Friday, July 31, 2009
For the last couple of days we have been addressing the phenomena of people denying or changing the foundation of our Christian understanding. We have been focusing on the particular problem of people denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ and thus the promise of the resurrection of the dead. Let's continuing by looking a little closer as to the importance of the resurrection:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. vv. 20-23
To deny the resurrection is to deny the purpose of Jesus' birth and death. He came to undo what Adam had done. In the garden there was only one tree that Adam was not allowed to eat from which meant he had free access to the tree of life. After taking part in what was forbidden he lost access to the tree of life because God had told him beforehand that the consequences would be death, which is what we all face. Jesus came not only to pay for this sin of Adam, so that it could be made void, but he also came to give access to the tree of life again for those who accepted the canceled sin. Without this we have nothing. This is Paul's conclusion as well:
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
"Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die." vv. 29-32
Remember what he had written a few sentences before:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. v. 19
Paul deals with the real problem in two sentences. Remember that Paul is dealing with a people who have a tradition of welcoming various philosophies and debating them. He writes:
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. vv. 33-34
First, he is writing to believers who have already been taught and who accepted Jesus as a result of this teaching. Paul is telling them to stop wasting their time with debating and entertaining various philosophies. They have a work to do now. Instead of following in their traditions of their culture they need to be instructing others about Jesus Christ.
It is not different with today. We get caught up with trying to figure out how Jesus is relevant for today. We try to make him fit into the various philosophies of today and yet people continue to die in their sins, completely ignorant of what Jesus has done for them. It is simple; 1. we were created with purpose; 2. we were separated from this purpose because of disobedience; 3. Jesus accepted to come in obedience to reconcile us with the Father so we could return to our purpose; 4. he did this by obedience even to his death on the cross, so that he could take our curse upon himself; 5. as he was raised from the dead he became the first born of a new creation, giving us the hope that we too will follow in his footsteps. Teach this and let the Spirit do the rest.
We are not to be pitied because our hope is real and it is based on the promise of Jesus Christ. We do not entertain ourselves today thinking we will die tomorrow. We know that death is not the end so we want to fulfill our purpose here so we will have a glad welcome when we finally arrive in our country.
So let us be careful that we are not distracted in our understanding. Let us stick to the Word of God and the teaching of the Spirit. Let us not pursue exciting teachings just to find them empty as death. Let us not be influenced by the many voices that would have us turn back. Instead, hold on for the days are growing shorter:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
What is your hope? What do you live for? Why do you do the things you do? Some people claim to believe without knowing what they believe. They do everything Christian yet they have missed the foundation completely. There are whole sections of the Church who are now denying that Jesus was raised from the dead. Two thousand years later they think they know better than the hundreds of eye-witnesses who gave testimony to this event. Impossible, they say. Then simply put, they are not Christian.
You can't call yourself something and then reject the foundation of what you claim to be. Two days ago I named three facts that we base our faith on:
1. Jesus dies on the cross to pay the price for our sins
2. He was buried
3. He was risen from the dead
If a person rejects this then they reject all of Christianity:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. vv. 12-14
This means that thousands of years of prophecies and a couple of thousand years of faith and miracles and transformed lives have all been a lie. It means that the hope that we have held on to has been a false hope. In fact, it means we have a lot to answer to YAHWEH because we have been false witnesses:
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. v. 15
The resurrection of Jesus Christ must be a piece of the foundation that we defend with our life and never let go of. If not then we make him out to be a liar because if is Jesus who told his disciples that he would rise on the third day. Without the death on the cross, the burial and the resurrection all hope is lost:
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. vv. 16-18
Ours is not a belief of good living and good deeds. Those things are part of the transformation that is taking place, preparing us for our own resurrection. But everything leads to that resurrection, that moment when everything will be changed:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. vv. 51-53
Do not think for a moment that Christianity is just one method to live a good and valuable life. It isn't. The Christian gospel is about eternity and our part in helping our neigbours escape death:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. v. 19
Indeed, we are fools to live a Christian life and not hold on to the foundation of our beliefs, that Jesus died and was raised from the dead to be the first born among many, that we too would be raised from the dead, or at least changed in the twinkling of an eye. We cannot allow people to call themselves Christian who do not hold to this basic truth, or at least we should not consider them part of us. They are to be pitied because their faith contains no hope.
Let us check one another and encourage one another to stay true to the words of Jesus Christ. For it is he who said to his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
It is the promise we hold dear to who we are, what we do, what we believe, and what we hope for. My hope is not a hope of desperation. My hope is a hope of certainty. I know there will be a resurrection of the dead because I know Jesus died on the cross so my sins could be forgiven, that he was buried and that he was raised from the dead, to take his place at the right hand of the Father. I know this because of the testimony of the Word of God. I know this because the Spirit testifies to me that it is the truth. It cannot be refuted.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It is amazing how strongly we feel and believe that we have a right to our own life. I think it is a carry-over from our former lives, an attitude that has not yet been transformed because we are not eager to let it go. We want to do whatever we feel like doing. But that is something we gave up when we died and then were raised to live in Jesus. We gave up any right to do what we want to do and instead we should now have the attitude, as Jesus did, that we want what the Father wants.
Sometimes this means that we can end up in a place we had not planned to be. Perhaps it is a thing that we consider beneath us and some times it is a thing we consider beyond us. Nonetheless, it is what the Father wanted. We are not the first to feel this way:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. vv. 9-10
The Apostle Paul did not want this because he had caused such pain to the Church. It was forgiven but Paul still carried that painful memory. I wonder how many people he came across reminded him of this fact. It is thought that the problems he had in Galatia were caused by this. What most of us do all our lives is avoid the things that remind us of our guilt, but that is the difference between the great and the common. Paul did not fight against his calling but instead he embraced it: "But by the grace of God I am what I am."
Does this attitude sound familiar?
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! vv. 6-8
The problem comes when we fail to consider God's grace and we continue to judge our worthiness by our past. After God has forgiven us we keep judging ourselves. We never allow ourselves to get to that point: "But by the grace of God I am what I am." We fail to walk the path chosen for us. Yes that is right, the path chosen for us. It is not us who get to choose. We just read how deep that truth goes:
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
God chooses everything for us, our gifts and our path. We are not efficient and productive in our calling because we are too much in denial concerning it. The best way we can live a life to the glory of Jesus is to embrace the life we have been called to. We must do everything believing that God provides for those he has called. Peter tried to find the words to express this attitude:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
This attitude is only possible when we realize that our calling is not about us. We did not choose it. We do not merit it. It is by God's grace that we have received it. Leave your guilt in the past and simply dive in head first and do what you have been called to do with all that you have to do it. Then we will understand what Paul meant:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.
The realization of God's grace will change you. It's reality will compel you to do your very best but that is also when you discover that God's grace even covers you when your best is not good enough:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
So stop sitting on the fence and get to it. Stop denying it but instead embrace it. You are called exactly as you are. The Father knows his children, he knows who he has called and he knows their weaknesses. You just do what you have been called to do, desire the best and allow him to transform your weaknesses to strengths. Don't ever second guess what the Father is doing; he knows better than we do.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Paul has dealt with a great variety of common problems in this letter to the Corinthians. I say common because they are problems that persist to this day in many churches. Not the least of which is straying from the truth of the Word of God. For some people the Word is not exciting enough, not foreign enough, dare I say not sexy enough. They look to supplement it with with other teachings to form their own tailor-made gospel. In this way they get to do what man has done for thousands of years; create a god in their own image. This way they can do what they want to do and not feel bad about it.
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. vv. 1-2
There is only one truth and it is found in the Word of God. You can believe whatever you want to believe, it is your freedom to do so, but it will not save you. Only in the Word of truth will you find salvation. If you are a Christian do not go adding to your beliefs because you will forfeit your salvation. If you claim Christ as your saviour and hold to the hope of salvation then you must only hold to the truth of the Word. It is a rather simple truth:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. vv. 3-4
That is the foundation, there is no other.
1. Jesus Christ died for our sins.
2. He was buried.
3. He was raised from the dead on the third day.
There is no room for anything else here. You cannot deny his death nor his resurrection and still call yourself Christian. Our hope hangs on the work of the cross, for our forgiveness and salvation. Our hope hangs on the empty grave for our coming resurrection to new life. There is further revelation of this truth and what has resulted due to it but there is no other foundation.
In Paul's days there were witnesses to this physical truth:
And that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. vv. 5-8
No longer do we have those who had witnessed it first hand. Now we only have the witness of the written Word and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us. But do you know what Jesus said about us?
"Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29
Stick to what you have been taught from the Word. Do not stray from the foundation that has been laid down for you. There are a lot of demon teachings out there that have distracted many people who should have known better. Don't you be one of them.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. v. 39-40
I am wondering if we have taken the "fitting and orderly way" too far and have ironed the Spirit right out of our Sundays. I can only imagine the fit some people would have in some congregations if people started speaking in tongues. But tongues is not the subject I am fascinated with. Consider what your "worship service" looked like yesterday. Now look at what Paul was saying was included in the earlier forms of these meetings of believers:
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. v. 26
What did you bring to the worship meeting yesterday? If you had brought something would you have been permitted to contribute? Would anyone have seen it as important to the strengthening of the church? Consider further:
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. vv. 27-28
I realize that Paul is writing about order in worship but understand why he had to deal with the order issue. These meetings were packed with stuff from everyone so they needed to have order to give everyone an opportunity. Imagine if everyone in your church came with something to contribute. Imagine the variety. Imagine it like a buffet. You would come away well fed. We have gotten use to one preacher:
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. vv. 29-33
We have either gotten lazy or we have gone too far with the control. I believe it is a bit of both. We treat our Sunday Worship as if it has always been this way but it has not. Perhaps if everyone came in with this attitude of contributing we would have a greater vision of everyone participating in the work of the Kingdom. Perhaps we would see greater spiritual growth. Perhaps we would have healthier churches. However, it is often the ones responsible for developing this who have killed it in the name of control.
I would love to be part of a congregation that would be willing to let go of the need of control, maintain the order but allow the Holy Spirit to inspire. It would take a while to train the people but that is what the five-fold ministries are for.
Sorry to cut this so short. God bless you in your journey today.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
1 Corinthians is an appropriate book to study in our current age. I realize people do not intend to be so self-absorbed but they are. In my opinion the reason for this is because we do not grasp what a full surrender to Jesus means and entails. We do not get the whole "the old has gone, the has come" thing of our decision. We fail to understand that we have died and not longer have a claim on ourselves. If we did understand this then I am sure there would be a whole bunch less selfishness in the Church. I realize we do not see it as being selfish but I ask you to consider for a moment an example that Paul gives to us in this chapter. He starts off with a carry-over from his teaching on love and gives a word of encouragement:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. v. 1
What does Paul mean by "prophecy"? It is not what many think. Paul is not looking for everyone to become prophets, foretelling coming events. To have the gift of prophecy is to give public exhortation of Scriptures, giving interpretation and instruction. This is the gift Paul wanted everyone to have over everything else. But he had to argue against selfishness here:
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. v. 2
So here is the tension in this chapter. So may of us come to church looking for edification and that is okay because that is one of the purposes of our worship, to be edified. But often we are so caught up in our own needs that we fail to take our place of service. We come to church to give and to take but often we are only takers and when we "feel" we have not been edified we grumble and complain. Sin leads to more sin. Tongues is a private thing between us and God, as Paul later explains, unless there is interpretation provided. Later on Paul writes:
I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. v. 5
Why would Paul desire this? Why is it that he would rather see us all prophesying the Word of God?
But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. vv. 3-4
In the age of selfisms it is difficult for us to truly gasp the importance of this. The best I can describe it is as I have already done, when we fail to see our importance to others and instead seek only for ourselves. Honestly, what is your attitude when you go to church? Do you have a longing to participate or are you happy to just be a spectator? All my life I had a longing to participate and was often frustrated as a young adult, even as a child, when I felt forced to sit in my seat. I felt like I wanted to give, that I had something to give. We all have something to give but our Sunday meetings are not designed for it. They are designed more as concerts, venues of entertainment. Only those properly trained are permitted to speak publicly. We are so off the mark from what the meetings once were. But that is a subject for days to come.
Paul makes it plain and clear:
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. vv. 18-10
Our life is about others, even in our relationship with Jesus. Many would disagree with me here but Paul makes it plain here; the edification of others should be a priority over our own. And then Paul nails the root of the problem here right on its head:
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. v. 20
Lack of spiritual maturity leads us to seek only for ourselves. It prevents us from understanding our need to serve by participating according to our gifts. It causes us to design our meetings in such a way that we have control over who participate often giving the impression of elitism. We certainly have fallen into the trap in our current age. Most people do not realize that many people can prophesy in a meeting, bringing a deeper edification to the church.
Are we ready to leave the childish things behind and move into greater understanding through greater maturity? Are you ready to shrug off consumerism and become the producer God called you to be?
Friday, July 24, 2009
Love is by far the greatest thing in the universe but is also the thing that costs the greatest price because of the sacrifice it extracts. What is the cost of protecting someone in love? How much does always trusting cost you? What about forgiveness? Sure you may be able to forgive once, perhaps twice but forget it after the third offense. Jesus says that our love should be such that we never stop forgiving. How much will that cost you? What about pushing through to the end because of love? What price does such love extract from you? Love costs everything, your very life.
Some say love is a decision. Recently my adult son quoted something that said love is not a decision but a feeling, how else do you fall in love with one person? To me love is both because love is a force. It can't be just a decision because if it was it would go by a different name; determination. Neither can it be just a feeling or emotion because then love would be a fickle thing. Love is both and it is the greatest force in the universe because it is that perfect love that has been God's motivation in shaping everything. The Apostle Paul writes:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. vv. 8-12
Poetic but greater than good literature, it is a description and explanation that nothing is as great or as lasting as love. Love is more than basic human feeling, it is a supernatural force, and when understood, will propel us into doing great and awesome things. Without it what we do is mechanical and will pass away when we pass away.
What Paul is saying is that we put our priorities in the wrong places, we lift up things that are not so important, that we do not understand what is truly significant in life and the world. We are immature in our understanding and if we would only grow up we would put away such childish thinking. It is true that what we see and understand is merely a poor reflection of the fullness of it all but sometimes I am convinced that we do not even see the poor reflection.
Consider this verse just for a moment to understand the significance and importance of this supernatural love:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. v. 13
These are the three most important things in your life, faith hope and love. Where do they stand as priority in your life? Does faith play a vital role? What about hope? Are you a hopeful person? Well as great as these two are they are not greater than the force of love. This is why Paul began this chapter in the way he did:
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. v. 2
Without love I am nothing. That is quite the statement. Even if I was the Prime Minister or Elbert Einstein, without love I would be nothing. And again:
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. v. 3
Without love I have gained nothing. Self-explanatory, we need more that just sacrifice in our life. I agree with Paul, when it comes to love I think we only have a "poor reflection" of understanding. It should be something we want to understand, experience and live more and more every day, never allowing ourselves to believe that we know all there is to know or possess all there is to possess. We must know it as the most powerful force in the universe and we must understand that it has to be the motivation of everything we do. Perhaps the greatest thing we must begin with is the understanding that true love is not found in ourselves but its source is the Father.
We should begin every day with the request to the Father, "Allot to me a greater portion of your love that I may love my neighbour today as you love him". This should be the goal of our life because love is the greatest commandment. It cannot be mechanical and it cannot be emotional, it must be a force that compels us:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' vv. 34-40
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Why do we do the things we do? Why does a mom clean the house? If it is not because she loves her family and wants to honour God because of her love for him she will soon grow to resent it. You can take that and apply it to everything. Why do people start resenting their jobs? Lack of love. It doesn't matter if the boss does not love back. The fact is if you are feeling resentful at work its because you have failed to love your boss and God. So what does this love look like?
Paul has given us a great description taken from the character of Jesus. This is perfect love which we do not yet possess but it does give us perfection to measure ourselves against:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. vv, 4-7
I often tell people I can't get past the first word, patient. We are obliged to follow the Ten Commandments which Jesus summed up in two; love God with your entire being and love your neighbour as yourself. Look at this description of love. Now consider whether you have loved God like this. What about everyone else in your life?
Let's go no further than our families. Are we always patient with our spouse and our children? What about kind? Kindness is not always easy when you are tired and you feel people are nagging at you. Sometimes the words that come out of our mouths and the actions we take would be the opposite of what we would consider kind.
Perhaps the next three do not apply to our families, I hope not; envy, boasting and pride but what about the next three. How often are we rude with our spouse and children? That is a hard one for me because when I start getting overwhemed with things I tend to ignore people while I am processing. As a single parent now I especially find this difficult. There used to be certain activities that were my private thinking time such as in the shower or mowing the lawn. Now it seems that when I step into the shower there is a line up of people at the door yelling their questions through that door and into my shower. The same with mowing the lawn. It makes it hard to mow when I have to keep turning off the mower every 30 seconds. But love states that I must be patient and kind and not rude with my children.
Self-seeking is also an ugly thing in a parent as is anger and a lack of forgiveness. Those things are killers in any relationship because it demonstrates a lack of the right type of love. There is the whole hating of evil and delighting in truth, which is sometimes hard to handle correctly when your son truthfully tells you he just smashed your car. However it is the final ones that describe a love that we are all looking for: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
Do we not want someone in our life who will protect us, who we can trust, who always hopes the best for us, who never gives up on us? Well we do have that someone; his name is Jesus. Just as importantly this is who he wants us to be in the lives of our family, our boss, our co-workers, our neighbours and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, do not feel down because you fail in this. We all fail in this. We can't judge others because they fail at this toward us because we also are failing in it with everyone in our lives. We need to consider with our own heart and leave God to take care of the others hearts. Realize where you are failing and take it to Jesus. Ask him for more love. Confess and surrender your weaknesses and failings to him. Submit yourself to his discipline and understand that you are growing, maturing and increasing in love. This chapter tells us how far we have to go.
So, do not be afraid today to love. Do not do anything today without it. Allow it to transform your attitude toward your boss, your neighbour, your spouse, your children. Let me finish with this thought. In the verses we looked at yesterday Paul stated there are two results of doing things without the motivation of love: ... but have not love, I am nothing; ... but have not love, I gain nothing. Am nothing, gain nothing; do not let your day be summed up like that. Be somebody today; gain something today.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I do not think that there is another passage in the Bible that is appreciated by the world as much as this passage. I have heard it read at weddings for people who saw it as nothing more than poetry. It was on the wall of my homeroom in grade 10 as a great work of literature. Even as Christians we treat it as something magical. Yet, it was given to us as a description of Jesus' love so that we know that we have something to grow toward. I want to take this passage in three bite-sized sections. First:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. vv. 1-3
This is a continuation from chapter 12 where Paul was talking about the various gifts of the Spirit and we all form one Body. He transitioned to love with this simple sentence:
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
It doesn't matter what gifts you have or what you do in the Church or in life, if it is not motivated by love it is all useless. In fact, it is impossible for the Church to function in the diversity of the gifts unless love is the motivation for everything we do. Look at the things Paul uses as an example; speaking in tongues which is a major thing in some churches. For some it is the measure of their level of spirituality. But that gift will not be the issue when we give an account for our life because the real issue will be whether we loved or not. Prophecy, faith, sacrifice, martyrdom, none of it matters a thing if we do not know how to love.
Those are some major things, faith and prayer. Imagine being the type of prayer warrior who can move mountains with prayer but then losing it all because you failed to love. Imagine believing so much that you were willing to sacrifice everything in your service, but then it not counting for anything because you did not possess love. Is it even possible? Yes it is. It is possible to do all the right things in serving God but failing to understand the whole purpose of everything because you did not understand your oblogation to love your neighbour. Remember the two commandments we are to govern our life by:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)
This is what we have been commanded to do and if we feel we do not have enough love then we ask for more. I am sure that most of us are willing to receive God's love and I am equally as sure that those who receive give back to our God. That is why we operate in the gifts of the Spirit, why we believe, why we sacrifice. But we forget that what we receive we are suppose to be sharing with others. We are suppose to love others with the same love we receive from God. Jesus said that the person who is forgiven for a lot of things returns a great deal of love. However that love is not suppose to just go up, it is suppose to go out. We are suppose to love in the same way we have been loved. But I get ahead of myself.
It is just that we can get so busy with everything in life that we forget what it is all about. What is the sense of operating in the gifts of the Spirit if we do not understand that their function is to love, their motivation is love, their purpose is love:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Our motivation for everything in our life needs to be the same motivation Jesus had in his three year mission that led him to the cross: love. Love for the Father and love for people.
Tomorrow we will consider what that love looks like.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So far we have considered how the gifts of the Spirit are for everyone because we have all been called to minister to others. We have also considered how these gifts are given for the common good and not to be used selfishly. Today I want us to consider the issue of unity because the only way the Body can function properly is through unity. Paul wrote:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. vv. 12-13
Unity should be as natural to us as breathing. If we are truly saved and if we are truly possessed by the Spirit then we should be united. Regardless of our background, our education, our current status in life or even our sex we have much in common; we have the Spirit. This is the same Spirit who has given us gifts to function in the Body. But the problem is there are a few things that we allow to get in the way of unity. Envy is one of those things. Envy that leads to despair is devastating to the Body:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. vv. 14-16
Your emotions, feelings and opinions do not carry much weight when it comes to God's truth. The fact is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord you are a member of the Body and you have certain responsibilities and obligations. After all, you are called as a servant in the same manner that Jesus served. The Church is meant to be filled with diversity. That is how God arranged it so find your place, celebrate it and serve because we all have to do our part to make it work:
If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. vv. 19-20
Another thing that destroys unity is pride, a "go it alone" attitude. This is an attitude that says I do not need anyone else. An attitude that says "they are all hypocrites so I will have nothing to do with them". There are sveral "Christians" who remain separate from the Church because the Church isn't good enough, but it doesn't work that way. Without the Church we cannot function:
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!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. vv. 21-26
To me this is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. It describes the unity as it should exist in the Church, when we would get beyond our own selfish nature and put others ahead of ourselves. This is when we come to understand that we have died and the only life we have is through Jesus. We have forfeited our life and have become servants, putting the concerns of others first, because that is what servant's do. The unity of the Body is so great that we feel with each other and experience with each other, and no selfish thought interfers with it. Paul states so simply:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. v. 27
What gift or gifts you have does not matter. The important thing is you realize the importance of them for everyone else. You can't be selfish in this. You can't measure the greatness or the smallness of your gift because in the Body we need them all. Don't compare yourself with anyone but Jesus Christ and take your place. Don't be so afraid of rejection that you cut yourself off from the Body because you will only either die or become so distorted you will not be recognizable as a Christian. We need each other. As imperfect as we are we need each other.
So look to Jesus, look to his example and serve with purpose, power and love. We will look at how we can all function together tomorrow.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Paul stated his purpose for this section of his letter:
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. v. 1
I wish more leaders had this same attitude. The vast majority of the Church is in the dark when it comes to spiritual gifts. In fact huge sections of the Church completely ignore the Spirit of God and his vital role in our daily life. It is as if they are afraid to be found lacking spiritually because the manifestations of the Spirit are clear. But Paul makes it clear that the Spirit shows we are legitimate. It is also only by the Spirit we can operate in our spiritual gifts:
Therefore I tell you 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. v. 3
It seems that our legitimacy is seen in this way, so we should be able to know the difference between the fake and the authentic. What does it matter? Isn't it better to just avoid the whole affair if there are doubts about the authenticity of people? No, it isn't because this whole affair is vital to the life of the Church:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. v. 7
In every community people are using abilities they have been trained for. We look at it backwards. We look at it as to how we can earn a living, to make money so that we can live. Where is the joy in that. Instead, when we are young, we should consider what we want to do to strengthen our community and do that thing. Our community needs another bakery so I will become a baker. Our community needs more police officers so I will become a police officer. We do not have enough nurses so I will become a nurse. What a difference in attitude we would have if we looked at it from a point of view of serving the community. Yes, we even need mall workers. Now transfer this idea to the Church.
The Church is our community and we need our "bakers", "police", "nurses" and so much more in order to be healthy. The only difference is that we do not get to choose how we will contribute. The Head gets to decide what the body needs and we should be thankful for that:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. v. 18
Imagine if each of us understood that we have been equipped for our responsibility in the Body? There is no school to "train" you. No person can "train" you. The gift is from the Spirit and it is the Spirit working through you for the benefit of the rest of the Body. How selfish some people are, that they are not willing to bless us through their gift. They say they are shy or timid but I say they are selfish. They are not willing to invest themselves in other people even though what they have has been given for "the common good". This is where the five-fold come in to the picture:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service ... vv. 11-12
They do not train people in their gifts but they train them to serve. That passage goes on to say "so that the body of Christ may be built up". As everyone understands their community and their place in it and serves then we see the community being built up. Look at this:
To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 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. vv. 8-10
How can portions of the Church ignore this? Paul also speaks of it in his letter to the church at Rome. I do not believe this to be a complete list. To me it is just some examples Paul chose. I do not believe there is a complete list of gifts. I believe the gifts are as various as the needs of the Church and the world. I believe we have become a lover of words failing to understand what Paul explained to another group of word lovers:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Corinthians 4:20)
We seem to forget this. In fact we seem to forget the Church is a spiritual matter. We have reduced everything down to the flesh. We think by our flesh, we react in our flesh, we live by our flesh. I was sent a link yesterday that I encourage you to take a moment to consider. I want you to look on the faces of these young adults and realize the impact that "power" has on them:
Healings at Disney World
The Church is not about words, it is about the power of God manifested by the Spirit in us through the powerful gifts he has given to us. No one is left out. Every believer has been called to service and each of us has been equipped to benefit the common good of everyone.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. v. 11
If you do not know your gift it means you are not serving and if you are not serving then the Body is poorer because of it; I am poorer because of it. The five-fold needs to rise up and insist that the believers start living as they have been told to do. No one should be permitted to occupy a chair in the Church, claiming to be Christian, if they refuse to accept their place of servant to others. We need to stop trying to serve in the flesh and start operating in the Spirit. Come on five-fold, you have a big responsibility here. I for one want to experience the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. vv. 11-13
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I would like to take my time with this chapter as there is so much to be gleaned from it to help us in our understanding of the Body of Christ. I want to start with these verses:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. vv.4-6
The first thing to understand and accept is that the Body was never designed to accommodate couch potatoes. Everyone has a part to play in the well functioning Body. We are all gifted by our Lord through the Spirit but there is a difference in what those gifts do. I do not know if you have given much thought to the verses above but it may help in your understanding if you consider them for a moment.
We know that we have all been called to be ministers but we are not all called to minister in the same fashion. There are the common gifts and then there are the gifts for those who have been set aside by the Spirit:
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? vv. 29-30
There is a difference in the common ministry that we all take part in and those ministries that result in the "setting apart". Earlier Paul listed what he saw as the order of some of these gifts:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. vv. 27-28
The reason there is an order is because the five-fold has the distinct place of training members of the Body. It is by this training that the members are better able to understand their place and purpose. The five-fold is not about control but about training. Look at Ephesians:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service ... (4:11-12)
I am being specific here in the quote to make my point that the five-fold have the distinct purpose of training the rest of the body, specifically in the area of service; how to use their gifts. This can lead to a sense of privilege or even lordship over people but this entire chapter works against that premise:
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:24-25
Remember that anyone who is called into the five-fold are not deserving of it. They have not earned it. They are no better and no worse than anyone else. It was not their choosing:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. v. 18
I guess this is one of the hardest things for us, to allow the Lord to arrange it as he wants it. There is just something in us that wants to control everything. There is also a lot of envy and jealousy and judgment. This alone should tell us our level of maturity or lack of maturity.
I wanted to make a distinction here because there are a lot of people who believe they are not ministers because they are not preachers or pastors or evangelists or prophets. That is far from the truth. We have all received gifts of the Lord's choosing and we have all been called to service. No one has the excuse of not taking their place in the Body of Christ.
On Monday we will consider the rest of the Body and hopefully come to understand the importance in this sentence:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. v. 7
Friday, July 17, 2009
Paul had to deal with yet another problem in the church of Corinth:
In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. vv. 18-21
It is believed that the early church was comprised of many smaller groups that met together throughout the week. Then on occasions the groups would come together and were considered the church of Corinth. Obviously what Paul has written here many of the leaders and people did not have the necessary maturity.
Setting aside their disrespect of the Lord's Supper I want to consider their divisions for a moment. Where does it come from? It permeates the present day Church and causes a weak and disjointed witness to the world. Division comes from a selfish attitude that arises from immaturity in the Spirit. This immaturity happens due to lack of spiritual growth. If we are not growing then we are decreasing in our relationship with Christ which means our old nature starts taking root again and becomes a huge problem among the believers. Get a few people like this and we have a big problem on our hands.
We understand that we are all at different places in our maturity and this we have been instructed to handle by tolerating and watching out for those who have less maturity. But this is assuming that everyone is still progressing in their growth. We cannot afford to have believers who are refusing to grow. The Body needs to encourage everyone to keep pushing on for the sake of the growth of the Body.
Paul encourages self-inspection:
But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. v. 31
This can be a dangerous exercise if not done with the right attitude. We want to judge ourselves to discover our weaknesses so we can submit those areas to the Lord. We do not want to judge ourselves to have some kind of pity party and slip into depression. We need to start with the premise that we are pretty messed up and we need the Lord's help in everything in order to grow. Self inspection allows us to work on one area at a time. None of us are worthy of his attention or his love. We are not to judge ourselves against other believers but against our Lord Jesus Christ. Judging ourselves against others will give us a distorted view of ourselves. Only Jesus serves as a proper measuring rod. And when we need some extra discipline with certain things in our life we should be positive about it:
When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. v. 32
Paul is speaking of the correction we sometimes must undergo so that we can continue in our growth. Paul said to never despise this correction because it assures us that we are loved.
None of us should be coasting along, we should all be challenging ourselves to grow in our weaknesses. We need to reflect on our actions and correct them when we are wrong. Repentance and forgiveness should be free flowing in the Church. And when the Lord does need to correct we should be glad for it. Let us not hide who we are or how weak we are. Let us not try to hide our sins and mess ups. Let's deal with this stuff so we do not end up with a poor witness to the world.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
So what does one say about something that is unclear to one? Nothing. I am not even going to pretend that I understand everything that is revealed in the Word of God. With most things I am still a surface dweller. I desire a deeper, greater understanding of the Word of God. I want this by the revelation of the Spirit of God. So I will admit that I do not understand why the subject of head coverings is here.
Some will tell you that it is just a culture issue but then that is putting the Word of God on the shelf next to other outdated books. I believe that everything in the Word of God has been given to us with a purpose in mind. We cannot just dismiss sections of the Word claiming it is outdated. This becomes a dangerous thing and opens the door for us to start dismissing great chunks of this precious revelation.
My suspicion is that it is more the teaching on the relationship between male and female than it has anything to do with head coverings. This relationship is not slavery and Paul goes to great lengths to explain the duties of husband and wife to each other in this letter as well as others. But there is an order in the relationship and the male was always intended to lead the female in that relationship. That is the design and it hasn't changed. I know this is not an easy subject because there are natural women leaders and our history has been blessed by them but it is a position of strength when the stronger woman submits herself to the leadership of a weaker male. I know many of you will disagree with me but consider Paul's argument:
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. v. 8-9
However, it is not always the fault of the woman that she ends up in charge. Sometimes she is left with no choice when her husband refuses to take the lead. Too many men are too willing to give up the responsibility of leadership and leave it to their wives. It is not saying their wives are not capable, but it is the husband's responsibility.
Now the part that is easier to deal with is our relationship in the Lord:
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. vv. 11-12
This is a point that Paul like to raise in a few of his letters:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
If you are having problems digesting the first part then set it aside until the Spirit makes it clearer for you. In the meantime take strength from the second part; in the Lord there is no greater nor lesser, we are all children of God. As children of God we have Dad's attention all the time. Let us take our delight and joy in this truth and wait on the things we do not yet understand.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Here is a theme to live by:
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. v. 24
Paul has brought us back to the idea of the believers freedom with the very powerful thought that our lives are for serving others. Christianity is distinct in this teaching that we must always put others ahead of ourselves, as if we are the servants in the house of people who require us to serve them. Paul states it clearly that we should not be seeking our own good but instead we should be living in such a way that we seek the good of others. Paul goes back to quoting the local philosophy:
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. v. 23
The thing is we have this incredible freedom in Jesus to live life to its fullest, but we must live a life governed by love. Love says that it does no harm to anyone. So it doesn't matter how silly a brother is being about what he considers right and wrong, out of love for him we will govern our life in such a way as to cause him no harm. Again Paul writes:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. vv. 31-33
So we have the freedom to do whatever we do as long as we do it for the glory of God. However, we can never be the cause of someone stumbling. This means that out of love we never put our own wants and desires ahead of the good of anyone else. The reason? That they may come to know Jesus.
This can be a very difficult thing for us to accept and live but it is exactly what we have been called to. The two great commandments, paraphrased, "Love the Lord your God with your entire being and love your neighbour as yourself", are the cornerstone of everything we do, say, think and feel. These commands alone should compel us to be the servants we have been called to be, as Jesus demonstrated for us. Maybe servants is not the politically correct term these days but it sounds better than slaves because that is what we are as well; slaves to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The Word says that we no longer belong to ourselves, we were bought for a price. But we were bought voluntarily. We offered ourselves as slaves to our Lord. We are no longer considered as slaves but instead as children of the Father because he redeemed us but just as Jesus took on the attitude of a seravnt so must we. We are here to serve and the first rule of serving is always to put the good of others ahead of your own good. Unselfishness is part of our foundation.
Considering our world and the shape of the Church I think more of us aught to be praying, "Jesus make me more like you." Only the Holy Spirit can make this transformation in us but we must desire it and seek it. Will you today change your desire so that you are no longer desiring selfishly but instead you are desiring transformation for the good of others, that they may be saved? "Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us."
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Let's face it, there is much more going on in the world than we can possibly fathom. Along with the physical world that we see there is an entire part that we do not see which Paul refers to as the spiritual realm. It seems that superstitious people are more aware of it than Christians are sometimes. They at least acknowledge that there are other things that interact with them and that have an impact on them along with the physical world. However, superstitious people are messed up because they practice rituals without understanding the source.
Paul's warning to the Corinthians today acknowledges that we need to be careful of what we do, especially of what we participate in. Since the dawn of time demons have been interfering with the relationship between man and God. The enemy knew that we longed to worship, that something in us reached out to our Creator, so he set up a bunch of demons to act as false gods to distract man from God. Paul warns the Corinthians:
Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. vv. 19-20
Now I am not a person that looks behind every bush for a demon and I do not excuse my behaviour because of demons. I believe that if you are serving as you need to serve and loving Jesus as we are compelled to love him, then demons have no sway over you. They distract, trip up, annoy, deceive, influence but they only have power if you give them power. The power of Christ in you is more than sufficient to keep them at bay. No, Paul's warning was not against demons but more against participating with demons.
There was no power in the carvings and sculptures that people worshipped but there was in the demons who they represented. For the most part these days we do not have idols. Some religions do but for the most part our society does not. But there are many activities that do involve demons; many of the martial arts and the eatern exercises and meditations are rief with the involvement of demons. There are many philosophies and the aforementioned superstitions that are followed and practiced every day by those calling themselves Christians. These Christians who are invloved in these activities believe they can avoid the spiritual aspects of it. Paul warns:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he? vv. 21-22
You may laugh at this because you do not participate in these things. Do you check your horoscope when no one is around? There are all kinds of these things and more and more every day that are being introduced to our society. They hold no power over us but neither can we participate. Paul states if Jesus avoided interaction with demons are we stronger that he is? Jesus did not entertain any conversation with demons, not even with Lucifer himself. He spoke to counter the attacks. He told them not to speak. He got rid of them immediately. Are you stronger than Jesus?
We may not understand a lot about the spiritual realms but we can understand warnings. Instead of just plunging into activities because your friends are doing it, ask questions. Investigate. If you have any doubts then avoid it. Remember, the enemy has a plan and it is a plan of separation. The Father's plan is a plan of reconciliation. The Father's plan is out in plain sight for all to see. The enemy's plan is a thing of lies, cloaked in a blanket of deception. Remember today:
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:1-4)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)
And so that you will never forget what we are up against I remind you of this following scripture; take seriously anything in which you get yourself involved:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sometimes we believers get lazy in our attitude about our attitude and due to our casualness with Jesus we forget who we are dealing with. Sometimes we take the Father's forgiveness for granted and we do not treat what he does with awe and sometimes just assume he is forgiving us. We become spoiled in this incredibly rich, powerful and fundamental relationship we have with our Creator. But Paul has a cautionary word for us:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! v. 12
Paul uses the example of Israel to point out the danger of taking Jesus for granted and not putting effort into the relationship. He pointed out that Israel had a relationship where they saw the tangible presence of God every day and they enjoyed a close relationship with him:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. vv. 1-4
It sounds all great and wonderful until we understand this:
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. v. 5
That intimacy did not save them from God's wrath when it came to their disobedience and rebellion. No matter how well they knew God and were dependent on him, they still had to pay the price for their sin. Paul makes the direct connection here:
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. vv. 6-10
Take note of this: we can understand the sin of adultery and even the sin of sexual immorality but grumbling? How often have you grumbled against God? What does it show about your relationship that is suppose to be built on trust? Do you trust someone you are grumbling against? So what does it reveal about your relationship? Too often we think we are safe because we are not into the "big" sins but anything that is not based in faith is sin. So Paul continues:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! vv. 11-12
Just don't make assumptions and miss the boat. Always check yourself, check your relationship, check your attitude. Then Paul does what Paul did best; he encouraged after the warning:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. v. 13
God is not against us, he is our biggest fan. His desire is to see us succeed. He will do everything to make sure we cross that finish line. No matter what we face he will help us stand, to face it, to overcome it and receive victory for it. Do you get it? Do not let your hearts turn against our incredible Creator, instead dive in. Every day that you face the temptation to sin, including grumbling ask yourself this:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. v. 13
And when you find it hard just remember the alternative:
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Stay close and true to Jesus Christ!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Paul was unique in a number of ways but the one way I appreciate is in his perspective. He had an entirely different way of seeing the world and his place in it. It is sad to think we see it as unique because it shouldn't be. It is a perspective that should be shared by all of us; it is a Kingdom perspective. His perspective was partially due to the pressing need he felt to introduce Jesus to as many people as possible. It is a sense of urgency that we greatly lack. Consider this:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. v. 19
Before we look at his practical application of this attitude consider the attitude itself. Although Paul knew the freedom he had in Jesus he chose to take on man made restrictions in order to infiltrate people's lives, to engage them, to find a way to make Jesus relative to them. He denied his freedom, denied it, in order to win people to Jesus. What kind of man was Paul? The kind that saw life differently than us:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. v. 24
Paul saw his life in this light; he had been given a task and he knew he only had a little time to complete that task (all races come to an end) and so he approached it as a race. And Paul wanted to be the best at this task that we have all been given. Why?
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. v. 23
And he was not willy nilly in his approach to it either. This was serious work and Paul recognized that he was still human with all our weaknesses. What is the biggest problem with us completing the task we have been given to preach the good news to the world? Slavery! We allow other things to take mastery over us and we do not do what we aught to do. Consider Paul again:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. vv. 25-27
We know we cannot do things in our own strength, we are weak vessels. We need the strength of our Lord. But he gives us strength to do the things we are determined to do. He is not going to provide the determination or discipline for us to lead lives that honour him. He will provide the strength to beat anything that has mastery over us, such as too much television, food, finances, laziness, friends, fear, etc. All these things can dictate our actions instead of us dictating to them. How many times do we feel too tired to read the Word or to pray or to have a family over for a meal? Paul said he beat his body into submission to him. In other words he trained it, he took control over it so it would not dictate to him. Every athlete has to pust through fatigue and pain to win. Using Paul's illustration, a runner faces many obstacles in his body. Fatigue is only one. There is a lack of will in the body, there is pain to overcome, there is teh famous wall to push through. Look at the look on their faces; it is not an easy thing. What did Jesus warn his disciples?
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Matthew 26:41)
All this to say that Paul considered we must train ourselves for this work, realizing the cost of it. It is not something that happens when we sit at home watching night after night of television. It only happens when we enage people in our community, when we do things we may not be comfortable with in order to fit in with them. That was Paul's practical application:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. vv. 20-22
Perhaps I don't like sports but my neighbour does. So I learn about sports to enter his world and spend time together watching the games and chatting. It does not matter if I like it or not, it is for the sake of his salvation. Selfishness will not be my master. Perhaps I coach a soccer team to get closer to the parents. Perhaps I do not enjoy libraries but I volunteer there as a reader in order to engage people in their passions. I do not like bowling but I am invited onto a newly formed team, so I join to be with people. There are many examples where we take mastery over our dislikes in order to fulfill the task that has been given to us, and we do it with joy.
So ask yourself seriously, who is in control of your agenda and your daily life? Do you end up doing what you aught not to do or are you doing exactly what you were given to do; you are running the race with the attitude of getting that crown, of sharing in the blessings of the gospel? It is a much different way of seeing things than we are use to seeing them. Meet my new motto:
I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corthians 6:12)
I will not be mastered but we become volunteer slaves for the sake of the gospel.
Friday, July 10, 2009
There is a lot packed into this little verse so I want to take one thing at a time over the next few days. The first thing I wish to look at is the one thing that will sour people the fastest; money. One of the most difficult things in the Church is getting people to let go of their wallets. That may struck you as odd but follow the scripture here for a moment:
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." vv. 7-9
Obviously there is a problem here. Paul seems to have been treated differently from the other Apostles. He seems to have been criticized for something so Paul is taking the time to correct the attitude by reminding them of their obligation. Yes, I said obligation and it is according to the Word of God:
Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? vv. 9-12
If you hire a babysitter you pay the babysitter. If you go to the grocery store you pay the merchant. You even pay the government. Why should it surprise anyone that God requires his children to support the servants he sends to serve them? It is an obligation. It is also an obligation that can be abused. I have read of a few choice mainstream churches who pay their pastors over $600,000 a year. What person needs that kind of money? Obviously there are abuses and we need to take care of that but it does not give us the right to shrug off our obligation. Just in case it wasn't clear:
Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. vv. 13-14
Paul goes on to say that he did not lay claim to that right of material support but that did not negate the fact that it was his right according to the Word. Paul did not hide his motivation for doing this:
But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. vv. 15-18
I have been in this place that Paul is talking about and it is great. It increased my faith, made my relationship vibrant with the Lord, and kept me on my toes spiritually. I have heard people cry over their finances because they can't go on vacation or because they can't buy whatever it is they wanted to buy and there I was wondering how the Lord was going to supply supper. But one thing I noticed; although my sacrifice did wonders for the growth of my faith it did nothing for those who I served. In fact, looking back I think it was damaging to their faith.
Faith is not increased by observing. We are inspired by observing but faith only increases with exercise, like muscles. I am not taking away from Paul's attitude here, I am only qualifying what he is saying. He has not let believers out of their obligation to support those who serve among them, in fact, this chapter emphasizes the obligation people have to share their materials with these servants. Not everyone is given to do what Paul did and I am sure that Paul did that in some places but not others. We know he practiced his trade in Corinth because Acts tells us this for a fact, but in other places he was too busy and had to rely on the support of the believers. It is wrong for believers to force the servants to do something God has not given them to do.
See what I mean? It is hard to separate a believer from his wallet because most of us speak of faith but we do not know how to trust. Learn to trust the Father and all the promises he has given us to look after us and we will all see a vibrant, healthy Church growing around us. Exercise your faith and support the ministers in your life.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Yesterday we considered how Paul began this section, writing that love is more important than knowledge. This was to set the tone of what he had to address which is, the sacrificing our freedoms for the sake of our brother or sister. Paul uses the case of meat sacrificed to idols. Paul points out that we know there is only one God and that these figures that are worshiped are nothing. Considering they are nothing, eating the meat that has been sacrificed to them is nothing as well. But then he writes:
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. v. 7
I find this very interesting considering the decision the Jerusalem Council had made about the gentiles way back in the Antioch days:
Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. (Acts 15: 24-29)
You caught that part about not eating food sacrificed to idols? Paul had obviously grown in his knowledge and understanding from this point in the Church's history. This leads me to believe that this may have been a problem between the gentile and Jewish believers. And this is where love comes into it:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. vv. 9-12
So the thought of restricting our own freedom for a brother or sister is not a matter of avoiding being judged. Paul's concern was that we would lead people to sin according to their own convictions, because we must all live by the convictions that we have. In his letter to the church in Rome Paul refers to these things as disputable matters. Sure, we can prove our superior knowledge and convince people to do what they believe to be wrong but Paul makes it clear that when we do this we are sinning against Christ.
Maybe this is difficult for you to understand because we are accustomed to debate, when we argue our knowledge in order to win over someone to our thinking. However, spiritually it is wrong. Conviction does not belong to us, it is the domain of the Holy Spirit. He convicts us of right and wrong and he does so over time, as a child grows in knowledge over time. We would not try to teach a child how to drive a car at the age of six years. Neither does the Spirit force anything on people who are not ready for it. So we are wrong when we try forcing things on brothers and sisters who are not ready. We are interfering with the work of the Spirit.
You can insert any activity in this chapter. We could talk about dancing, movies, how we dress, any number of things. If people do these things when they are convicted it is a sin then it becomes a sin for them because it is an act of disobedience. If we convince someone to come watch a movie when we know they think it is a sin then we have just sinned by drawing them into sin. Do you love them enough to not go to the movies ever again until they have reached a greater maturity, if they ever do? It is difficult, isn't it but that is love.
Maturity is something we should all be striving for and we can encourage each other on in this pursuit. It comes from serving the Lord daily as we study the Word. Maturity comes with "doing" the Word. It takes maturity to be willing to set aside our freedom for a brother or sister. Read Paul's heart felt conviction on the matter:
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. v. 13
It's funny that we will say that we love people enough to die for them but do we love them enough to live for them? Let's listen to the Spirit, let's remain sensitive to our fellow believers, and let our actions be governed by love.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I do not have to read very far in this chapter before I am struck by the Spirit:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. vv. 1-3
Knowledge puffs up. We all know that, don't we, because we have all had that one annoying friend or co-worker who thinks himself a cut above everyone else. I liken it to being rich. Money doesn't make you any better than anyone else, in fact, money gives you more responsibilities. If God has blessed you with wealth then he has also loaded you with the responsibility to invest that wealth in people. If God has opened the doors for you to gain knowledge then good, because he has allowed that so you would use it for the benefit of others, not to lord it over them. Knowledge is not for hording away but instead it is for sharing and using for the benefit of people in your life; for the benefit of the community. It is not a weapon to use against people, it is tool for building in the lives of others.
The one way knowledgeable people can keep their arrogance in check is to make sure that their love is increasing with their knowledge. This is how we know love, it does no wrong to anyone, instead it builds people up.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
Too often we use the tools we have to tear other people down. We use our knowledge, our ability to keep people in their place, looking down on them, but love does the opposite. Love finds ways to see the best in others, building them up so they do not feel left out or like they have nothing to contribute. A person may have knowledge but he has no wisdom if he doesn't realize we need each other.
There is a thought here that is one of my all-time favourites:
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.
A man who thinks he knows a lot has yet to gain a proper perspective because most of us realize that the more we learn the more we know we don't know. Only God holds all knowledge of all things. Remember that humility is a heart condition and it is one we are suppose to maintain to keep healthy relations with each other and with the Father. In this age of super knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge we need someone to keep reminding us that it is not knowledge that will save us. It is also true that knowledge is not the center of the universe or of our lives. It is amazing how simple Paul puts the most important thing in the universe:
But the man who loves God is known by God.
There is nothing in the entire universe as important as this one truth. The most important thing is not knowing God but being known by him. This means that love is the single most important thing in our lives; more important than riches, fame or knowledge. Instead of allowing knowledge and the pursuit of it to control everything we do and think, we should be governed by two things:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)
This sums up and governs all things in our lives. Tomorrow we will look at one practical "working out" of this truth concerning love. Meanwhile, try to be a builder today according to the love Christ Jesus has given to you. See what happens are you become an encourager of others. May it be a day filled with the blessings and riches of our Father.