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.

Second Chances: “In the Shadow of Greatness” – Ezra 7

Lincoln headThere are few icons as well known in America as the homely, etched face of the contemplating former sixteenth President of the United States. Every day, scores of Americans stand at a memorial and look carefully at the face of a man who used to poke constant fun at his own looks when he walked the streets of our country. Lincoln now sits, frozen in time. He dominates the room quietly from a large white marble chair. His gaze is never broken by the sound of school children running beside him. The traffic sounds on the street outside do not distract his furled brow, and the deep eye sockets that reveal a concerned look that sweeps his otherwise strangely gentle face. He looks weathered and worn – enveloped in exhaustion. This six foot four inch giant of a man was only fifty six when he died an untimely death – and this stone memorial captures the last days of his leadership of a broken nation…Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Not even a week later, on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. the President’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet. He died in the wee hours of April 15, never able to truly enjoy the office of an undivided Presidency. His memorial reminds us of his mammoth struggle on behalf of our liberty and our Union. President Abraham Lincoln was a great man in many ways and no one walks into this memorial and fails to sense a man of dedication, conviction and yes, exhaustion.

Greatness in leadership can be measured – and as the days draw late and leaders become more necessary than ever – we need to know when we are following a good one, and how to avoid choosing bad ones – while we still have that choice. God offers models in His Word to help us with instruction, and today’s lesson is about one of them – a teacher who became a “game changer” for God’s people. Here is an essential truth of Ezra 7…

Key Principle: God has not left His people with a “blind spot”, but has revealed standards of leadership greatness.

How do we know a leader when he or she is in the making? What areas of life should we look closely at in evaluating a leader?

First, we should recognize how their past has shaped them:

In the case of our story, Ezra was a man with a known family and tracked past:

Ezra 7:1 Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest.

In the ancient story, people didn’t know the “new guy”, so they needed a way to identify something about him in the beginning. Your family and your experiences don’t guarantee you will be a success, but coming from a good family can offer you a great spiritual, intellectual and emotional advantage. We must never underestimate the importance of the family in shaping lives.

I mention this because there are those listening to these words who God has called to do great things in the future. I mention this because there are parents who are, right now, shaping young lives to become our leaders of tomorrow. I mention this because there are men and women who are leading families, who must understand the requirement of building a reputation so that they are able to accomplish what God has laid out before them in their lives.

Sixteen generations had passed from the great high priest Aaron until the birth of Ezra. The text indicates that he not only had a great heritage behind him, but that he came from a known family blessed by God. How does this help me if I come from a family known for disruption and dysfunction? Don’t miss the divine point here: a reputation as something that is built over time. There are many people in the Bible who had no reputation to speak of, yet God used them. Still we must not dismiss the meaning of family; nor should we ignore the meaning of identifying marks that are drawn from relationships.

Young people: the one you choose to marry, should you choose to marry — has everything to do with the possibilities God has for you in your future. Many a man or woman of God has been undone by this one critical choice.

Mom and Dad: how you raise a child, how you connect the child to their past, has much to do with the rooms God can put them in to serve him. If you come from a great and godly heritage, do not hesitate to pass that to your children. Let them know of their grandparents who walked with God. There was a time when this need not be said, but that time is past. Now is the time for parents to speak out on the heritage of our nation, the heritage of their families, and the blessing of God through the ages.

To many who are here today who cannot point to a great family, I can only say this — build one. You cannot go back to yesterday and start again, but you can start today and change the future. Now is the time for greatness in leadership. Now is the time our nation needs those who are connected to God, and those who can connect others to him.

Ezra was called to be a priest, but he did much more. The job of the priest was first and foremost to be consecrated — marked by the blood on the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe. Priests that will not be consecrated and walk clean are priests without a voice. Apart from being consecrated another aspect of the priesthood was to be an intercessor. They were called to stand in the gap between God and man. It is true to say today that Jesus is our intercessor. It is also true to say that many of our friends need us to lead them to Jesus. Ezra came as a consecrated intercessor — and we are called to be one as well.

Second, we must recognize that God invests people with specific skills that can be seen in their accomplishments.

Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses,

With or without a good family, your life is very much defined by your choices. What you choose to learn about, and how you choose to develop your mind and your heart is ultimately your own responsibility before God. He can work much if we give Him much to work with.

• If we take care of our bodies, He can work through them.
• If we develop our minds, He will work through them.

All of that presupposes some important facts:

God uses an intentional Christian. My digital audio music player has a random setting — my life should not. Far too many young believers are spending far too much of their young life serving the god of pleasure rather than the God of Abraham. You have but one life, and it will pass by very quickly. You must be concerned about the use of your time, the production of your life in righteousness, and the incredible amount of time you will be tempted to spend on unused and in personal pleasure. I want deliberately to encourage you to develop your mind. You do not need as much amusement or entertainment as the world would indicate to you. You are being sucked out of the kingdom’s work — your lives are being blunted by your own choices.

God uses a yielded heart. God resists the proud, but offers undeserved favor to the one who surrenders to Him. When we surrender much and often and choose to develop our understanding of Him and His Word, He uses us for great things.

In the case of Ezra, he went up from Babylon to be used by God only after he had become a skilled scribe in the law of Moses. Before God can use you greatly, you must show a commitment to doing the work well, and to walking carefully. God graduates you from one level to another as you show that you have done in the level he gave you what you should have done. We should not anticipate beginning our ministry at the top — nor our work life. The skills we learn as we work our way up are critical to our success when we reached the pinnacle of our career. How often will we see young men who were plucked from youth and placed into professional sports far too early to develop personal aspects of their character? As a result, they make critical errors in life because they were too well-paid for their skill and to poorly taught character. We want to rise to quickly. We want to much for too little. Real skill and accomplishment comes from one who will endure patiently and develop the patterns necessary to complete a task diligently.

Third, we must learn to recognize the marks of the hand of God on a person’s life.

Look at the end of the sentence in 7:b…

Ezra 7:6b “…which the LORD God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him.

There is no substitute for the work of God in you. People CAN see it, though it is often shown through a long series of circumstances that God guides you through. His time in God’s Word gave him the beginning place for God to show Himself, and it was further demonstrated by God opening the door to things that Ezra could not have done. God works IN you, then THROUGH you, then FOR you.

I believe the Lord mentioned this in the passage because it is a part of our lives that we often forget. It seems that one graduates high school, and then is thrust into either a work or collegiate life based on “making a living”. In the process of gaining information and education, we quietly communicate to the young generation that the most important aspect of learning is how it will play into their ability to make a living. That pragmatic view is unbalanced. Not everything a student learns is given to them because they can understand the ultimate application. We often mistake some aspects of learning as irrelevant because we cannot readily connect the dots between our everyday life and that particular skill set.

I frequently run into Christian parents who cannot understand why it is important for their children to study God’s Word from cover to cover. They seem to resent the idea that I would challenge the notion that a Sunday school hour, even if they only came occasionally was enough for their child, and that alone could give them enough of God’s Word to stand in college. Some seem to resent the idea that a believer should know more of the Bible than a thin number of stories that are imparted many times. Often I hear the claim “that’s for a seminary graduate” as if there are some Christians that need to understand the word and others to whom it is an option. Is that really what we believe about the Words from our Creator?

Ezra understood God’s word. As are understood that the Scriptures came from God, and that God could be found within them. Ezra understood that God showed himself clearly to one who opened himself deeply. Remember the pattern: God works IN you, then THROUGH you, then FOR you.

Fourth, we need to recognize a pattern of right priorities shown in the current choices of the potential leader.

Ezra 7:7 Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8 He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Doing the right things often involves setting aside many other things that are attractive. It may involve denial of self, changes in patterns, and taking on new involvements and new pursuits. What we become has much to do with where we “set our heart”. In Ezra’s case he wanted to do three things: study the Word, practice the Word, and then teach the Word. Even the word order seems significant – learn the specifics of the truth, live out what we learn- and only then teach others to live by that same truth. Jesus said “blessed are those who both say and DO these things.” In the Scriptures, the greater weight of responsibility falls on one that claims to be a teacher to live out the proper pattern of truth.

I want to take a moment and focus specifically on the order of the words in verse 10. I understand that not everyone needs to study deeply every aspect of Biblical truth. I am not suggesting that everyone who knows God needs to note Greek and Hebrew. I am concerned about the number of ministries that seem to be willing to lay hands very quickly on people and put them in positions of responsibility in order to develop the leader themselves. The ability to teach properly the truth of God presupposes time spent both studying that word, and living out its truth and careful practice. I am finding more and more books that are all enamored with the idea of getting that young believer out and involved in ministry as quickly as possible. Though I understand the notion that it is easy for Christians to become complacent and lazy, I am equally concerned that we are putting on the front line some who have not yet been tested in life, and a great many who are given positions beyond their ability and life learning.

Fifth, we need to recognize and respect the authority of God-appointments.

Ezra 7:11 Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in the words of the commandments of the LORD and His statutes to Israel: 12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace. And now 13 I have issued a decree that any of the people of Israel and their priests and the Levites in my kingdom who are willing to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 “Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God which is in your hand, 15 and to bring the silver and gold, which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold which you find in the whole province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and of the priests, who offered willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; 17 with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18 “Whatever seems good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God. 19 “Also the utensils which are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. 20 “The rest of the needs for the house of your God, for which you may have occasion to provide, provide for it from the royal treasury.

At this point in the text we read the letter carried by Ezra and written by his king. Before Ezra could lead, he needed to learn to follow. Others respected Ezra as one marked by authority only after Ezra respected his king and walked in allegiance loyally to him. This letter marks the pedigree of authority that Ezra could show to those who would oppose him.

Look more closely at the words of Artaxerxes the king and you will see a pattern emerge.

• The letter is issued to Ezra and acknowledges his position as scribe.
• The letter underscores that the travelers were given a choice to go to Jerusalem.
• The letter states that the King and his advisers took seriously the matter of the return.
• The letter authorizes expenditures given by the government, and their specific use.
• The letter underscores trust, particularly in verse 18 with the phrase “whatever seems good to you”.
• The letter reveals that the travelers were carrying other utensils from the temple that had not previously been returned.

Looking at the private correspondence carried by Ezra, I am struck by the relationship between the king and Ezra. I am struck by the fact that the king seemed so where of the need of this scribe and his people, and the openness he had to providing for that need. One of the true marks of a great leader is that they build relationships with leaders before them. They are not distant and cold, but respectful and loyal. I emphasize the loyalty because it is a platform from which God builds great leaders.

We do not help the young generation when we handle those who are in authority without respect.

We are called to respect the position of those in authority even when we question their motives in our hearts and do not believe that they have done all things well in their jobs. We must hold the line here — we must respect even when we are repulsed by some of the ideas being shared by a so-called leaders. I have yet to meet a great leader who trashed the leaders he or she came up under. Where there is loyalty and respect, there is an understanding of the complexity of leading. I say it often: from the cheap seats everything looks easy. In a day when conservatives are more open about their opposition to government we need to be careful about respect.

Sixth, we need to recognize the impact of a carefully forged testimony.

Ezra 7:21 “I, even I, King Artaxerxes, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the provinces beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, may require of you, it shall be done diligently, 22 even up to 100 talents of silver, 100 kors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt as needed. 23 “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, so that there will not be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons. 24 “We also inform you that it is not allowed to impose tax, tribute or toll on any of the priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, Nethinim or servants of this house of God. 25 “You, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges that they may judge all the people who are in the province beyond the River, even all those who know the laws of your God; and you may teach anyone who is ignorant of them. 26 “Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him strictly, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of goods or for imprisonment.

Picking up on the idea of recognizing appointed authority, I want to move forward with the notion that Ezra had built a significant testimony he for his king long before the king sent him back. Simply put, Ezra worked on his testimony long before he used the testimony to do his work. Because we are very pragmatic in the days in which we live many of us focus on the productivity of our life at the expense of the testimony. How do we do this? We take our “to do list” and rushed past the people of our lives in order to “accomplish great things”. We need to be careful here.

Verse 21 opens with “I even I” — a statement showing that there was a personal stake and personal stamp of approval by the king for the work of Ezra and his travelers. The bank account they carried was in the name of their king. How did he get such an opportunity? It can only be explained in the words of the king himself.

• The king understood that Ezra was following his God (v. 23).
• The king recognized that by his allowing Ezra’s return, he was abating the wrath of God on his own house (v. 23b).
• The king acknowledged as Rick carried the wisdom of God (25).

What a testimony he had built before his king! Artaxerxes was not a believer, but he was a respecter of the God of Abraham because of the lifestyle choices of Ezra. We use the phrase “you are the only Bible some people will ever read”. In the case of his king, Ezra was the closest thing to the God of Abraham he would ever know. From his life he saw all dedicated service and deep wisdom.

Finally, we need to recognize an emerging leader by the sound of their humble heart of praise.

Self-touting leaders are arrogant – and arrogance isn’t what God calls leaders to become.

Ezra 7:27 Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, 28 and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

The passage ends with a prayer of praise. As are a blessed God, and recognizes that God alone changed the king’s heart! He was excited about being used to the Lord to adorn the temple at Jerusalem. If you look closely at the closing verses of the passage you will notice three important comments of Ezra.

• Ezra understood the accomplishments to be based on the lovingkindness of the Lord — God doing things behind the scenes that Ezra could not do.
• Ezra recognized that even the strength within him came from the God above him — God at work in him to produce works honoring to God.
• Ezra’s practice was to tie his life together with other believers who had the same significant vision — not to try and “go it alone”.

Ezra’s focus was not on his own abilities but on the privileges God had given him to serve at the pleasure of his Master. He neither thought he was the answer to all of the needs, nor that he could manipulate or wrangle others in power to do the bidding of God. He recognized his daily, actual need of God’s intervention in both his life and his world.

Real leaders don’t look inside, they look upward. They don’t feel complete, they feel needy for God’s strength, beginning with God’s forgiveness…

In the 14th century, Robert Bruce of Scotland was leading his men in a battle to gain independence from England. Near the end of the conflict, the English wanted to capture Bruce to keep him from the Scottish crown. So they put his own bloodhounds on his trail. When the bloodhounds got close, Bruce could hear their baying. His attendant said, “We are done for. They are on your trail, and they will reveal your hiding place.” Bruce replied, “It’s all right.” Then he headed for a stream that flowed through the forest. He plunged in and waded upstream a short distance. When he came out on the other bank, he was in the depths of the forest. Within minutes, the hounds, tracing their master’s steps, came to the bank. They went no farther. The English soldiers urged them on, but the trail was broken. The stream had carried the scent away. A short time later, the crown of Scotland rested on the head of Robert Bruce. The memory of our sins, prodded on by Satan, can be like those baying dogs–but a stream flows, red with the blood of God’s own Son. By grace through faith we are safe. No sin-hound can touch us. The trail is broken by the precious blood of Christ. “The purpose of the cross,” someone observed, “is to repair the irreparable.” – E. Lutzer, Putting Your Past Behind You, Here’s Life, 1990, p.42.

Look at the end of Ezra’s words… He recognized that he could not do what he needed to do alone — he needed a team. Real leaders build teams. There are men and women of great accomplishment in our world as “solo acts”. Though they will accomplish much they are not great leaders. Great leaders build great followers and great teams.

God has not left His people with a “blind spot”, but has revealed standards of leadership greatness.

The world is structured to evaluate things, and then throw them away. Often something that is valued little now becomes valued a great deal later. Recently, my wife and I have been watching old episodes of the “Salvage Dawgs”. It is a show about some men who re-purpose salvage in a store in Roanoke, Virginia. Here is something that I learned watching these men gut old buildings and re-purposing the items they recovered… The world doesn’t know how to really value things.

Today, your hard work, showing up in a job you don’t like, working harder than you really want to, and making less than you truly deserve for the labor you are giving may be of little value to the world – but it shows character to all of us. It provides for your family. It says you are not lazy and will not sit back and let life slide. It proves you can discipline yourself.

Tonight, when you are awakened by a crying child, you may not get much sleep. The world may not understand why your sacrifice of your own sleep to cradle a child in your arms is important. It isn’t something dramatic. No one will make movies about you walking the floor holding your limp child in your arms. You will get stiff and face tomorrow with insufficient sleep. Why do it? Because you are shaping a life, and the child needs you. Your sacrifice speaks volumes.

Here is my point: What the world values keeps changing, but that is because they don’t use long term measures. Real standards haven’t changed just because people want them to, and because they are willing to ignore the fallout from doing it. Thank God His Word stands through all the twisting winds of culture!

Confident Christianity: “Sexual Revolution” – 1 Corinthians 7:1-5

human sexuality1In our last lesson, we talked about “Litmus Testing” for what is “good” and what is not – as God revealed it to us in His Word. As life gets more complex and compromises are often hidden inside beautifully deceptive packages, we need help with sorting out truth. There is perhaps no area of modern life that has been as compromised in my lifetime as that of human sexuality – so we will all need constant guidance and help on that area of our lives as well… and we are fortunate that God was not silent on these vital issues.

Let me say with both respect and appreciation that there are some who will feel church is not an appropriate venue for this kind of a frank discussion. Yet, from the earliest part of the Bible, God did not separate discussions of sexual morality from the rest of the discussion of our desires and our needs. Laws of the use of our bodies were as routine as dealing with mold on the tent or telling lies to your neighbor. A beautiful part of our Puritan heritage was to add a modicum of special respect and etiquette that inadvertently led to a hiding of the subject of human sexuality from common speech. Let’s understand and respect what that did for our society, but let us also quickly recall that the Puritan memories don’t make the rules for the church – the Word of God does. In that same vein, there are many things the world addresses that I am simply unwilling to carefully think about, let alone discuss with you. Perversion is a reality, but I don’t need to explore it in order to learn what God says is good and acceptable to Him regarding the use of my body. With that is mind, let’s take the next few weeks in the Corinthian letter and look at what God said about this subject of sexuality and the sacred circle. The city addressed was easily the most sensually sin-soaked center of its day – and was well known to be so. At the same time, God’s Word on the use of the body was pure, wholesome and helpful. Here is the truth from God’s Word…

Key Principle: Our sexuality and its moral uses were planned by the Creator of our body.

It occurs to me that sexuality has been tied both in the Word and by our world to romance – and that isn’t a bad thing. It shows that we value, not only reproduction, but God’s inborn and holy desire for propagation of life and entrenchment of the family. Let me illustrate… The older among us may recall that Jack Benny played a cheap man, what was called a “skin flint” on television. Yet, by all accounts, he was in life, a generous and loving man. One author shared a true story about the entertainer this way:

He was rather shy when he was young. One day at work he saw a young lady that greatly attracted his attention. But he was too shy to speak to her. So he went to the florist & ordered one red rose to be sent to her without any card enclosed. And every day he repeated that order. Well, after 4 days of receiving one red rose each day, the young lady went to the florist & asked who was sending them. The florist told her that it was some guy who worked where she did by the name of Jack Benny. “Yeah,” she said, “I think I know who he is.” So she searched Jack out & asked him why he was sending her those roses. He told her that he wanted to ask her out, & she accepted his invitation. And other dates followed that first one. But still, every day, she continued to receive one red rose. Then Jack & Mary got engaged, & Mary figured that the red roses would stop. But still they came. Finally, they were married, & even on the honeymoon she continued to receive one red rose each day. But once the honeymoon was over, she figured that the roses would stop. But month after month, then year after year, all their married life, every day without fail she received a red rose. Finally, Jack Benny died. But the very next day, here came another red rose. Thinking that maybe the florist somehow hadn’t heard, she called to tell him of Jack’s death & that he could now stop sending the roses. He answered, “But you don’t understand. Before he died, Jack made all the arrangements. You’ll receive one red rose every day for the rest of your life”.

Who doesn’t see gift of the roses as a loving act? I think we all do. Jack’s marriage was, to him, about giving to his wife and making her feel special all her life. What a great picture! I only wish I could boast I had done as well.

Here is the point: One of the greatest opportunities for expression of choice we make in our lives (at least in the west) is our selection of a life partner in marriage. As we are growing up at home, life isn’t really about OUR choices. We go to church if our mom or dad makes us go. We turn in our homework because we don’t want to get in trouble with the school. Yet, in time, we grow up. One of the key areas in which our growth shows, particularly in our teen years, is that of our chosen RELATIONSHIPS. We start to show OUR values by OUR friend choices and eventually our dating choices. For many, this culminates in the choice of a mate. It offers the world, perhaps the clearest picture of our real values when we make such a choice.

Here is a vital truth: More than any other single factor, our external choices are a reflection of our inner character.

People can deny that, but we do what we do, more often than not, because we make choices based on urges and desires. The desires we choose to indulge and the disciplines we choose to maintain are character statements of our inner belief system. If we choose to marry – it is a character statement. How we behave on our way to the altar is a character statement. Who we choose to join there is one as well. Our values are exposed in our choices, and God’s Word has addressed the shaping of those values. The verses we will look at in this lesson make clear that…

Our sexuality and its moral uses were planned by the Creator of our body.

Here is another essential truth: God makes 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.

Look Back: The First Part of the Letter (1 Corinthians 1-6):

As we have been studying the first letter to the church at Corinth, we noted the first part of the letter contained:

• Issues that he heard about from a friend concerning their divisions and struggles as a congregation (1 Corinthians 1-4);

• Issues that were the worst kept secret in the first century churches about morality and legal problems of the Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 5-6);

• Answers to a series of questions the believers wrote to Paul concerning (1 Corinthians 7-16).

The way we examined them was in terms of themes that Paul addressed with the people. On the way to the questions that Paul answered concerning sexuality, marriage and divorce, Paul already addressed three other issues:

1) Believers at Corinth were caught up in “misplaced affection” for their leaders and fighting in divisions representing differing ways of viewing issues. Paul wrote: “It is not the MEN we follow, but it is the MESSAGE. That deserves our first allegiance. (1 Cor. 1-4)

2) Their misplaced affections were also evident in their misplaced VALUES. They were boastful of their acceptance of open immorality, proud of their LOVING SPIRIT. Paul wrote: “It is not the LOVE that is our first commitment, but the TRUTH. (1 Cor. 5)

3) The believers were further demonstrating their misplaced values in accepting the STANDARDS of the world. The issue was the taking of another brother to the city courts to be judged by godless men. Paul wrote: “It is not the standard of the WORLD we use, but the judgment of the WORD we trust.”

A Look Ahead: The Second Part of the Letter (1 Corinthians 7-16):

The second section of 1 Corinthians was wholly dedicated to answering questions received from that first century church. As we dive into the text, let me offer this encouragement:

Our generation is desperate for clarity, and they can see it in us – if we will walk in the truth of God’s Word. The lives of obedient believers can shine like the sun to point to decency in a dark world. We can stand in light and happily reflect the benefits of clear sight. If we fail to do so, we become like a cloudy day – and the sundial showing the lateness of the hour isn’t clear to the world around us. We may not be able to change the world– but we can, and must take responsibility for one citizen– ourselves. We can live the truth, and without a judgmental spirit our lives will draw people toward the light. We can do so in our personal choices, our language, our modesty, our fidelity in marriage, our concern for personal deportment. We need new instruction far less than stiff resolve to choose a path of obedience that was once more common among people of the faith of Jesus Christ. It is time to light up!”

In Corinth, being a “light” meant understanding sexuality and relationships. I don’t think that was a bad place to start for them, and I think it is a pretty good place to start from use as well.

The problem with the second section of the letter is that Paul turned his attention to an apparent question list sent that we no longer possess – so we guess at the questions by looking at the answers. Commentators have longed to have that list, but we can only surmise the list’s composition by looking carefully at Paul’s answers. What may help us reach that end is to:

1) Cut the text into the portions that seem to address differing questions;
2) Understand the problems that Corinth had in that time.

Let’s start with a pair of scissors and do some “cutting”. One way to apportion the text is by using the phrase that seems to suggest an answer to a new question appears to be the words “Now concerning” seen in 7:1

1Co 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
• 1Co 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
• 1Co 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
• 1Co 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.

Now, for our second step, (i.e. “understanding the contemporary problems of Corinth”) we require a little understanding of the times in which the text was written.

Within the sexuality and relationship question list of 1 Corinthians 7:1-24, there appear to be several different groups referenced:

First, there were unmarried people, referred to in some translations as “virgins” because the Biblical standard of purity in sexual relationship was maintained in Paul’s writing, as well as the fact that many translators chose to keep that term.

Second, there were married people of one of the four types of marriage available under Roman law. Since every Corinthian knew the four marriage tyes, we should as well (to really understand what he was talking about):

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.

Third, some people in Corinth were divorced and alone.

Fourth, some were widowed and alone.

Finally, there were divorced and remarried coming to Christ in a second marriage.

Can you imagine being among the first century believers in Corinth that met in the atrium of a family villa, sitting around the fountain and listening to a reading of these words of the Apostle? Ladies, can you place yourself over by the Glauke Fountain house, filling pots with water and having a discussion – older and younger believing women together.

Listen in: “They say persecution is coming. Should I stay single? Is single more holy? What about marriage, is it always for life? Is divorce a sin in my newfound faith? Can I remarry if I was divorced?”

In some ways, it probably sounds like people who are young in the faith sitting at Starbucks today. Who doesn’t talk about this subject in our modern world? Let’s look at the text in a question and answer format, surmising the questions on the basis of the response of Paul, under the Spirit’s careful guidance.

A Look Within: Question One

Paul began with a bit of a proverb on celibacy: 1 Corinthians 7:1 “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

Perhaps what the church wrote to Paul asking for clarification was something like: “Is marriage God’s plan for every man or woman who desires to be used of Him, especially in light of the rising persecutions?”

If you read the Epistles, it is clear that Paul expressed a high view of marriage, and he grew up in a Jewish setting where marriage was honored and stressed. What was probably not well known by believers at the time was the truth that was taught by Jesus – that singleness may also please God.

Here is the point: Believers are NOT incomplete if they are not married, if God has ordained a single lifestyle for them. The word GOOD leaves no room for doubt about this. Jesus said it this way:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Mt. 19).

The answer to the question of marriage or not is this: it depends on your CALLING by the One Who made you.

Specifically in the context of rising persecution, Paul had evidently made a number of statements about remaining unmarried. As you continue to study 1 Corinthians, we will see them pop up. Paul believed in marriage, and knew the institution was a GOD THING, but he was wise about the times he lived in. The Bible commentators Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown note the use of the term “GOOD for a man not to touch” (kalos) would be rightly translated by the term “EXPEDIENT” – as they feel Paul was primarily concerned with troubles of the world.

The point that may have been difficult for believers in Corinth – both Romans of pagan background and of Jewish – was that singleness could be celebrated.

Some of us have been called to stay single for the glory of God. If you understand the Law of God, and the timeless principles it revealed in Leviticus 18, you are already aware that sexual activity is prohibited for the single in spiritual reality, the same way it would be for a castrated eunuch physically. That may sound tough, but it is like every other aspect of our lives – they must fall into harmony with God’s revealed choice for us. Some have the HIGH HONOR of remaining single and focusing all their energies, dissipated in romance, toward obedience and love of the Father in Heaven. Not all can do this, for not all were given the gifts to carry the responsibility. By the same token, others were given the HIGH HONOR of sharing life with another person. They were called to do so, and they should fill their post with JOY.

Question Two

Paul went on to address sexual expression and marriage definition. Note how the point appears to turn into a discussion about physical desires.

1 Corinthians 7:1b “…for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

It appears a number of smaller questions are being answered in these few verses…all were issues regarding sexual expression and marriage:

First, there is the desire question. Should sexual desires be a part of the decision making for marriage? The answer to that appears to be a YES.

1 Corinthians 7:2 says “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”

I suspect just as the first question regarded the value of celibacy versus marriage, this verse is dealing with one of the basic values involved in the marriage union:

Is sexuality simply sinful bodily behavior, or does it have a place in the life of a believer?

The term “porneia” used here for “immorality” is that from which we have added the English term “pornography”. It is normally used in the Bible in terms of illicit sensuality – overt sexual rebellion from God’s standard. At the same time, saying that marriage can help someone avoid overstepping God’s sexual boundaries is an open admission that we are sexual beings, and that such a desire when promoted on the streets of Corinth so completely, will be an issue if we simply act like the desires are not real. The church has tried that – it didn’t work because it wasn’t supposed to work that way. Go back to the verses again… Paul made clear several truths:

Should my sexual expression be only in the context of marriage?

1 Corinthians 7:1b “…for a man not to touch a woman.” In times of persecution, the church may advise people to think carefully about abstaining from marriage – that is the point of verse 1.

A simple reading of the text reveals that Paul must have been asked about sexual contact for the believer. In addition to affirming celibacy for those who are called to this (particularly in persecution), the implications of the first five verse of the chapter are that God intended the physical expression of sex for the marriage bed, and that any other place for it was considered acquiescing to the temptation of the enemy – an undesired state for an obedient believer.

Remember that noble Romans were raised with the rights of “coemptio en manum” partners – or pleasurable service persons. By the first century, women were also indulging in this system with male slaves. Paul argues that although the practice was LEGAL and well accepted culturally – it was not acceptable for the believer. On the face of the reading, Paul discounts all other sexual expression beyond the marriage bed. Each man and each Christian woman would find only ONE place to express themselves sexually, with the single partner they married. They are to have, each one, “their own spouse”, thus eliminating sexual slave use.

Is there a specific definition for marriage in terms of number of partners and the biological sexuality of each partner?

1 Corinthians 7:2 “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.” Regardless of the world’s re-defining of marriage – the Bible’s final word on the intent of the Creator was this definition: One man to one woman in loyalty and fidelity – that is the point of verse 2.

Though Paul is not writing for the purpose of defining marriage as one man and one woman, he clearly upholds the standard found throughout the Bible. God created one woman from and for one man in Genesis. Jesus affirmed it was so in the beginning, and it was the intent of God to have that single union of a man and a woman that left their home and became “one flesh”. Paul reaffirms that position by stating that “each man has his woman” and “each woman has her man”. He calls them “husband” and “wife”. There is no room for a man with a male partner in this passage, nor a woman with a female partner.

Clearly, even in the backdrop of widespread cultural acceptance of homosexuality, the Apostle saw marriage as between one man and one woman – and nothing else.

Let me be clear: It is possible to argue that America does not want to define marriage based on the Bible (though I would disagree). It is even possible to argue that the Bible is wrong about marriage – an ancient document of chauvinistic men (and I would disagree again). What is NOT POSSIBLE is to argue that the text is ambiguous about marriage as defined by one man and one woman with no other possible definition (1 Cor. 7:1-5). The text simply echoed what came before it in the words of Moses and Jesus, and then specifically eliminated any other marriage definition. Marriage was not just a “tradition”, it was a prescribed and defined practice in the Bible.

Is the timing and frequency of sexual union completely at the discretion of either the man or woman?

1 Corinthians 7:3 “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” The couple should share sexual expression as a normal part of their marriage – for that is exactly where God intended it to be expressed. The desire is not sinful, and the abstaining is not holy. It is critically important that couples learn they surrender the power of singleness in marriage – and become part of one another.

Don’t miss the point Paul made here. That is not only sexually, but it is true financially – it isn’t “his money” and “her money” – it is “their money”. It is true in every way. We marry to become “one flesh” in emotional, spiritual and yes, physical ways.

It is often charged that Paul’s writings reflected a chauvinistic ideology and that he reflected the Roman male dominated society. On closer inspection, does he really? Paul argued that both the timing and frequency of sexual expression needed to be agreed on by BOTH the man and the woman. Paul argued that each OWED the other to continue sexual expression on behalf of the needs of the other. He did not make the woman solely subservient to males needs, and offers clear balance between the responsibilities of the two. Would a chauvinist give equal rights to the woman in such matters as sexual expression?

Is the physical desire for sexual expression sinful in and of itself?

Underlying the whole discussion is the notion some Christians have that the whole subject is fleshly, and therefore not holy. 1 Corinthians 7:5 “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” That is not his point.

Paul instructed couples not to deny their need for physical expression. It is important that both the husband and the wife’s needs be taken into account. Here is the point: Sex is not sinful in the context of a marriage – abstinence may be. The Bible is pro-sex in the right context, and anti-sex in the wrong context. If we deny the physical side of our nature, we will face powerful temptations. Men and women who work hard to meet the needs of the other will find, on the whole, a happier partner with fewer distractions. Paul knew the temptations, because he walked the Roman streets.

There is something both strange and sad about a culture in which teenage sex is condoned so long as it is safe, while teenage smoking is denounced as categorically wrong – as if a single cigarette has anywhere near the same impact on your life. Sexual expression has become a mere issue of health and the law, whereas morality is reserved for such lofty things as tobacco.

Remember: The use of our sexuality was planned by the Creator of our body.

I want to close the first part of our discussion from this chapter with a word of encouragement. It does not escape my attention that we are living in a Laodicean culture in the church and a Sodom culture in the world. There seem to be many who worry about the way our country is going. They feel as though the pressures of the day, the obvious moral slide and the assistance of a Godless media pressing the point of the abandonment of belief in the Divine spell a new peril to the Gospel. They are wrong. It is not so. The Gospel does not usually begin its transformation in the human heart by a won argument, but rather by a loving gesture. It is not the work of human ingenuity that proves God’s existence and His intent to the pagan mind, but the work of the Spirit sparked by simple acts of love and kindness by those who love and follow Him.

Years ago a missionary to India contracted Tuberculosis and was placed in a sanitarium. He did not speak Hindi, but he desired to reach people, even in his exhausted and broken state. He attempted to pass some tracts to people in the hospital, but no one seemed even vaguely interested, even though the tracts were in the Hindi language. In his second week, late one night, a coughing fit awakened him from sleep. As he sat up to catch his breath, he noticed an old man across the room who was weak and shaky, but was trying to stand at the edge of his bed. The man trembled, and then sank back into the bed, tears rolling down his etched cheeks. He curled into the bed, and cried. Sick, the missionary sank back into his bed and soon drifted back to sleep. Over the next week, he noticed the way the nurses handled the old man. He recognized why the man was so desperate to get up in the night. The man needed a bathroom, and was too weak to take the journey to the small room at the end of the hall. The nurses cleaned him up briskly, and one even slapped the old man. They hated changing his bed, and yet didn’t seem to recognize the man had little choice. Night fell again, and this was a restless one for our missionary friend. He awoke several times. On one of the rustlings, this one about two in the morning, he noticed the old man struggling to sit up and make his way out of the bed yet again. After a feable attempt with trembling hands and arms, he slumped back into the bed and began to sob. Our missionary friend didn’t know what to do. He lay there for a few minutes. Then, as though it was obvious to him suddenly, he walked across the room to the old man. When the crying man looked up, he raised his hands as though a slap was coming from his roommate – something he rather expected. He didn’t get a slap, though; he got a smile. Our friend reached beneath the man and raised him up, carrying his now wasted body to the bathroom. He held the man under his arms and let the man care for himself with as much dignity as such a scene could offer. He carried the man back to his bed, and as he lay the man down, the old man kissed his cheek in gratitude. Our friend went back to his bed, and drifted off to sleep. The next morning, the missionary was abruptly awakened by a man who spoke to him in Hindi, which he did not understand. The man motioned to the table, requesting one of the tracts about Jesus. Our missionary friend obliged, but wasn’t sure of what was going on. A few days later, another missionary friend came to visit him in the hospital, a man who spoke the Hindi language and could communicate freely in the ward. In a few minutes, the visitor spoke to each of the men in the ward, and discovered that several of them had trusted Jesus Christ because of what they saw in our sick missionary friend. He didn’t speak a word – he simply showed love. That opened the door of the hearts of the hurting. The Word in their own language and the Spirit Who speaks the languages of all men did the rest.

Let me encourage you to take a stand on morality. The world, and many voices inside the “church movement” are telling you to capitulate. I am NOT. Know truth, live truth. Stand for truth. Know that those who MOCK US now will MARK US later as things fall apart – and if they stay on this course they surely will. At the very same time… Settle down. Stop and look up. Redemption isn’t found in Washington.

Stop worrying about the argument about marriage, sexuality, atheism, homosexuality – all of it. Stop thinking the campuses will turn all hearts from Jesus. Remember: the way Jesus is made clear is in simple acts of love to people who often will not find the world so kind. Those acts are just as powerful today as ever. God isn’t holding together one quintillion stars but struggling with the massive intellect of men on this little rock. Don’t forget, our job isn’t to convince people Jesus is the Way – as much as it is to SHOW people that He is the Way… and we are joyfully following Him home.

Confident Christianity: “Knowing Good” – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

spaghetti_bologneseI love food, and it shows. I have been working on my personal disciplines and my gym time, but as yet it isn’t showing. Anyway, as both an historian and a self-professed “foodie” I have often wondered exactly how people figured out what was good to eat. Recently I started watching a series of food lectures that surmised how people worked out a variety of foods. Think about it! How could someone figure out that the head of a grain could be pounded and separated from its chaff covering? How did they work out that after the grain was separated, it could be dried, and ground into flour, added to water and a little salt and made into a bread base? If they could figure all that out, how could they then work out that if they cut it in thin strips, let it dry and boiled it in water, they could top it with tomatoes and Parmesan cheese for a spaghetti dinner? Yet, they clearly did. The variables of that evolution of the recipe probably produced many other things that DON’T go together. This past week I went to lunch with Pastor Matt, and watched him consume a burger that was topped with peanut butter and jelly. Some things are just WRONG, and that appeared to be one where I needed to take a stand!

The truth is that modern life is full of options, and not everything is clearly right or wrong. Sometimes we are left with a decision about our participation and what to use our resources on – and the choices aren’t always “cut and dried”. Since we have only a matter of decades on the planet and it moves by much more quickly that many realize – we don’t want to waste it. As a believer, I know that I could easily waste my life on things that will not honor God. At the same time, there is much to enjoy in this life! I sleep on a comfortable mattress, not a bed of nails. I drive an automobile with air conditioning. I eat far too many good meals. How do I know what God allows for me, and what will move me off my mission? How do I know what is His direction for my life and what is His enemy’s distraction to pull me away from Him?

Key Principle: God intended His people to carefully choose what they will include in their lives and what they should stay away from.

This principle can sound like l am about to offer you a legalistic rant, but I am not. Today’s lesson will leave you with a list – but it will be a list of principles, not practices you must conform to in order to please me, or anyone else. These are principles from God’s Holy Word on personal choice items. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

In the first half of 1 Corinthians 6, after a quick reading one might conclude that Paul wasn’t sure the Corinthians really understood the components of a Christian at all. Notice in 6:2 the phrase: “Do you not know?” You see it again in verse 3 and again in verse 9. It seems there may have been doubt about their understanding of the content of their faith and lifestyle. Curtiss Kitrell wrote:

“What? Know ye not?” This expression is used by Paul eight times in this first letter to the Corinthians. Again and again he had to say to them, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you about these things? … Could it be that the Christians at Corinth did not know better and had to be informed? After all, they had been saved from gross heathenism, dreadful superstition, and loose moral living. Perhaps they really didn’t know how to behave as Christians. Or it could have been that the Corinthians were ignoring certain information given them. They knew what was expected of them but they were doing nothing about it. They were not living up to their potential in Christ. They were not growing because they were not obeying Christ. (Sermon central illustrations).

Corinth was a center for prostitute cults. Of that, there is no doubt. It was an economy fueled by sensuality. Here Paul was directly answering the issue: “Can a Christian go to the brothel?” His answer was clear… God defined that as immoral. “What about Judah in Genesis?” one asks. The answer is this: He was wrong to go into a prostitute, and you would be too. “OK!” you say. “Got it. Now let’s go home…” Not so fast… there is much more here! Here there are principles to help me decide the moral premise of many things that may not have even been invented at the time of Paul…

In the event that it was not clear how to select activities that honor God, and how to eliminate things that were NOT RIGHT for them, Paul offered them eight tests. A believer can apply these to any participation opportunity or choice. Each test can help me decide IF I should participate, if I should exclude participation, as well as HOW MUCH I can involve myself and still be “on mission”.

The premise of the all eight is this: Paul stated elsewhere a number of times that our body belongs to God. It is HIS. This section explains HOW to set your body apart and glorify God with all of you.

Help Test: Will it help on my mission?

1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.”

On a book jacket by John Piper: “February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast fives years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells. . . .’ Picture them before Christ at the great Day of Judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. “God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.” —– [Don’t Waste Your Life, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003, rear jacket]

If we agree with the old commercial from the United Negro College Fund: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste!” how much more is a LIFE a terrible thing to waste! Paul argues that even if something is ALLOWED, it may not be helpful for the mission we were given. A ball gown may be elegant in a waltz, but it makes for lousy as swim wear. Many a believer is adorning his life with practices that do not help him accomplish the goal in life God has given them… and inside they KNOW it.

As a believer I have the right to eat, to drink, to sleep, to work, and to pursue enjoyment. No other mere mortal has the right to tell me how to live my life. God’s Word and God’s Spirit are my guides – not someone else’s preferences or traditions. Yet, though that is true, there are some constraints.

Here, before he even got to that point, he precedes the argument with – “DOES THIS HELP?” The term PROFITABLE in 1 Corinthians 6:12 is symphérō (from sýn, “together with” and phérō, “bring, carry”) – properly, combine in a way that brings gain).

If it ADDS to my life and its mission, then it is worth considering. In my life, art, music, natural beauty, excellent food, dear friends – all add to make the operations of the journey with Jesus more pleasant and fulfilling. Kept in balance, they are HELPFUL. Out of balance, they become selfish and harmful.

Control Test: Will it overwhelm my ability to complete my mission?

1 Corinthians 6:12b “…All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Galatians 5:16 warns believers to be sensitive to a war that is fighting for CONTROL over us … Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Herein is the caution – be careful that the things you are doing are not warring and defeating the work of the Spirit of God within. At the same time, we have the additional need to be careful that the thing we are doing isn’t DOING US. Do I have the absolute control over my faculties? That is a key question to the use or participation in an activity.

Many people allow outside influences to shakle them, just as you would handcuff someone to a jail cell wall. They willingly put their arms forward, allowing the cuffs to snap on and bind them. When they are closed, they are no longer in control of their ability to respond as God would have them. The choices must be made to stay out of the situation BEFORE it becomes a situation.

Let me offer a story or two to ilustrate:

John is out with his friends until after 3:00 AM. Two of the friends have been drinking and may have taken some drugs. John gets in the car with one of them driving, and ends up ending his sports career in the accident that was caused by the bad judgment of the driver. He hadn’t been drinking, but in getting in the car as a passenger, he was brought under the mastery of the driver and the bottle all the same.

Suzie saw a school acquaintance on the side of the road walking down Highway 27 at 11:30 with a day bag on her shoulder. As a believer, Suzie thought she should stop and help. Her friend Debbie got in the car and asked for a lift to the south of town. Suzie could tell that she was stoned on drugs. A mile and a half down the road, the officer pulled the car over for a broken tale light. When he looked into the car and saw the drugged young woman, he asked to see both of them outside the car. He asked if he could search the car. Debbie had taken her stash of drugs and put them under the seat. Suzie had to make a call from jail to her parents, and be arraigned on drug charges. She left control of the situation and it mastered her testimony.

In both of these cases, mastery wasn’t drinking; it was placing myself in a place out of the proper controls of God’s designated people in my life. Wrong friends may be the problem, but that choice happens before the TRAGIC problem arises.

Often “mastery” is about surrendering your future choices to another person or influence. We must guard the influences of our life to be careful not to allow something to control our testimony.

Longevity Test: Will it put too much emphasis on things that won’t last?

1 Corinthians 6:13   Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them.

Don’t get the wrong idea about the reference to food. Paul was not trying to surrender pasta in favor of dry and moldy bread. He ate, and at times he ate well. He knew the difference between a quality wine and street swill vinegar, sold by the fast drink vendors. At most street vendors, cheap food and drink was readily available. Since many people had no cooking facility in their one room flat, the average Roman ate all their meals in the community. Many wine bars served CONDITUM, a wine mixed with pepper, honey and seawater – and yes, it was often as bad as it sounds.

Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum in southern Italy preserved more than walls – it preserved graffiti and dipinti – ancient writings and murals that showed people’s opinions that were contemporary to Paul. The problem wasn’t that FOOD was bad – the emphasis of the sentence was on the temporary nature of food. Our ladies understand this. They will work hard every Thanksgiving, spending hours creating a meal that is literally gobbled down (pun intended) by hungry, ravenous beasts in what seems like seconds.

Is food wrong because it is temporary? No, of course it is not. God made us to eat, and God made us with taste buds. Satan didn’t stick them in our mouth after the Fall to get us off track. God intended us to enjoy and savor life – even though everything here is temporary. What does this test mean then?

Again, the issue is perspective. We must be careful not to get lost in the temporary to the expense of the permanent. Souls are forever – comfort is not. How can we look at a missionary, let alone a martyr in glory in the eye if we refuse to sacrifice any personal comforts for the cause of Christ? We must guard not to allow the temporary to overrun the eternal.

Spurgeon once offered a parable in which he said, “There was once a tyrant who summoned one of his subjects into his presence, and ordered him to make a chain. The poor blacksmith — that was his occupation — had to go to work and forge the chain. When it was done, he brought it into the presence of the tyrant, and was ordered to take it away and make it twice the length. He brought it again to the tyrant, and again he was ordered to double it. Back he came when he had obeyed the order, and the tyrant looked at it, and then commanded the servants to bind the man hand and foot with the chain he had made and cast him into prison. “That is what the devil does with men,” Mr. Spurgeon said. “He makes them forge their own chain, and then binds them hand and foot with it, and casts them into outer darkness.”

With eternities values in view, we will walk uprightly and see clearly during the journey. Don’t live without joys of this life – but don’t live driven by them either.

Purpose Test: Am I using it the way the Lord intended?

I Corinthians 6:13b “…Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord , and the Lord is for the body .

The physical relationship of intimacy was made FOR marriage to be used IN marriage. God tells a story through our sexuality – a beautiful one about the Father’s commitment to Israel, and the Son’s commitment to the church. There is no place in the story for a “side use”. God’s rule on sexuality is: “Use only as directed.” Everything else is dangerous, and produces harmful side effects.

Little Billy took his girlfriend downtown to get married. The marriage license clerk smiled and explained that they were both much too young. Little Billy asked, “Could you give us a learners’ permit then?” Well Billy, I would have to say that there is no such thing.

The Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world neither the things in the world for all that is in the world the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not of the Father but is from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15,16)

My body – every part of it – has a Divinely appointed purpose. I am to use all the parts as HE commanded.

• If I use my eyes to gaze where He has warned they should not look, I will be plagued with guilt.
• If I strain my ears to hear what He has told me I should not hear – I will live with the stains on my heart.
• If I take my feet where He warns I dare not go – I will find myself in a place of peril.
• If I place my hands where He has forbidden them to be – I will dishonor Him who called me.

The University of Northern Iowa once offered a general art course that included a most unusual exercise. The teacher brought to class a shopping bag filled with lemons and gave a lemon to each class member. The assignment was for the student to keep his lemon with him day and night–smelling, handling, examining it. Next class period, without warning, students were told to put their lemons back in the bag. Then each was asked to find his lemon. Surprisingly, most did so without difficulty. God designed sex in a way for people to know their partners in such a way that know one else will ever know.

Sexual sin is, at its core, the simple act of using parts in a way that they were not designed to be used or for a purpose for which they were not made to be used. This need not involve another person, but it may. It is the simple act of taking what is made for a distinct purpose – the intimacy of marriage – and using it for personal pleasure. The pleasure of these acts were to be a byproduct, but not the primary purpose. Feeding pleasure only entraps you, and leaves your life stained and guilty.

Margaret was lonely. She wanted to walk with God, but she also wanted a husband and children. She wanted to feel close to someone. She let Bill have what was not his to have. She wanted him to stay and love her. He stayed, but not with the respect she wanted him to have for her. She lived with guilt, and in the end got her man – but wishes she hadn’t. Sometimes the WAY you do something is as important as what you are doing.

Let me challenge the world’s hypothesis that LUSTFUL PASSION is something you should LOVE to have in your life constantly. Let me ask you directly to consider the self-destructive consequences of lust, as well as your commitment to honor the Savior. Lust can be for sexual gratification, but it can just as easily be for heart intimacy. Lust is simply a yearning. Men often yearn for physical gratification while women often yearn for emotional gratification – both are equally wrong if they are not “held in check” by a walk with God, directed by His Spirit.

Memory Test: Since this body will be raised, is this what I want to show I did with it?

I Corinthians 6:14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.

There are two sense of this verse. First, we must look at the fact that we will be raised in the power of God – and then we live an unending life before the Lord. Right now it seems so important to have what we want. In one million years, how will it look?

Second, there is a sense of God’s power in the verse. It is as though Paul were asking for us: “Can God deliver me from this?” Sure He can! Since it is true that He raised up Jesus from the dead, He can surely help me with my struggle to resist something God doesn’t want me to do.

The singer-songwriter Jackson Brown wrote: “I’ve learned that if you give a pig and a boy everything they want, you’ll get a good pig and a bad boy.” (Jackson Brown, Jr., Live and Learn and Pass it On).

Link Test: Am I bringing Jesus into an agreement or place in which He would not choose to participate?

1 Corinthians 6:15   Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says , “ THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH .” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Here is a simple rendering of the principle: “God knows where He wants to be – so don’t take the Spirit where He is uncomfortable!” Participate in things that God desires to participate in. When I fell in love with my wife, we began to express that love by DOING THINGS TOGETHER. Dottie and I had, in the beginning, very different tastes. We still have an entirely different sense of HUMOR. She is a “Three Stooges” slapstick kinda gal, and I am… well, NOT any of those things. We don’t read the same kinds of material. Yet, over time, our lives have become so intertwined that we have learned to like things the other was involved in. I am a boring guy in many ways. A good book, a quiet room and some soft string chamber music are my speed. Yet, I would be willing to watch or listen to a great variety of things if it will bring my wife a measure of joy. Could we do less for our Savior?

The specific topic of 6:15-17 is clearly the joining of a sexual nature. It is the sharing of the most intimate part of ourselves with another. The verses end with the admonition that we can have an intense level of intimacy with the Lord Himself. We can, spiritually speaking, find deep joy and share deeply in the satisfaction of bringing Him joy! Here is the clear idea once again: Don’t put Jesus where Jesus wouldn’t put Himself. You carry Him within – walk like it without!

Harm Test: Will it harm my body or wound my soul?

1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

Radio personality Paul Harvey told the story of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. The account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin.

First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. “Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more–until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!

I mention this story for good reason. It is a fearful thing that people can be “consumed by their own lusts.” It is not uncommon; if you look you will see it everywhere in our world. Here is the simple principle: If it will harm your body or dull your passion for God – it simply isn’t worth the cost.

Temple Test: Is this something God would paint on the outside to advertise what a life surrendered to Him does?

Not everything is about what is DOES to me; some things are about what it SAYS to others when I participate in this action. Some things a slave did in a Roman home reflected on the Master.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Drew Anderson (from Tucson, AZ), wrote into Reader’s Digest: “While my wife and I were shopping at a mall kiosk, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you’re in?”

Paul was speaking in the context of sexuality in this passage, and specifically the union with Temple prostitutes of Acro-Corinth. This was perfectly acceptable in the society of the people receiving the letter. A youth’s first experience was lauded by his father and other men. In some ways, our society is becoming much like Corinth of old…

A ten year old study estimated that the average American views over nine thousand sexual acts, or implied sex acts, every year on television. Of that, over eighty percent are by people who aren’t married. The average youth, watching television, from age eight to eighteen (ten years) watched 93,000 scenes of sexual expression, and over 72,000 of these scenes would have been premarital or extramarital affairs.

Is that linked, do you think to the fact that during the same period teenage pregnancies skyrocketed. The vast majority of unwed teen mothers required public assistance, but few connected it with their television diet at all.

After studying the trends, we now conclude that of teens who marry because of pregnancy, sixty percent divorced within five years. Two thirds of teenage pregnancies of the study were fathered by men over 20.

“Well”, you say, “That’s teenagers. Adults make wiser choices, right?” Not really.

Forbes magazine reported this year that pornography is a fourteen billion dollars per year business. By comparison, McDonald’s reported an eight billion dollar income size for their global business.

One huge problem with pornography and sexual advertisements, is not that they emphasize sex too much, but that they don’t emphasize it in its proper place. They eliminate the depth of human relationship and its picture – then restrain sexuality to the narrow confines of a momentary pleasure. They think an act alone defines sex, but that is only a small part of God’s beautiful design.

Here is my question for the Temple Test. Since you probably agree that Jesus purchased you, is your private life the billboard for the owner’s value system?

Here is the problem: Many believers wrongly think Jesus came to save them from HELL – but that is only a slice from the true reality of His Divine purpose. Jesus is as much our Savior from sin’s current bondage as from Hell’s eventual destiny. His power is given for my transforming walk today, not just my destination tomorrow. Many who came to Jesus out of a desire to escape the flames of hell, if honest, would tell you they have no real desire to be delivered from their sinful lifestyle. That is the truth. They want DESTINATION INSURANCE not a life transformation. They want a great final address, not a traveling companion. Think of it this way: That comparison is like the difference between God’s design for sexual expression and its shadowed but poor reflection in pornography. Emphasis of only one part obscures the total purpose and picture – but many are pleased with that portion without the requirement of relationship.

Galatians 1 opens with these words:

Galatians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from [a]God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

Clearly the rescue from this age was not a removal – we are still here. Clearly it was not a call to live in monasteries – Paul walked in the cities of his day preaching. How, then are we delivered?

We have a choice to follow God. The mastery of sin is broken (Romans 6). We don’t have to serve it. We can be changed. Now… the real question is: “Do we want to be changed?”

God intended His people to use judgment about what they will include in their lives and allow for themselves.

Second Chances: “Choose to Renew” – Ezra 6:19-22

I35W_Bridge_CollapseJust after 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, August 1, 2007, all eight lanes of the Interstate 35W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, killing thirteen people, and injuring fifty others. A school bus returning from a Day camp field trip to a water park, nearly plunged into the Mississippi, while carrying sixty-three children – but the bus ended up perched precariously against a guardrail of the collapsed bridge, beside a burning semi-trailer. A 20-year-old staff member on the bus kicked out the rear emergency exit and led the children to safety. Another youth worker was severely injured. Some vehicles were thrown into the water, while others burst into flames on the pieces of the broken bridge hovering over the water.

What seems incredible now is the well-established fact that the collapse was entirely preventable and predictable. In 1990, the federal government gave the bridge a rating of “structurally deficient,” citing significant corrosion in its bearings. According to a 2001 study by the civil engineering department of the University of Minnesota, cracking had been previously discovered in the cross girders at the end of the approach spans. In 2005, the bridge was again rated as “structurally deficient” and in possible need of replacement, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory database. Yet another inspection carried out June 15, 2006 found problems of cracking and fatigue, and the bridge was scheduled to be replaced in 2020. At the time of its demise, some work was being done on the bridge, with some 575,000 pounds of construction supplies and equipment on the bridge. In addition to the lives and health of many people, on May 2, 2008, the state of Minnesota reached a $38 million agreement to compensate victims of the bridge collapse.

The lesson to all of us is two-fold. First, neglected infrastructure is dangerous. Second, if we wait while the cracks show, we are simply asking for disaster. Keep those two ideas in mind… for many of us are showing cracks of neglect on the infrastructure of our lives…and that is the subject of this lesson from Scripture.

Think for a moment about a church that neglected infrastructureThey started with a few people in a living room. They knew Jesus, and as their small town grew they truly desired that God would use them to start a vibrant church ministry in that place. It started well, and a few people began to work with vigor until soon the small Bible study could no longer be contained inside the home. A building program was begun as the small Bible study moved into a nearby rented space at the local library while they collected the necessary money. These were good days, filled with trans-formative messages from the Word, sweet fellowship of the few, and lots of dreams. The whole community should have felt the love of that congregation, and that was their plan! Years passed, and two Pastors later, the building was long since built. Good preaching and fine workers offered years of good programming. Many people came to Christ, though not all at once. Their church was not dramatic, but it was solid and Biblical. They were happy with it, and they felt that it represented the Lord well. Several new families came into the church, and, after years of quiet, there were some rumblings in several of the ministries. Nothing profound, but small disagreements that brought to the surface some long standing differences between the people. Division seemed to be discovered, then obvious, then irreconcilable. It snuck up on everyone. Leaders had no idea it was coming, but it did. Now the once vibrant church seemed old, and to some it smelled of stagnancy. The work became harder to pull off. Workers were tired and fewer than needed. Budgets were a struggle to meet. The once vibrant ministry was sagging and collapsing into disarray. Yet, many still loved their church. They worked hard and couldn’t understand what went wrong. Was it just a “life cycle” of the ministry? Could it be that there were some foundational issues that needed renewal? How does something once vibrant become so weakened?

Think about a marriage and its neglected infrastructureTom and Sally met in college and couldn’t believe there was another person so well matched on the planet for each of them. They loved the same things, and even their parents agreed that this was a match made in Heaven. They well thoroughly smitten with one another. They married after college and had two children, along with a house in the suburbs, a small car and the obligatory minivan, a summer vacation at the cottage in the mountains, and a happy life. The children grew quickly. Responsibilities mounted and the days passed like lightning. The sleek and youthful bodies took on the doughy and soft centered middle age look, as they worked, cared, shared and watched their children grow into adulthood. One day they looked at each other and the feeling just wasn’t the same. They were used to one another, but there was little they could call passion. Those days were for the young, and they were just too tired. A once vibrant relationship was sagging, and the deep and enduring foundations had been neglected by inattention to the effects of weathering and wearing. Time took its toll on their un-maintained relationship.

Think about the neglected spiritual life infrastructureJohn was a wild young man. He had so many problems – a bad home, bad grades and a bad attitude. He barely escaped high school intact, but decided that the Marine corps made men, and he wanted to become one. After a few fights, one with a superior officer, he was dishonorably discharged. Discouraged, alone and broken, he wandered into a church. He heard in that place a message that was like no story he ever heard before. The man up front told of Jesus, who God sent out of love to suffer viciously, and die in place of John and every other person in the place. John felt the tug of the Spirit and he went forward at an altar call. He received Christ and was welcomed into, for the first time in his life, a family. Oh the early days of his walk. God was so real to him. The Scripture was so alive and he was learning so much. Old habits fell off of him like worn out clothing, and new attitudes displaced many of the old ones that had brought such trouble to his life. John was a new man. He continued to grow and met Art, a man who offered him apprenticeship in electrical work. John worked, went to school, and got an electrical license. During that time he met Liz, a school teacher. They fell in love, were married and had an excellent marriage together. By all accounts John got his life together. As his responsibilities grew in life, he met them with character and care. Yet, slowly his spiritual vigor waned. By the time their third child was born, John struggled to be excited about studying the Word, and his church attendance at anything but Sunday morning was quite sporadic. No one knew what was happening inside. A fire that once burned bright was gone dim. He still believed, it just wasn’t the same – and he knew it. Every time he began to pray, guilt struck his heart and he found himself confessing his coldness – yet nothing changed. His once vibrant faith was sagging.

Whether it is a church, a marriage, or a personal inner spiritual walk, all relationships require renewal and maintenance to be reinforced against the weathering.

How do we do that? What steps can we take to reinforce the vibrancy of our marriages, our church, and most of all our personal walk with God?

Key Principle: Renewal comes from deliberate choices strengthened by God’s reinforcement.

The subject of the Book of Ezra, and the TIMES of Ezra were about grabbing the opportunity of a second chance for a Kingdom. It was originally destroyed by neglect that led to compromise, then compromise that seeded overt rebellion, and a rebellion that moved from darkness to normality – and finally the resultant judgment of God.

• We saw in Ezra 1 and 2 that a good government wasn’t required to bring renewal, nor was a great perspective on their current day required – but simply a deliberate dependence on the Word of God, and surrender to the person of God.

• In Ezra 3 and 4 we saw that when renewal began, the enemy showed up to derail the work with Discouragement, Deception, Distraction, and Disinformation – the typical bag of tricks, but there was a way to overcome his hindrances.

• By Ezra 5, we saw the enemy throw new tactics into the mix – Defamation and Delay. God responded by dispatching a series of prophets – Haggai and Zechariah – to get the work back on track. After a decade of delays, God opened the door for completion of the project that renewed the people’s spiritual vitality for a season. As we walked into Ezra 6, we saw God rescue the people and pull off the completion of the Temple – together with cash and prizes sent from the enemies around Judah to pay for the dedication service!

Read for a moment the short text of this lesson on renewal:

Ezra 6:19 “The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure. Then they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, both for their brothers the priests and for themselves. 21 The sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the LORD God of Israel, ate the Passover. 22 And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”

A careful read through the text will expose that their renewed vigor was based on five deliberate choices:

First, the people chose to Remember: They consciously recalled the salvation of God (6:19)

Spiritual vibrancy begins with spiritual memory. Pride and personal focus chases God away, but a thankful spirit, deeply rooted in the reality that I have been given that which is undeserved invites God to renew a work in me. Passover was to teach a very specific truth – the personal need to appropriate God’s grace. The annual celebration is coming on March 29th in the evening this year.

Take a closer look at Exodus 19 to get the idea of personal responsibility for salvation:

Exodus 12:1 Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 ‘Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 ‘Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 ‘You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. ..21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 “You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. ..26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped.

In order for the family of the Israelite to be saved from the coming hand of judgment of God, they could only be saved if they:

• Listened and took seriously the Word of God as delivered to them by Moses (Exodus 12:1-3).

• The people appropriated the substitute lamb as a sacrifice for their family and those who were near to them (Exodus 19:4). No sacrifice, no salvation. (Exodus 12:5,21)

Leviticus 17:11 ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ (NASB)

Hebrews 9:22 “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”(NASB)

• Personally each family followed through on applying the blood to THEIR TENT, their life, their heart, their surrender – their yielded-ness. Failure to yield was disastrous! (Exodus 12:22).

• The people recalled this night for the rest of their lives as the testimony of their salvation (Ex. 12:26-27).

This was the pattern of the Apostles regarding the Lamb of God slain for them:

Acts 4:5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” 13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life. Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean… For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark…ten feet long. But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie’s own words, “Cherry,” that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.” Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking…”Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it. And now you also know…that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset…on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast…you could see an old man walking…white-haired, bushy-eye-browed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness. – “The Old Man and the Gulls” from Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story by Paul Aurandt, 1977, quoted in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, p. 79-80.

Second, the people chose to Examine Themselves: Made personal choices for purity in their lives (6:20a).

Ezra 6:20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure.

What did they do, exactly? They self-examined and then sought God about impurity. Let’s cut through all the spiritual rhetoric and get to the heart of it: They looked inside and got honest with God about their actual condition – nothing more, nothing less. Author Kent Hughes asked some helpful and penetrating questions that a man or woman of God can answer within – but they SHOULD answer them: (From: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome).

1. Are we being desensitized by the present evil world? Do things that once shocked us now pass us by with little notice? Have our sexual ethics slackened?

2. Where do our minds wander when we have no duties to perform?

3. What are we reading? Are there books or magazines or files in our libraries that we want no one else to see?

4. …How many hours do we spend watching TV? How much adultery did we watch last week? How many murders? How many did we watch with our children?

5. How many chapters of the Bible did we read last week?

Along the same line, Robert Murray McCheyne wrote to Dan Edwards after the latter’s ordination as a missionary (adapted for modern speech): “In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God“. – Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way, Navpress, 1989, pp. 65.

There it is. No man suddenly becomes base. No great work suddenly collapses. No marriage suddenly fails. Consider the case for examination of our lives…

After a violent storm one night, a large tree, which over the years had become a stately giant, was found lying across the pathway in a park. Nothing but a splintered stump was left. Closer examination showed that it was rotten at the core because thousands of tiny insects had eaten away at its heart. The weakness of that tree was not brought on by the sudden storm; it began the very moment the first insect nested within its bark. With the Holy Spirit’s help, let’s be very careful to guard our purity. – Our Daily Bread.

Think back when you were more sensitive about sin in your life. Consider when you thought about how seriously God viewed your deliberate attentiveness to each action…There was a reason that God took the life of Ananias and Sapphira. God clearly desired the church to launch for that ever so brief moment on the foot of integrity and purity. Do you really believe He is satisfied with your compromises now?

Third, they chose Accountability: Made careful choices for unity (6:20b).

Keep reading, because there is more.

Ezra 6:20b “…Then they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles…”

The people made sure that everyone understood their sinfulness and God’s provided grace. They didn’t put them in comparison to one another – they set each one before God’s holy perfection. The standard wasn’t “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” but rather “Are you holy like God?” Knowing how each of us falls short, and graphically reminding ourselves of it helps us look at one another with compassion and grace. Recognizing that none of us is whole – all of us are broken – helps us to see our need of God’s love, God’s grace and God’s forgiveness. Daniel Webster reminded us: “My greatest thought is my accountability to God.” Yet, many who know God seldom have such a thought today. We are fast becoming the generation God owes something to.

I simply argue that a room full of believers can easily overlook the responsibility to help one another in their walk with God, and their holiness… “Too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (source unknown).

Across the churches of the west, there is appears to be a growing need by some in the church to “apologize to the world” for how they have felt when the church pronounced sin as exactly what it is. This seems to some like a humble and compassionate move, but it is wrong-headed. Perhaps some things were not spoken in love – and that is worthy of our deep concern and repentance. Yet, when an apology takes on the language of the world re-defining rebellion as an unfortunate action of hapless victims – the apology betrays its author. The lost world doesn’t have the right to redefine the terms of righteousness as though they have equal standing to a Holy God. As the church moves from defense of the Word and the grand solution of the Gospel provided by God, we will lose both our voice and our power.

Let me be clear: God isn’t interested in the redefinition of man that overturns His stated truths. Church Councils cannot change what God has made into terms that are more accommodating to those who openly rebel against God’s order. When God speaks, all those who oppose His revealed truths are simply making noise, until He silences the room…and He will. His patience is not impotence and His delay not externally forced upon Him.

Beloved, the truth that we are all broken should make us humble before one another. Yet, we must be very careful here. We dare not reduce a Holy and Sovereign God and His faultless Word to the ranks of those Who should apologize or be apologized for – before men and women who have the marks of unrelenting rebellion on their life. Of such is not the Kingdom, so says the Word repeatedly. I do not judge another when I bring the truth that God already has stated the terms of defiance to a rebel. If God has said what is true – the church that stands with His Word need not adopt the world’s re-branding of error, but should stand firm in truth – always with an inner humility about our own flawed and broken vessels.

Every person should anticipate their participation in the church and engaging the Scripture will bring about conviction. That isn’t because God is mean or because the church is “judgy” – it is because there is no solution found for a problem we don’t believe we truly have. God confronts man because as Creator He holds the right to define all things, inspect all things and judge the worth of every action and attitude. Men who try to deny Him that right believe they are His equal. In the end, they will discover that was foolishness. These leaders of the newly inaugurated Temple slaughtered the lambs for the sin of each one – even if the idea that all were needy sinners could have been offensive to them.

Fourth, they chose to Intercede: Mediating for those they led (6:20b)

Note the sacrifice was for the people – but it was also for the priests. They didn’t feel they were perfect; it was their job. Note the phrase:

Ezra 6:20b “…both for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

Part of the work of the believer today is that of a priest – to intercede for those who do not have the strength, or perhaps the knowledge of their real need.

Sometimes people need a stand in: David Rice Atchison — Forget what the history books say. The 12th president of the United States was David Rice Atchison, a man so obscure that Chester A. Arthur seems a household word by comparison. At exactly 12 noon on March 4, 1849, Zachary Taylor was scheduled to succeed James Polk as chief executive. But March 4 was a Sunday and Taylor, a devout old general, refused to take the oath of office on [Sunday because he thought it the] Sabbath. Thus, under the Succession Act of 1792, Missouri Senator Atchison, as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, automatically became President. Atchison was said to have taken the responsibilities of his office very much in stride. Tongue in cheek, he appointed a number of his cronies to high cabinet positions, then had a few drinks, and went to bed to sleep out the remainder of his brief administration. On Monday at noon Taylor took over the reins, but the nation can look back fondly on the Atchison presidency as a peaceful one, untainted by even a hint of corruption. – Campus Life, February, 1980, p. 40.

As the intercessor for the younger believers and those who are unable to care for their needs by themselves, we must recall the “Commitment of the Priest” as the Levitical offering of the Millu’im demonstrated:

Leviticus 8:22 Then he presented the second ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. 23 Moses slaughtered it and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 24 He also had Aaron’s sons come near; and Moses put some of the blood on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot. Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood around on the altar.

Fifth, they chose to Be Distinct: Separating from the people of the world around them (6:21).

Those who were ready to be obedient to the Word joined together to seek the Lord and act (6:21). The writer reminds:

Ezra 6:21 The sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the LORD God of Israel, ate the Passover.

Don’t be awkward with the notion that a preacher of the Word, full of his own flaws, would call you to be HOLY. That comes with the role. We are to be distinct from the world. Remember the words of Peter:

1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.

Peter directed his readers to understand that holiness comes from:

• The way we think (1:13a), how seriously we treat the thoughts of our heart (i.e. soberly in 1:13b).

• The way we hope (1:13b), or more properly “where we place our earnest expectation – what we really believe will happen.

• The way we obey (1:14) – refusing our former master of lust that possessed us in the days we did not know better.

• The way we imitate (1:15) – becoming a reflection of our Heavenly Father!

Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervors, or un-commanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.” – John Brown, Nineteenth-century Scottish theologian, quoted in J. Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, p. 51

With their choices clearly made, God responded:

Ezra 6:22 And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”

First, God lifted them: They rejoiced because God nudged them to do so (6:22a).

God planted rejoicing in their hearts (6:22) that yielded real worship.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was present at the Vienna Music Hall, where his oratorio called “The Creation” was being performed. Weakened by age, the great composer was confined to a wheelchair. As the majestic work moved along, the audience was caught up with tremendous emotion. When the passage “And there was light!” was reached, the chorus and orchestra burst forth in such power that the crowd could no longer restrain its enthusiasm. The vast assembly rose in spontaneous applause. Haydn struggled to stand and motioned for silence. With his hand pointed toward heaven, he said, “No, no, not from me, but from thence comes all!” Having given the glory and praise to the Creator, he fell back into his chair exhausted. – Daily Bread, September 20, 1992. Haydn understood worship of a Sovereign!

Second, God strengthened them: They saw God doing for them what they could not have accomplished (6:22b).

God drew the heart of the king to them to provide encouragement from a very unlikely source. (6:22b)

The citizens of Feldkirch, Austria, didn’t know what to do. Napoleon’s massive army was preparing to attack. Soldiers had been spotted on the heights above the little town, which was situated on the Austrian border. A council of citizens was hastily summoned to decide whether they should try to defend themselves or display the white flag of surrender. It happened to be Easter Sunday, and the people had gathered in the local church. The pastor rose and said, “Friends, we have been counting on our own strength, and apparently that has failed. As this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, let us just ring the bells, have our services as usual, and leave the matter in His hands. We know only our weakness, and not the power of God to defend us.” The council accepted his plan and the church bells rang. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal, concluded that the Austrian army had arrived during the night to defend the town. Before the service ended, the enemy broke camp and left. – Source Unknown.

Can we not see it?

Renewal comes from deliberate choices strengthened by God’s reinforcement.