “whip cracking” locale where people were cajoled into more and more commitment, but it was intended to mark the lives of followers of Jesus with a definite sense of commitment to work out their faith in the community by being a powerful picture of God’s love for hurting people. It wasn’t supposed to be an ingrown rehearsal of an endless set of Bible studies, but it was to be a place where the truth from God was made plain.

The Problem Wasn’t Simply Division

When truth is out of balance, a church will become a weekly Bible teaching center of anonymous people who gather the way people go to a local fast food restaurant. People will all come for the “burger and fries.” They will sit in the same room and eat the same food, but they will not meet one another, and aside from courtesy they probably won’t even speak to one another. They will all get what they came for, but get nothing of one another. That is NOT the church’s design – but it is easy for this kind of thing to happen in a community made up of adult living facilities and mission home complexes. We can come together to get the message and go back to our communities without becoming a real church.

Conversely, we can become the most integrated and social minded group in town, and still not be a good church. Biblical truth must be employed to create Biblical relationship. We are one in Christ because we follow Christ in ways determined by the Word of Christ. When we don’t do it well, the church testimony and health suffers. Note what Paul shared:

1 Corinthians 11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

For many people, they read the word divisions and think: “Oh my, that is bad! People shouldn’t be divided in church!” The problem is they are wrong; that simply isn’t so. Look more closely at what the Apostle wrote. He acknowledged the fact of divisions based on what he overheard from the household of Chloe as explained in the first four chapters of this letter. He heard the church came together, but was deeply divided. The next thing he wrote could easily be considered shocking to some who don’t read the Word carefully. Paul wrote: “Some division is necessary in the church” in verse nineteen. Yes, the church will divide at times, and that was by design.

Let me explain: When people want to live in a way that God has made plain is “not in keeping with the walk” of an obedient Christian, they separate themselves from the body as a whole. Those who walk into a church declaring an unchanging allegiance to a lifestyle that is un-Biblical cannot and should not expect the church to expand definitions and open its practices to their defiance of God’s Word. Thieves that refuse to stop engaging in thievery should feel they must change their lifestyle to be in harmony with the body. Division caused by those who want their sinful practices to fall into the category of “accept me because we can’t have division” are mistaken. The church and Jesus Himself will bring a natural border between those who follow what the Word teaches, and those who do not. Again, that is by design.

Jesus taught His followers that faithfulness to Him would bring a natural division with some people. In the part of Luke’s Gospel called “Luke’s special section” in Luke 10-19, Jesus was in the last part of His ministry before facing the Cross. The passion week was not imminent, but was soon approaching. People were divided on Jesus’ identity and any commitment to Him. In Luke 12, He preached a very tough sermon calling on people to make sincere and clear choices to follow Him in discipleship, and followed it by saying:

Luke 12:51 “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five [members] in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 “And when [you see] a south wind blowing, you say, It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out [that way]. 56 “You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? 57 “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?

Note that Jesus revealed several key truths. First, His mission would divide people, even in families. Second, the ability of people to read the signs of the weather didn’t seem to translate into their ability to read the signs of the times. He may have been signaling that time for a choice over Him was waning because the Cross was fast approaching, but there is more than simply that local warning in the context. Remember, the early church reading this text did so long after Jesus was condemned, crucified and raised. The warning was almost universally accepted as a call to the church to read the times around them and recognize they were called to be distinct.

Let us grab this truth clearly: Unqualified unity was not intended to be the single hallmark of the church.

The church was to be united with Christ, and with those who would follow His Word. At the same time, the very fact that Paul told the church at Corinth to remove a man who was publicly in sin and refusing to quit his practice in chapter five of this letter is clear evidence that UNITY is subject to obedience to God’s Word. The church cannot and must not hold unity as its highest value, but rather fervent, prayerful commitment to Christ-like obedience. If we make unity the most important value, we will surrender following Jesus to the strong forces of compromise in critical areas for the sake of a false sense of unity. As the prophet Amos would ask: “Can two really walk together unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3 KJV).

The critical problem wasn’t that people were divided, but rather the fact that they were not divided by separation from sin, but by selfishness. The two forces that can divide the church then are opposite. The first is sacrificial obedience, the second is selfish indulgence. They didn’t divide in obedience, they divided to indulge:

1 Corinthians 11:20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

How did the Corinthian church begin with a meal feasting on the love of Jesus and celebrating Him and end up with a practice of drunkenness and disregard for their poorer members?

Reading about the sin involved in the church meal behaviors associated with the Corinthian church’s Communion service, it can seem hard to explain the actions of the people, but their behavior is as understandable as the popularity of decorating a Christmas tree with lights each year. The problem is very much the same; it was based on the practices of the world they learned before they were saved. All that is required is a simple explanation of common practices of the time from which the problem grew. Go back to the first century and take a journey walking through a Greco-Roman city to which you traveled looking for work. As a visitor to that new city, you would likely go to one of two important places to find opportunity: the local temple of your craft (called a “guild”) or, if you were in a port city like Ostia Antica near Rome you would ask for directions to the “Square of the guilds” (which can be found behind the theatre on the main east-west street, called the “decamanus”).

Since each craft had its own “lodge” in the form of a temple, and meeting halls in the form of small pubs, food and drink were indelibly associated with your work life. Two men sitting with a glass filled with conditum, perhaps some beer or a even a small roasted dormouse covered in sesame and honey were not uncommon sites. These men were making deals for labor in a guild. When you entered town, your craft became your most important way to mark your personal identity, and your guild or lodge became you “home away from home” place to make contacts. People moved around the Roman Empire looking for work based on their guilds and were known by their titles, like Saul of Tarsus, a “binder” or “tentmaker – and Lydia of Thyatira, the “seller of purple” etc.

At annual festivals like the Bacchanalia, or the festival of wine, which was celebrated with the breadth and depth of today’s Christmas in the west, you grew up (in the days before you knew Jesus) drinking in the guild hall with the boys of your craft. Much like famed “police pubs” in Boston, where off duty officers built a fraternity together, these old guild pubs thrived in Roman cities.

Into that business world came the testimony of Jesus. People who were iron-workers came to Jesus, as did men and women associated with cloth dying, money changing, Mediterranean cargo shipping, architectural building and eventually every other guild. Both free men and slaves associated with guilds found Jesus as Savior. They had much experience with temple attendance and they knew how celebration meals worked, or at least they thought they did. Into that work context the “love feast” and “communion service” was inserted, and they carried over old practices into the new setting. As a result, the normal practice of drunken revelry and a temple party atmosphere was rapidly bonded to the most sacred of Christian remembrances.

Before you dismiss them as ridiculous Christians for carrying in the practices of the lost world into their traditions, consider carefully how much time you spent decorating a pine tree in your living room last year- a symbolic exercise that pre-dated Christianity and came from paganism. We do it and sometimes think of it as a Christ-centered thing – but there is no such word in the Bible to cut down pine trees and put lights and balls of color on them. I am not attempting to speak against the practice of Christmas trees; that is not my point. The issue under consideration is that early believers eclectically bonded common practices of their world to their new-found faith, and so do we. Ours are simply more common to us, and don’t seem as outlandish as theirs.

Another very significant difference is this: in getting drunk they were openly sinning in the practices they maintained while decorating a tree isn’t a sin. God made clear in the Scriptures that we mustn’t choose to be under the influence of any substance, whether from a bottle, pill or needle, that dominates our thinking unless in the most extreme of situations (like the Biblical case for the comfort of the gravely ill, etc). In our normal course of life, we are to be joyfully led by the Spirit of the Living God. We are permitted to use the things God gave us for joy and comfort, but never in excess and never under its dominance. Let the word be very clear in your mind: Drunkenness and any form of intoxication is off limits to the child of God intending obedience, period. In the same way, it is no sin to be under anesthesia during surgery because it is necessary, but, if you are prescribed a pain pill for your healing, you must use it only as directed and refrain from taking a voluntary “mental vacation” with the pills. Every hour you “check out” from responsible living is an hour you won’t pray, won’t seek God and won’t be used by Him for His glory. Be careful. Be clear-minded. Be sober in your thinking – for these are Biblical commands.

Go back in your mind again to the temple pub and look around at toga and tunic clad men sitting on low stools in the dim of olive oil lamps. Normally, wealthy Romans ate at home in banquet halls while most poor Romans ate in fast food establishments called “popinae” or “tavernae” (because they had no kitchens in their respective poor dwellings). In guild meetings, the wealthy and the poor were afforded an opportunity to eat in the same lodge hall. Though eating together, it wasn’t customary for the wealthy to give the poorer members from the best of their conditum or wine brought from their private cellar, but they may offer to buy a round of beers for them, or fill their cups with the cheap swill the “house” was serving as wine. One major point of the lodge meeting was to glean contracts, while another was to encourage poorer members to look up to more accomplished masters of their craft. This system survived in different ways for a thousand years in the west.

When some ancient Romans came to Jesus, and were told of a regular meal associated with their church union together, do you understand how they could easily think it would look like their last guild meeting at the local temple?

Daily meals at temple pubs were at the heart of the social and economic life of locals, and periodic guild meals allowed people to sit according to one’s accomplishments and wealth derived from the work. It is worth noting that in the city of Rome, each hill of the city housed significant guilds; with the Aventine Hill acting as the center of some of the “hard trades”. Every guild had their bread distribution, a kind of union stipend for those injured or unemployed. They collected union dues at payday, and some were responsible for distributing pay, particularly for the fulfillment of state contracts. In addition to lodge hall meetings some held regular local forums. In many, they had “symposia” – the plural of symposium – a word that meant a drinking party or convivial discussion held after a banquet (and notable as the title of a work by the philosopher Plato). The closer you study it, the easier you will see how the new bonds formed at a church would probably seem to incoming members like a new lodge and its meetings like the guild pubs.

Let’s think the banquet issue through for a moment. Consider the truth from the Book of Acts, and you will note that from the beginning of the faith it became a prevalent custom for Christians to eat together. Some of these meals were named agape feasts, or “love feasts” and became a sought place of refuge for traveling Christians in early Church, as well as a strong identifier to locals of the growing numbers committed to Jesus. Soon the practice grew and on a fixed time; Christians assembled to eat together. Participants brought their contribution in the form of food: proteins like fish, poultry, meat, cheese wedges, milk, honey, fruit, wine, and bread. The bakers of guild breads often stamped the loaves, and each church love feast likely had a variety of stamps represented – bread purchased from different parts of the city.

The meal seems to have preceded the passing of bread and wine for the sacred time to recall Jesus’ words from the last hours in Jerusalem before His arrest and Crucifixion. The practice, then, became eating this “carry-in” meal and then ending it with a representative meal of bread and cup as the “Lord’s supper”. Though the meal commemorated the work of Jesus Who “shared all things” with His followers, it soon apparently began to look more like a common guild banquet, in which the wealthy took the best places in the room and ate of their own delicacies, without distributing them to others. Increasingly, the participant families looked after themselves, regardless of the fact that some of the church sat at another table and had little or perhaps even none. The truth of the body gave way to the traditions of the practice.

Remember our key principle?

When practices become more important than people, religion replaces relationship… and that isn’t why God called us together!

Paul warned them that “familiarity bred contempt” in their relationships within the church. Like medical students learn to look at serious wounds and blood without flinching, some believers inadvertently learned to look at the needy without being moved because they were overexposed to needs. The whole meal became an exercise in division, not in unity.

I have seen this sort of thing happen a number of times in my life as part of the local church:

• In one church I recall an older man who believed anyone who wasn’t baptized by being dunked in a forward direction was not really surrendered to Christ and obedient. His adult son came to Jesus in Texas and was baptized, but the man boasted to me that he wouldn’t go to that little church for a visit because they didn’t do it right. His son sent a video of the event, and we watched as he wept over his lost life and wasted time, and then was dunked backward in that little Baptist church. At the end, I found myself in tears over the testimony of the young man and the marvelous transformation of his life, while his own father sat there hardened because the form of the baptism wasn’t right. “It should have been three times forward!” he said. While I may believe the form the old man cited was the clearer way to do it – I lamented that he missed the point. He was unmoved by his son’s heartbreaking realization that he had wasted his life before surrendering to Jesus. In my opinion, his father was wasting his own life now – because He was so busy trying to get people to see he was right about method his missed the message behind it. That was the day I decided that those of us who value an exacting expression of the Word need to be vigilant to guard ourselves against Pharisaic thinking.

• A Pastor friend of mind related that he served with a man and his family who wouldn’t come to communion services at the local church because they didn’t have the practice of tying on the towels on each other in order to wash each other’s feet. Since the Bible clearly said that Jesus got up and GIRDED HIMSELF with a towel when He washed His disciple’s feet, this man felt that was the proper way to practice doing what Jesus did. He missed the bonding time of the church to make his point about some peculiarity that he felt was more important than being present with the body at that critical hour. Testimonies that helped others grow and share were tearfully related – but he missed every one. Some of the sweetest moments of fellowship occurred while he sat at home, upset that his point wasn’t being taken seriously enough. It hurt the body, and it showed he didn’t understand the whole point: we can get so caught up in the detail of the event we miss the greater teaching behind it.

With cultural explanations in mind, consider the practice Paul wanted Corinth to follow in the partaking of the part of the meal that recalled Jesus in the Upper Room. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Note what Paul said carefully. First, the pattern Paul gave them came from the Lord and not simply from Paul. In our last lesson we noted that the church had three practices: There were “capital O” Ordinances commanded by Jesus for all of the church of every age; there were “small o” ordinances given by the Apostles in the early church and there were traditions of local bodies created in elderships for local symbolic teachings. Paul made the point in verse 23 the practice of the love feast and particularly Eucharist (bread and cup) were “capital O” symbols given by Jesus.

Paul went step by step through the presentation of the bread and cup in verses 24 and 25, making a careful note of what the elements recalled. The bread represented the body of Jesus given for them at the Cross to pay for sin. The blood represented the MEANS of the New Covenant promised by God in Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31. The prophets of old declared that God was going to send another covenant to the Jewish people to save them – but they did not clearly describe the means of that covenant. In the Upper Room, Jesus made clear the means of the new agreement would be through His own saving blood. It was shed for Israel, but on the way to their redemption God planned to have a time for the Gospel to reach the Gentile world.

Finally, it is essential to recognize in verse 26 a major component of the meal was a public testimony to the belief that Jesus was preparing a place for them and about to return in the clouds to receive His church. Communion isn’t just about fellowship. It has as a chief end some proclamation of testimony about prophetic events. Churches that don’t believe in a literal return of Jesus for His church but still offer communion wafers have utterly missed the point of the proclamation!

Paul pressed further into the heart of the problem that brought this subject into the letter in the first place. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

If the chief problem with the symbolic meal was they were allowing division to ruin the unity of the body, and weren’t taking care of one another as one would expect, Paul offered prescriptions that included moving their eating to their own homes, or temporarily breaking up the corporate meal for a time. Fighting common culture is very hard, and probably required more than an instructive letter was designed to offer.

This command was a much larger statement that it first appears; for Paul was, in effect, telling this to STOP thinking of the church meeting as a lodge, and the members as those of a guild, and go home. Their faith wasn’t to mimic the meetings that were so familiar to them – it was to be a testimony of their unique commitment to proclaiming Christ. The church needed to learn to stand out in commitment to Jesus, especially when in contrasted from the common culture. Pressures to conform were no doubt great. Yet, Paul made clear that is was better that they cease doing something that was literally killing the body rather than continue to mar the symbolic celebration of Jesus’ saving work and the pictured proclamation of the Lord’s imminent return.

Principles to consider:

First, when all the cultural discussion is over, the point of the passage is not very complex, and is very practical. The gathering of believers called the “body” must be more important to me than my own desires if I am to demonstrate Christ-like living and thinking. In earlier chapters, Paul cautioned against wounding a weaker brother. Here, he cautions against another form of uncaring spirit to those of the body. In a modern “selfie” culture, here is the truth: the other believers and their needs must become more important to me!

Second, the record of the Epistle forces me to consider others are watching when I participate in worship. I don’t only come to church to “get what I need” if I am truly walking as God has commanded! Part of my participation is for the same of testimony and interaction with others. Fellowship isn’t a word for stale cookies served above linoleum floors at church functions. People must increasingly matter if I am going to be what God called me to be.

Third, the body of Christ is more important than the symbols; for though the symbols have no power in themselves, the body of Christ is very powerful when it is united and reliant on Jesus for strength and direction. Jesus made clear to Jewish leaders that the “Sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the Sabbath.” What He made plain was this: Though every practice God prescribed is right; people matter more than the practices.

When practices become more important than people, religion replaces relationship… and that isn’t why God called us together!

Pastor Don Hawks shared a story that may help us understand the sobering reality of the symbols we have been discussing:

During the war in Vietnam, a young West Point graduate was sent over to lead a group of new recruits into battle. He did his job well, trying his best to keep his men from ambush and death. Still, one night when they had been under attack, he was unable to get just one of his men to safety. The soldier left behind had been severely wounded in an open field of fire. From their trenches, the young lieutenant and his men could hear him in his pain. They all knew any attempt to save him – even if it was successful—would almost certainly mean death for the would-be rescuer. Eventually the young lieutenant crawled out of hiding toward the dying man. He got to him to the trench safely but was hit so many times that he eventually succumbed to his injuries and died from exposing himself in or to save the exposed and wounded comrade. After the rescued man returned to the States, the lieutenant’s parents heard that he was in their vicinity. Wanting to know this young man whose life was spared at such a great cost to them, they invited him to dinner. When their honored guest arrived, he was obviously drunk. He was rowdy and obnoxious. He told off-color jokes and showed no gratitude for the sacrifice of the man who died to save him. The grieving parents did the best they could to make the man’s visit worthwhile, but their efforts went unrewarded. Their guest finally left. As the dad closed the door behind him, the mother collapsed in tears and cried, “To think that our precious son had to die for somebody like that!” That’s what Paul was trying to explain to Corinth that our Savior Jesus did for us! He died saving us. How we act toward one another mattered to Him before His death, and continues to matter to Him now.

Confident Christianity: “Modeling God’s Key Truths” – 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

wedding ringFrom time to time people ask me why I wear two “wedding rings” – one on the third finger of both of my hands. The reason is simply because I travel, and from time to time find myself in cultures that are different from my own. In some parts of the world (and more common in Florida where I live), a simple band on the third finger of the left hand signifies the person wants you to know they are married. Originally, that so-called “ring finger” on the left hand was derived from a common English belief during the Tudor Period (made plain some time in the 16th-century) that the left third finger was connected to the heart by a vein (before the anatomy studies of Da Vinci and others were better known). The wearer of a ring on that finger was connecting his marriage to her heart in the form of a fiancé or a husband. Incidentally, historians note that commoner men didn’t start to wear wedding rings until much later.

Many unaffected by that belief, some sociologists report, had a different tradition. In countries like Poland, Greece, India and Colombia, the wedding band belongs on the right hand, not the left. Orthodox Christians and Eastern Europeans also traditionally have placed the wedding band on the right hand. Jewish couples wear the wedding ring on the left hand, even though it is placed on the right hand during the marriage ceremony. In a Muslim tradition there is no difference on which hand the ring is worn but it is often found on the right hand. In China, some traditional couples wear wedding rings on opposite hands, with the bride placing her ring on her right hand and a groom placing his on his left.

No matter how we do it, the ring isn’t a marriage and doesn’t guarantee anything. Some young ladies, I understand, put on a wedding ring so that they won’t be bothered by men while traveling or working. In many, if not most places in the world, the ring is a symbol that is understood to mean the person is tied to a covenant of marriage. The ring not only has significant meaning to the wearer because it is tied to many memories; it marks one’s status in public places. Effective symbols do that. They mark, identify, classify and represent important things in small ways.

This isn’t a jewelry seminar, but we are going to be talking about symbols in this lesson, so it is worth exploring why they are so important to us. Symbols can proclaim a complicated message in a simple way! Sometimes they can publicly clarify our stand on something, equal to a placard we may hold at a rally. Consider for a moment how important symbols were to God in the unfolding of His Word to men. Each time God made a covenant in His Word, He included a symbol with it to remind us of that truth. With Israel’s covenant He commanded circumcision. With Noah’s covenant for the world He offered the rainbow as a sign of His faithfulness never to inescapably flood the earth again. With the Law came the symbols of Sabbath to mark the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob as a special covenant people. It appears God like pictures, symbols and iconography, because it brings great truths to mind in simple forms.

The Apostle Paul taught the early church about symbols, and even instituted some along with the other Apostles. As a result, there are really three different types of symbols that have become part of church life.

First, we have those special symbols instituted by Jesus for His church, and they are called “Ordinances”. In some church circles the term “sacrament” is used, but clarity on that is for another lesson. Suffice it to say that symbols of the church instituted directly by Jesus are things like baptism and communion.

Second, there were what I will call “small ‘o’ ordinances” or symbolic rites that were taught by the Apostles because they fit the time and culture in which they were preaching. They were authoritative for a time, but not specified to be an “all places, all times” ordinance for us like those Jesus told all of us to observe.

Finally, some symbols are what can only be termed as “local symbols” or local traditions that a church is a place may institute for a short or long term, for the purpose of teaching specific lessons of truth needed in that place. The church was empowered by God to “bind” or “loose” (in the terms Jesus used) practices for particular purposes. Some churches call these “Christian service standards” and regulate behaviors not forbidden by God for specific reasons.

Our lesson is about a symbol of the second type, those taught by Paul and the other Apostles, but not extended to every culture, time and place. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: The body of Christ was designed to proclaim truth both in preaching the Word of God and in modeling the principles of that Word. Some forms of modeling may change, but the truths do not.

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul had much to say by way of instruction. In the early chapters, he told them that they had “misplaced their loyalty” by loving the men who served Jesus more than the message of God they represented (1 Corinthians 1-4). Next he told them they had “misplaced affection” when they held the value of love higher than truth. Even further, they had “misplaced standards” when they revered the standard of the world’s opinions over that of the Word (1 Corinthians 6). From 1 Corinthians 7 to 16 Paul sought to answer questions posed to him by the church. They asked about marriage, divorce, remarriage and celibacy – and Paul responded in 1 Corinthians 7. They asked about how to live rightly when they couldn’t all agree about things we called “grey areas” – and Paul addressed those behaviors in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Still in that kind of discussion, proper understanding of Paul’s opening words in 1 Corinthians 11 require us to remember the context. Paul made clear that his weaker brothers and sisters were more important than any of his liberties. Nothing was worth hurting one who was weak. He wasn’t bowing down to the legalists that wanted to enforce their opinions as the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but rather making the bold claim that he would not put himself above a believer who would fall back into sin because of any display of his behavior, period. It wasn’t worth it. He closed chapter 10 with the words that should echo through our lives:

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

Encouraging Imitation

He followed up that idea with the command that believers at Corinth follow his example, and put others before themselves. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

This wasn’t simply Paul snapping the whip and making rules. He was trying to make clear that God used MODELING, not just TALKING. It occurs to me that where we are in the culture of our time, modeling is being reduced in importance. Subtly, we are beginning to believe education is about simple transfer of information, when the essential component of modeling has long been the better way to learn. Consider the way the masters of the past brought in young apprentices, and had them work alongside of others and eventually create their own “masterpiece” – the consummation of the hours of labor in learning. That piece defined their career and was often the best they were able to do. That happened, in part, because people recognized the value of life on life learning.

May I say this openly, so that we are clear on the meaning of the passage? Your Pastor isn’t supposed to be just a teacher you hear on Sunday. He is to measure up, as best he is able, to an example of a believer. He is to learn from his mistakes and not excuse his wrong behaviors. He is to live what he preaches and preach what the Word says. When he fails, he will need you forgiveness and love, but he will need to again be diligent to step up to the task of an example. Part of the reason I have so enjoyed being a part of the people of Grace is this: you have allowed me to grow and helped me along the journey. I am not the godly man I hope to be, but with my Savior’s help, I am striving to discipline my walk so that I might not be a poor example to you. I try to do that in work, in the use of my mouth, in my careful behaviors with others, etc. I don’t want YOU to be led wrongly, and I feel the weight of modeling – but that isn’t wrong. It is as it should be.

Encouraging the Use of Models

1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

Focusing on the Positions of Responsibility

Paul took some time to answer questions about what men and women should wear on their head in a worship or prayer meeting. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, and from the standpoint of the coverings or lack of coverings it really wasn’t. You have to remember that symbols protect truths, and it is the truths they protect which do not change. Cloak coverings by themselves meant nothing – but when they represented a truth they were important for that reason alone. The central truth Paul wanted to make clear in the model of head coverings was this: God ordered creation and ordered the family. The placement of authority and order of responsibility wasn’t a cultural thing; it began with God’s design. A pagan or atheist society will vehemently oppose this Biblical truth: God made man and woman and gets to say what we are “for” and why were made the way we are. Let’s take it slowly and digest the truth of the passage. Paul began:

1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

Headship is the fundamental truth, and it is opposed on many fronts today, both outside and inside the church. What is absolutely clear is this: the Father is the ultimate responsible party for all things – He is the ‘head’ of all else. This is made clear at the end of verse three. All of humanity lives in a Patriarchal system with God as the Patriarch. We all came from Him. In Roman terms, He is the “paterfamilias,” that is, the reason we are all a family. He deserves all respect and there is no one higher. He holds the right to life and death of us all, and He answers to no one else. He is not challenged by the brightest atheist mind, for He made all of us and knows what we cannot know. To Job He made clear that He knew He was and is uncontested as Leader of all.

Second to that truth is the fact that God has a Son, the Anointed One called “the Christ” Who acknowledged the Father as His head, and Who represents the Father in all things before men. All men will ultimately kneel before Him, because there is no man who is His equal. He is head over all mankind, and has been given His authority by the Father. Jesus made it clear in Matthew’s record:

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A few decades later the Apostle Paul wrote of God’s Son:

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

A truth of the headship of Jesus is that He takes responsibility to meet the needs of His people and to do it at all times and in all ways to honor His Father.

The final truth using this term “headship” and defining the lines of responsibility in 11:3 is this: a woman is to see her man as her head in terms of responsibility before God for the family. She does not normally have the same responsibility before God that her husband, and before that her father, has before God. She was not placed in that position because she is unable to lead, but because God created the order and made clear that confusion of His order would bring consequences. If men stopped leading, women would lead. If they did, disorder in the family would follow in the generations that followed.

Because this is so convoluted today with emotional terms like “chauvinist” and “feminist”, we need to remember some things that are very important here.

Don’t forget that Paul believed Jesus was absolutely EQUAL with God in value, a point made clear in his words about Jesus in Colossians 1:16-17. The issue of responsibility is NOT an issue of value, but of culpability and ultimate accountability. Both men and women are equal in the fact that they both have an equal measure of God’s image and likeness. Neither men nor women are inferior to the other in value, but they do not share equal responsibility in the home as God designed the home to operate. The distinction is not found in value, but in the principle of headship.

Let us define “male headship” in marriage as God’s placement of the “primary weight of accountability” to lead the family in His design and for His glory.

The family isn’t two-headed in accountability; it has a head. Be careful here! Don’t confuse headship with some medieval scenario for forced domination. This behavior occurs when a man asserts his will over a woman without regard to her Divinely-endowed value and ignorant of her God-given rights. God does not behave as despot to His Son. The Son gave Himself for the church. A man is told to be like the Son in his behavior to his wife.

The Shamefully Covered Head

Because of the headship principle, Paul had to make clear that Roman men should remove the head covering associated with their freedom and show their head, as a slave would. This was not an easy teaching for his time when he wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

In our modern approach, many students of the Bible forget to search our why a bare-headed Roman male would be a problematic command. Caught up in our own issues, we don’t read the letters in their historical context. For a Roman, the pileus hat was a representation of freedom as familiar as the “Statue of Liberty” may be today. Since nearly half the Empire during his time were slaves that dreamed of becoming free, the well-known “hat of freedom” was a symbol of pride to Roman men. Yet, Paul wanted men to take off their hats when they came to worship and pray, or they would DISGRACE JESUS, their spiritual head.

Pileus Saturnalia2011.17Much has been made in Christian theology of the freedom we have in Christ, as well it should. Paul explained to the Galatians that they were no longer slaves (doulos) in the sense of our family privileges, but now are sons (Gal.4:7). He later explained the salvation of Onesimos (an ‘on the run’ slave) as purposeful, in that he became more than a slave, but also a brother (Philemon 1:16). Truly, salvation changes our approach to God as adopted dear children. Who can doubt the vast privileges of our place as God child?

The problem is, that with all the talk of freedom and position, we have lost the balancing truth that we have also become slaves of Christ. Paul told the Colossians: “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (also from the term for slave, or “doulos” , see Col 3:24).

Consider this: Paul began letters to the churches repeatedly with the term that shows he thought he was a SLAVE of Jesus Christ (cp. Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Titus 1:1). James (in James 1:1), Peter (in 2 Peter 1:1) and Jude (Jude 1:1) identified themselves of slaves of Jesus as well. Paul told Timothy that he was to become one (2 Timothy 2:24). His common view was that other servants of Jesus were slaves that served in the household, side by side – as in the case of Epaphras (Colossians 1:17) and Tychicus (Colossians 4:7). John used the term of fellow slave (sundoulos) for angels as well (Revelation 19:10, 22:9).

The Apostles didn’t make up the idea of being a slave to Jesus.

The Master made clear to His disciples they were to consider themselves as such. They were not above Him (Matthew 10:24) and their servant hood was a mark of following Him well (Mark 10:44). The Savior praised the servant that did the Master’s work well (Luke 12:43). In that vein, Paul deliberately “made himself a slave” (1 Corinthians 9:19) to allow the Master to win others through his obedience. He urged believers to become a slave of Jesus as the Savior had done for men (Philippians 2:7).

One of the most startling differences between the Roman system of slavery and any that preceded it was this: many Roman slaves hoped for freedom, and after years of service, many were granted manumission (they were set free). Freeing a slave was called manumissio, or literally “sending out from the hand“. The symbol for the ceremony was the wearing of the pileus, a brimless hat that took its name from a soft felt like cloth. The hat was proudly worn to show the former slave was now joined to the social class of the libertini. The covering was a profound Roman symbol of freedom. A covered head was a man who now made decisions for himself. Only now does the truth unfold in Paul’s words of instruction to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 11:4. “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head… 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”

The clear truth is this: we are not free to live our lives as we please- but we have been freed from darkness to please our Master with our lives.

We must remove our proud hats of self-determination when we come to worship the Master who left Heaven to save us. My concern is NOT that I am seeing more and more hats in church- but that I am observing more and more pileus wearing in the heart. Believers have become more and more servants of self. Many of us have forgotten the call to serve the Master, and replaced it with the call for the Master to serve us. This is not Christianity; it is self-worship – the worship of our wants, desires and cares. As Paul reminded: “… he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave (1 Cor. 7:22b).

The Shamefully Uncovered Head

If you keep reading past the command to men, you reach the commentary on the responsibility of women in the congregation to recognize and celebrate the God-ordained headship of the home. Paul offered an explanation

1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

What Headship Means

First, it means that believers base much on taking the Creation story seriously. The Bible is the rule of definition for even those most intimate and important relationships of life. There is a reason we are completely resistant to accepting an alternative “science” view of our origins, and pushing back on the idea that Creation was a mere myth. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;

The story of Creation in the Bible sets the tone for God’s order in the world. It explains the appearance of evil and sin. If there was no Adam, then Paul’s statement that sin appeared by one man is false, and death is not because of sin, and salvation through another man (Jesus Christ) cannot be trusted.

Now look closely at the argument of verse eight. Woman came from man according to the Scripture. The order of Creation was this: God created man, and from man came woman.

Let’s be clear: The rejection of the literal Creation account from the Bible is the rejection of the basis of the order of the home. Headship is argued first and foremost from the presupposition that Creation by God as stated in the Scripture is absolutely true.

The name “woman” – that very designation is to remind us of that fact. When Scripture placed limits on her direct responsibility, it did so on the basis of her “indirect” creation; that is that she was a creation from another creation. That may mean little to the modern mind, but “faith” is seeing things the way God said they are – and believers that belittle God’s definitions lose incrementally lose their faith and utter confidence in God’s order. The implication of this truth is this: God holds a man in headship of a home because of the order He made – not because of the greater capability of any one man in any one situation. The rule is: God holds the man accountable because that is how He made things. That indeed is affirmed in verse nine, where Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

Note Paul’s argument went yet a step further. His second step is that woman was assigned a specific functional role of her own. He made clear the very stated REASON for the creation of the woman was to BE A HELPER. When women take on headship because something has gone wrong, the danger is that she will lose completely the design and feel the design of God has somehow been dismissed. The end is confusion in society about God-given roles, and ultimate the definition of gender roles as God made them.

Again, don’t think we are belittling woman any more than we are belittling men when we say they were created to serve the Lord. In our mind, value and position are indelibly linked. In God’s economy, when I perform the service for which I was made, I am MORE of what I was made to be, and that increases my fulfillment in Him. The value of both man and woman is rooted in His image in them, not in their position of responsibility or productivity in life. A person with severe physical and mental limitations can bring God much joy but produce little when that one trusts God for his or her life. Our value is not in our position, nor our ability – it is in the faithful fulfillment of our role.

It is because of this, many women of the west in the modern era are freer to live life on their terms, but are NOT living with a greater sense they are fulfilling their God-given roles in life. Confidence in many has been eroded, and faith has been weakened by their slow but increasing resistance to God’s original designs for them. They are like the highest quality screwdriver trying to act like a hammer – working at what they were not designed to accomplish. God didn’t make them to be the protector of the home, the leader of the family and the guardian of the spiritual life of their children. Often, because of passive or sinfully behaving men, they felt pushed to stop helping and to do his job. In some cases, the man totally left his position, and that forced her into the role. The end can easily be a woman who forgets the original design as she toughens to do what must be done, and children who grow up in a world that erodes the very notion of gender distinction. It is such a world we are in now. For a woman left uncovered, the caution is to weather the storm but cling to the original design. Don’t ignore it.

Before I leave these comments, let me be very clear: I am not blaming women for this plight, nor men. Each situation is different, but many have commonalities. We are all sinners, but there are specific and serious warnings in this passage that are difficult for some to hear. When a man leaves his wife, Biblically he leaves her uncovered before God. She is forced to take a role she was not to have in the home – that of headship. If you are such a woman, hear this caution: Don’t think that in the working world and the roles you have taken on, that God now simply dismissed his design. In my experience, much of the time, it is from that very group (women who have been forced to take the role of headship) the pressures of feminism and demands to place women in positions of ministry set aside by God for men have most come. Let me say this carefully, sensitively and yet wholly Biblically: God made woman of equal value. She has the stamp of His image in her. Yet, she was not made for the headship of the home, nor of the church. She was given vital gifts to help God’s people and to raise children, but she must not think that because she was forced to go into the working world to make ends meet for her family, that her ability in the world translates into God’s design being altered. It does not. I submit that a society that confuses that basic idea of headship will confuse the God-specified gender roles assigned to both men and women. Soon, even believers will acquiesce to the idea that such roles were merely cultural, and the words of 1 Corinthians 11 will sound entirely foreign.

If you take the time to survey the Bible concerning the role of a woman specifically, you will not that in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Paul made clear that God has an order for society, and that we create confusion when it becomes disordered. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 14:34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

We will deal with the specifics of the passage later when we get to that chapter, but notice Paul’s appeal for women was to be calm and not try to lead the meeting, but rather to “deliberately place themselves in rank beneath the men in the church assembly” found in the word “subject”. Note that SHE does this, he does not compel her beyond expecting her to obey the Lord in all things. Note the appeal to the church was on the basis of the Torah’s call for subjection. It was from the Law the idea of subjection and spiritual headship. The obvious question is this: What did the Law say?

The story of the Creation was from the Torah, and the notion of her purpose as a help-meet came from the early chapters of Genesis. At the same time, the Law regarding the headship and responsibility is found in Numbers 30, in the section concerning VOWS. If we took the time to read and study it, you would find God told a man that He needed to be careful about his vows to the Lord. It also contained specific words that allowed a woman’s vows to God to be set aside by her father (if she was unmarried) and her husband (if she was married). Here is the point: God placed spiritual headship over her so that she would understand that she did not have direct spiritual accountability unless something went wrong in her life (such as a divorce by means of an unfaithful husband or her loss of him in death).

In Titus 2, God made clear that older women had the primary responsibility in the church to teach younger women about their role; specifically that of subjection to the headship of their husband found in the design of God. Back in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul made clear that churches of that time and place were to show headship by a SYMBOL – the covering of a woman’s head in worship times. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Those words “because of the angels” should bother us. Apparently, angels as still subject to the rebellious tendencies they had when one third left God’s side to join the Adversary, the father of lies. Angels are watching us. God’s headship principle as applied to our homes became yet another echo of acceptance or rejection of God’s order and right to declare how His creation works.

It is based on an understanding that believers see interdependence of men and women as Paul wrote in 11:11-12, but all were subject to God’s plan and design. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.

As a “shout out” to the people of his time and place, Paul made it clear that Romans thought a man with long hair was wrong, while a woman’s long hair was her glory. This is a very old idea in verses 13-14. That wasn’t a science statement, but a clear cultural value of his time. Romans believed it, and asking them to make a judgment call was a rhetorical way to show they were all one in that idea.

1 Corinthians 11:13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Paul made clear that all the churches in the Roman period practiced that symbol of head covering for women and covering removal for men. Men may have felt that removing their pileus was a shameful thing – but the need to stand for the truth was more important than the need to find comfort in their culture. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

This is something we must teach anew. Christianity isn’t built to fit INTO cultures; it is made to reshape the pagan corruptions back into the God-designed way.

Today, that means recognizing that in the plurality of the home, headship is necessary, It requires believers to understand that men and women are precious, equal in value, and different in responsibility of the home and accountability before God in that context. It demands that we embrace something as simple as gender roles from the pattern of Scripture. Masculinity and femininity are “God things” and not simple roles assigned by culture, though culture may play a role in how they show themselves. Finally, believers need to recognize that when God’s order in society is rejected, confusion ensues.

Remember, the body of Christ was designed to proclaim truth both in preaching the Word of God and in modeling the principles of that Word. Some forms of modeling may change, but the truths do not.

Men need to renew what being a man means in God’s eyes. What does it mean to be responsible for the spiritual welfare of your home? What does it mean for you to protect your family, not just from a thief or attacker, but from Satan’s influences? How do we intentionally teach such manliness to our young men, who are being trained to believe the notion of Biblical headship is a chauvinistic throwback to some tribal society, rather than a God-planned way to live in the home? Let’s also inquire: “Do our men understand what removing a cap of freedom and putting on slavery to Jesus Christ really means?” Spiritually speaking, we need to stop serving ourselves and get busy acting like we are owned by our Master. To not recognize this is to be contentious with our Lord.

A woman who has been damaged by passive and ungodly behavior of a man needs to measure how much she has let that influence her understanding of headship. Is she now living disrespectful of men in the church because of her personal pain? Does she recognize the design even if sin has ravaged how it has worked in her life? I am not arguing for women to put hats on their heads, but I am arguing they need them in their heart.

Dear ones, we must learn to love God’s design, even when it has been stripped away and mis-characterized by a lost world. They don’t get it. They want what they want, and they don’t want HIM. For the believer, HE is our prize. Consider this story. In his book The Pressure’s Off, psychologist Larry Crabb tells this story from his childhood:

One Saturday afternoon, I decided I was a big boy and could use the bathroom without anyone’s help. So I climbed the stairs, closed and locked the door behind me, and for the next few minutes felt very self-sufficient. Then it was time to leave. I couldn’t unlock the door. I tried with every ounce of my three-year-old strength, but I couldn’t do it. I panicked. I felt again like a very little boy as the thought went through my head, “I might spend the rest of my life in this bathroom.” My parents—and likely the neighbors—heard my desperate scream. “Are you okay?” Mother shouted through the door she couldn’t open from the outside. “Did you fall? Have you hit your head?” “I can’t unlock the door!” I yelled. “Get me out of here!” I wasn’t aware of it right then, but Dad raced down the stairs, ran to the garage to find the ladder, hauled it off the hooks, and leaned it against the side of the house just beneath the bedroom window. With adult strength, he pried it open, then climbed into my prison, walked past me, and with that same strength, turned the lock and opened the door. “Thanks, Dad,” I said—and ran out to play. That’s how I thought the Christian life was supposed to work… God shows up. He hears my cry—”Get me out of here! I want to play!”—and unlocks the door to the blessings I desire. Sometimes he does. But now I’m realizing the Christian life doesn’t work that way. And I wonder, are any of us content with God? Do we even like him when he doesn’t open the door we most want opened—when a marriage doesn’t heal, when rebellious kids still rebel, when friends betray, our business fails, when financial reverses threaten our comfortable way of life, when the prospect of terrorism looms, when health worsens despite much prayer, when loneliness intensifies and depression deepens, when ministries die? God has climbed through the small window into my dark room. But he doesn’t walk by me to turn the lock that I couldn’t budge. Instead, he sits down on the floor and says, “Come sit with me!” He seems to think that climbing into the room to be with me matters more than letting me out to play. I don’t always see it that way. “Get me out of here!” I scream. “If you love me, unlock the door!”

People want what they want, and if they were honest, most don’t want HIM; at least, not until the face death. As believers, that must change as we consciously learn that time with Him is the prize. Otherwise, why look for Heaven if you don’t want God’s presence in your life now?

Confident Christianity: Avoiding the Traps – 1 Corinthians 10:1-15

trap1In my younger years, I got the opportunity to learn about shepherding by following a shepherd through the Judean Wilderness for a short time. That was many years ago, but one striking image remains fixed in my mind – the sheep “pile up”. Sheep are followers, and when one falls in a crevice trying to reach was appears to be very nice grass to feed upon, other sheep follow the first into the tight crevice, eventually causing a “pile up” of sheep – nose to rear end – badly stuck and in need of immediate help from the shepherd to be set free. When I read in the Word that we are like sheep, that image sticks in my mind. We are followers, that is the single best reason both polls and marketing work in American culture.

In more recent years, one of the things I have learned to take joy in that I did not when I was younger is watching little children. I have developed a huge soft spot for babies and little ones since I became a grandparent. Watching them discover things, process them and learn how to do things is nothing short of a total joy! What I have noticed is in many ways they are very much like those sheep I saw long ago – they follow. They learn by watching those who are going before them. It is obvious that most people grow up watching other people, and take their cues from others who appear to be older and perhaps wiser. That is how we learn to speak, walk, ride a bicycle and act in social situations.

My work now includes being both a Pastor and discipleship “pattern builder”, and something has become very clear to me from the study of a few words that came from Paul’s quill and were recorded in 1 Corinthians 10. I openly confess this particular truth has bothered me ever since I discovered it in the Scripture. Even more, I have found that most believers don’t seem to recognize that it is a Biblical truth. The lesson that comes from the first half of the chapter may surprise you as well, because it reveals three ideas.

• First, Paul made clear that most BELIEVERS aren’t actually following the right path, even though they began a walk with Jesus. That makes it hard for those who are learning to follow by watching those who are already supposed to be followers.

• Second, the same text revealed that most believers fall into the same four traps believers have fallen into for centuries. The four traps are idolatry, immorality, deliberate defiance and negativity – none of which are the call of God in following the Savior.

• Third, God clearly indicated that no follower of Jesus MUST fall into the four traps – there is always an alternative way to navigate.

Let’s summarize the key to our lesson from 1 Corinthians 10 in this way:

Key Principle: The path to overcome temptation is the uncommon one – not the path of most Christ followers. It can be found in God’s Word by following the escape provided by His Spirit.

Paul argued that believers must do three things to navigate our walk successfully: Understand the powerful help God provides us, take special note of the danger zones that trap most people, and finally utilize three tools to bypass the traps (or get out of them if we have been caught in the past).

Before we go any further, here is the sobering truth: We won’t please God following everyone else, and that seems counter-intuitive because that is how we learned most everything else.

We must recognize that we are directly responsible for our own intentional spiritual growth, not those around us. Even in discipleship and equipping environments, we must understand that most are following the common paths that do not ultimately honor God (10:1-5). These probably seem like hard words, but let’s start by celebrating some things God provided to help you successfully follow Jesus…It all began with God’s help.

Understanding the Powerful Helps from God

Paul opened with a reminder of God’s provision for a follower’s success…

1 Corinthians 10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

Look at four advantages believers have been provided to follow Jesus, based on what God provided His people in the past. (10:1-6a):

God’s provision began with the direction of God: God gave His people direction as He led them: With the cloud, God directed His people, guiding them through unknown territory. (10:1). Out in the unfamiliar surroundings and far away from familiar comforts that came with the predictability of a slave life, God’s careful direction was a welcome and needed extension of His care. Read about the trip through the desert and one thing stands out about ancient Israel: people who are removed from their comfort zone tend to whine incessantly. Ultimately, whining comes from belief that God has brought us in a direction that is uncomfortable and unclear!

Our lives have been made better by warning lights and caution signals. Pastor Daniel Shroeder wrote:

My car has a yellow light that turns on when the gas in my gas tank level gets down low. With another car that we had, that meant that you had plenty of time to finish what you were doing and then fill up with gas some time later. The car I drive now doesn’t work that way. I know this from experience. When the yellow light turns on, I had better fill up with gas soon or it may not start again. It took getting stranded twice in order for me to learn that lesson. Do you think I’ll repeat that mistake again? Not if I learned my lesson I won’t. (via

When we build directions, indicators and warning signals into our life, they help direct us and keep us from harm For ancient Israel, God pulled them from one place to another by means of a cloud. It offered direction, just as God offers direction to people today. You may think the cloud was more overt than the Word of God, but that isn’t really the case. With 1189 written, tried and tested chapters of God’s warning indicators, direction signals and beckoning lights (not to mention the Spirit within that makes things clearer than we would have without Him) – there is plenty of direction we have for which ancient followers of God would have longed.

Second, there is the rescue of God: God gave His people rescue when He intervened in their capture and destruction (10:1b). Imagine passing through the Sea of Reeds with the wind whipping and the water piled high beside you! There was simply no way to outrun Pharaoh’s chariots, so God stopped them. There was no way to get the children of Israel, together with carts, animals and house wares across the water, so God blew the water back. Though we may not believe it, God provides more protections than what we can see and calculate. You and I see the accident, not the many times God stepped in and saved us from one! God is there before us and knows where the traps and mine fields are before we arrive. When He has a task for you – He knows how to open the waters. You and I are indestructible until we are finished what God has intended our lives to accomplish. There is no force that is our God’s equal. Nature does not confound her Creator. God CAN make a way.

Third there are the voices God provides a follower: God provided leadership all along the way for followers to publicly choose to follow as the leaders followed God. The people followed Moses in the desert, and were publicly known to have done so. Though Moses was filled with inadequacies and personal flaws (which were made clear from his own mouth at the first meeting with God in front of a burning bush), he was part of God’s provision. We must remember that although no leader is flawless, it doesn’t mean none are worth following (10:2). God provides leaders and if they follow His Word, they are worth following. The people were “baptized into Moses” in the text. That wasn’t a reference to a religious ceremony, but rather a reference to “public identification” with Moses. The word “baptizo” was used as a figurative way of showing identification, as we baptize to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus today. Here it was used as a play on words to show they were the “people of Moses” in one sense.

Fourth, there are God’s periodic intervening miracles: God has always provided by in miraculous and unforeseen ways (10:3-4)! Water doesn’t normally come from the rocks and the materials to bake bread don’t normally blow in with the wind – but the people in the wilderness can testify they did just that! God provided water and manna by His own hand, because He cared for the people when they could not care for themselves! He did it because He is good, and because He loves His people. He did it because He wanted them to know Him better.

Keep this in mind: the destination for a follower of God isn’t a mystical promised land, but an intimate walk with the God of the journey of life. This is the tragedy of immoral thinking – it is small thinking because it makes this life and its comforts the most important thing, the gauge of all other things. It places our immediate satisfaction the ultimate key to our happiness. That isn’t the truth – because our ultimate happiness is in His arms!

Let’s remember this: The more immoral a society becomes, the more it will frame immediate and continual comfort and happiness as the most important things, the very goals of life. That kind of thinking values the life of a mother, but cares little about the extermination of the unborn when conceived in an unplanned way. That kind of thinking emphasizes the immediate happiness and ‘freedom’ of two adults over the value of caring for the children in their household in a stable home. Immoral societies look at their world as consumers, not as builders. The more immoral, the more short-lived and small thinking one becomes. Dear ones, there are many believers today who live a life of immoral pleasure and think too little of it. We were born of the Spirit in new life to think of each moment as an opportunity to show Who God is, not to simply serve ourselves and feed our desires. We must not live like one who has no Lord and no eternal purpose.

Perhaps for that reason, Paul introduced a shocking truth: Though God has provided for followers to be successful, but it is equally true that most don’t really follow Him very far into the wilderness of life!

When Paul made the point that there were leaders provided by God that believers could and should follow in verse two, I was perfectly comfortable – because it fit the equipper model. When I read verse five, however, I am much less comfortable, because it makes clear that each believer is forced to learn to follow the right voices, and they won’t be the most popular or widely acknowledged ones. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

Doesn’t that shock you? With MOST believers of the past wilderness experience, God was not pleased. They started with God, following His direction, experiencing His rescue, knowing His powerful provision and being led by His appointed leader – but those things weren’t enough for them to finish well.

I am still stunned by this truth from the Word. The plain fact is MOST BELIEVERS DON’T REALLY FOLLOW GOD.

Walk in any church – even the best of them – and you will find many who began a journey with God, but they are now walking in disobedience to Him. In some churches they aren’t even embarrassed about it, because embarrassment sounds so “judgy”. When did it become a GOOD THING to openly defy God and feel fine about it? Even worse is the truth that they both KNOW it and they choose not to CHANGE it. This is what makes learning to be a disciple by watching other disciples such a problem in the church.

The record of their walk was not merely to journal their failure, but to warn us the same failures would be common among us if we didn’t change from the way they walked. Paul made that clear in verse six:

1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.

In a way, the Word of God’s record of their journey provided us two additional resources that can help us as we follow Jesus.

First, we got an opportunity to learn by Biblical EXAMPLE instead of the much more painful EXPERIENCE (10:6a).

Second, we saw their end, and it can become a DETERRENCE or a “wake up call” that allows us to avoid their end (10:5b). We can have the blessing intended in a walk with God – but we must intentionally change course.

It was 1804. Napoleon Bonaparte stared with frustration across the English Channel toward his nemesis. Behind him was the invincible Grande Armee, nearly 200,000 crack veterans, all straining at the leash to crush the hated English. Everything was ready for the invasion: the transport barges, the escort fleet, ammunition, cavalry, artillery, ambulance wagons, even field bakeries. Every last detail had been meticulously planned. It was merely a matter or crossing the 28 miles of water in a single night’s journey. Yet for month after month Napoleon paced the beach at Boulogne, hesitating to act. Finally, after over a year of waiting, he suddenly turned his huge army around and marched it into the heart of Europe. The plan to invade England was laid aside forever. The thing that had stopped the great conqueror at the height of his career was the Royal Navy, Britain’s “wall of oak.” Out of sight, just over the horizon, it was nevertheless always foremost in Napoleon’s doubts. And though the future Emperor’s own fleet outnumbered the British, he dared not test it. That is the power of deterrence. The true effectiveness of a strategic system is in the mind of the enemy. Source Unknown.

Now that we have briefly looked at the provisions from God, and clear recorded examples of those who went before us, we may rightly ask: “Why do so many fail to continue to follow God in a way pleasing to Him?” Paul explained that many haven’t identified the TRAPS a follower of Jesus must face…

Identifying the danger zones that ensnare

Paul made clear the common snares believers who live displeasing to God fall into. They include idolatry, immorality, stubborn defiance, and negative whining (10:6-10). Each are dangerous traps. The first one is found in verse seven:

1 Corinthians 10:7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.”

Idolatry is placing something before God as our chief source of joy, happiness and contentment. The people were brought to Sinai by God, but decided to craft their own religious symbols and worship in a way that was pleasure-filled and comfortable – rather than wait to hear from God and follow Him. The truth is that with all the provided advantages from God, we can still easily ignore the symptoms of slipping into the hole.

It begins insidiously when we hunger for things that will satisfy us now, but dishonor our Master and leave us in guilt (10:6b-7a). Idolatry isn’t about a carving or bowing before a statue; it is about making something our chief joy that isn’t our Creator. It is about indulging in things and then chasing the feeling we got from indulgence. Often, as our wilderness companions of old, we indulge in things that start honestly, but lead to blatant sin (10:7b). When faced with the truth, we cling to the indulgence instead of clinging to God.

Immorality is when we use that which God made for one purpose for a wholly selfish one – strictly indulging our own pleasures. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.

When we live outside of God’s protective fences, we begin performing acts that violate what He told us to do, and we begin risking our lives and testimonies in the process (10:8). We don’t think about the long term consequences and we move blindly ahead. I am thinking of a story I read long ago that expressed this idea well:

In November, 1975, 75 convicts started digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up at the other side of the wall of Saltillo Prison in northern Mexico. On April 18, 1976, guided by pure genius, they tunneled up into the nearby courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced. The surprised judges returned all 75 to jail.” From Campus Life, September, 1980.

Stubborn Defiance is when we know exactly what God wants us to do in some area of life, and we deliberately defy Him. Paul wrote about it:

1 Corinthians 10:9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.

Can you see how defiance worked in the children of Israel? They played games with God, thinking they could trick Him into believing that we are being faithful when we aren’t (10:9). God isn’t dumb, though many a believer has played the games thinking He is. Testing God isn’t wise, but it is frequent among His people!

Are you being defiant in an area of your life where God has made it completely clear what you SHOULD be doing, or what you should be refraining from? The honest truth is that many of us have faced this before, and we know the hooks of sin are harder to break free from than the uninitiated may believe. Serpents hurt, main and destroy, but we invite them into our lives when we play with God’s right to be first in our lives.

Negative Whining is when we act as though God is either not paying enough close attention to us, or He isn’t acting justly toward us. Paul recalled the Israelites:

1 Corinthians 10:10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Many of us have followed Jesus with an angry and complaining heart, acting as though others have it better because they serve a better and more accommodating master (10:10).

Imagine that you’re a child in Chicago and there is a widow who lives across the street, who can’t do a lot of heavy lifting. When winter snows come down, your parents tell you to shovel her driveway. Even if you don’t want to do it, because you are a child, and you must obey your parents, you really have no choice. You have to shovel the snow whether you like it or not. The whole time you shovel, you grumble and fuss because you don’t want to do what you should do – obey and serve. Can you go to the Lord that night and claim that as an act of obedience… Not hardly!

There they are… the traps that can ensnare us. We can put something before God, and that becomes idolatry. We can place feelings and pleasures before God and that becomes immorality. We can kick against God’s conviction and that becomes defiance. We can follow Him with a sour heart and complaint-stained soul, and that is negativity. These traps have long existed. We are all familiar with the feel of them closing on our legs and ensnaring us. What now? The text continued…

Three Ways to Avoid Traps

Cautiously heeding the Scriptural examples of the past, and honestly embracing our own weakness in the present can help us look sensibly for God’s provision of small escape hatches to abandon the common way of living (10:11-14).

First, we must note the examples God gave us, and recognize they are intentional lessons for our benefit, not just stories of antiquity. That is why 1 Corinthians 10:11 explained: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Second we must be realistic about ourselves, and be careful to TAKE WARNING from the stories and be careful to measure what we learn from them. For this reason, Paul continued with these words:

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

Failure to embrace our own weakness will lead to arrogance, and that is the edge of the hole. God told us all of the stories of Scripture to offer us ways to avoid falling! (10:11). How can I effectively use these lessons?

We cannot arrogantly believe we can do the same things they did and not get the same result! “Take heed” means we need to watch the guys that fell in before us. If I want to navigate the danger it will begin with telling myself the truth – I am in danger. To avoid the fate of those who fell, I will need to use different tools, different methods, and have a different approach! (10:12).

Not everyone is open to change, even when the outcome is obvious: “You,” said the doctor to the patient, “are in terrible shape. You’ve got to do something about it. First, tell your wife to cook more nutritious meals. Stop working like a dog. Also, inform your wife you’re going to make a budget, and she has to stick to it. And have her keep the kids off your back so you can relax. Unless there are some changes like that in your life, you’ll probably be dead in a month.” “Doc,” the patient said, “this would sound more official coming from you. Could you please call my wife and give her those instructions?” When the fellow got home, his wife rushed to him. “I talked to your doctor,” she wailed. “Poor man, you’ve only got thirty days to live.” Source Unknown.

Third, we must not become unduly self-focused and feel we are somehow in a worse situation than many who went before us. It isn’t true. Paul reminded:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man…

Our temptations and problems are the same as everyone else has faced. Maybe the specifics are different, but the feelings are not. I need to stop babying myself as if I have it worse than everyone else! My problem is a “common” one with others – we are all sinners and want to be selfish, period.

What is temptation? Seduction to evil; solicitation to wrong. It stands distinguished from trial thus: trial tests, seeks to discover the man’s moral qualities or character; but temptation persuades to evil, deludes, that it may ruin. The one means to undeceive, the other to deceive. The one aims at the man’s good, making him conscious of his true moral self; but the other at his evil, leading him more or less unconsciously into sin. God tries; Satan tempts. Fairbain, quoted in The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, J.D. Pentecost, p. 99.

Fourth, we must grasp the truth that God is FOR us, and He does make a way of escape from the power of your temptations. Scripture concludes:

1 Corinthians 10:13b “…and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Think of it like getting on a plane. We must LEARN to identify the emergency exits before the trouble starts (10:13b-14). We must learn, practice, identify and discuss using the escape ropes God provides. Don’t try to invent a new way, look for the ways God has already invented to free you from being trapped. These include timing, accountability, creative avoidance, etc.

Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. “Captain, give me a gun!” he shouted. “This fight ain’t got any rear!” Daily Walk, July 10, 1993.

He was right to lend a hand because the fight was enjoined on all sides – just like our fight to follow God and not be ensnared. We need each other, and we need to prepare constantly for the next wave of temptation to think like the world, compromise with the world and satisfy ourselves in the world. In the end, either the world will be your guide, or the Word will. Only one map will get you to your desired destination of satisfaction in Him.

Finally, think about all that you have heard. Consider your other options. If you are open to grabbing the examples of Scripture, and you will avoid giving yourself some “special break” because you feel your situation is somehow unique in temptation… if you will believe that God has provided an escape and look for it… perhaps you will see the wisdom in what God’s Word says. Paul finished the subject with these words:

1 Corinthians 10:15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.

We must JUDGE God’s Word to be the TRUTH and to be WISE, or we will walk past its warnings (10:15). Paul offered words of the Spirit to them, but they could easily ignore God’s words and bury His truths in “advice” from many others. That is what SO MANY believers do!

We must let His Word rise to the TOP before we sink to the BOTTOM! Years ago, Chuck Colson warned:

According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of the American people also say they agree that “an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church or synagogue.” Thus the key to the paradox is the fact that those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms – [often] terms that make no demands on behavior. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, embodies this attitude. “I believe in God,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It’s ‘Sheila-ism.’ Just my own little voice.” Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 98.

I must deliberately call you to be different than even the “Christendom” of our day…

The path to overcome temptation is the uncommon one – not the path of most Christ followers. It can be found in God’s Word by following the escape provided by His Spirit.

Confident Christianity: “Sexual Revolution” (Part Two) – 1 Corinthians 7:6ff

space view of earthChristians should admit up front that the Bible never attempts to prove God’s existence or argue to place God’s position above that of man – it presumes those ideas to be true. Over the years of ministry, I have found that if one struggles with the first line of the Bible – “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth” – they will struggle with many concepts of the Bible. I would even argue, they will struggle with many of what have traditionally been framed as our “values” in life. They won’t see the values as important…

Stop and think about it for a moment. Isn’t it true that the highest aspirations of man were never met by the lazy, disorganized and morally ambiguous? In the annals of history, it seems clear that accomplishment – whether in the building of significant architecture, the accomplishment of some great feat in sports, some substantial development of economic wealth or the emergence of some position of significant leadership – all were accomplished by working against the natural tendencies of the body to simply fulfill temporary pleasures and keep the flesh happy in the moment. “Accomplishers” in life seem to consistently fight the not so subtle desires of their body in favor of more strict discipline and control. That discipline serves their value system.

Let’s admit it: we fight a body that repels work and we have to discipline ourselves to resist the urge for constant, instant pleasure and play. We know that inside ourselves is a natural tendency is to resist moral restraint when we would rather just operate under the “Do what feels good!” rule. Truly, the best accomplishments of human society have required sacrifice, discipline, restraint of personal desires and a sense of moral responsibility. A world without those qualities would have long ago devolved into a mess of self-serving abuses of substance and people – and it would have left little in notable accomplishments.

Here is the question: Where did these basic lessons of restraint come from in our society?

In the west, a great part of these values were unquestionably introduced through Judeo-Christian ethics taught from the Bible. We live in the benefits of that reality in our society. The pages of the Scriptures are FILLED with instructions on the importance of sacrifice, moral restraint and the necessity of discipline. It is not a waste of time for believers to publicly press that case as people desperately push to remove all remaining influences of the Bible out of our civic life. I believe that many don’t recognize what they are removing – and won’t until it is gone. They love the benefits, but don’t understand the underlying ethic from which they grow.

In relation to our own sexuality – the Bible offers much instruction – and rebuffs the idea of “doing whatever feels natural”. In the Bible the “natural” thing KILLS. Natural DEGRADES VALUES of the Bible. Natural is not to be trusted, because NATURE is still broken and awaiting its redemption. The strange this is that increasingly, we live in a world that is trying to remove these values and affirm the lowest instincts of their broken heart. They want benefits of relationships that can only be found in the values taught from the Bible, without the costs associated with discipline – but that formula won’t work. It cannot.

Applying Values to Human Sexuality

sexual rev2When God made the Heavens and the earth, the Bible recorded that He saw they were GOOD. Yet, when God made man, He designed him with an essential missing part. He said: “It is NOT good for man to be alone.” It took Adam time to name all the animals, and then Adam caught on to what God already decided – there is none like ME! God gave him a project to teach him a lesson – and human history got going. Then God made woman, and human history took a definite turn toward a new destination. No longer was Adam distracted by the desire to have one like him – a rib and a few moments in the Master’s hand shaped one that was more than pleasing to Adam. The choice for a partner was made. It was not man’s choice – for he had little knowledge and experience to design what he needed. It was GOD’S CHOICE – and God doesn’t make bad choices.

God chose one man for one woman and that same woman for that same man. He designed things to accomplish His purposes – biologically, socially and emotionally. He followed with the instructions to life. He said men and women were not designed to be the same – but were part of one another and were designed to be complementary. He said we were not designed to compete with one another, but to work together to serve His defined purposes in a family. That is the point of our study on 1 Corinthians 7…

Key Principle: The Designer knows the design, and His Word makes clear what it is.

God made the principles and standards clear – but it is up to the church to teach them and the believer to choose to live them. God’s truth will clarify our choices and clear the path to pleasing Him with our lives…

In our last time together we made several notes about this passage:

First, Paul was responding in the letter to an apparent question list sent to him by the church at Corinth. We attempt to apportion the text first by using the phrase “Now concerning” seen in places like 1 Corinthians 7:1 or 12:1.

Second, we looked at the reality that Corinth was a Roman city, under Roman laws. God’s timeless truths were not directly transferrable without looking at the specifics of the Roman situation, where we found that the text was directed at different groups: Married, unmarried, divorced and alone, divorced and remarried, widowed and alone, etc.

Third, we noted that there were FOUR kinds of Roman marriage, making the text more complicated than our own day in this regard:

• Contubernium: “tent marriage” mating of slaves for desired characteristics of a new breed. This was non-contractual as slaves were considered property.

• Usus: “common law marriage” accomplished by one year together. This practice was common, though not legally contractual.

• Coemptio en manum: “pleasurable service women” – the purchase of a woman from her father, particularly to fulfill his debt. This may be a “second mate” for the purchaser. In some cases, the woman was free to leave the house after several years of “pleasurable service”.

• Confarretio: a contractual public ceremony from which we get our own.

Finally, we noted before that Paul began the “Q and A section” with the issue of relationships – because that is the first and most pronounced area where values and character are revealed. We stated that:

1. The Bible defined marriage as one man to one woman in 1 Corinthians 7:2. Earlier the Bible allowed for polygamy for specific purposes, but that allowance ended with the change in human conditions. Revelation is progressive, so our rules are not Abraham’s rules.

2. The Bible defined the proper places and participants for sexual expression.

3. Believers were called to base their practice on God’s Word – not the culture, or even the LAW of the LAND.

4. Men and women are equal in the sight of God in regards to the practice of sexual expression, and need to consult one another and care for one another (7:3-5).

Let’s continue our look at 1 Corinthians 7:

Look back at the letter once again. Paul wrote to a local church that was located at the epicenter of a sensual lifestyle that stretched every value of the Roman Empire. In another study, we will look at what the situation was at that time, but for now, let’s summarize the problem this way: the first century was a time of social change and sexual revolution – not dissimilar to what has happened in my lifetime. The marriage bed was eroded during that time, and the family was slowly disintegrating as the century rolled on. Eventually, the family was broken and courts took over – as the strength of Rome dried up.

Into that climate, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to answer their questions. As Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 7 he made rules for them in their situation. From those rules we extract a series of principles concerning this subject of relationships and sexuality that apply to our time and place. Let’s sample each principle, and pick out a key phrase form the verses:

For some people, marriage is the best option – even when persecution grows (7:8-9).

1 Corinthians 7:8 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.

If I could add a simple statement to make this clear, it would be this: “Know Thyself”: Paul makes the case that marriage is perfectly acceptable, and God’s normal idea for most people – but the time of persecution may make them think twice. Here, he cautions about denying the sexual desires exist and pretending. Some people were meant to be married. It isn’t simply that they “can’t control themselves” – but rather that they have this intense longing telling them they were meant for marriage, and denying that would be foolish and dangerous to their testimony in an environment soaked with promiscuity.

Before we go on, it is important that we not get the wrong idea about the idea of “burning with passion”. This is not what you would read about in a cheap Harlequin novel – it is more than just sensual desire. The old Greek notion was a phrase lifted from Aeschylus and Pindar – famous Greek script writers of theatre. In their works it meant an emotional reference for “to burn with fire, to set on fire, or to kindle a fire”. In the Christian Scriptures, it is used only in the passive form – a “take off” of the original well known phrase that was used more like “to be set on fire” – as from an outside source. It is sometimes used of passionate response (2 Peter 3:12); sometimes used for the “powerful sensations of grief” (2 Corinthians 11:29). The point I am making is this phrase isn’t simply “hungering sexual expression” – it is a passion to be married in spite of the dangers that persecution presented to them. It was a strong emotional desire from God (the outside source) – hence the passive form.

If we know ourselves to have such a high degree of desire for relational intimacy both emotionally and physically, we should seek marriage (7:8-9). He isn’t arguing in favor of sexual obsession – he is arguing that some KNOW they were meant for marriage and feel incomplete without a partner. It is important to understand your own makeup and fill the needs as God enables. Yet, we are told to find fulfillment IN MARRIAGE, not in SEXUAL EXPRESSION. Sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is a guilt producing trap, with a variety of negative consequences.

God did not call a believer to leave their partner if one came to Jesus after marriage and the other partner did not (7:10-16).

1 Corinthians 7:10 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. 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?

Remember that many Roman citizens were USUS or common law married. They hadn’t had any official ceremony, because they couldn’t afford the various pagan superstitions and didn’t have the money to put into the banquet. As a result, many people came to Christ while engaged in a marriage form that was less than completed in their own heart. They were, in essence, in a situation of long term cohabitation without ceremonial completion – but the law afforded them the privileges of marriage “death benefits”. Two Roman stayed together more than a year with the intent of one day having the ceremony – and one came to Christ.

As the new disciple learned of Israel from Bible stories, it became clear through the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures taught in the little house church they attended that God didn’t want Israel to marry outside Israel. Further, when Israel did marry outsiders, God told them to cut those improper marriage bonds that never should have been formed – a split the families (in Ezra). God wanted a pure people, and saw danger for them inter-marrying others in the land of Promise. As such teachings were given, some early disciples in Jesus thought that meant God wanted them to leave their USUS partner – their common law spouse – but He did not. God’s intent was to make this an opportunity to reach out.

Israel and the church are both God’s people in a certain way – but it was inappropriate to use the principle of separation from Ezra in that way – even though the confusion is perfectly understandable.

The proper application of that principle would relate today to only one legal case – that of a “homosexual marriage” – since God has forbidden that altogether. If someone comes to Christ in such an arrangement and wants to follow Christ – that so-called marriage should be Biblically dissolved – since it was never real in God’s eyes. That may mean children are left with a broken home – and that seems harsh. It seemed just as harsh when God ordered it to Israel through Ezra. There simply is no other choice that would not appear to condone something heinous in the eyes of the Lord. If familial marriage of brother and sister or father and daughter become allowed – this also would come under such a ban. If marriage to an animal becomes law, it will also be under such a ban. Marriage should continue between one who becomes a believer after marriage and their non-believing partner – but NOT if that partner is a close relative, an animal, or of the same sex. Those were never marriages according to God’s Word. It isn’t an issue now, but it will be shortly as we present the Gospel to a world being soaked with paganism.

Paul instructed this:

• In every case where marriage can be preserved and relationships can be kept, believers should strive to do so (7:10-11).

• If one is common law married (USUS) or on the way to that state and the couple is not certain they desire to remain together in light of the change in one partner, the believer cannot simply engage another relationship. If they break apart, the believer should prayerfully anticipate the change in their partner (7:11).

• To “other believers” (to the rest I write, v. 12) who were married in a CONFARETTIO or ceremonial marriage, there was little doubt they should be together for life in the Roman mind, but Paul made clear God loves marriage and knows it is best not to dissolve relationship. In fact, if a believer maintains a relationship, even if it is with an unbelieving spouse, it will add blessing to all in the home (7:12-16). In fact, it may bring Christ to the unbelieving partner!

There are a few things that get “mis-taught” from this passage, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them, at least in summary form:

First, the section isn’t “just Paul’s opinion” and therefore not part of God’s directive, though some statements clearly are formed based on Paul’s opinion. What do I mean? Some would say that sentences like the one found in 7:12 sound like Paul is “making up Scripture based on his own ideas”:

1 Corinthians 7:12 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.

What Paul is saying is this: Jesus didn’t speak about this before in the context of His ministry, but I need to offer more – because I am speaking into the Roman world, not the Jewish one of Galilee and Judea of the time of Jesus. Paul IS speaking the Lord’s Word – but not repeating something Jesus already taught. Don’t be misled: the teaching of remaining with an unsaved partner who is willing to live with the believer in spite of their new commitment to Jesus and the transformation going on inside them is a teaching of God – not simply “Paul’s view” of the situation.

Second, having a husband or wife that is a believer doesn’t get you into Heaven. Being from a “Christian family” is not the same as having a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross at Calvary. Some suggest 7:14 sounds like a relative’s faith can get you to Heaven; it cannot.

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband…

Paul is saying that the influence of God’s Spirit is found in the home of a believer. If you work in an office and are the only believer, you bring something of God to that place they would not have if you were not there. God is at work in you, and where you are, God is at work as well.

Third, God did not condemn children born out of wedlock, but commends that children born in His design for a home ARE blessed because of the choice of parents to follow God in the way they establish their home. Some argue the child of a non-wedded union is somehow “cursed” by God because of the end of verse 14:

1 Corinthians 7:14b … for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Let’s be careful here, because such an attitude can persist long after the theology is corrected. Children are “unclean” in the passage, but in a very specific sense that must be explained:

This is not about “sinfulness”. The term akáthartos is an adjective – a descriptive word that was derived from wine making practices of the ancients. Conditum was a spiced wine that was mixed with other things and customarily served in the poppinae of the period (pubs). Menus found from the period had the term “conditum viatorium” – or “travelers spiced wine”. The opposite word – the antonym – is kathaírō which is translated “clean” wine. It doesn’t mean there is dirt in the mixed and not in the clean. It doesn’t mean one wine is sinful and the other not – “Clean wine” is “free from additive mixtures”, and unadulterated product that only contains what is on the label.

God isn’t condemning out of wedlock children and cursing their lives. Yes, the term “bastard” was an old English word for that child, and it carried a negative sentiment – because society was trying to deter people from inappropriate sexual encounters. At the same time, the passage is meant to say something about the challenge the child will face. Children born to two parents who are their biological forebearers will face fewer “mixing elements” in their life than children who are in any other arrangement. God is simply saying: “When you follow the design I made, things will work better than any other arrangement.” This is proverbial – it is the NORM. It doesn’t mean that there will be no anecdotal exceptions. It doesn’t mean EVERY child in EVERY home EVERYWHERE will do better with EVERY set of biological parent set. It means the design is the intended way, and other ways will add to the MIX of the child. Likewise, the term “holy” is not to be a term packed with religious significance. The term hágios implies something “set apart” and therefore “different, distinguished and distinct”.

I would therefore translate the phrase at the end of 7:14 this way:

for otherwise there will be an increasing stress on children in the MIXING of them – but with both parents they have the distinction of a specific family.”

If you were a child born out of wedlock, you probably faced specific disadvantages. They were SO significant, that God expressed it would have been better if an unsaved parent raised you in the home with an saved one. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean you are less Christian or your walk with God is somehow critically hindered. It may mean it is harder for you to grasp all the depth of meaning of the word “father” when applied to the One in Heaven. It may mean that you faced other specific learning challenges in your walk – but with the Word and Spirit and in surrender to Christ – all things are possible for you.

God’s distinct call for us is found in our birth; we are to be the person God made us (7:17-20).

1 Corinthians 7:17 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.

Your salvation doesn’t change all status marks in your life. You are still to be committed to the place God has called you, even if now it is uncomfortable (7:17-20). Paul offered specifics:

In 1 Corinthians 7:17, Paul wrote that God assigned specific parameters to each person’s life. Some were made clear at our birth. Some of that statement in the context of the passage clearly means that God assigned some to be married and others to remain celibate. Another aspect of that verse is that because some came to Christ after marriage but have a partner that does not yet know Jesus, some ministry was “off limits” to them. Clearly they were called to remain with the spouse – even if they didn’t get to do everything they wanted even in ministry for Jesus! They may have wanted to serve in an area that required a saved couple at the helm– but they didn’t have one.

Let’s say it this way to summarize the larger principle: God made choices for us that may not agree with our feelings or what we truly wanted Him to make – but He is Sovereign and I am His. These choices can easily conflict with our feelings – but when I declare Him as my Lord, I subject even my feelings to Him as my Master.

Applied another way, we don’t DECIDE our gender – God already did. Bruce Jenner will die a man, no matter how many operations he gets or how many “woman of the year” awards he receives. I am not being cruel – those who are entertaining his fantasy are being cruel. You are what God made you – period. You may not feel that – and as another human being I want to be sympathetic with your feelings – but that doesn’t make them the guiding force of life. In my ministry, I am sometimes with people who feel like killing themselves – that doesn’t mean they should. I have sat with people who were so hurt and angry they wanted to kill someone else – but their feelings don’t offer a license to act on them. Our feelings, even about ourselves, are inherently untrustworthy. Have you ever reacted out of a passion and then regretted it? We should all remember not to trust how we feel as the final authority.

Let me offer this as but one small evidence: In a thousand years, if Bruce’s remains were found in an archaeological dig, the DNA would reflect that he died a male. Your physical parts are not what make you male – your DNA created in the test tube we call a womb by a scientist we call Jehovah are. “Gender Dysphoria” is a legitimate disease that should be cared for, not appeased by a world bent on removing any sense of control on anyone at any time. That is lawlessness – and its spirit is growing in our country.

Because God made some of the male and some female, some of them born to Jewish parents and others to Gentile – they were additionally confused about how to become what God wanted them to be. Let’s read the verses and then unpack the problem:

1 Corinthians 7:18 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.

What is the big deal with “circumcision”? Let me explain. In the time of the early church, the message of Jesus was moving from a tiny Messianic movement within Judaism to a transformation movement of God all across the Roman world. The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish. He was Jewish. As the message spread, it came largely through the hands of Jews. As a result, and aided by some Jews who mistakenly wanted everyone in the Gentile world to see this movement as still something within Judaism, some Gentiles were feeling pressure to enter the Jewish world as part of knowing Jesus. They felt pressured to join Jews in worship and walk because they thought it was closer to God – or at least that is what they were being told by some traveling teachers. Circumcision was the beginning point of entry to a Jewish world that called people back to the Atonement taught in the Torah. Paul wrote letters like that of Galatians designed to counter that thinking.

Here is the point: If you were called to Jesus as a Jew – don’t try to stop being one. Things God has said to Jews and for Jews are YOUR things. If you were called to Jesus as a Gentile – don’t play JEW. Don’t wrap yourself in Jewish garb and try to become something you aren’t because it will somehow be more holy or more powerful. God made you the ethnic background He intended you to be. Dare I say it: Be who God made you. Be that for God’s glory. Stop letting someone tell you that what you are isn’t good enough.

Let me bring it even one step closer. If you are a believer, celebrate your identity as a follower of the Creator. If you are a woman – don’t try to dress like a man, act like a man or imitate masculinity. I am a man – and I totally believe we have enough men in the world. Look like a woman. Act like a woman. Celebrate your womanhood. The world will tell you children are a burden – don’t believe them. Celebrate your womb and intentionally shape a life if God gives you the opportunity. It is a career – I don’t care what the world says. Don’t let the world convince you that being a man’s helper is some kind of DOG WORK – that demeans God’s Word concerning your design. At the same time, you are God’s beautiful creation whether you are 22 or 92 Don’t let the world tell you that your value is found in the outward traits of your body. It isn’t. Become within the person God is making you to be – that beautiful creation that God will take joy in watching and hearing.

That is as far as this lesson can go, so we will pick up the passage in another lesson. As I close, let me offer some words I hope to be encouraging…

Six ENCOURAGEMENTS for the Tempted Christian

First, if you struggle with sexual desires, you are normal. That doesn’t mean you are free to do what you want – it means we are all struggling with you. The battle between the flesh and the Spirit has been going on since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. We don’t need false promises, and we can’t solve it with a cheap-grace that simply “forgives my failures. God calls us to obedience and surrender of every area of life – and this is part of that call. The continued struggle of life in the fallen world is the truth, and part of the Gospel. Deeply rooted in the Gospel is this truth: All are bent toward sexual sin of some sort, because all of us entered the world with fallen DNA and a corrupt nature (Romans 5:12-21). Your struggle is common to us – so you need not feel alone!

Second, sexual attraction is (and will likely long be) a part of your life -BUT that is ok. Coming to Jesus doesn’t change that. The Holy Spirit will soften you and transform your mind – but it will probably take a long time and come slowly into a changing heart. I need to be clear: surrendering to Jesus isn’t guaranteed to automatically and instantaneously take wrong desires away. We must recognize that as long as we are in this body, we stand the chance of fighting this fight. We should not be seeking a “healing” of sexual desires – because though they have been skewed – they are part of our design. In fact, this is true of those who are opposite sex attracted, and yes, those who are same-sex attracted. Jesus can do a work in us to heal us – but there is no Biblical mandate that we will lose these urges quickly any more than there is a mandate that we will stop getting hungry – so don’t hold your breath on a false promise.

Third, Jesus commanded us to flee from any sexual behavior that is not according to His holy design – no matter the context. Biblically speaking, whether this is a “one night stand” borne out of drunken promiscuity or a so-called “loving act” in committed monogamy, sexual behavior outside of marriage is a detestable evil because it is mutiny to the design God made and revealed – period. Because one situation is more acceptable to the world than the other doesn’t make one more acceptable to God. His plan is the right way. Any opposing plan in simply more rebellion – no matter how polite it appears to be to the people of our age. Consider this:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around about drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Fourth, you must not accept the premise that your identity is found in your fallen desires. This is one of the true tragedies of the homosexual movement – they are convincing people that their very identity is bound up in their hungers and desires. We must assert anew this truth: You are not defined by your flesh – that is only the home where YOU live. The desires in this body are temporary, and our identity is tied up in Christ forever (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). In the end, Christ will come again, and your journey will be over. You be like him – beyond the clutches of sin, for “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

Fifth, God will redeem every struggle against the flesh for His glory. Sexual attraction can have a divine purpose! It can humble us and make us seek Jesus for the strength to simply get through the day. It can help us become more empathetic toward the struggles and needs of others as they face their sinful desires. It may keep us from becoming Pharisees. It may help keep us in tune with a broken world we are called to reach. It is a mystery, but yet a truth: God is using even your battle with your own sexuality for the good of telling His story through your life (Romans 8:28).

Sixth, the restrictions of your sexuality are an altar on which you can sacrifice something for your Savior in His honor. Obedience entails celibacy. Celibacy requires restraint. Restraint requires denying your biological wiring in favor of your Savior’s smile. There will be deep fulfillment in loving Him more than yourself. He will also use your life in a more wondrous way. Nothing given up for Jesus gets overlooked by Him.

Perhaps it simply all “comes down to listening to the manufacturer before we void the warranty”: Max Lucado in his book 3:16 notes the following about those living in the dead zone: “God, at this very moment, issues invitations by the millions. He whispers through the kindness of a grandparent, shouts through the tempest of a tsunami. Through the funeral he cautions, ‘Life is fragile.’ Through a sickness he reminds, ‘Days are numbered.’ God may speak through nature or nurture, majesty or mishap. But through all and to all he invites: ‘Come, enjoy me forever.’ Yet many people have no desire to do so. They don’t want anything to do with God. He speaks; they cover their ears. He commands; they scoff. They don’t want him telling them how to live. They mock what he says about marriage, money, sex, or the value of human life. They regard his son as a joke and the cross as utter folly. They spend their lives telling God to leave them alone. And at the moment of their final breath… He honors their request: ‘Get away from me, you who do evil. I never knew you’ (Matt. 7:23). This verse escorts us to the most somber of Christian realities: hell” (Max Lucado page 93, 94 – Book 3:16)!

The Designer knows the design, and His Word makes clear what it is.