Connecting with God: “Blessings from the Bully” – 1 Peter 4:12-19

PrintWe have all heard the term “bullying”. The topic of bullying has gained significant ground in the last decade. Children hear about it in school. Social media reacts whenever evidence of it is presented. It seems it is a topic for our times. What we haven’t heard, I suspect, is the term “bullying” is one of the most “changed” words in the English language! Strangely enough, the he word “bully” was first used in the 1530’s and essentially was used in the way we use “sweetheart” today. It could have been applied to either sex in that time, and originated from a Dutch term for “lover”, derived from a German term for “brother or one dear to”.

Obviously over time, the meaning CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY. In the early 17th century it meant “fine fellow”. By the end of that same century it was a pejorative term for a “harasser of the weak” or a “street ruffian”. What demise for a word! Worse yet, by 1710 the term was first used as a verb in English and marked the actions of a man who protected prostitutes from harm by nefarious characters who would have mistreated them. What word do you know that has meant “lover, pounder and pimp”? I cannot think of any words that underwent greater transformation. Today, the term “bullying” refers to a use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. It is set up by the perception of an imbalance of social or physical power, which often distinguishes bullying from other kinds of conflict.

In today’s lesson, we want to look at a type of bullying that Scripture offered to give counsel to believers through the ages. Here is the truth: For most decades of the Christian faith in much of the world, they have found themselves in a minority. As such, they were abused and bullied. That wasn’t true everywhere. In fact, we can also quickly point to times and places where people, in the name of Jesus, acted badly and bullied other populations. Yet, that isn’t the big picture. Bullying and persecuting came into the church early, and was already very much an issue during the times of the Apostles. Peter used an opportunity in his epistle to teach persecuted believers of central Asia Minor. Here is what he wrote to them…

Key Principle: Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Something happens when believers find themselves clean before God. Coming to Christ, they experience a great rush of freedom, and a new intimate relationship with their Creator. One of the byproducts of that, it seems, is they come away with an expectation that others will be excited for them – but that is not always the case at all. Let me say it another way: Some young believers walk back into their old lives expecting people around them to affirm their newfound faith and walk with God, and are apparently shocked when people in their life give them trouble concerning their desires to follow Jesus.

Peter wrote about that sense of trouble that came upon early believers during the Roman period, but looking over the centuries that experience would not be found to be unique to them.

Peter first wrote a command concerning persecution, then the reasoning behind it.

The command was straightforward: Bullied believers must not be surprised or confused at their plight, but rather choose a response of rejoicing. Here is how he wrote it:

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

Surprise seemed to characterize the response to suffering. Why? I suspect that people who began a journey with God expected that journey to somehow insulate them from harm. I also suspect that innocence and naivety led them to believe others would know the changes in them weren’t a vote concerning their neighbors, but an excitement about God’s work in them.

Sue was in her sophomore year in college at the state university. She was an outgoing, happy and party-filled lover of all things pleasurable. He boyfriend introduced her as the “girl that brought the fun with her” and she lived up to the expectation. In her third semester in college, Sue was paired off in a Chemistry class with Annie, a Christian girl with a vibrant faith in Jesus. Annie was a fun person, but her faith dominated her decision making, and Sue and Annie weren’t in the same social circles. They met in Chemistry, and for a while that is the only place they met. Here is the thing: Sue liked Annie. She say in her loyalty and authenticity that made her a friend you could confide in. Annie was a good listener and a compassionate person. By the end of the semester, Sue was attending a Tuesday Bible study with Annie, and Sue gave her heart to Jesus Christ. In the weeks that followed, the “queen of fun” began to make changes in her behavior that affected her boyfriend, her party schedule, and quite literally her sobriety about life in college. What happened to Sue’s popularity? It plummeted as her old friend turned away from her. She didn’t mean for her faith to feel to her friends like a condemnation, but that is how they took the changes in her life. Like a poor man who inherits a windfall of money and raises the ire of his old neighbors, Sue began to experience a harshness in old friends, and it surprised her. She couldn’t figure out why people who used to be such friends would now say such mean things about her just because she found fulfillment in Jesus. Why couldn’t they leave her have what meant something to her? Peter’s words were there to help people like Sue grow through the pain.

You may rightly ask: “Why rejoice at being bullied for my faith?” That is a fair question. I can understand asking believers to TOLERATE abuse, but what kind of person REJOICES at such a thing. Peter offered five insights that made this clearer:

First, in persecution God’s Spirit offers you a unique experience of grace that you will come to cherish.

Some of the command for rejoicing comes from understanding a benefit of it in our lives. What? There is benefit to people mocking me because of my faith? Yes, there is. Look closely as Peter explained:

1 Peter 4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

If you have ever experienced the sweet comfort of God that comes when you lost a dear loved one, you probably have some idea what Peter was making reference to when he remarked that the “Spirit of glory and of God” settles in a unique way on the persecuted. No normal person ever wants to lose someone they love to death. Yet, many who know Jesus have reported that God settled into their home and their life in a tender and fuller way after that experience to gently guide them through it.

Peter said that if trouble and bullying comes because of our belief – not because of our bad behavior or our naïve and zealous presentation of our belief – we should understand that blessing has come to us. Remember, Biblically speaking, blessing is “that which drives me deeper into intimacy with God” and curse is that “which gives me the illusion of self-dependence”. Recognizing the meaning of the terms in their Biblical principles will help us understand the way the Bible presents the truths about such things. Blessing, then, isn’t about good feeling or ease in life. It is about attaining a new level of surrender of heart to God, and a new level of connection and communication with His Spirit in the recesses of my heart.

It starts with my attitude toward those who hurt me. It moves to my attitude about my life in general. I read something interesting this week that should help us keep our attitude right about counting our blessings:

• If you woke up this morning with more health than illness…you are more blessed than the thousands who won’t live past this week.

• If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…your life is more peaceful than 500 million people in the world.

• If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death…you are more blessed than three billion people in our world.

• If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep…you are richer than 75% of this world.

• If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace…you are among the top 8% of this world’s wealthy people.

You may not feel privileged, but much of how we feel is the adoption of our attitudes about life. That is true of lost men and women, and of saved as well. Our attitude about our experience is the window through which we see the world. Smudged, we see the world in a way that is not true, and it plays on our emotions. This is a specific danger in a generation that has been trained to respond to media like it is a good window to the world. Here is the truth: media pundits have a point of view and cameras can easily deceive you. They are pointed in one place, and the power of their imagery can make you believe that an exceptional place is the norm and terrible fortunes are more wide spread than they really are.

Take a look at the police presence outside of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, and you will think Jerusalem is a war zone. You wouldn’t know that three block away people are throwing wedding parties. Two blocks away men sell bread from carts without fear. The camera focuses on one place, and leaves an impression of the whole city.

Peter made the point that in persecution “you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Let’s say it this way: When the world closes in on you because of your faith, God’s presence and power will show itself to you in a deeper way – and that IS blessing. God won’t let you flounder, and He won’t forget about you. He will stand by you in His promise to never leave you. In your pain, you may feel torn apart, but you needn’t be. God has strength beyond yours, and made specifically available to those who are being badly treated.

Second, in true persecution you may be labeled a criminal, but those who know you will know the label is a lie.

One of the things we must learn in the maturing process is where to get the foundations of our identity. Some people think they are what others tell them they are. Some think they are better than they truly are because they have allowed themselves to be deceived. Mature believers learn we are who God says we are – and no other opinion should be more important to us. In persecution, some early believers were imprisoned. They were lumped together with criminals, but they were not criminal. Peter urged the people who followed Jesus with these words:

1 Peter 4:15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;

To maintain the truth that believers who were persecuted were not guilty of true crimes, it became necessary for Peter to remind those believers who WERE criminal not to claim persecution when that wasn’t the reason for the harsh handling by authorities. It is true to say that some who named Christ were guilty of crimes. It was equally true to say that some who followed Jesus were called criminals, when it was actually a persecution against their faith. Peter wanted to keep people from making a persecution plea when they were, in fact, criminals by behavior.

Believers are susceptible to the same temptations as others in the world. In fact, the enemy is pleased to help derail their walk, so they must be MORE careful of temptation, not less. Notice the types of offenses against which we must stand guard on our hearts:

The first is Murder: the term phoneús – a murderer, committing unjustified, intentional homicide. Using Jesus’ definition, the picture is one who hates others, slanders others, and lacks compassion toward others.

Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell. … 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way …

Jesus said that one of the responses we would be tempted to have when we feel in danger is to lash out against those who we perceive to endanger us. That is not the way of a Christ follower.

The second term in 1 Peter 4:15 is Thievery: The term kléptēs denotes a thief who steals by stealth (in secret), rather than in the open with violence. Believers need to be on guard against a sneaky heart and a hunger to have what God has not given them.

The third term used by Peter is Evil doer: The words kakopoiós or “of a malicious disposition” and poiéō, “to make” were combined to mean “someone who makes trouble” (to inflict harm), or seeks an opportunity to injure (damage another). Believers need to be careful about scheming to make trouble. The instinct of the fallen heart can be motivated by the desire to “get even” with an abuser. Revenge isn’t our job. Revenge isn’t Christian.

The final words are troublesome meddler where the complex term allotriepiskopos (al-lot-ree-ep-is’-kop-os) is a “prier into other men’s affairs”. Literally, it is “One who meddles in things alien to his calling or in matters belonging to others; factious.” One commentator said they were: “…those who, with holy but intemperate zeal, meddle with the affairs of the pagan world — whether public or private, civil or sacred — in order to make them conform to the Christian standard. Believers must not try to get the world to believe in their morality without their Christ. The relationship precedes the behavior. Not to be unkind, but trying to make lost men moral is like putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t think lost men are pigs – for they are the wondrous creation of a loving Father – but I do think they need a relationship with God before true inner life changes can be made that matter in eternity.

Before we move on, look at the kind of people we mentioned: murderers, thieves, troublers and busybodies. What kind of churches were they that housed such people as these? Remember, the people receiving the letter were persecuted. When we have been mistreated, some of us will find it easier to excuse sinful responses. People want to be treated fairly. Immature people justify reaction rather than demand godly response. To respond well when badly treated for Jesus’ sake, we must grow up.

Third, in persecution you will have a special opportunity to exalt the name of Jesus.

1 Peter 4:16 but if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Because we are not used to being maligned when we know we have been honest and upright, those who don’t become indignant may be tempted to shrink back into false shame – but that is also a wrong response. When we are persecuted, truly persecuted for the sake of Jesus – we should not be ashamed it happened to us. Others will need to see how we pass through the troubles.

I recall the story of a small eight-year-old boy who lost part of his right arm in a tragic accident at his home. As he recuperated from his surgery he became increasingly withdrawn and depressed. The boy’s father tried to encourage his son on many occasions but was utterly unsuccessful. One day as the boy was lying on his bed in his room, his father announced “Son, the new pastor of our church is here and he would like to meet you.” The boy showed no interest even after the pastor walked into the room. Yet, the boy’s response changed when he looked up and saw that the pastor had also lost his right arm in an accident. The kind pastor said “Son, I know exactly how you are feeling right now!” We need to remember that our ministry to others is enhanced through suffering and hardship.

Suffering can teach us to make our lives more about the needs of others – and in that way we will BE MORE LIKE JESUS. That seems counter intuitive. After all, if I suffer won’t I think more about ME? No, if you consider how that can be a special link you have with understanding Jesus. Put it this way, Jesus suffered to benefit us. What if your suffering and the character that you exhibit from this suffering can be used by God to lead your children to a God honoring life? What if God uses the “new you” that grows from the pain of suffering to reach your neighbor, and they in turn reach a young person whose testimony reaches a nation for Messiah?

Suffering can teach us Jesus’ perspective on people and situations – and in that way SEE MORE LIKE JESUS. If I can experience troubles without surprise and watch for God’s supply of care, others will be encouraged.

Keith Leenhouts in his book, A Father, A Son…and a Three Mile Run tells the story of a father and son’s love. Jerry, the son, was attending a small university. He loved football and during his four years he never missed a practice. In spite of his love for football Jerry couldn’t make the varsity starting team. He just occasionally would get to go in as a substitute. The coach admired Jerry’s loyalty to the team and also marveled at his love for his father. The coach had observed Jerry and his father walking together around the campus on many occasions. But the coach had never met the father or talked with Jerry about him. During Jerry’s senior year and a few nights before the most important game of the season – Jerry knocked at the coach’s door. When the coach opened the door he saw Jerry with tears in his eyes. “Coach, my father just died. Is it all right if I miss practice for a few days and go home?”

The coach said he was very sorry to hear the news and Jerry was free to go home and not hurry back. If he missed the game he would understand.

But on Friday night, the night of the big game, Jerry was back and stood in the coach’s doorway. “Coach, I’m back and I have one request. May I please start the game tomorrow?” The coach tried to tell Jerry the importance of the game, but Jerry was relentless in his request and so the Coach finally consented against his better judgment. The coach had visions of Jerry in the game, fumbling and lousing up plays. The opposing team was favored to win. The coach needed the best players the entire game. He wished he had not consented to let Jerry start the game, but he had promised.

The time for the game approached. Jerry stood at the goal line awaiting the opening kick-off. The coach thought, “that ball probably won’t go to him anyway. His team could run a series of plays using other halfbacks and then take Jerry out of the game. The ball was kicked off and “Oh no” the coach groaned. It floated end over end right into Jerry’s arms. The coach closed his eyes –it would be a sure fumble—but instead of fumbling, as the coach expected, Jerry hugged the ball tightly, dodged three onrushing defenders and raced to middle field before he was finally tacked. The coach had never seen Jerry run with such agility and power. The next play Jerry ran for another twenty yards. Several plays later he carried the ball across the goal line. The favored team was stunned. Who was this kid? He wasn’t even in the scouting reports. Jerry was a real inspiration to his team. At halftime the team was two touchdowns ahead. When the final gun sounded Jerry’s team had won.

In the locker room the players were ecstatic. The coach went to Jerry only to find him sitting quietly with his head in his hands. “Son, what happened out there? You played better than I have ever seen you play. What happened to you? Jerry looked up at the coach and said softly, “You see, coach, my father died but before that he was blind. This is the first game he ever saw me play.” When believers recognize Who is watching them respond, they live differently.

Fourth, in persecution those not truly following Jesus will fall away and the church will find internal rest from the distress of impurity.

There is a strange “side benefit” to persecution:

1 Peter 4:17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it] [begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?

Persecution will drive away those who joined to the work for self-benefit. As they depart and reject Christ, there will be grief in their loss, followed by peace as the body heals from foreign objects that constantly pulled against health.

How many terrible things have been done by people who claimed Christ yet did not truly know Him? How many abuses have been perpetrated by “men of the cloth” who, if we sat with them and examined what they believed and taught, we would recognize they did not know Christ at all! Persecution may cause some to flee the faith, but that isn’t all bad. Like the chaff, some were growing amid the wheat and eventually showed themselves.

It isn’t easy to respond to harsh people rightly when we are honest and mature in our faith. How much harder will it be when people who are being dishonest but appear to be following (wheat and chaff) are exposed? Without the Spirit and the Savior within to comfort them – it will be obvious they will struggle deeply to find a place and peace.

Fifth, in persecution we have an opportunity to express openly our trust that God will make right what is unjust on earth, and to replace the world’s rage with His’ grace.

Remember this as you move through your week: “Rage powers the internet. Grace empowers the believer.”

Peter wrote: 1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

If you get caught up in rage, you will miss the benefits of the bullying lessons. Suffering can help us focus on a God honoring life and kick out sinful habits. It will make life take on a more serious dimension, and cause me to think carefully about life and its consequences. It helps me focus on the reality of my frail life and its purpose, so it helps me stop wasting my life!

Zechariah 13:9 “They will come through the fire…they will call on my name and I will answer them and I will say, “they are my people” and they will say, “the Lord is my God.” If your trials don’t bring you to the point of learning to trust God, then you aren’t learning the lesson God has in mind when he sent that trouble to you.

Suffering can teach us to learn the power of choice in our perspective. We have to choose how we feel about what is happening to us, and that takes courage, but brings freedom. I can choose to live my life with a positive perspective and happy outlook, or hate my life and fight with the things that have entered that I cannot control.

Imagine the CNN anchor interviewing Noah. “Noah, wasn’t it messy on board that ship?” Noah answers: Sure it was messy, but it was still the best ship floating!” Having a right heart attitude is the first step toward being a truly thankful person. Do I really see every good and perfect gift as coming from God and do I express this gratitude by the attitude I try to maintain when things aren’t going so well?

Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Oh, how suffering can teach us to view our lives as an opportunity to live in a performance that praises our Savior and Lord (4:16). If God counts us worthy to suffer, we need not be embarrassed, but celebrate as a badge of honor that God is faithful and fully understanding in our lives. He knows what is best!

In the Dachau concentration camp in Germany was an old man who just liked to talk to the tourists. His name was Christian Reiger and he was a former prisoner. He had been thrown into prison because he was a member of the German Confessing Church which opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime. During that terrible time in history, he often saw family members and people from his congregation die. He saw the pain they suffered and he kept asking “Why? Why?”

At the beginning of his incarceration in the concentration camp, he was able to receive some letters, although they had always been read and censured by the staff at the camp. One of the letters he received was from his wife. At the end of it was a P.S. and it simply said, “read Acts 4:26,27.” The same day, soon after receiving the letter, he was called in to be interrogated. He was frightened because he had seen what happened to others. Some did not return. Others were beaten severely. As he waited before going in to be interrogated by the Gestapo, one of the other prisoners walked by and handed him a little matchbox. He put it in his pocket. Reiger went in to be interrogated, but by the grace of God, he wasn’t harmed. They wanted him to inform on members of his church who were opposing the Nazi regime. Earlier, Reiger had been turned over to the Nazis by the church organist. After interrogation, Reiger went back to the barracks. He remembered the box. He took it out to get a match, but the matchbox had no matches…only a little piece of paper–which said, “Acts 4:26-29.” The same message–twice in one day! He said that the Spirit of God came in and began to transform his life. No longer was he asking the WHYs of life, because he realized the Person who was the WHO of life–and that person had control of his life!

Acts 4:26-29 “The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence.”

Let me close this message reminding you that God may choose to calm the storm when you ask, but that isn’t His only option. He does not always calm the storm, but sometimes calms His child in the midst of the storm to come up close to them. Rather than remove the heat from Israel in the desert, He guided them through it and met them in it. Rather than deliver the three from the fiery furnace in Babylon, He dropped in for a God chat in the furnace. Intimacy may be a real benefit to enduring trouble and not pressing for immediate deliverance…

Palm Sunday: “Get Ready ‘Cause Here I Come!” – Luke 19:28-48

temptations 02The last song Smokey Robinson wrote and produced for the singing group “The Temptations” was entitled “Get Ready!” and was pressed with the Motown label in 1966. A few years later, the group “Rare Earth” brought it back in 1970 and nearly topped the charts. It was, by all definitions, a “hit song” from the generation before mine. It had the catchiest of tunes, and I would wager (if I were a betting man) that half the room in most any church today could sing a few lines of if we started the song. At the same time, its intended message was nothing short of a “come on” to pressure a young girl to stop resisting the advances of a young man. In the context of the song, it wasn’t a nice message.

At the same time, the mantra “Get ready!” can be a helpful one in the right context. From hurricane preparedness to SAT test training, organizations use the saying on their websites and campaigns to help people recognize a truth: Important events often require significant preparation. In our story for this lesson, we want to talk about “getting ready” specifically in the context of the arrival of the Savior into Jerusalem. The date was in the early years of the first century, and the place was Jerusalem on what is now referred to as “Palm Sunday”. This won’t be Jesus’ last arrival to Jerusalem if I understand the Bible correctly. Yet, the announcement for that day was given hundreds of years before. The length of time between the announcement and the arrival, seems to have made people forget or doubt, not prepare. Interestingly enough, Jesus has another coming that was also announced long in advance, and I think we are seeing the same problem with the announcement of Jesus’ return! Here is the truth…

Key Principle: We need to get ready to meet the Savior. The people of Palm Sunday long ago were a disappointment to the Lord. If we are not careful, we will be as well.

Before I establish our need to get ready for Jesus’ future coming to reign, let’s take the time to learn a bit from those who went before us and didn’t take heed to God’s warnings to be ready when the King arrived. Let’s face it: History’s record is always given in hope that following generations will be able to respond differently than the failed generation. Yet, as the German philosopher Georg Fredrick Hegel (who lived between America’s War of Independence and The American Civil War) once quipped: “History teaches us that man learns nothing from history!” Let’s soften his words. We can learn from mistakes of the past… but first we must both see them and admit they were mistakes.

A Quick Look at Luke’s Gospel

To that end, let’s go back to a story from Luke 19 and look at the lack of preparation for the coming of Jesus when He arrived there, long ago, on Palm Sunday.

To set the scene, recall that Luke arranged the material in his Gospel three parts – Pre-ministry, Popular Ministry and Parting Ministry:

• Chapters 1-3 are all about the “Pre-ministry” narratives. This section includes seven prophetic fulfillments presented and resolved in Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem. The long-promised Messiah of Israel came with a long announced mission to save His people and open salvation to the world.

• The second part of the Gospel reflected what scholars call the “Popular” (or Galilee crowd) ministry, which can be found in chapters 4:1-9:56. That section is often broken into two parts:

The Early Galilean Ministry where Jesus focused on showing His identity to the crowd and seven conflicts He faced as He made Himself known. His earliest public ministry directed demons to clear out of His way. At the same time, disciples needed to listen to His directions, and Israel’s leaders needed to hear from God’s heart about what was important to the Holy One! (4:1-6:11).

The Discipleship Ministry of Jesus (found in Luke 6:12-9:56) was more focused on what the disciples learned from Jesus. They needed to see a Gentile who understood faith, a hopeless woman who needed help, a powerful God in their boat, a bleeding woman who knew faith, and how to see a crowd with Jesus’ eyes. The story was about people on the fringe and how needy people will find help in Jesus no matter what their background.

The third stage of the book can be called the “Parting Ministry” of Jesus after 9:57, as the Savior prepared the disciples for His departure, and as the Passion unfolded.

Luke 19:28-48 is set at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earth ministry. The early part of the chapter told the story of Zaccheus’ homes stay where Jesus shared the purpose of His coming to “seek and save what was lost” (19:1-10) along with a parable Jesus told in that context (19:11-27).

Palm Sunday Arrival

The story of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey into the Temple is the text for our lesson (Luke 19:28-48). That Palm Sunday account was layered in three smaller stories that all blend together. Follow the verses through the three events of the sad Sunday arrival of the Savior to the city that was supposed to be ready to receive their King!

First, Jesus reasoned with leaders about His offer to rescue them from themselves – but they wanted none of it (Luke 19:28-40).

Luke 19:28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of [you]; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it [here]. 31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.'” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus [on it]. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Notice the three groups highlighted in the verses:

First, there were the disciples, who were called upon to go and get a donkey and tell the owner the Lord needed it. They did what they were told without understanding what was happening.

Second, there was the crowd that was excited, but wholly uncommitted to following Jesus. They came for the benefits of a relationship with Jesus, but they weren’t committed to following Him any further than they could GET something from Him. There are people in every church service you will ever go to that are just like that. They are all about the songs, the “worship” and the LOVE of God – but they have little time to hear about surrender and holiness. That is a bridge too far.

Finally, there were the Pharisees and leaders that seemed interested in one thing: maintaining control of the crowd on Palm Sunday. The text reveals that they complained about the overt acceptance of the crowd of their King. When they saw their King coming on a donkey, their minds raced to Zechariah 9:9 and they saw Him openly taking the position of the Servant-king. These men knew and studied the prophets. They didn’t miss the symbolism of the servant king. The Pharisees rejected Jesus’ overt claim, and the crowd’s adulation of Him. They wanted it stopped! They wanted CONTROL. Jesus cautioned them that Roman control would be exerted if a riot broke out, because of the hurling of the stones! They weren’t in CONTROL, and that wasn’t HIS doing – that was Rome’s doing. They knew it, and it made them seethe inside. The rescuer was there to save them – and they were effectively fighting Him off from completing His task. He stopped and cried because of it.

Next, Jesus wept over Jerusalem in the face of leaders who would not bow to their King (Luke 19:41-44). The writer continued:

Luke 19:41 When He approached [Jerusalem], He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus was clear that destruction would come to the people if they didn’t receive their King, after God went to such trouble to warn them ahead of time. You see, the Hebrew “Prime Minister” prophet in exile, Daniel, took the Word of God seriously as he read Jeremiah – according to Daniel 9:1-2. He knew that the return of the Jewish people was supposed to be in seventy years after they were brought into Babylon, because God’s Word said so. He prayed, because he was so distressed that the time was coming and the Jewish people were not preparing to leave. God answered his prayer of faith, and told him that NOT ONLY would the people be going back to the land, but that Messiah would come to them. He would come 483 years of 360 days (a Biblical calendar year) from the time Jerusalem was commanded to rebuild its wall and moat… or 173,880 days from the restoration of the moat, gate and wall system around the city. Later, the Hebrew Bible includes the story of Nehemiah 1, where the restoration was begun, starting the clock.

By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the announcement of timing of His coming was already nearly five hundred years old – but the leadership that studied these things ever so closely was not willing to open their hearts.

WHY? Because they were living under the illusion of control – and Jesus shattered that illusion with a single sentence. We hate to admit that we don’t have control of things. That is what makes people so afraid of the doctor’s office and the funeral home. We push off our Savior and Rescuer because we don’t want to be embarrassed – as if DEAD would be better. We live under one illusion after another:

A young woman stands in front of a mirror and dressed to attract a man of substance and character by getting him to look at her exterior and want her body:

• As if that would attract the right kind of man.
• As if she can keep him by keeping her exterior looking like that.
• She paints it, brushes it, cares and maintains it.

The truth is that a man of character is interested in a woman of character – and she needs to give much time to developing that in order to attract the right man. She cannot get the right man solely on the exterior, and even more to the point SHE CANNOT KEEP THE EXTERIOR LOOKING LIKE THAT because she doesn’t control it.

• Think of the businessman who operates with a solid sense of control – but market forces pull his business as the sea pulls on a tiny fishing boat.

• The young athlete sculpts his body as if he can, through sheer force of will, stop the years from changing his ability to endure.

• The man who walks into his doctor’s office to get a diagnosis on the pain or problem, somehow convinces himself there is a surgery or a pill that can control anything that his body may throw at him.


The sooner you understand that, the sooner you will want a relationship with the One Who is in control of what is happening. Fighting the rescuer to keep control of your life is a futile and perilous response that will only be shattered when the illusion of control has been stripped away.

The last part of the chapter tells of Jesus cleaning up the Temple’s corruption (Luke 19:45-48).

The final story of the passage places Jesus in the south porch of the Temple complex, overturning the money changers and corban (sacrificial items) salesman. This was a provocative action, but it was also revealing:

Luke 19:45 Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, 46 saying to them, “It is written, AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” 47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.

Did you see it? Some people rejected the rescuer, because they had an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Surrender to Jesus would mean RESCUE – but it would also pull the cloak off of their GREED and SELFISH lifestyle that was so nurtured by them.

Others were quietly looking pious but seeking a way to STOP the Rescuer, because His FAME would rob them of THEIR FAME. They liked a world centered on THEM. The stories of that day are conclusive… Israel wasn’t ready for their King on that day. Why?

Deep within the heart is a root of resistance to rescue.

Some reject rescue because they want CONTROL – but they don’t have it – because it is an illusion. Some reject rescue because they want POWER, MONEY or FAME – they don’t want to share the stage of their lives with a rescuer. Only those who overcome the impulse to try and save themselves will make it through to life – the others will perish. The people of Palm Sunday largely failed to be ready. We can do NOTHING about that. What we can do, what we MUST do is ask ourselves what we have learned from their example…

Let me ask you frankly: “Isn’t it time you stop pushing away the RESCUER and let Him rescue you?” Put another less aggressive way…

We need to get ready to meet the Savior.

We saw the lack of preparation for the coming of Jesus when He arrived on Palm Sunday, let’s consider what the Bible said about His next coming, and see if we have gotten ourselves ready.

Do you KNOW the One Who is coming soon? Make a choice, and don’t put it off…We need to recognize there is nothing that need happen before the return of the Savior to get His church. This is called the imminent return of Jesus Christ, and we believe that reflects what the Scripture teaches. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speak of the coming of the Lord for His Church to remove her to her wedding day. Jesus will take those who are “in Christ” with Him. Here is the clear and penetrating question: Are you IN CHRIST? Some will put it off and think they can make a judgment later… but they are wrong.

Pilate listened to Jesus and tried to bargain a way from making a decision that would determine more than his life… it determined his eternity. He considered truth unknowable and Jesus was far too certain of truth for his taste. He was in front of Jesus and could hear His voice. He was SO CLOSE. He had the King standing before him and “almost” could hear the truth. Some of us have played that game, too. “Preacher, I almost made the decision today, I almost accepted Christ today.” “I almost said, ‘Here I am, Lord, use me.'” What a tragedy!

If you have chosen Christ, are you a prepared servant? 1 Peter 4:7 says: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober [spirit] for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a [special] gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God….

Note the preparations for the servant Peter mentioned. The ready servant:

…Stopped playing games in their faith.
…Prays fervently anticipating the Lord’s soon inspection.
…They aren’t withdrawn into a monastery; but LOVE people.
…They are hospitable toward others.
…They are good stewards of God’s gifts – the spiritual enablement given to them to empower their work.

Are you a GROWING servant? 2 Peter 1: 19 offers this word: “[So] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own interpretation, 21for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Is the Word doing a work in your life to change your daily behaviors?
How have you grown in the last year in your study and knowledge of the Word of God?
What difference has it made in your testimony before men?

Are you a DISCERNING servant? 2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in [their] greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Are you listening to voices concerning truth from God without a knowledge of the source of the words? Are you evaluating what you hear against your own careful study of God’s Word? Remember, the more you depend solely on the study of others in the Word, the more dangerous your faith will be.

Consider one last thought about preparation. Many will not be ready. It is a fact the Apostle Peter was fixated on in his lifetime.

Toward the end of his writing of the Second Epistle, he wrote:

He began with those not ready in the world:

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? … 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Then came the question that motivated the message of this lesson…

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, …11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?

Ponder that question. What sort of people should believers be who want to be different than the Palm Sunday crowd of long ago?

2 Peter 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless… 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

We need to get ready to meet the Savior. What if the King arrived today! Are you ready?

On Palm Sunday, the people weren’t ready for only one reason: They didn’t value the KING more than they valued their OWN. There are two short stories from history that may help us understand how to see if we value the King as we should.

First, there is the true story from 1193 CE, when the English King Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionhearted) was returning from leading a Crusade to the Holy Land. As he returned through Europe, Leopold V captured him in Austria. The Holy Roman Emperor demanded a ransom for Richard’s release. The price was to be 150,000 marks, equal to three tons of silver. This was an enormous ransom demand. But the people of England so loved their king they submitted to extra taxation, and many nobles donated their fortunes for Richard’s release. After many months, the money was raised and King Richard returned to England. That’s where we get the expression, “a king’s ransom.” When Richard returned, the people received him and were prepared, because they valued HIM more than themselves, their wealth and their comforts.

In a second story that came from the Crusades, Norman Lord Grimbald de Pauncefort was captured by the Saracens. When asked the ransom price for his release the Turkish prince demanded the severed right hand of de Pauncefort’s young bride, Eleanor. In a tremendous act of courage and sacrifice, Lady Eleanor complied, and had her left hand amputated and sent to ransom her husband.

In both cases, love of the King required sacrifice. Readiness is all about what you value more – your comfort or your surrender.

Preparing for Palm Sunday: “Making an Big Entrance” – Luke 19:1-27

jesus and zaccheusOn Palm Sunday each year, we recall how Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a young donkey as people cut down palm branches (that acted like a symbol of the revolt against Roman occupation) and tossed them at His feet in the pathway. The Galilean friends that were excited to see Jesus were, in effect, proclaiming Him as their upstart king, in violation of Roman authority. It was a grand entrance! It seems like every great movie about Jesus included that scene somewhere in the film, as though Jesus made such a grand entrance many times and people saw the Holy One and bowed low in adoration or danced in celebration.

The truth is, it happened only once, and the Palm Sunday scene was entirely deceptive compared to the total picture of what was happening beneath the surface. The superficial atmosphere may have been jubilant, but the crowd was restless and divided. They hated the Romans. They didn’t trust the Temple leadership to really look out for them and they hoped that Jesus would shake things up a bit. They didn’t like Herod Antipas from Galilee (visiting in the city that week) and they wished his whole family line would just abdicate, flee or die off quickly. They were deeply disgusted by the presence of Pontius Pilate and wanted him to head back to Rome, and perhaps sink in an unforeseen storm on the way. They weren’t sure if God had left them – because though they had a grand temple, pig eating pagan Gentiles still ran their daily affairs as the people of God. They weren’t even sure about Jesus because His words on the hillsides didn’t follow a party line and seemed to upset some of them at virtually every outing. The big entrance of Jesus is well known, but the surface scene isn’t the whole story.

I spotted an interesting clip from Reader’s Digest I want to share with you.

Psychologists say most people form impressions of others within the first four minutes of meeting them, and 80 percent of those first impressions are based on nonverbal behavior. Making a dignified entrance at an event might just be more important than the conversations you have later. When you make your entrance, the best way to draw attention to yourself in a tasteful way is being attractive, charming, witty, and memorable, says Liz Scofield, an etiquette teacher at Lehigh University. To turn heads and leave good impressions, pay attention to:

• Your walk. As you enter, walk with confidence, but not arrogance. Keep your head up, your shoulders back and down, and smile. No swaggering!
• Your clothes. Your clothes should be stunning without being over the top — fashionable without revealing too much skin.
• Your placement. When you first pass through the door, pause, step to the right, and survey the crowd. People watch the front door, so you’ll be in plain view.
• Your sociability. Do not make a beeline for safety nets such as the bar, food, or people you already know. Instead, move from group to group and introduce yourself. If you are confident and friendly, people will naturally be attracted to you.

I found the article interesting because it suggested that a man or woman should focus intently on themselves as they entered, and prods them to enter with a certain calculated self-orientation. Even their friendliness was directed toward what they would eventually receive – standing in the eyes of others. Our world looks at life through one lens – “How can I get what I want for myself?” In this case, the impression making entrance was for the purpose of gaining people’s trust, and thereby increasing your popularity. Yet, a careful look at our Savior pushes our eyes in a different direction than that of the world. Jesus taught us to have a different focus: one on the needs of the others. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and taught us to do the same.

The “run up” stories to Palm Sunday are a good place to see this truth. For instance, a story where that was made obvious in His entrance encounter to Jericho in the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday…The account is found in Luke 19, and it is a well-known story. Zaccheus, the “wee little man” was sitting in a tree as Jesus entered. For some background, let’s make sure we understand the context of the story in the Gospel of Luke.

First, based solely on the internal evidence, the Gospel of Luke is anonymous, because it doesn’t have any overt claim of the writer. Our understanding that Luke the physician (Col. 4:14) was the writer comes from the early Church fathers. Interestingly enough, he was both Paul’s traveling companion in the first century, and apparently also the author of a companion work we call The Book of Acts. Between Luke and Acts (the two longest NT books) they make up 28% of the New Testament–more than that written by either Paul or John. Another interesting truth is that Luke appeared to be a Gentile, making his writing strange compared to the other New Testament writings

Luke wrote, not as a first hand observer of the events in the Gospel, but rather as a compiler of material (Luke 1:1-4) apparently based on interviews and listening carefully to preaching of the Apostles. Where Luke authored the material is not revealed in the book. Some have suggested that Luke collected his material while he was with Paul during his two-year, Caesarean imprisonment (“we” in Acts 27:1), and then wrote Luke shortly afterward (in Caesarea or Rome or even both); while this is possible, it is difficult to substantiate. The work was written for a man named Theophilus (Lk. 1:3; Acts 1:1) who may have been Luke’s literary patron or Paul’s advocate in Rome. It is also possible that he was a Gentile (from his name and title “most excellent” [κράτιστε ] normally referring to a Roman or rank and position). The KEY VERSE of the book is found in the account we want to study in this lesson: Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke seemed concerned with the mission of Jesus and how each part of the work reflected Jesus’ progress toward that mission.

Luke arranged the material in his Gospel three parts – Preministry, Popular Ministry and Parting Ministry:

Chapters 1-3 are all about the “Pre-ministry” narratives. There are seven prophetic fulfillments presented and resolved in Jesus’ arrival. In Luke’s account, Jesus was the long-promised Messiah of Israel with a mission that extended into saving the Gentiles as well.

The second part of the Gospel reflected what scholars call the “Popular” (or Galilee crowd) ministry, which can be found in chapters 4:1-9:56. That section is often broken into two parts:

• The Early Galilean Ministry where Jesus focused on showing His identity to the crowd and seven conflicts He faced as He made Himself known. His earliest public ministry directed demons to clear out of His way. At the same time, disciples needed to listen to His directions, and Israel’s leaders needed to hear from God’s heart about what was important to the Holy One! (4:1-6:11).

• The Discipleship Ministry of Jesus (found in Luke 6:12-9:56) was more focused on what the disciples learned from Jesus. They needed to see a Gentile who understood faith, a hopeless woman who needed help, a powerful God in their boat, a bleeding woman who knew faith, and how to see a crowd with Jesus’ eyes. The story was about people on the fringe and how needy people will find help in Jesus no matter what their background.

At the end of chapter nine, the third stage of the book can be called the “Parting Ministry” of Jesus, presented in two segments – preparation in Perea and Passion in Jerusalem:

• Luke 9:57-19:27 offers twenty-two stories strung together which include seven events and eight teaching segments as Jesus spent His last six months getting the disciples ready for the Passion in Jerusalem. In the great preparation narrative unique to Luke’s record, the writer organized some remarkable events – but the clear focus was upon the teachings of Jesus as He got the disciples ready for His departure from them.

• Luke 19:28 to 24:53 (the rest of the book) offers the final segment of the Gospel, in which Luke made clear that Jesus challenged the leaders of the Temple openly, but not the Romans at all. He evaded trap after trap – but in the end was arrested, passed over in a mock trial and handed over to the Roman appeasers. His death was brutal, but His resurrection was powerful – and His ascension beautiful.

A Closer Look at Luke 19

Luke 19 is set at the end of the six-month long “Perean ministry” (named after the place in which He was preaching all winter of His last year before the Cross). Jesus was preparing the disciples for His departure, as the Passover of His death was approaching. Luke 19 offers two stories to the modern reader:

• Story #1: Zaccheus’ homes stay where the rescue announcement is made clear (19:1-10) along with a parable Jesus told in that context (19:11-27).

• Story #2: The story of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey into the Temple (19:28-48). The Palm Sunday account is layered in three small stories that all blend together: 1) Jesus reasoning with leaders about His rescue. 2) Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. 3) Jesus cleaning up the Temple’s corruption.

Both stories are essentially about the same thing: Entrance and Acceptance, celebration and rejection. They are tales that remind us of who and what we should focus on when entering a scene. Remember the key principle?

Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and called us to do the same.

When Jesus came into Jericho, most of the people in the scene didn’t see what Jesus saw. The other, perhaps even sadder truth is that many followers of Jesus today STILL don’t focus on what Jesus told us to see when we enter a scene. Drop your eyes into the story as Luke told it…

The Contrasted Reception (Luke 19:1-10):

This is the story of a man, Luke said, who had a deep sense of need and inadequacy, and he wanted to see if Jesus could help him… As we pick up Luke’s account, the narrative opened…

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.

Reception by Zaccheus

Don’t skip past the detail of the man who sought Jesus. The Master was about to make an entrance to Jericho, and into the life of a needy man. Who was that man?

• First, the man’s name was Zaccheus, a form of the word “zacchai” (a family or clan name in Neh. 7:14) which meant “pure” or “innocent” – but it appears by the details of his repentance that he felt quite guilty about his dealings with people.

• Second, as with many men, we are introduced to his occupation as part of his identity. Men often equate “what they do” with “who they are,” though that is not how God measures a man. Zaccheus was a tax collector, a Roman collaborator by any simple definition. We should expect that he was treated as any collaborator of an unpopular tyrant was in history. Add to that, he was the “face” of the Empire in taxation, and that was the subject of an ongoing upheaval. When Quirinius was governor over Syria in 6 CE, the tax revolt created the Zealot party which smoldered for a generation and erupted into a key component of the revolt against Rome some sixty years later. He represented the establishment when anti-establishment was in vogue because of growing rage in the populace.

• Third, Luke 19:2 ends by making the point that he was materially wealthy. He had the means to get what the world offered, but he was still unfulfilled by it, and found himself tree climbing to get a glimpse of someone from Whom he could receive help. For a wealthy man to scurry up a tree in such an undignified manor, he must have felt a sense of desperation.

• The fourth detail about Zaccheus concerned his stature. He was short… really short. What he needed to see Jesus, he didn’t have- that was stature. He couldn’t count on people in the local crowd letting him through to see Jesus. He knew he needed something, but couldn’t find help among local fellows and sought the help of a tree. What did he climb? In order to see Jesus, he climbed a sykomōraía (from sýkon, “fig” and moron, “mulberry”) sometimes translated a “white mulberry” tree. In order to know what specific genus of tree the Greek word lent reference to, our best source from antiquity is the Geoponica, a collection of ancient wisdom on plants and animals collected from the time of the New Testament through the tenth century CE in Constantinople. We have a fragment of the work that includes excerpts from Pliny the Elder, the Carthaginian agronomist Mago, and even some hints of the works passing under the name of the Persian prophet Zoroaster collected in the compendium by the tenth century. The Greek manuscript fragments are extremely complex and not fully understood, but other Syriac, Pahlavi, Arabic and Armenian translations attest to its worldwide distribution. Based on that source, a Hebrew botanical writer from Neot Kedumim (Nogah Hareuveni) identified the tree as the Hebrew “Shikma” – a tree which is called the “reconciliation tree” (perhaps because of the binding nature of the reduced sap). It is interesting to note the tree Zaccheus climbed may have been called the “reconciliation tree” in his own local vocabulary, and reconciliation (both financially and spiritually) was what the man was seeking.

• The fifth detail about Zaccheus is that he was a planner. He noted where Jesus was “going to pass by” and accessed a tree along the pathway before Jesus showed up.

Zaccheus was a guilt-ridden, unfulfilled, unpopular, tiny man who knew he needed to see a change in his life.

He was locally snubbed in spite of his wealth, which was rightly perceived to have come from corruption. He wanted a change in his life… The story continues and details the reception of Jesus by this needy man:

Luke 19:5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus came into Jericho with a plan to rescue a hurt and drifting man. Zaccheus was sinking in trouble, and he knew it. Note the way he received Jesus:

• When Jesus called up to him, he hurried out of the tree and “gladly” received Him. He ignored the grumbling of neighbors and got his house ready.

• As the meal progressed, two confessions seemed to have flowed from his heart. The first seemed to be the extravagance of his lifestyle compared to his neighbors – for which he exclaimed his need to give to the poor half of all that he had. The second weight on his heart was the apparent sin of his ill-gotten gain that weighed on his heart, which led him to confess his wrong and promise to right any fraud by the proper repayment of the Torah. The law required exactly what he promised:

Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”

Zaccheus didn’t decide what he needed to do by himself. He openly committed to obey the known Word of God as written concerning the sin of his life.

The Crowd’s Reception

The story of the reception of Jesus by Zaccheus was one of a man who knew his wrong, and when confronted with Jesus – he surrendered to God’s Word and repented of his lifestyle. This was a stirring story of conviction that set up Palm Sunday. Yet, it was not the complete picture of the scene as described by Luke. Zaccheus found forgiveness, but the crowd of Jericho found complaint. Go back and look at the detail of what they did…

Luke 19:7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”… [After the repentance of Zaccheus Jesus responded…] 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The crowd’s issue was that Jesus was interested to rest and lodge with a man who was a cheat and a collaborator. His wealth was obvious and his reputation was well-established. Yet, the crowd overlooked the hunger of the man to be made right before God. They didn’t notice his tree climbing and didn’t ask what led him to take such a measure. Isn’t that the way we become in our judgmental state? We see the wrongs performed by another, but we easily rebuff their attempts to find meaning and correct behaviors. We let them be what they are instead of seeking a way to help them become what they wish they could become.

Jesus saw Zaccheus as short and needy, not rich and fulfilled. He looked past the decoration of his life with things, and saw in his heart a bankruptcy. He called Zaccheus one of the very “lost” people to whom He came to offer rescue. When Zaccheus took God’s Word to heart – he was “saved” from his lost state. When he was willing to change his life to conform to the will of God that he had been resisting, he was restored as an obedient “son of Abraham”.

That isn’t what everyone wanted, however. The crowd was content to judge Zaccheus. They saw his villa and his clothing. They heard of his reputation as a Roman collaborator, a cheat, and a calloused man. That is all they needed to decide what his end should be. They didn’t offer him a way to Jesus – they blocked him out. They honestly didn’t care if he found Jesus. Their prejudice and anger dictated their response – not the need of a man who was holding on to a tree branch. They were content to let him live and die the man they knew he was – one undeserving of the love and forgiveness of God.

Jesus used this man’s life to announce His whole program and purpose – invading the sin-sick life of the desperate in order to RESCUE THEM. The Savior said THAT was His mission – and He signaled that as the mission God gave those of us who willingly follow Him. We are called to a “ministry of reconciliation” – connecting God to people. We need to remember we are called to seek and bring to the Savior those who need Him. We seek

• Not GOOD people, but people who are drowning in their cheating lifestyles.

• Not HAPPY people, but those who feel inadequate and have been ostracized by their neighbors.

• Not EASY people, but the marginalized, the unloved, the difficult.

We are called to love those our Savior would love.

We are called to see those who are reaching out to have their broken and emptied hearts filled. We are called to draw them into the Savior when they show the faintest sign they want the help Jesus offers.

In the process of reaching them, we must recognize that some will resist us, because they resist HIM doing for them what they still believe they can do for themselves. They will retreat quickly back into the lie that they are already adequate – or they can find a way on their own. At the same time, some of those around us may scratch their heads when they watch us invest such time and trouble in such LOSERS. They won’t recognize what we are doing as valuable, because it won’t be as flashy as what the world seeks to do in reaching the successful and drawing in the beautiful. Years ago I wrote something I want to share with you once again:

• Ours is a quiet and subtle revolution. It is found in the faithful love of a husband and wife desperately praying over their children that they may raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in the midst of a rebellious generation.

• It is found in the careful instruction of the holy Words of God, quietly taught in a class of small boys and girls that cannot yet be trusted with sharp scissors and paste.

• It is found on the lips of old grey-haired men and women, who no longer capture the heart of Hollywood or Vogue magazine – but their quiet testimony offers enduring wisdom and truth yielded from a life given in surrender to the Savior.

• When fear and anger prevail in our streets, our message of rescue will SEEM weak. It will not be violent and it will not be swift. It will require love and patience, hope and endurance. It will require the application of God’s dramatic display of love in our Savior, shined through cracked clay pots from the lives of flawed men and women. That profound message of God’s love will transform, because it is powerful, not because WE are. The Gospel will not be silenced, nor will it be defeated.

The message that transformed the heart of a drowning, short, inadequate tax collection cheater two thousand years ago will transform the heart of a Muslim that does not find peace in a world view that competes for domination by aggression – but cannot be trusted to offer the truth. The message that filled the empty heart of an outcast in Jericho will still powerfully lift the discarded and worthless feeling divorced woman that has been left cast aside for a younger and more energetic woman. They are all around us and they are drowning… Oh that we could just look in the tree and see them!

The Reception Explained (Luke 19:11-27):

Jesus went on and told them a story. It was directed at a crowd that didn’t like what He was doing – but I would guess God is pretty used to that. If left to the crowd, I suspect many of the rejected of this world would remain alone – and some of us would think they deserved to be forsaken by God. It would serve our prejudice and our sense of justice well, but they would be left out. Here is what Jesus said:

Luke 19:11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.

The purpose of the story preceded the telling of it. Luke made it clear that Jesus was saying what He said because there was about to be a SEVERE DELAY in the National Rescue plan to His people. Israel wasn’t ready. The disciples weren’t ready. Their hearts were still rock hard. God promised a New Covenant. He promised to bring the people back from the captors and after a while change their hearts. He promised that the Jewish people would one day experience a complete surrender… but it wasn’t going to happen on this particular Passover in spite of the fact that many thought it would. In fact, the delay was going to be significant – but purposeful. His delay of ascending David’s throne offered a Gentile like me salvation today. I was not part of His people then – but the Gospel made it possible that I am of HIS PEOPLE today.

The Disciples thought the Kingdom would come that week, because they didn’t see past themselves. They didn’t see the lost around them. Whole earthly kingdoms and nation states had no relation to God. Was God to ignore the millions of Chinese of the Han Dynasty for the sake of the immediate accession of Jesus to the throne of fewer than a million Jews? God’s math, and God’s view was quite different than theirs – and I am very glad – glad beyond words – that God saw it differently.

Luke 19:12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 “And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 “The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 “The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 “And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 “Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 ‘Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 “And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 “But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Parables are sometimes hard to grasp. You have to be especially careful to keep the details out of the main idea, so that only the details that are relevant to the story define the message of the story. They take work, but, like a really good novel, they are worth it. The beauty and richness is lost on a fast food generation – but if you slowly savor it – you will feel the power in the story. Let’s take it apart.

There are two layers to the story.

The first layer is a story about an absentee district ruler that left on a journey to a far country that was under his possession and eventually returned (19:12). The people he was to claim rule over rejected his claim to rule, and sent a request the Senate after his visit to have another ruler over them (19:14) – so he was feeling the weight of rejection that was apparently based on his interaction with them. He felt pressured by enemies, and in the end – when it was determined that his rule would not be withdrawn by those above him – he ordered that his enemies be dragged in and killed right in front of his face (19:27).

His point in the first layer is clear: Reject the ruler and appeal his right to rule – and you will find yourself without recourse.

Set into that story was the second layer that began with his preparations for the journey, and ended with his return to his household. The ruler prepared for a journey by handing part of his wealth over to three slaves – each with a significant part of his wealth – and instructed them to conduct his business with them (19:13). (A mina was a measure of gold – a word that entered Greek and Latin from its Akkadian origin for a “weight”. In the first century, a mina was a unit of currency that amounted to about a fourth of the wages earned annually by an agricultural worker. Ten minas would have been worth two and one half years pay for a farm worker – a significant amount to invest in that time.) With ten minas at each servant’s disposal, the man left on his journey. On return, he asked for an accounting of the money invested (19:15).

The first servant invested the ten and gained ten more – a 100% investment increase. The second invested and got a 50% investment increase – adding five more to his original ten. The third came in with only the ten he was originally given, a 0% increase. The focus of this layer was primarily on HIM – because he didn’t trust the ruler (19:19). Look at the interaction between the ruler and the servant to see the servant’s position:

• He recognized the ten minas were his master’s property (19:20).
• He understood the task that was assigned to him (19:21).
• He feared the ruler, and knew the ruler to be a man that would keep track of the money (19:21).
• He didn’t trust the character of the ruler – and felt he gained in ways that were not to his liking (19:21).

The ruler was perturbed with the servant. He said: “Why didn’t you do it another way then? Why not put it in the bank and gain interest?” He stripped him of the minas and gave them to the one that did the most with them. The others in the room seemed to think this was foolish – after all the one with the ten had already ten more. The proverb offered to explain the scene was this:

Luke 19:26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”

Don’t bypass these words – they are the point of the lesson. Jesus said this:

A ruler offered every servant the same opportunity, but only the ones who trusted His character and obeyed His voice were worthy servants.

Jerusalem awaited their King, but didn’t listen to His Word, love His vision, care for His people or believe in His right to correct them. They wanted the glory of a kingdom, without showing honor to the King.

Just as they couldn’t see the truth about the struggles and pain of Zaccheus, so they couldn’t see the truth about themselves. They wanted a kingdom for THEMSELVES, the rest of the world be damned. That wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. He is Creator of all – and His love reached far past what they could understand.

Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and called us to do the same.

I guess the question as followers of the Savior is this: Do we see things as Jesus did? On his website, Steve Goodier wrote:

An ancient story tells of two great warriors, Cyrus and Cagular. Cyrus, of course, was the noted emperor of Persia and Cagular was a little-known chieftain who consistently repelled Cyrus’ attacks. Cagular’s troops tore the Persian army apart time and time again as they resisted Cyrus’ attempts to expand his southern border. Finally, Cyrus amassed his whole army, surrounded Cagular, cap­tured him, and brought him to the capitol for trial and execution. On the day of the trial, Cagular and his fam­ily were brought to the judgment chamber. The chieftain, six feet tall with the appearance of a no­bleman, faced the throne. Cyrus was duly impressed with Cagular. “What would you do should I spare your life?” the emperor asked. Your majesty,” replied the warrior, “If you spared my life, I would return home and remain your obedient servant as long as I live.” What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?” Cyrus questioned. “Your majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you.” So moved was Cyrus by his answer that he freed Cagular and his wife and appointed the chieftain to govern the southern province. On the trip home, Cagular enthused to his wife, “Did you notice the marble entrance to the palace? Did you see the corridor to the throne room? Did you see the chair on which he sat? It was made of one lump of solid gold!” His wife appreciated her husband’s ex­cite­ment, but admitted, “I really didn’t notice any of that.” “Well,” Cagular asked in amazement, “What did you see?” She looked seriously into his eyes. “I be­held only the face of the man who said he would die for me.” (from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? Paul explained:

Love is permanent; the manifestation gifts are temporary:

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

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

Love is much more complete; revelatory gifts are incomplete:

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

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

Love expresses maturity; gift reliance is immature:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting with God: “Planning a Cult” – 1 Peter 3:18-22

JWsWe have probably all seen them and some have no doubt encountered them. Sometimes it is a snappy knock on our front door; other times we are approached in an airport or on the street by people who desire to share their religious beliefs with us. Often they have a Bible, or at least a booklet that has many Bible verses in it. They want us to know we can “trust them” to tell us the truth about God, our life’s purpose and the accurate picture of the afterlife. Some of them seem to be incredibly dedicated people, and we want to be polite, but we know Jesus as our Savior and walk with Him daily – so we aren’t in the market “shopping” for beliefs.

Did you ever stop and wonder: “How did do many people got duped by false beliefs when the Bible makes clear what God desires and requires of men?” Here is the truth: The Bible has 1189 chapters (the way we divide it now) and it is a complex writing. Most people won’t take the time to learn how their vacuum cleaner should be properly emptied and cleaned out, and they surely won’t read with great attention all the chapters of the Bible. Careful reading of ancient stories and teachings in their fuller context is hard to do. We have tools to help and the Spirit within – but most of us simply don’t do the work. As a result, when teachers pick out “bullet points” from larger works and frame their insights by stringing together a series of these points, we may find ourselves with insufficient study of the rest of what the Bible teaches to know this new insight just doesn’t fit the context of the Bible’s story line. Our key truth for this lesson may be thought of in this way…

Key Principle: The Word must be read carefully and in context to be truly understood.

As in mathematics, so in the Bible, it can be said: “There are an almost infinite number of ways to get a wrong answer – but precious few ways to get the right one!” It is painfully easy to pick out passages in the Scripture and create strange beliefs. Believers need to study each passage carefully and then fit every teaching properly into the whole picture God gave us. In the end, it sounds funny, but it is easier to start a cult than teach Scripture well. It is easier to develop false beliefs than to teach a full, balanced understanding of the Scripture. The problem isn’t the Bible; it is most often the sloppiness of the teachers and learners of the Holy texts.

Our passage for this lesson illustrates the principle by offering some teaching that can be easily misunderstood apart from two things: careful reading in the original grammar from which the New Testament has been translated, and contextual reading – understanding the specific verses in the context of the whole Bible. Read the passage and you may get sucked into a number of false teachings, because of insufficient investment in the understanding of the passage.

Let me say it another way. The last part of 1 Peter 3 contains a great treatise on the Person and work of Jesus. Yet, it is also the place where a number of religious groups have built the theological underpinning for strange teachings and for that reason we want to consider it separately from the rest of the chapter. There are two parts to the writing:

• In 3:19-20, there is a comparison between the salvation of God presented by Jesus to men and the call to repentance that beckoned sinners to come to God at the time of Noah. It uses tough and “grammatically thick” language, and can easily be confusing. That very confusion has led people in history to surmise a place of “Limbo”, as well as helped others to confuse the picture of the “afterlife” as presented in Scripture.

• In 3:21-22, there is a comparison between baptism and the ark of rescue built by Noah and his sons. It has led to people believing that water baptism is the tool from which God saves us from sin.

Neither of those beliefs is Biblically correct, but we will have to do some solid work in the Bible to demonstrate the truth. Both of these ideas have been picked up and turned into what solid Bible scholars would simply call a “distraction” from the true message from God in the text. The letter wasn’t wrong about what it said; but it admittedly was difficult to read and easy to misunderstand. God never promised that complex truth would be simple to grasp. In fact, Paul told Timothy in the early church that he was to “study hard and be an approved teacher” – implying that lax study would lead to wrong conclusions and unapproved teaching.

letseatgrandmaRecently I noticed a number of funny t-shirts and artwork from “Grammar Kills” –a group that reminds us that the “little things” like punctuation can have much meaning. They had several good reminders:

Take for instance the lines: “I like shooting friends and family” as opposed to the proper way to write: “I like shooting, friends, and family.”

I also liked their warning about how ‘punctuation saves lives’ with the two sentences: “Let’s eat grandma!” The proper phraseology would be: “Let’s eat, grandma!”

In other words, the details make a big difference, and we must work at the details…For the Apostle Paul “Hard study” meant placing the passage into the whole of the Bible’s message while reading meticulously so that important truths are unfolded and proper applications are developed. Let’s take a look at the examples from Peter’s letter.

Did Jesus preach to souls of dead people? (1 Peter 3:19-20)

In making his case to look at Jesus as an example of the righteous undergoing both suffering and death, Peter said something hard to understand. He may have referred to otherwise unknown actions of Jesus or it may be an image of something far simpler, but it raised controversies in the meaning of the verses.

Peter wrote these few complicated verses that must be carefully reviewed:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Before jumping to conclusions, let’s examine the verses very carefully. In them, Peter made several declarations:

• Christ died for sins as the Perfect One for the sin-sick.
• Christ died once, but His death was sufficient to save many who sinned much.
• The verses fall after a discussion about living in the face of persecution. Peter’s point, then, was that Christ ALSO died, as if to suggest that some who were being persecuted in the first part of the passage may face death, but that was part of God’s plan.
• Christ truly DIED in His body, but lived on after that death, as believers will.

When we reach verse nineteen, this is the place that becomes grammatically confusing. Here is how some read it and created a scheme of the afterlife:

• Christ, at the time after His physical death on Calvary went into imprisoned spirits in the afterlife who came from lives of disobedience and preached to them a “second chance.”
• Some of them came from as far back as the time of Noah, and were people overtaken by the flood.

That concept has been carried by many as part of the “Apostles’ creed” – an early church summary of belief that is still repeated in many churches worldwide today. They repeat:

“…He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell…”

Historic Roman Catholic theology referred to the place that Jesus seems to have visited after His death “limbus patrum”, or “limbo of the fathers”. A popular interpretation of these words of Peter taught in conjunction with the Apostles’ Creed is that our Savior died on the Cross, and then promptly descended into Hades, a temporary holding place for the souls of the dead, and preached to the spirits of some long dead that temporarily resided there. In this view, Jesus went to Hell and set people free that were held there for a time.

Some found a “place” in the Bible that didn’t exist!

If you learned theology from one of the Catholic Catechisms, you may have been taught something like this quote:

We must believe, that Christ’s body lying in the grave, his soul descended into hell: not to suffer pains, as some heretics do say, but for consolation and comfort of many Fathers there, and out of that place (called Lymbus Patrum) he loosed the souls of the blessed Fathers from captivity, and carried them away with him: the third day he rose again from death to life, manifestly showing himself to his Disciples, eating with them, and speaking of the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 8, Luke 14, Ephes. 4, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 1.) Source: A Catechism or Christian Doctrine, by Laurence Vaux, B.D., reprinted from a 1583 edition by The Chetham Society in 1885, Manchester England, (updated to modern spelling for this excerpt) pages 13, 14.

The Douay Catechism made clear the idea: “That the soul of Jesus Christ, after His death, descended into ‘Limbo’—i.e., to the place where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained, and were waiting for the time of their redemption. The Douay Catechism (An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine) of 1649, by Henry Tuberville, D.D., published by P. J. Kenedy, Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 5 Barclay Street, New York, approved and recommended for his diocese by the Right Rev. Benedict, Bishop of Boston, April 24th, 1833.

The Baltimore Catechism continued: “Is Limbo the same place as Purgatory? Limbo is not the same place as Purgatory, because the souls in Purgatory suffer, while those in Limbo do not. … “Hell:” here does not mean the place where the damned are, but a place called “Limbo.” …Now from the time Adam sinned till the time Christ died is about four thousand years. During that time there were at least some good men, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and others, in the world, who tried to serve God as best they could—keeping all the divine laws known to them, and believing that the Messiah would someday come to redeem them. When, therefore, they died they could not go to Heaven, because it was closed against them. They could not go to Hell, because they were good men. Neither could they go to Purgatory, because they would have to suffer there. Where could they go? God in His goodness provided a place for them—Limbo—where they could stay without suffering till Our Lord reopened Heaven. Therefore, while Our Lord’s body lay in the Sepulchre, His soul went down into Limbo, to tell these good men that Heaven was now opened for them, and that at His Ascension He would take them there with Him. (Source: The Baltimore Catechism #4 on Basic Catholic Prayers, the Apostles’ Creed, by Rev. Thomas L. Kinkead, published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, Copyright 1891 and 1921 by Benzinger Brothers and reprinted in 1978, ISBN: 0-89555-340-6, pages 11,12).

The anatomy of a mistaken idea…

For a few moments, let’s consider how this idea came to be a part of Christian theology as we consider the verses that seemed to some to “support” this idea. It is important we understand what our neighbor has been taught about verses of Scripture so that we can compare those ideas with what the Bible says when read carefully and in the context of each passage. Be patient and consider three additional passages:

The first came from a parable of Jesus, who was seems to have suggested such a place:

Luke 16:19 “Now there was a rich man…20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, … 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom…

The second passage was taken from the defense of the Gospel by Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts:

Acts 2:24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death (hades), since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. ….27 Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay…”

The third passage was found in a letter of Paul to the Ephesian church where he wrote about the work of Jesus in what appeared to be His death and burial.

Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

Add these passages to the one we have been reading in 1 Peter 3, and the explanation sounds like this:

“Followers of the God of Abraham who died under the Atonement Law (that is before Jesus paid for sin “once for all” at the Cross, went to “Abraham’s Bosom”, while unbelievers went to Hades and looked across a fixed gulf, watching those who awaited redemption. When Jesus died, His body lay in the tomb, but His soul swooped into Abraham’s Bosom and released all the “captive souls” by the good news that sin’s payment was now complete. If that scenario was true, then Peter’s words meant that Jesus released them from a God-ordained captivity and waiting place.” The only problem with that explanation is that it is completely false. A close inspection of each of the supporting passages breaks apart the ideas. Let’s take apart the evidence more carefully.

The case of the parable of Jesus should be examined.

As we look more closely at the story, we should understand the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is no less a parable because a name is mentioned. In the genre of the day, using names was an option in offering a parable. The notion that because Lazarus was named the story was historical is totally without historical merit.

Note the parable before this one of the unjust steward. If one used the details of that parable to highlight truth, instead of keeping the main point as the focus, we could teach that conniving and cheating was commended by Jesus. Clearly the best understanding of a parable comes by “keeping the main thing as the main thing!” The point of Jesus’ parable wasn’t to show what the afterlife was like (that was a mere detail), but to teach that those who will not heed the Scriptures will not heed one coming back from the dead to tell them the truth. Therefore, Limbo was not a purposed part of the teaching from the passage at all, but part of an illustration in a parable that had an entirely different point. It can be ascribed little more meaning than naming the Prodigal Son or trying to find the “place” where the Good Samaritan took the man beaten by thieves. It was a story with a point – and the point is all that mattered.

Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 didn’t indicate a Limbo at all.

The point of Peter’s argument was NOT that David knew HE would be released from a holding place by Messiah, but that Messiah wouldn’t be held in the grave, but would be raised from the grave. Peter identified the one in Hades as Messiah, not David. He also made clear that remaining in whatever place he was referencing would have brought about “decay” of the one who was there. Does that sound likethe definition of “hades” in that case related to a place for souls in that passage or should be interpreted as the alternative meaning of “the grave” from which Jesus came on Resurrection Day? Since it was a place of decay, Limbo wasn’t in view in Acts 2, but the bodily resurrection of Messiah was being argued in that passage.

In Ephesians 4, Paul didn’t say that “Jesus went into the inner parts of the earth.”

This passage seems clear: Jesus went into the lower parts of the earth – except that doesn’t take into account the first reading of the translation. Grammatically, the structure of the passage appears to be what is called a “genitive of apposition” and should rightly be translated: “Jesus descended from Heaven into the lower parts of the universe, namely the earth, and that same Jesus ascended from the earth into Heaven.” This is a form in Greek that is familiar to Paul’s writings:

• In Colossians 1:18, Paul wrote: “He is the head of the body, (namely) the church” (Could not be translated, ‘the body of the church’.).

• In Romans 4:11, Paul wrote “and he received the sign, which is circumcision

• In 2 Corinthians 5:5 Paul wrote “Who has given to us the down payment which is the Spirit.”.

The grammar rule of the genitive in Greek is this: “The word in the genitive case refers to the same thing as the word it modifies. To see if this is the use, try substituting the words which show this kind of equality, “which is”, “namely”, or “who is”, instead of the word “of”. You aren’t supposed to become Greek grammarians in this lesson, but merely need to understand that careful examination of the passage leads to a different place than the one cited by those who “found Limbo” in the verses.

Paul’s point wasn’t that Jesus went into Hell, but that Jesus came to earth and then ascended back to Heaven. There was apparently no “limbo itinerant preaching assignment” for Jesus in this passage either.

As one passage after another unravels under scrutiny, we are left with a weak case presented and under the weight of challenge; it is found to be false.

Did the “Apostle’s Creed” get it wrong?

First, let’s be careful to understand that even old creeds aren’t the Bible. They record the journey of the church, not necessarily the truth of the Word. Second, let me suggest they may have not gotten it wrong at all. Our text of the Apostle’s Creed came again from a Greek edition that plainly said … “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The next phrase: “He descended into hell” was actually written “He descended into “Hades”. Since Hades can mean either the “abode of the dead” or the grave in ancient literature, there is no reason to conclude the creed intended all Christians to recognize a Limbo visit for Jesus, though clearly some eventually did hold that view. What is clear is this: Jesus DID physically die, bodily go into the grave, and (just as David promised through the Spirit) “God did not allow His body to be degraded or corrupted,” but rather God delivered Jesus up in new life and Resurrection.

What did Peter mean, then, when He wrote about Jesus preaching in 1 Peter 3:19-20?

Peter said that Jesus went to preach to the “spirits” who were in bondage. Were they in bondage at the time He went to them, or were they free at the time He spoke to them and were subsequently brought into bondage (1 Peter 3:19)? The passage doesn’t specify. There are a number of possibilities, none of which necessitate a “Limbo” teaching:

Did Jesus literally come?

The literal use of the phrase “Jesus came teaching them” suggests we are to understand that the Savior physically appeared in a “Pre-Incarnate Ministry” (before His birth in Bethlehem) to preach at the time of Noah. If this was intended in a figurative meaning, it would be more like this: Noah’s preaching was “intoned” with the message of salvation given to Noah from Jesus Himself, just as the Spirit of God intones messages of many who preach the truth to lost men. In that case, Peter may have cited Jesus as “behind the message” simply because he was comparing the preaching of Noah to the lost and their rejection of Him with the outreach and rejection of the Savior. In my view, looking at the rest of what Peter taught, he was referring to a Pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus when He appeared to care for a specific issue long ago. Yet, I don’t think Jesus came to speak to PEOPLE, I think He addressed a different group called “spirits”. Stay focused, and I believe it will make sense in light of Peter’s writings.

Were the “spirits” to whom Jesus spoke people or “something else”?

People in the Bible are not normally referred to as “spirits”, though all people have a connection to God that was severed in the Fall of man and was made alive anew in salvation to those who accept Christ – and that is our “spirit”. That refined theological use of the term seems an awkward expression for ancient people from Noah’s day. Based on the rest of Peter’s writings, I believe I can indicate he had something else in mind: he wasn’t talking about people at all.

The time of Noah in Genesis 6 is introduced by an account of the work of ANGELIC BEINGS who left their “normal form and place” in the spiritual world and attacked humanity by taking on human form and impregnating women. It sounds like a strange story, but Genesis introduced the flood story as a move made by God to save the race from complete blood line contamination. The passage opened with:

Genesis 6:1 “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose… 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”

Genesis 6 mentions there was some unique physical bond between sons of God (the phrase used in places like Job for angelic hosts) and daughters of men that produced or aided in an unprecedented reaction by God. Further, this union appears to have produced exceptional children in size and strength (6:4).

Peter appears to have referred to that time again in 2 Peter 2:4ff.

2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a [a]preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly, 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;

Jude 1:6 suggests that a group of fallen angels have been adjudicated by God and are held in a prison awaiting the judgment:

Jude 1:6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

In a theme that appears more common than we may realize, each writer placed the event of which he wrote before Sodom’s judgment. It appears that in part of the preaching of Peter, the story of Jesus condemning the fallen angelic host for leaving the domain of Heaven and invading the territory of men to destroy God’s plan was a time when Jesus cast some angels into an eternal prison, as Jude 1:6 noted. They were imprisoned BY GOD, and Peter refers to that event. The “spirits” then, were placed in bondage by Jesus as a result of the rebellion associated with the time of God’s call to Noah to build an ark.

Instead of understanding the passages we have studied as Jesus passing into a compartment of Hades called “Abraham’s bosom” – we should see the reference to a time long ago when Jesus stepped in to judge some who left their place and profoundly attacked humanity by physical corruption. That was the point, then, of distinguishing a time when physical work saved spiritual life. Look at the passage again in 1 Peter 3:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

There was a time, not long before this writing, when a perfect and righteous Messiah physically took on a body and died for the sin-sick fleshly world. His physical act made new life in the spiritual world possible for the believer. Then Peter went on…

1 Peter 3:19 “…in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

That same Messiah was the One Who came and pronounced angels “guilty” of attempting a heinous plan.

The angels are now imprisoned and awaiting judgment (as Jude reminded). The flood took away the tainted blood lines from the earth and saved Noah and his family, who were of “clean blood” (tawmim is “blameless” in Genesis 6:9):

Genesis 6:9 “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

Issue Two: Does Baptism Save us? (1 Peter 3:21-22)

This complex text continued:

1 Peter 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Peter said that in the same way that God used the flood waters and the ark to save humanity, but removed that corrupted part of the race, baptism “saves us” (i.e. separates the corruption from us). The corruption is NOT physical, but a spiritual pledge to God to maintain a clean conscience. The baptism depicts in part the new life to the “once dead” by Jesus who has authority over all today.

The evidence best supports that Peter is saying three things:

• First, baptism is symbolic of salvation like the flood was symbolic of God’s saving of the race.

• Second, baptism is a time when the pledge to walk with God in fullness is made, and should be taught, stressed and encouraged.

• Third, the resurrection from the dead, like the ark, was God’s opportunity to put a public stamp on the place of His blessing.

How do I know that he is not teaching that the act of baptism saves us? First and foremost, because the Scriptures are clear- God does not save us based on a work we do in places like:

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained F5 that we should walk in them.

Titus 3: 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Peter simply argued that, just as the eight souls were saved as they passed “through water” on the ark, and the filth from the earth in Noah’s day was removed, so the “passing through” the baptism water symbolically washes away our guilt through Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus was at the center of both processes: He removed the rebellious angelic host who corrupted humanity, and He calls out to us to bring us to repentance and baptism (see John 16:8, 9). Jesus as both Judge and Rescuer at the flood was the significant point Peter made. Without understanding that, any comparison to an “antitype” in baptism is without sense. Don’t get lost in all the verbiage and forget the main point we have been studying:

Believers need to study the whole of the Bible and fit every teaching into the whole picture God gave us.

Don’t get sucked into the idea that because the Bible’s message is complex, it is beyond your understanding. The Bible is a story of two worlds – the eternal, primary one is called the “spiritual world” and it was the FIRST WORLD. The second world is the one so familiar to fallen men – it is the temporary and fading physical world. Around us every day are people who make THAT WORLD the ONLY WORLD – but the Bible warns it is a mere shadow of the permanent. If a man or woman makes the physical world their focus, they can accumulate wealth in the physical world, but starve out the growth of the Spirit which will have meaning in the permanent next world.

Consider this: In the next world, it will be clear to all that Jesus is both Rescuer and Judge – but only those who pledged their lives in this world will benefit from that knowledge in the next. God didn’t make your choice very complicated. Listen to the way the Gospel writer posed it:

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees… 2 this man came to Jesus … and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” … 5 … “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ … 11 Truly, truly, I say to you … 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? … 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. … 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Connecting with God: “Outstanding Christianity” – 1 Peter 3:1-17

smith familyThe Smith families, both the one I grew up in, and the one I raised my children in, have been historically known as loud families. In spite of the fact that you hear me talk often, I am sincere when I say I am by no means the dominant personality when my brothers and sisters get together. I often take a “back seat” to several others, and watch as they weave an endless string of jokes, silly memories and general nonsense into “family time” together. No matter how old we all get, I am still a middle child, and I play that role (out of personal comfort) whenever we all get together. The fact is, if you lived next door to us, I am confident you would have heard us. We loved each other, but we didn’t seem to have a very good “volume switch” much of the time. Some of my children still display this lack on occasion! It is probably because of all that noise I have become so much more sensitive to noise as I have gotten just a bit older. Either that, or I am just becoming a crotchety wretch, which is entirely possible. Now that I have “grown up”, left home and raised my children (who have also left home) – my daily existence (aside from a mouthy cat in the morning) is pretty quiet – at least until my tribe comes to visit.

iphone pics 045If you stand outside a Smith family gathering, I hope you will hear two things: first, lots of laughter (because my wife is hysterical when in her element and my children got their sense of humor from her); and second, lots of encouragement (because I have some really neat children and we have always felt that offering affirmation was a way to continue to build them up in their adult lives). My point is this: a family can best be understood when you stop and really listen to them. If you came from a hurtful family, you may be bullied into silence and want to pout. If you came from a quiet family, people may have to listen more closely to really understand how things work.

As believers, the same holds true. People should be able to recognize what is most important to us when they hear what we have to say. When we gather together, we should be prepared to SOUND LIKE believers. Some words of common vocabulary in the world simply aren’t acceptable in a circle of believers – words that demean or vulgar words that wouldn’t carry a sense of purity. Here is a truth from Scripture I want us to consider…

Key Principle: Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate from Jesus.

Don’t misunderstand how I mean that. I am not suggesting that Scripture endorses “Bible speak” that is unintelligible to the world. We are to be witnesses, and we constantly have to be careful about the use of Christian terminology and how well it is understood by others. In some ways, we can’t help but develop our own language. It is inevitable – like a group of computer geeks or gun aficionados… specialized fields have their own shorthand language. At the same time, our faith was to be easily transportable and simple to relate to others – so we must be careful.

What do we mean by the phrase “unique in sound” then? That is the subject of 1 Peter 2 and 3. Let’s follow the idea into four specific sound qualities:

First, the tone of a Christian isn’t defiance, rebellion and belligerence, but cooperative submission whenever possible (1 Peter 2:13-3:2 and 3:7).

You cannot mistake that tone from Peter’s words. Believers were told to:

1 Peter 2:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”

Lest that not be clear enough, Peter went on to specify “king”, “authority” and in 2:14 “governors” even for those who live as “free Romans” (2:16). Later in 2:18, he told Christian “servants” to be submissive to masters, and he specifically used the term “respect” to go beyond the notion of simple obedience to the letter of the commands.

As if that wasn’t enough, Peter went even further and told servants they were to show respect even to “unreasonable” masters, because Jesus suffered patiently and offered them an example of how to live when treated unfairly. This underlying tone was perhaps best captured in the words of 1 Peter 2:17:

Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

Even in this, however, Peter was not finished. As 1 Peter 3 opened, the same idea of cooperative submission was carried into the sound of the home of a believer. The chapter began:

1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Peter made clear the dear Christian women of their congregations were to be “submissive” to their husbands, even if they are not believers or are not acting out in a way that a follower of Jesus should. The term hupotássō is a combination of two words. One word means “under” and the other means “to arrange”. Some would translate this as “a wife defining herself and under God’s arrangement,” i.e. submitting to the Lord (His plan). Others would suggest it should be “to arrange one’s self under” the husband. What is absolutely clear is this: the command is something the woman must do, and no one can make her or do it for her. Submission is an action of the heart and the will. Peter made note that it was possible for a wayward husband to be drawn to the Lord by the choice of a wife to obey in this difficult area (3:1b-2). The idea was this: Serve God by serving your husband, and God may draw his heart through your work! What a privilege to be used of God to bring someone to Jesus by quiet and loving service!

Skip down a few verses. Do you see the way Peter applied that cooperative sound to the men who lead a family? He wrote:

1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

Peter wanted believing husbands to handle the precious woman God granted to them in a caring and careful way. Roman men possessed great legal authority in the home, and could have easily gotten away with becoming both domineering and cruel – but believers were not to do this. They could physically handle their wives in ways that would make you ill, and little would or could be said by anyone else. Peter makes these points:

• Men need to live in a quiet submission to Jesus and show their love to Him by taking care of their wives.

• Men needed to take into account that God didn’t make their wives with the same physical strength or emotional makeup.

• Men weren’t to “patronize” their wives, but to HONOR them. The term timḗ means to perceive their true value and worth. If you listen to the various “pride” movements and to radical feminists, you will constantly hear them refer to desiring people to recognize their “value” as people. God made the point through Peter that men should be clear on the incredible value of this gift of God in your life.

• Men were to recognize that women were fellow heirs of God’s unmerited favor – specifically that God loved them as much as He did the men in the fellowship.

• Finally, men needed to recognize that if they mistreated their wives, the ear of God would turn away from their prayer life. God won’t allow you and I, men, to treat our wives poorly and then expect great mercy and grace from Him. He put the truth in His Book – he won’t listen!

When the verses at the end of 1 Peter 2 and the beginning of 1 Peter 3 are carefully considered, then, the places our world should be able to hear the tone of the believer are in relation to those who are over us as governing authorities, those over us at work, and those who live with us at home

Let’s be clear about the CONTEXT of Peter’s statements. As in all passages, greater context is often necessary for right thinking to emerge from the text.

We must remember that no part of God’s Word is the whole truth by itself; each part needs to be placed beside the other parts of the Word to offer a complete thought. When we teach or preach, we must always seek to balance the truth under consideration with the rest of Scripture. Failure to do that will cause us to conclude false ideas.

For instance, do you think this passage teach that Marines should act this way when storming a beach in force? Should a Christian police officer surrender his weapon to a criminal and be submissive? Of course not! Yet, it is easy to see how someone can read ONE PART of Scripture and get the wrong impression. Let me say it this way: There are places where cooperative submission should not be heard from a believer, and they do not contradict this statement of the normal behavior. They are covered in other places in Scripture. Proper learning of the Word allows you to know what part should be applied to what situation.

If one wants “principles on how to run a nation” or “how to operate a criminal justice system”, the Law (Torah) given to the nation of Israel provides much more of the underlying notes that help us. “Wait!” someone cries. “We aren’t under the Law!” That is where clarity is lost and mud prevails. Much of Paul’s argumentation for morality is rooted in the Law. As we saw in a recent study of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul’s argument was “as the Law says”. So how does that work? Shouldn’t we ignore the Law? In short, no. When Paul said that “we are not under the Law” he was directly referring to the Atonement that replaced by complete justification accomplished at the Cross of Jesus, not making a case to dismiss the moral precepts God cares about that are revealed in the Law.

Let me be clear: God still wants people to recognize the morality He taught Israel as valid. We don’t have to kill a goat to make God happy because of Jesus, but telling a lie, thinking or acting immorally, or taking what isn’t yours is still wrong, and God didn’t need to repeat it in the New Testament to make it clear that is how He wanted things.

Another HUGE problem is that some apply the teachings of Jesus to His followers as though He was speaking of every situation possible; that simply isn’t true. Let me illustrate that for a moment…

A few weeks ago, people at a Christmas party were gunned down by terrorists in California. Registered gun sales skyrocketed and several Christian leaders weighed in on the subject. Just after that, Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke to young people at Liberty University and said some things that in context were reactive to that situation, including the offer of concealed carry classes for students. One quote, picked up in a magazine article by Jonathan Merritt was this:“we could end those Muslims.” I suspect Jerry would have liked to re-think the wording for the sound bite, but nevertheless he was speaking in the context of some evil people who just perpetrated a terror attack. In response, many wrote for and against guns. The point I wanted to note was what Merritt did in his article, because it illustrates a common mistake. He wrote:

“…He encouraged students to enroll in the university’s gratis certification course and said he was carrying a weapon “in my back pocket right now.” He concluded by saying, “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Falwell’s comments are the latest in a string of proclamations by conservative Christians appealing to religious authority and yet apparently devoid of biblical reflection…. While the school claims to put Jesus at the center of its curriculum, its president never referred to the Prince of Peace’s teachings in his remarks about gun violence. The absence is unsurprising. It’s hard to imagine how Jesus’s teachings could support his case…The New Testament recounts many comments Jesus made about violence, and almost all of them seem like an outright contradiction of Falwell’s remarks. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses peacemakers and commends the merciful. Jesus advised people to love, not kill, their enemies and urged them not to take an eye for an eye, but rather to turn the other cheek. When he hung on a Roman cross, he did not ask his followers to arm themselves. Instead, he prayed: “Father, forgive them.”

What Merritt did was ignore all the defense issues in the Hebrew Scriptures that were a part of the national law of Israel, and skip to the issue of Jews under Roman rule referenced by Jesus. The problem isn’t that he misunderstood Jesus, but that He skipped the national context that framed the whole argument. This is a common mistake in Bible study.

Take a moment and apply it to 1 Peter 2 and 3 on submission. Believers should be submissive to governments, but that doesn’t preclude many other passages on self-defense in God’s Word. Neither Peter nor Jesus would have taken issue with a nation defending itself, nor a husband sitting idly while someone breaks in and attacks his wife and children. There were already laws concerning those issues, and we must not ignore the broader context when reading passages like this one. Let’s say it this way: God normally works through submission, respect and obedience. There are Biblical cases that show that one may be forced to disobey a command of government, but cases like the Prophet Daniel are few and far between. Normally, a quiet submissive respectful voice is what a believer should use.

Second, the sound of the believer is not brash, but supportive and positive (1 Peter 3:3-6).

It is not my intention to over-outline the passage, and I recognize that 1 Peter 3:3-6 is also set in the direct context of the sound of submission, but I want to look at these verses separately and with greater intensity, because I believe they provide a beautiful description of the sound and display of a believer in a delicate way. It is an intimate discussion, and it should be considered alone. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Before we consider Peter’s words about the wardrobe and “bling” of women, it is necessary for us to make this simple note of understanding… Men are drawn and stimulated by visual appearance. In the world of the internet, it doesn’t seem that more needs to be explained. With that in mind, let’s recall what Peter said to the women to whom he was writing. He offered three important thoughts:

• Internal adornment is more important than external. Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than deliberately “putting on godliness” by taking the energy women in the world apply to external beauty and working on the attitudes of the heart (3:3).

• Women have an inner life that is at its best when they are working NOT to be noticed by the rest of the room (3:4).

• The women who observe Scripture carefully, will see those who grew in their faith made tough choices to submit, even when their husbands showed incredible weakness (3:5-6).

Perhaps you wonder, what is “working on the inside” and how would it change me? I found a story that may help…A few years ago, Pastor Bill Hybels wrote: “Recently, I saw a letter written by a relatively new Christian to the person whose life had influenced hers so greatly. She actually lists about a dozen qualities she found contagious in the life of this older Christian. Listen to some of what she wrote:

‘You know when we met; I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth, and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit – no signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you lived by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain. And I had never met anyone like that before. I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn’t judge me. You tried to understand me, you sympathized and you celebrated with me, you demonstrated kindness and generosity – and not just to me, but to other people, as well. And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believed to be true, no matter what people said, and no matter how much it cost you. And for those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you I’m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian life in front of me.

Did you note the letter didn’t really address externals much at all. Whether the one who received the letter lived in a big or small house, drove an awesome car or not, or wore the finest clothing or jewelry is not mentioned. It simply wasn’t the most helpful thing and played no role in whether or not the observer came to Christ. What did matter? Attitudes of the heart were the points of testimony.

Focus your life on externals and you will attract friends who live for externals. Apply yourself to allowing God’s Spirit to work deeply within your life, and you will draw around you others who see God at work in you. Your friends are often an indicator of what is on display in your own value system.

Yesterday someone forwarded me a YouTube of the famous atheist comedian Penn Jillette as he told a story about a believer who walked up to him to give him a pocket New Testament with Psalms. To my delight, Jillette recalled the man as sincere, kind and polite. He didn’t feel assaulted. He felt cared for and accepted. I want to hug that brother some day in glory. I pray there are thousands and thousands more like him – both honestly evangelistic and lovingly sensitive.

Third, the sound of a believer increasingly focuses on harmony whenever and wherever it is possible.

I like to harmonize. In fact, it is the reason they put me in the front row, so that no one else has to hear what I do as I inadvertently massacre sacred songs. I cannot help it! One thing I can testify to concerning songs – some really don’t lend themselves to harmonization well. The same is true of people. Some are so extreme, so loud and so mean I have trouble figuring out how to move the conversation forward in a godly way. The truth is, we are supposed to look for ways to live and work together for God’s glory. Peter said it this way:

1 Peter 3:8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but [e]giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Fourth, the sound of a believer is the sound of carefully chosen notes.

I find the need to confess something to you: song sliders make me crazy! I want to assert strongly that people should CHOOSE the note they are trying to sing instead of sliding from flat to note to sharp, or from one note to another! Sing whatever song you choose, but at the very least, sing the song distinctly!

In the same way, there are distinct and selected sounds of spiritual maturity we should consider fostering in our own heart:

People should hear from us the sound of disciplined speech:

1 Peter 3:10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.

Some people don’t seem to care how they use their mouth! Zig Ziglar once wrote: My brother, the late Judge Ziglar, loved to tell the story of the fellow who went next door to borrow his neighbor’s lawnmower. The neighbor explained that he could not let him use the mower because all the flights had been canceled from New York to Los Angeles. The borrower asked him what canceled flights from New York to Los Angeles had to do with borrowing his lawnmower. It doesn’t have anything to do with it, but if I don’t want to let you use my lawnmower, one excuse is as good as another.” [Excuses: Any Will Do?, Citation: Zig Ziglar, Something Else to Smile About (Thomas Nelson, 1999)]

Our sound should be one that consistently reveals choices of right over wrong: “1 Peter 3:11 “He must turn away from evil and do good…”Strong’s Commentary offered this: “Christ and the believer have the same life. They are not separate persons linked together by some temporary bond of friendship; they are united by a tie as close and indissoluble as if the same blood ran in their veins.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses peace over revenge:

1 Peter 3:11b He must seek peace and pursue it.

Jesus . . . wants us to see that the neighbor next door or the people sitting next to us on a plane or in a classroom are not interruptions to our schedule. They are there by divine appointment. Jesus wants us to see their needs, their loneliness, their longings, and he wants to give us the courage to reach out to them” (REBECCA MANLEY PIPPERT, Draper’s).

Ours is the sound of one who remembers that God is paying attention:

1 Peter 3:12 “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses faith over fear:

1 Peter 3:13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled…

When life caves in, you do not need reasons — you need comfort. You do not need some answers — you need someone. And Jesus does not come to us with an explanation — He comes to us with His presence.” — Bob Benson.

Ours is the sound of one who prepares to speak well for Jesus:

1 Peter 3:15 “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Howard Hendricks said, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”

It is the sound of the voice of integrity:

1 Peter 3:16 “…and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Ours is the sound of trust:

1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

We must allow God to place us in the story where He desires. We must remember: “Nothing under God’s control is ever out of control.” (Charles Swindoll).

Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate.

Consider what people do when they hear us and we sound like Jesus…

Dr. James Dobson, former director of “Focus on the Family” Ministries, shared an experience after his teaching days (he taught at the public school system from 1960-1963). At the final year, he had to say goodbye to 25 to 30 teary-eyed kids. One young lady whom he said goodbye to in 1963 called him in 1975. Julie had grown up. Dr. Dobson remembered her as a seventh grader with a crisis of confidence in herself. Her Latin heritage embarrassed her and she was overweight. She h ad only one friend, and they moved away the following year. She and Dr. Dobson talked on the phone about the good ole days. “Where do you go to church?” He told her, and she asked if she could visit. He told her she could, and the next week she came. In the coming months, she became a vibrant Christian. A few months after her initial visit, Dobson asked her, “Julie, I want to ask you a question. Will you tell me why you went to so much trouble to obtain my unlisted number and call me last Autumn?” “Because when I was a seventh-grade student in junior high school, you were the only person in my life who acted like you respected and believed in me…and I wanted to know your God.”

Connecting with God: “Making Sense of Suffering” – 1 Peter 4:1-11

no senseI have discovered that many things in life simply make no sense at all. They truly don’t. I suspect I am not the only one who has been watching polls of Americans and wondering if they have lost all political instincts, but it isn’t only in politics things seem to be “hard to understand.” Consider these examples from the news:

A few years ago AT&T fired President John Walter after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. Perhaps it’s not Walter who truly lacked intelligence.

An Illinois man, pretending to have a gun, kidnapped a motorist and forced him to drive to two different automated teller machines, wherein the kidnapper proceeded to withdraw money from his own bank accounts.

A few years ago, a man walked into a Topeka, Kansas “Kwik Stop” and asked for all the money in the cash drawer. Apparently, the take was too small, so he tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and grabbed him.

Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn’t control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words, “Give me all your money or I’ll shoot, the man shouted, “That’s not what I said!”

In Modesto, California, Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun, but unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.

One of my favorite examples of things that don’t make sense came from some dear folks, new to boating, who were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get their brand new 22 ft. power boat going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power was applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted to a nearby marina, thinking someone there could tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the out drive went up and down, and the prop was the correct size and pitch. About that time, one of the marina workers decided to test a theory. He jumped into the water to check underneath and he quickly snapped out of the water, choking as he came up because he was laughing so hard. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the boat trailer.” (original author unknown).

I think we can all agree that many of the things we read in the news day to day, truly make no sense at all. Yet, there is something that many people find even HARDER to make sense out of and harder to swallow in the serious side of life; that is human suffering. All laughing aside, suffering is a serious matter, and a significant stumbling block to people keeping them from following God. It was Warren Wiersbe who made the astute observation in his study on the Book of Job that our enemy uses physical suffering to encourage us to become impatient with the will of God in our lives. The same tactic is also at work holding people from a walk with God. I have heard many who do not know God say things like: “If God is good, why do good people suffer?” Still others in the family of God will say, “If we are believers and God loves us, why do we suffer?”

Does God use suffering? Is there a point to the pain in our broken world?

Biblically speaking, suffering has a purpose in a fallen world – and it has a purpose in our lives. In fact, it has a number of purposes, based on the writings of Peter to early believers. There is little doubt that suffering and pain have a way of separating the “sunshine soldier” from the “persistent patriot” – but there is much more than God using it to show a “who’s who” lineup. Suffering teaches patience that deepens our walk in ways that are hard to quantify in simple terms. We should take a few minutes and listen to some tough words about painful things, with a view toward grasping God’s work in us. Here is the point:

Key Principle: Suffering and trouble can be used by God to produce growth in me. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for me.

When Peter began writing about the subject in 1 Peter 4, he wasn’t writing to novices on the subject. The migrant workers of the central Turkish plateau knew much about loss and trouble, pain and problems. Peter began with a word about the One Who knew suffering before any of them. He wrote that…

Suffering was something Jesus did – so it is something we should certainly expect.

4:1 “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose…”

First, the opening “therefore” is a tip that what Peter said before was essential to understanding what he was about to share. Don’t forget the end of chapter three was the exciting truth that Jesus has ascended to sit beside His Father. His work was accepted, but it came at a high price of suffering. Jesus suffered for us – and that was part of His Father’s plan to reveal His love for us!

Second, it is worth recalling that Jesus suffered in the flesh in very real terms. What do I mean? Some in the early church struggled with the notion of Jesus’ physicality and some believed He was merely a “spirit” that “appeared” to men. That isn’t what God’s Word teaches. Jesus bled when cut. He was emotionally and physically vulnerable to pain. That thought is hard to grasp, but comforting to know when considering powerful and personal pain.

Third, pain and suffering IS something we can and should prepare for in our lives. Don’t expect to get off earth without your share of troubles and pains! The last part of the verse makes that very clear. Peter said: “Arm yourselves for that purpose.” What arms are available? How do I learn to use them to prepare? When and where should I employ them? All these are valid and valuable questions.

Suffering is something that teaches us a valuable lesson – life isn’t supposed to be “self-service”.

I don’t believe the rest of verse one and all of verse two were as necessary to the first century believer as I am wholly certain is true for the believer today. We live in different times and have a different set of ears to hear these words. Listen as we finish the opening sentence of Peter after he told the believers to arm themselves for the coming pain…

4:1b “…because he [the believer] who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

Peter made three points here:

The believer who has faced powerful suffering sets aside an agenda of pleasing him or herself and grasps how short and fragile life really is. Everything is open to you when your body is healthy and your mind is racing ahead on yourself. Young life is exhilarating but not truly as serious and deep as a life with some powerful pain lessons. That doesn’t make you a shallow and inconsequential person, just a young and inexperienced one. Pain deepens your life in ways you may not be able to imagine. It is the pain of loss that makes precious moments sweeter.

I was standing along the Via Dolorosa not long ago and came upon a mother sitting in the doorway to the church of the Spasm. She lost a child to illness, and she was a broken women. The shop keeper nearby had become accustomed to her crying and sobs. I noticed her pouring a little milk in a dish for a wandering kitten… She knew what it meant to feel alone and vulnerable, and she acted in kindness. Suffering taught her to care.

The second point Peter made was this, suffering reminds us to reset our value system. When we encounter true pain, momentary inconvenience drops off the radar screen. The fact is that many of us get too worried and upset about things that are not all that important. We let things get “under our skin” that just shouldn’t.

The other day I flew from London to Miami on a ten-hour flight. It was a day flight, which can be difficult because it means that people don’t sleep, and it makes the flight seem much longer. I had a very nice stewardess who did everything she could to make me comfortable, along with the ER doctor who was sitting beside me. When I got off the flight in Miami I had to transfer luggage to a new carousel for customs and border control, and I met a women who said she was behind me during the flight. She noticed I slept a good bit and then began to tell me how horrible the stewardesses were on the flight. I couldn’t believe were on the same flight. I thought these ladies were GREAT, and she thought they were horrible. She complained of having to wait a few minutes to get water when she requested it, and got the wrong entrée at mealtime. I was stunned at how minute her complaints seemed and thought to myself: “It must be nice to normally have such a perfect life that things like that would be such a major burden to her!” I don’t want to be unkind, but the problems she expressed were at most very minor inconveniences. If she has something bigger to focus on, I suspect these would have dissolved quickly in her mind. Real trouble helps us dump tiny disruptions from our hearts and focus on bigger issues. I am not wishing trouble on her (and I have no such power anyway), but I do believe that significant troubles can help us get better perspective on our expectations of others and of life in general.

Finally, suffering and pain can help us to think about the intended purpose of our lives. We all have the temptation to default to self-pleasing lives. Fallen men and women see themselves as FOR themselves. Believers increasingly near toward Heaven, and consider each day a gift to serve their Master. None of us do this flawlessly, but all of us grow in the process of learning this one unwavering truth: We were created for our Master’s use, and nothing will ever be as satisfying as when He is powerfully using us…Nothing.

Suffering reminds us that we were a part of the system that caused the problem – the sin-sick, selfish world.

4:3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.

Suffering and pain didn’t come from a vengeful God Who got mad at mankind after the Fall in the Garden. Rather, pain was the natural effect of the rebellious heart. When Adam and Even shook their fists at God and did their own thing, they changed the default switch on all who came from their loins. Generation after generation we have been plagued with people who live for self and serve the four gods of our age: Fortune, Fame, Power and Pleasure. We all came into this position naturally and found it to be so routine most never thought about it at all until they faced the truth of the Word of God.

Note the terms: “carried out the desire” and ponder them for a moment. It almost seems like we are on “autopilot” with desires that are selfish and excessive. We want sensuality – or good feeling. Some will destroy every relationship in their life for the next high. Some are quietly tucked in a corner with their computer trying to feel good one more time pretending to have relationships that are entirely in their mind – fake connections for a deceived life. Others measure “fun” by poor self-control and lousy self-restraint. The more childish the behavior, the more the world uses the word “adult” to describe it: “adult films” and “for adults only” are buzz words for unrestrained lusts.

Did you notice the list ends with “abominable idolatries?” This represents two words in Greek.

• The term “abominable” is athémitos, a combined words “a” or “not” and themis, “an accepted custom or practice.

• The term eidólolatria is also a combination of two words that together mean the “service rendered to a false god.”

Think about those two words for a moment. Peter said that domination of selfish desires and lack of surrender to God leads us to a very predictable end: we bow to a false god and make what was unacceptable fine in our own minds. We break natural agreements. We cheat on our spouse, abandon our children, break our contracts, lie to our employers and suck up our ours trying to feed our need to be at the center of our own lives.

Serving the god of fortune can create above us a relentless taskmaster that will take every ounce of our lives and give us broken bodies and empty hearts in exchange for the promise of a full bank account. Here is the truth: You cannot enjoy a steak without teeth. You cannot relax on a yacht while lying in a hospital bed. Fortune promises, but she robs you of what you have and often gives far less than expected.

Serving the god of fame is also an exercise in futility. Ask anyone who is so famous they cannot go out with guards, and must secure their home because of the crazies who just want to live in the fantasy they “have a relationship” with the celebrity. Do you know what it means to have to be so guarded you cannot take a walk alone? Many celebrities spend enormous efforts to hide their identity to try to get some of the benefit of a “normal life”.

Do we even have to think about how fleeting the pursuit of the god of power is? Stand over the graves of any of the great men and women of the past and ask what their power does for them now. Think about the fleeting nature of power… Take for example the memory of Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio Africanus the Younger) who was indelibly linked in the Roman mind with the destruction of Carthage in the Punic Wars. He was a powerful general, and a man of duty. Yet, he was a thinker and gathered to his side famous historians, poets and philosophers of his time—a group that came to be known as the Scipionic circle. Power wasn’t enough for him. In fact, in a famous moment from his life, he looked upon Carthage as his troops were utterly decimating it and wept openly for his fallen enemies. He said: “A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish, And Priam and his people shall be slain.” He clearly foresaw that when the great city of Carthage fell, Rome set itself up for the same destruction in the days ahead. All power ends. All might is eventually broken… but that which belongs to the Creator of all.

Peter seemed more tuned in the verse to the god of pleasure. Does seeking constant pleasure lead to idolatry? Ask any mother or wife of a man who has escaped from the world through a pill or a needle, a bottle or a pipe. Left unbroken, the drug stupor takes a loved one from pleasure to denial, from deception to the “long goodbye.” It severs the normal caring bonds and replaces them with brutal selfishness backed by lies and empty promises of change. If you set out to satisfy yourself with pleasure, be sure that it will cost you some of the most precious relationships in life. People who love you will die a thousand times watching you destroy yourself while you hide, lie and deny.

Suffering comes, in part, because the world truly doesn’t understand the shift in our values – because we live for the Savior.

Without a relationship with the God Who created them, people will act “normally” in the default settings of a self-oriented life. They will learn to cloak the most brutal selfish tendencies, but they will figure out ways to get what they want. When you meet Jesus and surrender to Him, you drop out of the race. Expect something. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 4:4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you…

There seems to be some fascination by other drivers in the race concerning the one who pulls off the course. As other racers speed by, these drivers slow to notice you have simply left the race. They cannot manage to get off the track without finding the One Who opened an exit gate for you, but they cannot honestly conceive of a life that isn’t on the unending racecourse of self-fulfillment. They look over, some with pity toward what they consider as your pathetic pull-off into religious escapism. Others hurl nasty epithets and insults in passing, as if they are truly finding fulfillment in their “merry-go-round of need and want” that relentlessly drives them onward. When you stop running the race for fortune, fame, power and pleasure – you become different. You see life differently. You know the track, the crowds, the crown and the roar of the engine are not enough – it never could be. You know the race is going nowhere. You have now found your purpose in the One who released you from the race. The truth is, that bugs them. They don’t know why – but it does.

Suffering should draw people back to God, but in many cases it causes them to dig in and fight Him more. When your fight is over, they simply add you to the list of those who they cannot understand and do not like. At enmity with God, they find you offensive, whether you say anything or not. In spite of that, our call is to love those who do not always love us back, and in that be like the Master Who called us to Himself.

Suffering will end for us, but begin for those who have not prepared to meet the Savior.

Don’t forget that. Your suffering in this life is short-lived. The suffering after this life is unending. Peter reminded:

4:5 “…but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

Beloved, don’t be angry with them if they insult you. Don’t be offended as though this is something new. Generations of those who are now beyond the hope of the Gospel rejected Jesus and have found that to be a horrible mistake. Others who are “dead in Spirit” (Ephesians 2:1ff) are now being presented the offer of life that they may be “made alive” in Jesus. The rejection of angry men should drive us to love them more, pray for them more, care for them more and seek to represent Jesus to them better. Their hurt toward us is for a moment, but their punishment and peril must move our hearts. It simply must move us to witness, work and walk before them as Jesus called us to do.

Suffering should push us to make “final countdown preparations”.

Simply observe for a moment the words at the opening of 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near…”

Dear ones, it is almost over. No matter who wins the next election, no matter what the stock market does, no matter what flag flies over our beloved land… it is almost over. We won’t be here long. Our hope cannot and must not be in anyone or anything less than the arms of our waiting Savior. Get ready. It is almost morning. The sun is about to break on the horizon!

Don’t lose heart. We are heading home very soon. We should be vigilant and clear in our thinking – so we can pray passionately, love deliberately, speak compassionately, and reach out effectively. Listen to the words of Peter as he presses us onward:

1 Peter 4:7b “…therefore, [because the end draws near] be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.

Don’t let the lateness of the hour push you toward making every breath about getting more for yourself. Many people do that – and it is a trap. Let the lateness of the hour press us to pray more fervently.

You should never be to busy not to pray. It’s your lifeline to survival in a fallen world and your compass to lead you home and into the will of God. Bill Hybels states, “My second warning is for those who make the equal and opposite error. You are thinking, ‘I don’t need any structure or rigorous habits to make my heart grow. I’m a play-it-by-ear type. I go with the spiritual flow. I’m going to let go and let God do whatever he wants to do, and I’ll just see what happens.’ This typical American attitude, at best, is naïve; at worst, it is self-deceived. We just cannot grow with no structure, no sense of intentionality about our spiritual life, any more than we can lower our body fat or develop good muscle tone or increase our net worth by just sitting back and waiting for whatever happens. If the goal is really important to me, I discipline myself in order to achieve it. I use to make excuses for my fainthearted prayer life. I don’t have any good models of persevering prayer, I told myself. I have too many responsibilities to fulfill, so I don’t have the time to pray properly. But God convinced me that I was not being honest with myself. The real reason my prayers were weak was that my faith was weak.”

Beyond the spiritual battle in prayer, let it help us to see greater value in sticking together and demonstrating love for one another. He made that point clear:

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

We should be growing in desire to be with one another (since that is what will happen in eternity!) and learning to overlook each other’s idiosyncrasies. If you are increasingly “bugged” by other believers, perhaps that is an indication something is wrong in your heart! Peter went on…

1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

How could he make it more personal than telling us to SPEND TIME WITH ONE ANOTHER! We should be losing a spirit of complaint and fostering a spirit of encouragement.

That isn’t all. He went on to call us to pressing harder and harder in the use of our spiritual gifts! He wrote:

1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Our gifts were strategically employed by God to move His work ahead. Our gifts aren’t for our glory, but for His. They are to be used, and that to the fullest!

When we speak, it should be to represent Him. We should work to teach with clarity and vigor the Word of God. He made that clear:

1 Peter 4:11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God;

When we serve, it should be with energy and intent to use all that God supplies to bless others and bring glory to the Lord. He challenged:

1 Peter 4:11b “…whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter called the people to serve with JOY in their ministry!

Some people have a job in church. Others get involved in a ministry. What’s the difference?

• If you’re doing it because no one else will, it’s a job. If you’re doing it to serve the Lord, it’s a ministry.

• If you’re doing it just well enough to get by, it’s a job. If you’re doing it to the best of your ability, it’s a ministry.

• If you’re doing it so long as it doesn’t interfere with other activities, it’s a job. If you’re committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it’s a ministry.

• If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it’s a job. If you stay with it even though no one seems to notice, it’s a ministry.

• If your concern is “success,” it’s a job. If your concern is faithfulness, it’s a ministry.

• If it’s hard to get excited about, it’s a job. It’s almost impossible not to be excited about a ministry!

• If God calls you to a ministry, don’t treat it like a job. If you have a job in church, give it up and find a ministry.

God doesn’t want us feeling stuck with a job, but excited and faithful to Him in a ministry. That is why He gifted us and called us!

A few years ago I shared this story, but at the risk of repetition I will share it again because it illustrates the point that we must remember to be thankful for whatever opportunity God has given you to serve:

Jobs were scarce and John was ready to give up and join the unemployment line. He noticed a zoo on the way home and walked in unannounced. The manager said that no jobs were available. John turned to walk away. The zoo manager stopped him and asked if he would be willing to wear a gorilla costume and substitute for the gorilla who had recently died. John agreed and enjoyed convincing the onlookers that he was a gorilla. He grunted and swung through the trees with reckless abandon. On the second day, he swung from a rope and accidentally fell into the lion’s pit. The lion licked his chops and walked toward John. John froze in fear. His thoughts were, ’Do I yell and give away my identity or do I do nothing and risk my life?” He yelled. The lion shot back, “Shut up, or both of us will lose our jobs!”

Dear ones, we have the privilege to serve the Lord for this season of our lives. Sometimes it will come with trouble, and sometimes with pain. That isn’t a sign God isn’t being faithful. It is part of our service to accept life as the Master assigns it to each of us.

Suffering and trouble can be used by God to produce growth in me. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He began:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Misunderstandings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul addressed the issue this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul broke the problem down this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem Wasn’t Simply Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember our key principle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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