Four days ago I sat in Rome and watched a news clip on an Illinois teenager who was arrested the previous Saturday at Chicago’s O’Hare airport attempting to travel to the Middle East to join the barbaric Islamic State. A 19-year-old U.S. citizen from Illinois was arrested and appeared in court facing charges for allegedly attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization. If convicted, the man could face up to 15 years in prison. The FBI’s Chicago Join Terrorism Task Force revealed he had purchased a ticket to Istanbul, via Vienna. The young man had apparently penned a letter to his family, to be found in his bedroom after he left the country. “My dear parents, there are a number of reasons I will be going to the blessed land of Shaam [Syria] and leaving my home,” the letter says, according to the complaint. Among other things, the letter said, “We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I do not want my kids being exposed to filth like this.” (One can only shake their head when a comparison of morality can be made to those who behead children… but that is a subject for another time.)
The man’s parents, who were present in court, declined to comment on the case – though I cannot imagine (as a parent) how they could not be mortified at the public exposure to their son’s actions. What caught my attention was that in the court documents, according to the reporter, officials have apparently estimated that around one hundred Americans have traveled for such illegal purposes. I mention this, because it brings up deep feelings in many of us concerning LOYALTY. Some of us truly struggle to see how someone can so deeply benefit from the good things our country has to offer, and respond by joining a heinous group like those filling the streets of the Persian Gulf with terror. Loyalty is a cherished ideal for most of us. Admittedly, the case I mentioned was quite extreme, and in a country of 350 plus million people, there are bound to be some who do the bizarre – so my purpose was not to suggest that massive shifts are happening in our culture. Extremes will always be out on the edge of our society, and every society. Yet, there is a direct connection between this story and our lesson at the beginning of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians.
By any Christian’s standard – at least until this generation – Corinth was an extreme church in aberrant behaviors. They found a way to be on the wrong side of behaviors in very short order, and the confusion that reigned in the place makes me wonder if there wasn’t a Pastoral shepherd some two thousand years ago who was surviving on the Roman version of antacids, and seeing a Greek therapist three times a week to keep himself from going over the edge. If you aren’t familiar with their behaviors, consider this: It was a church that was divided along lines of different teachers they each preferred more than any other. Add to that, they boasted of allowing some “wife swapping” of a man and his son – an incredible “swinger club” that had even the locals wondering what Jesus was all about. In addition, they were settling their disputes in public courts between each other… and all that was before they passed the first communion biscuit. They had loyalty problems – some to each other, and MANY to Jesus and His message. Their case of disloyalty was nearly as morally shocking (in a spiritual way) as attempting to join a terror group is (in a nationalist way). The “Apostle to the Gentiles” took on the work of a vicious enemy in the church – the devil was at work, and Paul answered with care- but he answered. His first letter to the Corinthian church opens with a direct address (now the first six chapters) to the people to understand proper loyalty.
Key Principle: God’s people must understand and apply appropriate loyalty. Without it, they will be ineffective and a hindrance to God’s Kingdom.
As you open your Bible to what we now call “The First Letter to the Corinthians”, travel in your mind’s eye with me to a city at the dividing point between northern and southern Greece. The land truncates at a small strip of land that cuts through the Corinthian Gulf to the west and the Saronic Gulf to the east. The land bridge connected the rugged lands of Sparta on the peninsula in the south to the Athenians in the mainland to the north. During Paul’s life, there was an attempt to cut a canal between the two gulfs to move ships more easily without the “Diolkos” conveyor system they used on land to pass whole ships across the land, but as public works projects go – it wasn’t completed until the 1880’s.
Go into Corinth with me for a few moments – you will quickly identify two things: First, it was a PAGAN town – like most Roman world cities it celebrated the gods of Greek mythology (as adapted by Rome) and the nymphs and demi-gods of common places like water supplies and the like. Second, and this would have been impossible to miss – it was a SEX FILLED town. There was no way to look along the roadway in which naked images would not have been strewn to show various coital positions and techniques – for it was a culture bathed in sexuality. Some may see our time as the same, but the difference was that there was no “off switch” – the statuary was everywhere one could look. This was a town funded by lust. Moral license (Biblically speaking) had become RIGHT in the standard of the city fathers, as they put their own young girls into prostitution as a ‘RESPECTABLE’ answer to the tax needs of the city. Inside such a town Paul, as “the kosher kid from Tarsus” labored for eighteen months to reach people for Jesus and establish a church amid the people living in a sea of darkness and licentious living. The task was HUGE.
Paul DID establish the group, but by the time of the writing of his letter, he was gone to Asia Minor, and he wanted the church to keep growing – but the body was apparently divided and drifting back into license in sexual behaviors. The surprise to the Apostle Paul wasn’t the temptation for the Corinthians to slip into licentious living, but rather how boastful the congregation became at its own tolerance and overt acceptance of sin. It seems that where wrong had long since been deemed right in the eyes of the culture, some in the church wrongly concluded that God was asking them to make it their primary task to accept people as they continued in sin and make them feel loved by the church, instead of expecting repentance to lead to behaviors surrendered to Christ. They appointed themselves to the task of “making God more popular” at the expense of making the transformation of behavior by the Spirit their telltale sign. Unsurprisingly, that method didn’t bring the blessing of God, and the Apostle rebuked them for their wrong direction. Paul needed to engage some who were hostile to his direction. In the process of healing their rift, Paul left us a pattern for the days ahead in our own country.
In a quick overview, Paul’s letter can be read as something like this:
Dear Ones at Corinth, You have misplaced your affections on leaders over the message of God they brought (1-4), confused the preeminence of truth over love (5) and placed the world’s standard over the body instead of Messiah’s holy standards (6). Thanks for sending me your questions! I would like to address the answers concerning your six areas: marriage, divorce and remarriage (7), use of doubtful things (8-10), church symbolic behaviors (11), order and the use of spiritual gifts (12-14), the Resurrection of Jesus (15) and giving – the collection of aid funds (16).
I want to take a few minutes to look at the first half of the letter, because in it is the secret of understanding, building and recognizing proper loyalty in the context of the church. Our pass will be quick, but I hope it will make the point clear:
In chapter one, Paul headed into the issue of loyalty by making clear some underlying foundational statements that we should keep in mind:
First, he established the call of God in his life and his “track record” of following Him.
Just because someone has an insight, doesn’t mean they have earned the trust of people to speak into their lives. He wrote:
1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother. 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…
Paul opened with what seems like his standard greeting, so we don’t want to squeeze it too hard. He calls himself an Apostle, as was common – but especially important in sharing tough issues with the Corinthian believers. Though Paul is the author, Sosthenes (Gk: “safe in strength”) was probably the man who carried this letter back to Corinth. One by that name was the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth, seized and beaten by the mob in the presence of Gallio, the Roman governor, when he refused to proceed against Paul at the instigation of the Jews (Acts 18:12-17). Could it be that he was later saved? My mind imagines some outreach to him by Paul after he was wounded. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how he lost power in the religious community when he proved ineffective in persuading the governor. Did Paul step in and help him to lead him to Jesus – it would make a great novel!
My point is this: Mature believers get dirty to get others clean – and that is what Paul and Sosthenes were doing. They didn’t participate in sin, but they didn’t run either. It is worth remembering that men and women who KNOW GOD and WALK WITH GOD are the ones God wants to use to deal with sin. We are not to get holy and get INSULTED from the needs of men. We are to roll up our sleeves and get dirty outside while not drawing the dirt inside. Mother Theresa did with lepers what all of us were called to do with sinners – LOVE THEM without trying to join them.
Dr. Paul Brand, a well-known doctor and author, in his book, titled “In His Image,” writes about his mother. … He writes that when his mother was 75 years old, she was still walking miles every day, visiting the villages in the southern part of India, teaching the people about Jesus. One day, at age 75, she was traveling alone and fell and broke her hip. After two days of just lying there in pain, some workers found her and put her on a makeshift cot and loaded her into their jeep and drove 150 miles over deep rutted roads to find a doctor who could set the broken bones. But the very bumpy ride damaged her bones so badly that her hip never completely healed. He said, “I visited my mother in her mud covered hut several weeks after all of this happened. I watched as she took two bamboo crutches that she had made herself, and moved from one place to another with her feet just dragging behind because she had lost all feeling in them.” He said, “At age 75, with a broken hip, unable to stand on her own two legs, I thought that I made a pretty intelligent suggestion. I suggested that she retire. She turned around and looked at me and said, “Of what value is that? If we try to preserve this body just a few more years and it is not being used for God, of what value is that?” So she kept on working. She kept on riding her donkey to villages until she was 93 years old. At age 93 she couldn’t stay on her donkey anymore. She kept falling off. But she didn’t stop teaching. Indian men would carry her in hammocks from one village to another. And she continued to tell people about Jesus until she died at age 95. Paul writes, “My most vivid memory of my mother is of her propped up against a stone wall as people are coming to her from their homes, schools, and places of work. I can still see the wrinkles in her face, and her skin so tanned by the weather and the heat. “I saw her speaking to those people. I looked at them and saw the sparkle in their eyes, and the smiles on their faces. And I saw them deeply moved by the message of God’s love, spoken by this old woman. I knew what they saw was not an old woman who had passed her prime, but a beautiful person bringing tidings of love straight from heaven.”
Let me say it plainly – we are mature in Christ to become more useful to Christ. Babies can’t solve problems of other babies. We don’t need to run from the world – we need to have more of the WORD in our lives to challenge the WORLD in our lives. When we are maturing, we will be drawn into correction of those behind us – that is the way it has always worked in the body.
Second, he addressed believers with issues of sin, but showed that he truly loved them.
They were not a project, they were brothers and sisters (1:4). After the “grace and peace” greeting (1:3), Paul got personal with them and thanked God for their part in his life. He let them know that he was happy they were a part of the family of God.
1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.
Third, he addressed the issues of sin, only after assuring them he truly believed in them.
People need to hear the good to be encouraged before they need to hear the correction – it sets the relationship in the right tone. (1:5-7
1 Corinthians 1:5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…
People are getting kicked DOWN all the time. Encouraging a believer is like offering oxygen to a drowning man! We HAVE to remember how much every person counts in our mission to reach a lost world!
Issue One: Misplaced Loyalty (“Men over Message”- 1 Corinthians 1-4)
Drop down to verse ten, where Paul picked up the problem of division. Paul raised the specific examples of the infractions.
1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”
Don’t forget, the pattern of the Scripture is this: When we address believers with issues of sin, we must help them connect their actions to specific violations of Scripture. You and I are not the judge of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong – and the Spirit teaches the Word and drives its truths deeply within.
First, Paul knew some were following leaders like him because they had great STANDING in the work. He personalized the argument as though they followed him and Apollos, but in fact they were following others that Paul did not name. The leaders of the various factions probably demonstrated a similar style of teaching to Paul’s Jewish line of plain argumentation and Apollos’ more eloquent philosophical approach. Paul stated that he is personalizing the reference and not offering a literal argument in 1 Corinthians 4:6.
Second, Paul knew some were following leaders because of their SKILL in the work. These were attracted to the wisdom and eloquence of leaders like Apollos because his argumentation drew new people to Messiah.
Most church divisions in history have divided along the same two lines. Some follow people because of their STANDING in the church. Maybe they are charter members, or maybe they have been historically the most active family or most financially supportive family. The challenge to that group is one who comes in with great SKILL, and through eloquence of talent pulls the hearts of many with them. Paul knew the two parties and the problem: You have misplaced your loyalty. The issue of the Gospel is not the preacher, but the One preached! The believer should glory in the Lord, not the messenger of the Lord (1:10-4:21). We don’t follow talent, eloquence, tradition or treasures – we follow God’s message found in His Word.
Some believers get confused about the STANDARD of truth – that God speaks primarily through, and always in harmony with, His Word. You and I are not the judges of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong.
Paul asked in 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Has Christ been divided?” Think about what Paul was saying. He wanted to know if BOTH SIDES could clearly claim that God was with them – and not with the other. At the heart of the claim was this issue: Jesus has made known where He stands on issues. When we begin to think other voices are equal to Jesus’ Word in our hearts – we are following skill or standing and not truth.
Some believers get confused about what the CENTRAL TRUTH of the body of Christ is – that Jesus and His work is to be elevated above all. He is to be elevated in our DAILY CHOICES as well as our WORSHIP.
Paul went on in 1 Corinthians 1:13b “…Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul wanted to remind the Corinthian believers that JESUS was the One that was crucified for them- and in the name of Jesus they were baptized. He is the center of the Christian faith.
• Our central message cannot become JUSTICE for the POOR. That is a worthy message – but it cannot be the center.
• Our central message cannot be the RESTORATION of former American morality. That is a worthy goal – but it is far from the center of what God has called us to complete.
Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void…. 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
While we must be careful not to elevate the WORKER above the WORK, we also don’t need to denigrate them. I love the little story: A minister gave an unusual sermon one day, using a peanut to make several important points about the wisdom of God in nature. One of the members greeted him at the door and said, “Very interesting, Pastor. I never expected to learn so much from a nut.” (A-Z sermon illustrator).
One issue the church faces in loyalty is making men more important than the message. Don’t do it. Check what everyone in this pulpit says to you. Read your Bible, and know its truths. Paul concluded the issue of “man over message” with simple words from 1 Corinthians 4:1 “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
Issue Two: Misplaced Affection” (“Love over Truth” – 1 Corinthians 5)
Yet, there was a second issue, found in chapter five, that was as deeply divisive and demonstrated rank disloyalty to God in behavior in the church at Corinth. The issue takes a moment to reflect upon, so don’t jump too quickly.
Here is the record: 1 Corinthians 5:1 “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 [I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump [of dough]?”
On first reading, one can easily see that a man had entered a marital bed with his step mother – a rejection of both Biblical morality and a common Roman sense of decency. This was an egregious violation of sexual morays for the time, and the church not only accepted the man – but boasted of their tolerance in the process. Paul rebuffed the church – not so much for the sin – but for the acceptance of it and the boasting about their toleration of sin. This is a message for our times…
Modern followers of Jesus must seriously consider this truth: Either the Bible will define our morality, or our culturally molded senses will. If the words of the Holy One fail to determine and define truth in our hearts, and right and wrong behaviors in our walk – it will be our own conscience – deeply seared by sin and relentlessly pressed into the world’s mold that will determine what we commend as right and eschew as wrong. A culturally molded morality, unchallenged by God’s Word, will re-shape God Himself in our eyes – and the Almighty will look nothing like the character familiar to Moses, David or Daniel of old. Rather, that “god” will be nothing more than a household idol we have created to appease our religious instincts, hopelessly powerless and helplessly passive.
Paul’s response was simple and direct: Don’t focus on fixing your culture’s view of sexuality – God will deal with that. Rather, maintain the standard of the Word of God in relation to your spiritual family. He wrote this in the end of the chapter:
1 Corinthians 5:13 “But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”
Paul clearly told Corinth to remove the man who was walking in sin in regards to his sexual behavior (1 Cor. 5:13). Let every church with a rainbow flag take note: God isn’t impressed with your relevance, nor is He delighted by your popularity in current culture. Your “loving toleration” is a mere mask for “refusal to stand by His Word”. You aren’t truly a “loving congregation” when you obscure what God clearly said – you are perpetuating the work of a deceiver – plain and simple. If that sounds wrong, read the end of verse thirteen and ask yourself this question: “Was Paul unloving when he called the man who violated a holy standard of sexuality wicked? Was he wrong to have the man removed from the church?” What has changed in the last two thousand years about the desire of men to change sexual morays to suit their own lusts?
I am not going over the edge on Puritanical judgment – there is a balance here as well. Paul later wrote to restore the man after he repented, because with the Lord there is always love in discipline. The question for our time is this: “Will such disciplines be removed out of a false sense of love and a hunger for cultural acceptance?” If it is, the one who walks in sin will die without correction, and be robbed of his or her productive walk for Jesus – and they will walk into the presence of the Lord only to have the lie unmasked before the King.
Some people just “change the bar (standard)” to make their lifestyle acceptable: The story has been told that Willie Nelson at one time owned a golf course (before the IRS owned Willie Nelson). He said the great thing about owning a golf course was that he could decide what par for each hole was. He pointed at one hole and said, “See that hole there? It’s a par 47. Yesterday I birdied it.”
Sin in the house of God is an affront to God. Paul was horrified that the church leadership was doing nothing. Indeed, they were rather proud of all the other things they had going. God is not interested in the things you’re doing as a church, if the people of the church aren’t living as the church.
Issue Three: “Misplaced Standards” (“World over Word” – 1 Corinthians 6).
A final misplacement that led to a false sense of loyalty was also referenced in Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Paul wrote about it this way:
1 Corinthians 6:1 “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?
Paul told the believers not to take their legal issues between one another into public courts. He offered FOUR reasons:
First, because of what we WILL BE we must settle our disputes among believers within the circle of believers (6:2-3).
1 Cor. 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
Paul told them believers will be judges in a future time (6:2). Jesus told the disciples they would sit on the judges seat (Mt. 19:28) because they gave up their future to walk with Him. Paul told Timothy that believers would “reign with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:12), a reference to Revelation 20:4 where believers became the underling judges to Jesus’ Kingdom.
Paul told them believers will judge angels (6:3). 1 Corinthians 11:12 says that our lack of submission can affect the angelic observers. The word judge does not always mean to “condemn” – in this verse it may well be “to distinguish or decide”. A wife may ask her husband to look at some wallpaper for the bathroom and help her “judge” which is best for them.
Paul told them believers should know what they are NOW, and must deal with disputes among believers in the circle of the church (6:4-8).
1. We deal in higher (ultimate) issues in the church (6:4).
2. We have available resources of wisdom within (6:5-6) to keep us from needing outer assistance.
3. We have a higher value system than those without (6:7-8) to be prepared to lose something this side of Heaven to uphold Heaven’s values.
Finally, Paul told believer they should recall what we were in our past (6:9-11). We know sin. We have committed sin. We have hurt people and trashed our reputations before. We don’t belong there anymore! That is what 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are all about – a walk through “memory lane” of the former way of living…
1 Cor. 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
The fact is: the world does things the EASY WAY: Since the Fall in the garden, it is easier for people to do wrong then to do right. We have to work at doing good and doing wrong just seems to come naturally. It is easier not to pray then to pray; it is easier not to be committed then to be committed. It is easier to have impure thoughts then pure ones. It is easier to not give then to give.
1 Cor. 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
BUT what Jesus did for us can be described this way: We have been washed (apoluo), marked (sanctified as in agiadzo) and freed from further obligation (dikaio).
The story has been often told of Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist from a years back, who issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free in short order. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong. Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For thirty minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after laboring for two hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked, and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell.
God’s people must understand and apply appropriate loyalty – message over men, truth over tolerance, Word standards over world standards.
You are released from payment to your former life. Jason Jones wrote: During the mighty movements of the Holy Spirit in the Moody-Sankey meetings in Dublin, the worldly father of C.T. Studd was gloriously saved. He invited some of his worldly companions to come to his home so that he could tell them the wonderful news. When one wealthy English sportsman arrived at the railway station he was met by the coachman. He could not wait till he got to the house to know what had happened to his old friend, so he began to question the coachman. ’I hear that something remarkable has happened to your master. I hear he’s got religion. Please tell me about it. In what way is Mr. Studd changed?’ ’Oh,’ said the Irish coachman, ’It’s a revolution. In one sense he is still the same man–he’s in the same body. But the best way I can explain him is he’s a new man in the old skin.’ The new creature receives a new set of appetites and a new set of attitudes. The babe in Christ has now a holy nature with a propensity toward holiness. The things he used to hate, now he loves and the things he used to love; now he hates.”
There are so many things that bind us. As long as we hold on to them, their power over us continues. Don’t let it happen. Fall into His arms.