Friday, 29 February 2008

For the profit of all

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: - 1 Corinthians 12v7

Yesterday it was clear that the Holy Spirit manifest Himself in different people in different ways and for different function. We all have different gifts, ministries, and activities.

Why are we all different? What is the purpose of all these differences? Clearly, my purpose is to glorify God, everything we do has that as a goal. Beyond that though one of the purposes for the gifts and abilities is spelled out here. The Holy Spirit manifests Himself to each one of us, in different ways, for the profit of all.

It begins to look like it really is not about us at all. We do all to the glory of God, everything. All the gifts and abilities that the Holy Spirit has given us are to profit everyone in the body. God doesn’t gift us to teach, preach, sing, play an instrument, work with children or teens, be fervent soul winners, open our homes to others, work with our hands, care for babies, prepare meals, or any other gift or ability to keep it to ourselves.

I realise that I am taking some liberty with the context here, but it is not much of a stretch. Each one of these things can be seen in the specific gifts God does spell out.

Whatever gift God has given we need to share it and see it as a chance to profit the whole body.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The same God

And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

- 1 Corinthians 12v6

For a lot of my life I practiced a kind of separation that bordered on exclusivism. I was so separate that if someone did not do things exactly the way I would I was quick to criticise and attack them. In retrospect I now know that much of that was based on what made me feel good about myself.

Before I go on let me add a disclaimer here. I am in no way talking about ignoring unbiblical teaching or promotion of error. I am not talking about a “Ya’ll come” kind of ecumenism. Please, just bear with me.

On Sunday I became aware of the fact that the other evangelical churches in the area are going through some struggles. None of them would do things the exact way we are. I could probably only attend one of them if we did not have a church here. Yet, these are churches who preach the word of God and who have a desire to see people in our area brought to Christ.

Since Sunday I have been mulling these things over, as I have, to my embarrassment, prayed for these works for the first time. Then, I read this morning, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of ministries, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of activities, but one God who works all in all.”

I realise that Paul is talking to a local church, but I think there is a principle we can apply. God does not use every one in the exact same way. We all have different gifts, different abilities, different ways to minister, and different activities that we do, but at the end of the day there is still just one Spirit, one Lord, and one God.

We have a common work to do and a common enemy to fight. Might we consider moving the differences in gifts, ministries, and activities to the back seat and get on with the primary work?

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Let a man examine himself

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. – 1 Corinthians 11v28

One thing that the church does not lack is fruit inspectors. We are all ready and willing to check out how everyone else is doing spiritually. We do have a responsibility to each other in helping deal with sin. However, in my experience we tend to be nit inspectors rather than fruit inspectors. If you have ever dealt with head lice you know exactly that I am talking about. You use a fine tooth comb and you examine very hair on the head. Finding nits is important, but the word of God makes it clear that we need to even deal with the nits of sin, but there is something that we had better be aware of first. This is nothing new; Jesus told the Pharisees that they needed to deal with the beam in their own eyes before the looked for the specks of dust in other’s eyes.

Apparently the Corinthians really had things messed up. The Lord’s Table had become a social club. Not only that, but it looks like it had become a time for nit-picking in the lives of others.

From the very start of the letter Paul had been addressing unity focused on the cross. When we start focusing on each other, our flaws and weaknesses we cannot focus on the cross. It is only when we look to the cross that and our lives in the shadow of the cross that we can truly examine ourselves.

The Lord’s Table provides a perfect opportunity to examine ourselves. As we remember the Lord’s death and we look at our own lives we see the terrible price He paid. We can’t see that when we are examining others.

Of course we should not need the Lord’s Table in order to examine ourselves, but it does provide a perfect time to do that. It is not just a church formality; it is not just an ordinance. It is the time to reflect on the cross and how our lives measure up to what He did for us.

Monday, 25 February 2008

You proclaim the Lord’s death

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. – 1 Corinthians 11v26

The Lord’s Table is one of the central functions of the local church. We often say that we only observe two ordinances; baptism and the Lord’s Table. Leaving aside the deep theological rifts over the presence of Christ we sadly still choose to fight over aspects of it. Who can partake? Wine or grape juice? Leavened or unleavened bread? How often? And so on and so on.

On the other hand some Christians never even think about it. It is just something we tack on to a church service once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, or once a whatever.

I am not going to get into the merits or demerits of those discussions or attitudes this morning. I only what to deal with what Paul said here, “As often as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

There are some important issues. We must take care in how we observe the Lord’s Table. But, at the end of the day what are we doing when we observe it? Only we know if we are truly proclaiming the Lord’s death. Since the beginning of the letter Paul has been drawing our focus to Jesus on the cross, to Christ and Him crucified. When we share in the Lord’s Table do we see Jesus and Him crucified? Are we ever mindful of the precious cross of Christ?

May we ever proclaim the Lord’s death when we observe the Lord’s Table, no matter what our minor preferences are.

Do all to the glory of God

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10v31

Why do we do what we do? What do we make the choices we make? Why do we say the things we say and respond the way we respond? I know for myself many, or perhaps indeed most of time, my motivation is less than the best. I often make choices that will further my agenda, promote my viewpoint, vindicate my reasoning, or prove my point. I can do things just to prove my liberty, or even take revenge on one who differs.

After all the talk about liberty, conscience, and offences Paul summarise his argument very simply; “Listen, if you are eating or drinking, in fact no matter what you are doing, do it to glorify God.”

Now there is our measuring rod, there is our canon. As I look back over the last week I must consider, “How did my choices and my actions measure up to this rule of thumb?”

God’s glory must be first and foremost in my mind. There really is no room for my own agenda.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Each other’s well being

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. – 1 Corinthians 10v24

Before I make my next statement may I request that there be no “amens” from those who know me well?

Believe it or not there are times when I can be a self serving, self centred, self consumed, and selfish jerk. There are times when me is the only think that matters. Seriously, I think every honest reader can identify with that statement.

That is one thing when it comes to being in the queue for a dinner at church, or the last piece of pie, or the last handful of chex mix. That’s bad enough. What really hits is when I take it a step further and seek my own way when dealing with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

A “my way or the highway” attitude is never right in the body of Christ. “My way or the highway” is the epitome of “seeking his own.” When I insist that everything be done my way, or when I flaunt my liberty because, “you can’t stop me,” I am seeking my own. When I fight because I have to be right or retaliate because, “you can’t treat me that way,” I am seeking my own.

Let me go back to an example I used earlier, the eating of black pudding. I love it. I miss it if I don’t have it on an Irish fry. Now, let’s say that I am meeting a brother who I know has a problem with it for breakfast. I have two choices, I can exercise my liberty and seek my own and order it. Or, I can seek his well-being and pass it up. Which is the best option? The answer, I think, is clear.

It is not only black pudding. I am not going to make a list here, but in our glorious freedom let us be sure that we forget about our own, and seek our brother’s well being instead of our own.

Can you imagine the sweet fellowship if that we our motive?

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Not all things edify

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. – 1 Corinthians 10v23

In reading a Christian discussion board, in reading emails that come into my inbox, in telephone conversations, in Christian publications, and in times of “fellowship” it seems like one topic keep coming up. In a very short time fellowship and discussion become fighting and dissent. I am finding that, at the end of the day, that the reason for this is that personal preferences have replaced scriptural injunctions. What counts is, “I am right.”

Much of the time these discussion have very little to do with scriptural teachings, but the carrying out of the Christian life. Issues that the word of God never addresses become issues of division. The dominant issue in Corinth was eating the meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Today it is personal standards, styles of worship, and such things.

Earlier we saw that we need to do those things that helpful. The cause of Christ is our focus. Our eyes need to be always on the cross. He Paul goes a step farther. The things we do should always edify, not tear down. This means sometimes I need to swallow my pride and my preferences and choose instead to edify another. That doesn’t mean that I have to give up my liberty by any means, but it does mean that in my freedom I seek to edify others, to build them up, to put them first, and to prefer them instead of me.

As I examine how I have dealt with others this week I have to ask myself, have I chosen to edify, or have I been so caught up in my liberty that I may have torn down instead.

Friday, 22 February 2008

A way out

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. – 1 Corinthians 10v13

Every single one of us can think of a time when we thought we had had enough. Maybe it was a trial of life that just seemed like it would overwhelm us. Maybe it was a temptation to sin that just seemed like we were powerless to avoid. Maybe our flesh was crying out so loudly for attention that all we wanted to do was placate it.

I think any of these are applicable to what we read in this verse. The word “temptation” is a hard one to pin down. Every one knows that I am no Greek scholar, but from what I can figure out this is some kind of testing or time of adversity. The context here seems to be a temptation to sin, but I for one find that when I am struggling through a trial of life my flesh is normally at its weakest and the temptation to give in grows.

I am not going to solve the word. I will leave that to the true scholars. But, I do know this; God has a promise for us. No matter what the temptation is, it is part of being human, it is common to man. And with that temptation, no matter what it is, God promises a way out.

From my experience I have found that the way out may be clear and practical, like running away for the sin as quickly as you can. Other times it may not be so clear. Sometimes it may be that the way out is just to “cast all our cares on Him, knowing that He cares for us.”

Trials and temptations are going to come – it is just part of life. But rest assured that God will provide a way through them.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Take heed

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10v12

To my mind Paul expands his message in chapter 10. He uses the opportunity while speaking of the perils of sin to remind his readers of the Old Testament examples. Though they had the Rock, the pre-incarnate Christ, they still fell into lust, idolatry, committed sexual immorality, tempted Christ, and complained.

So we are warned, if these things could happen to God’s people who had the pre-incarnate Christ at their Shield, Rock, Protector, and Sustainer they can surely happen to us who know Him as our Saviour.

I think, judging from this comment, that the greatest dangers in falling into sin are pride, overconfidence, and arrogance. If we ever begin to think that we are safe, okay, and protected from sin then we run the risk of falling. This list of sins is not inclusive, but it is telling. Have we overcome lust? Have we overcome idolatry? Have we over come leanings toward sexual immorality? Have we overcome testing Christ to our standards? Have we overcome complaining?

The list, of course could go on and on, but Paul has made his point. If we even begin to think we have a standing tall and proud we had better be careful. Unless we learn to depend on the Rock, we too will fall.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Lest I be disqualified

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9v27

It is interesting to note that people have always enjoyed sports and athletics. When Paul wrote to Corinth they would have been familiar with two major sporting events, the Olympics and the Isthmian games. Paul uses two familiar events here, racing and boxing.

Runners run a race to win a prize. Boxers don’t just shadow box; they have opponents in all of these events. A sport would not be much fun if the other side never showed up. Sports, in order to be sports, have to have competition.

Sports also have rules. Those who break the rules are disqualified from the event. If an athlete does not learn to discipline his body and train properly he will not be qualified for the event. He will end up, in modern terms, sitting on the bench.

Paul has a clear and specific warning here. The context here is still sexual sins. That is the opponent in the boxing ring or on the racecourse. Paul said, “I bring my body into subjection.” Literally, “I punch myself in the eye.” Discipline is tough. It hurts. No pain no gain. Disciplining ourselves for purity is not going to be easy. The spiritual coach potato will just let it come and take it in. The athlete will discipline himself so he is ready for the opponent.

How clear the warning in verse 27. I must discipline body. I must bring it into subjection. I must not let my flesh be my master. If my flesh is my master I am disqualified. I have had plenty of warnings. Far too many men have been so busy in their ministries that they did not take the time or effort to bring their flesh into subjection and have had to sit on the bench.

Praise God for His healing and restorative power. Forgiveness with God is there for the asking, but in most cases these men are never able to restore their ministry due to a soiled reputation or an inability to forgive themselves.

By God’s grace, I must keep by body in subjection, not be its subject.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

I have become all things to all men

…to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. – 1 Corinthian 9v22

There is a real tendency to think that the way we do it and the way we learned it must be the right way. The songs we sing, the methods of outreach we use, the style of our services, and everything else are far too often based, not on the word of God, but the culture and traditions that we are accustomed to.

Missionaries are especially prone to that. As an American I tend to think that the way American churches do it must be the right way. Others have this same problem and all over the world there are American churches set in the most un-American of cultures. People here think of those churches as, “that American church.”

We err in this. It is not our task to take our nationality with our gospel. Within the bounds of the word of God we must be willing to become all things to all men, in order to win a few. We can not violate scriptures or tolerate sin, no matter where the church is, but we need not make becoming an American a condition for becoming a Christian.

Many of our customs and traditions are fine, in their place. But they are not the gospel and should never be substituted for it or added to it. We must, following Paul’s example, becoming all things to all men in order to win some.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel

Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! – 1 Corinthians 9v14-16

Today’s thought is primarily focused in one direction. Apparently, as part of their carnality, the church there was neglecting to care for their pastors. Paul makes the point that by all rights they should expect financial support from the church there for the work they had done. Instead they had foregone that for the cause of Christ.

How do we apply this? One thing is clear, those who are ministered to have a clear responsibility to provide for those who minister. There is simply no way around that. When someone ministers to us spiritually we have a responsibility to serve them physically. Full stop – end of story.

But, what if we are ministering and people are not meeting our physical needs? Does that mean we can quit? Does that mean we stop serving? As Paul puts it – “It would be better for me to DIE that then for anyone to be able to say I stopped preaching because of the money” and, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”

Sunday, 17 February 2008

You sin against Christ

But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8v12-13

Liberty in Christ is a wonderful thing. Freedom from the law is such a blessing. There is such joy and peace in serving Him apart from legal constraints that if we are not careful we can forget that this liberty is not without limits.

One, that we will read about later, is that our liberty is never to be used as an occasion to serve the flesh. Our liberty also should not be the “in your face” kind because that while all things are lawful, not all things are helpful or expedient. Our liberty should be used for the cause of Christ, not to divide it.

Here we read that another limit to our liberty is our brother’s conscience. The subject that Paul is dealing with is food sacrificed to idols, but the principle is for all those things that might cause my brother to stumble. Paul uses very harsh words here, if I do something that I know is going to cause my brother to stumble, I not only sin against him, but I also sin against Christ.

How does this play out in real life? Does this mean that my every action is based on whether or not someone might take offence to it? Does it mean that my bondage to the law is replaced by a bondage to every other believer’s conscience? If so, what kind of liberty is that? I would rather be bound to God’s requirements that man’s expectations.

This is clearly not what Paul is talking about. He is not talking about submitting to false teachings or unbiblical concepts. He is not talking about submitting to heresy in order to keep one from stumbling. He is not talking about submitting to man made rules and regulations for every aspect of our lives. If he were, every thing we do and every decision we make would offend someone and therefore it would be impossible to live.

I think it is clear here. We need to be aware of our brother’s sensitivities. The clearest example I can think of here is eating black pudding. There are, or at least were, brethren here who took offence at eating black pudding. In their minds this was sin because it contains blood. If I were eating breakfast with that brother I would be foolish to make a show of eating black pudding. I would choose therefore not to offend him.

It is just common sense and being aware of my brother. My liberty is not limitless. I have a responsibility to make sure that I am aware of my brother when I exercise liberty, else I sin against Christ.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Let every man have his own wife

Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. – 1 Corinthians 7v2

As mentioned here in the last few weeks Mary and I have just celebrated thirty wonderful years of marriage. At the moment we are away for a few days in the beautiful northwest of Ireland.

As I read for today’s thoughts something we said to each other those thirty years ago came to mind. As a part of wedding vows to “have and to hold…till death do us part.” Surely, whoever wrote those vows had this passage in mind. Because we are sexual beings the flesh is going to struggle. Obviously it has been a battle since the word of God addresses it so often.

Here God gives a key to avoiding sexual immorality. Let a man have his wife and a wife have her husband. Clearly there is a physical aspect, and that is primary. But I think there is more. For a couple to stay faithful there must be an absolute commitment to “have” each other exclusively and in every way. We must have each other not only physically, but emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way. Our spouses must never feel like they must vie for our affection with nay other person in any way whatsoever.

It is amazing that in a day with books, seminars, video presentations and lectures series the key to purity is so simple. It starts with the age old promise to have and to hold.

We had better make sure that every day, every moment, and in every way we must have our spouses and they must have us.

Friday, 15 February 2008

You are bought with a price

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. – 1 Corinthians 6v19-20

I remember learning this verse at Tennessee Temple in a PE class. The teacher was a closet masochist, I am certain. We had to do hundreds and hundreds of sit ups. He would walk around and if we could not give a Bible verse from his list of memory verse we had to do several thousand more. If you could look at me today you would know that the millions of sit ups I did for him had little long lasting benefit, but I do remember this verse.

In context, Paul is addressing the sexual sins and the acceptance of them that led to the member of the church having sex with his step mother. Paul is especially concerned because sexual involves and affects the body. That concern is based on the fact that as believers our bodies are not really ours, but they are the purchased possession of Jesus Christ who paid for them on the cross. It is abhorrent and almost sick when we think about it Paul’s terms. When we commit sexual sin we are dragging Christ, the perfect sinless one into that sin with us. No wonder his words are so strong.

While there is a specific application of this truth, I think we can draw an obvious conclusion. Whenever we sin with our bodies we are doing so with something that does not belong to us. We have no right to harm these bodies or do anything with them that would shame their Owner.

What are we to do? Glorify God in our body as well as our spirit, for they truly are God’s

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Not under the power of any

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. – 1 Corinthians 6v12

Here Paul reiterates something that he says over and over in his letters. He was free from the law. He even went so far here to say that “All things are lawful for me.” In another place he writes, “…the law has no dominion over me.” Apparently, judging from the context here, the Corinthians had taken that statement and run with it. “Hey, if we are free from the law, we can really do anything we want! They had turned liberty into licence to sin.

Here is a key “problem” of moving away from a legalistic, galatian view of Christian living. “If we don’t give people standards and rules for living, they are going to do whatever they want.” I have known many churches who have adopted this view of preaching and teaching. The bad thing is, and what makes it so tempting, is that it “works.” We all know how people, or “sheeple,” can be moved and manipulated artful preaching.

Yet, we are faced with Paul’s statement, “All things are lawful for me.” What do we do with a statement like that?

The answer is, we read the rest of the passage. All things are indeed lawful, BUT:

All things are not helpful

I will not be brought under the power of any of these things

But food and the stomach, or fleshly things and the flesh, are temporal

Our bodies were not made for fleshly sins

Our bodies were made for the Lord

The Lord works in our bodies

I would love to take the time to expound on all of these points, and I will probably preach this one day, but for the moment one phrase if key to me, “I will not be brought under the power of any.”

I have to ask myself, “Though I am free from the law, to which things am I a slave? Have I simple swapped masters?” It is easy to live a certain way if someone simply sets out the rules for me, but what if I have to know is there are things that have authority.

If I am under the authority of pride, anger, sexual lust, gluttony, substances, backbiting, discontent, covetousness, worry, or any number of sins then I err. My body was made for the Lord, not for me to run rampant in my freedom from the law!

My master is no longer the law, now my Master is Christ. My desire is to live under His authority and His alone. My desire is that He would be my motivation to follow and live according to His word, not some man inspired fear of crossing the line.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

But you were washed

And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6v11

One of the things I like about the word of God is that He doesn’t let us get too discouraged. On this journey I have noted that so often. just as God is giving judgement or addressing sin He steps in a reminds them of His presence,

Here, Paul has been addressing the carnality and divisions of the church. He has just pointed out the shame of going to court against each other. He then points out the hopelessness of the lost and that they are going to face God’s judgement. He is saying basically that we need to deal with sin in the church, but let God judge the lost, because His judgement is sure.

The main point for me today, however, is that God still encourages the church. After the litany of sins that will keep the lost out of the kingdom he says, “Some of you were just like that. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.”

How amazing, that Paul could tell these carnal believers that they have already been washed, sanctified, and justified. He is dealing with their sin, but reminding them that they are not going to suffer the same fate as the lost.

Praise God for a washing, a sanctification, and a justification that is done and dusted. May that motive us to deal with the carnality which can tempt us act like the world.

Monday, 11 February 2008

An utter failure

Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? - 1 Corinthians 6v7

Jesus tells us that the world is going to know that we follow Him by the love we have for each other. Yet the people of Corinth we so carnal that they were taking their fights before the general public, even to the extent of taking each other to court. They were talking about love, having great agape feasts, yet the city saw them fighting in the courts.

Paul says in no uncertain terms that to take each other to court it is a total failure on the church’s part to do so. So bad it fact that they would be better off to have wrong committed against them and be cheated than to go to court against each other. Paul says that surly there is someone in the church who can sort things out.

I don’t think Paul is saying here that we need to accept abuse and cheating by other believers. That issue is addressed in Matthew where Jesus told us that if we have a fault we are to talk to the person, then take a couple others, and finally to the church.

If we are not going to do that we are better off to be “ripped off” by a brother than to take him to public court.

If the world knows that we follow Christ by our love for each other, what does it know when we are fighting each other?

People of this world

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. - 1 Corinthians 5v9-10

The Corinthian believers were a mess. Not only had they divided into parties and groups, but they had allowed others kinds of carnality to reach into their church. They were so proud of their liberty that they excused a man who was having sex with his step-mother! Paul of course addresses that by reminding them that he had instructed them not to have fellowship with sexually immoral people.

Somehow they had corrupted this teaching so that even though they kept company this man they had no company with the sinners of the world. They were boastful of the fact they liberal enough to accept this Christian, but kept themselves away from the defilement of hanging around lost people.

You can almost sense Paul’s frustration when he says, “.I certainly did not mean to not fellowship with the sinful people of the world, since if I said that you could not even live in this world.”

The people of the world are going to act like the people of the world. The people in the church are to act like God’s people. Doesn’t it seem sometimes that we can hold the world to a higher standard than the church?

Sunday, 10 February 2008

I warn you

I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. – 1 Corinthians 4v14

As I read Paul’s words to Corinth I find them sounding almost harsh at times. He has corrected, cajoled, and even used sarcasm to get his point across. And yet, he pauses to remind them of his love for them.

He reminds them that no one could love them like he does. Even if they had massive numbers of teachers no one could care like he did. He was their spiritual father and it would have been unloving not to warn them about the direction they were taking.

True, caring, biblical love does not make light of sin. It does not excuse sin in the spirit of love.

Paul loved this people like his children. He loved them enough to point out where they erred.

As a pastor I desire a love that allows me to rebuke and reprove, but to always do it in a spirit of love.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

You have arrived

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! - 1 Corinthians 4v8

There is so much in this section that I hardly know how to address it. I considered addressing it with humour, and perhaps I should since it is clear that Paul is not above a sense of irony and even sarcasm. After condemning the Christians in Corinth he suddenly seems to change tack.

“But wait! You already have arrived. You are full, you are rich, you are kings, you are wise!” When he turns to describe the apostles his words are very different. “We are a spectacle to the world, we are fools, we are weak, we are dishonoured, we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed, we are beaten, we have to work with our own hands, and we are the filth of the world, its very scrapings.”

I think now of two different churches I have seen. One I saw in person and one on a video. The first can only be described as opulent. Multi-million euro facilities which, to my mind we epitomised by the gold plated fixtures in the public toilets. The one on the video was hidden in the mountains of Vietnam. It was run down, dark, and certainly had no heating or air conditioning. The first church had a couple of hundred people in a massive auditorium, who were dressed to the nines and had a proper service, with beautiful music and a carefully orchestrated order of service. The second church probably had the same number of people packed into a tine shack. Their worship was ecstatic. Poorly glad Christians were singing songs of pure joy as they raised their hands in worship. If I remember correctly the song went something like this – “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.” The first church operated in total freedom, was looked on highly by their community, and even hosted politicians and local officials. The second church met in fear, arrived secretly, and often had to flee when they heard that the police were coming.

I don’t have all this figured out by any means. But I do know this. One of the two churches reminds me of Corinth and one reminds me of the apostles. It makes me wonder about what I see as important in the body of Christ.

Friday, 8 February 2008

God is my judge

“For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 4v4

We can sometimes take something of a spiritual pride in how much we, as the body of Christ, have advanced as we approach our 2000th birthday. However, I think, on closer examination, that we are hardly a good advertisement for any kind of “spiritual evolution.”

Let’s take today’s section of scripture, 1 Corinthians 4v3-5 as an example. We love to stand in our pulpits and condescendingly refer to the church in Corinth as “the carnal church.” True, there are some very carnal things that we are going to read about later, but here we find ourselves in chapter 4, roughly a fourth of the way through the book, and Paul is still addressing one aspect of their carnality.

We have read over and over about petty divisions and sectarianism. Paul continues this same general train of thought. “Listen folks, it doesn’t really matter who we are. I want you to see us simply as faithful servants of God. That’s all God really wants, and yet you are judging me and judging each other based on your own ideas. At the end of the day, God is my judge and one day His judgement will be revealed. Let’s just leave it until then, will we?”

I am not talking about exposing false teachers here. The word of God is clear on that. We have a responsibility to protect the church by exposing and warning against teaching that is contrary to the word of God. The context of Paul’s letter is judging men based on non-essentials and our opinions. We are also not talking about totally disregarding what other’s think of us. We need to be sure that we don’t use our liberty to serve the flesh. Our testimony is important; there are areas where we need to be aware of how others might take a situation or an action.

Having said that, we can be far too concerned about what others might say about our ministries, whatever they might be. I have heard of churches criticised because they had too many or too few standards. I have heard churches attacked because their music was too traditional or too modern. I have heard church attacked because their dress was too formal or too casual. I have heard churches attacked because of who they would or would not have speak in their pulpits.

What are we on at? Are we not just as bad as the Corinthians? Who is the judge of all these things? When it is all said and done God is my judge, and yours, and all of my brothers and sisters whom I may be so quick to judge.

What do we do about the non-essentials, the abiblical issues that we come across? What if God’s word does not address the issue in precept or principle?

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

Maybe its time for us to learn the lesson that the church at Corinth was called on to learn.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Found faithful

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. – 1 Corinthians 4v1-2

Yesterday we examined the idea of an under rower as one who just keeps on rowing, staying at his task without any recognition or prise. Later in the same verse we find that we are also to be “stewards.” A steward of course is one who is giving the responsibility to watch over and care for something. God has given us a stewardship of His household on earth. We are the stewards of His work. According to this passage there is one key attribute required of a steward – he must simply be faithful.

This is an old topic, something we have heard over and over, usually when some pastor or missionary is struggling along and those who love him remind him that all God requires is faithfulness. Familiarity in this case however does not make it any less true.

Not only pastors, missionaries, and other “Christian workers” are required to be faithful to the Lord. Every single one of us has our own stewardship, our own place and our own role in the kingdom of God.

The question should not be so much, “Is so and so missionary faithful” on his field of service, but am I faithful where God has put me. Am I faithful to the Lord with my classmates? Am I faithful at the office? An I faithful at home with my spouse and children?

All God requires is faithfulness, but I have to wonder how often I even meet that requirement.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Under rowers

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ… – 1 Corinthians 4v1

Sometimes as I do these thoughts I can read many verses, or even several chapters. Today as I read I only got a few words before I saw a note in my study Bible (MacArthur) about the word for servant (minister in the KJV) in 1 Corinthians 4v1. I am used to the word being either doulos or diakanos (if I got those Greek spellings wrong, please forgive me). Here however the word is huperetes. This is a really interesting word. Although often used to mean any subordinate or anyone who takes orders, the word literally refers to an “under rower.”

What does that mean? Picture in your mind those massive Greek, Roman, or Phoenician ships you have seen pictures of or seen in a film. Picture the ones that two rowers of those huge oars sticking out the side. Now, go inside the ship and go way down into the bowels to see the bottom row of rowers. See them in the darkness and dampness, chained together, tediously rowing hour after hour and day after day. I hope I am not taking language liberties with a language I know very little about, but I do know that the Holy Spirit chose just the words He wanted when He inspired Paul to write this passage.

I also think it fits the context of 1 Corinthians. Paul has been talking about how we are all the same. There is no difference in those who serve the Lord anyway. We are all nobodies. There is no room for bragging or boasting. Saying that, I think the word “under rower” is the perfect picture of what we are. The under rowers were never recognised as servants. No one ever looked down there and said, “Look, there are Rome’s choice servants.” None of them crawled into their space on the ship with a sense of servanthood when they finally got to rest. They just rowed, hour after hour, day after day, sunshine or storm, calm seas or rough. They just rowed.

Why did the Holy Spirit choose this word? I can’t question His wisdom. I do know that it gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a servant.

I am content to be an “under rower”?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

You are Christ’s

Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. - 1Corinthians 3v21-23

Paul continues to address the issue of carnal divisions. In this section he writes, “let no one boast in men.” One of our problems is that we have established to many “Christian heroes.” When we do this we are following the wisdom of the world. We elevate sinful men to some kind of status that sets them above all the rest. I have seen crowds of Christians almost fall over in adoration when certain name preachers walk into the room. There are two videos that stick out in my mind. In one, a noted preacher walks into a large room and the assembled crowd jumps to their feet screaming and applauding. In another a chapel at a Christian school has a cut-out cardboard figure of a noted political leader and the teachers lead the students in what amounts to a virtual worship session of this man. .

Indeed, boasting in men has become part and parcel of what so any segments of the church have become. Yet, here we are warned against such action.

Why bother? All things, as part our eternal inheritance with Christ, are already ours. All the men we seek to honour are not their own. We are all one in Christ. He owns us all. He is our only hero. He is the only one to be lifted up and exalted.

Let me include a little disclaimer here. We should be grateful for people that God has used in our lives. We should be willing to be grateful to those who faithfully serve the Lord, but earlier Paul said that none of us are anything. We are all nobodies in His service. Why would we boast about nobodies?

Monday, 4 February 2008

You are the temple of God

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” - 1Corinthians 3v16-17

There is a movement afoot today to de-emphasis the church. Some will de-emphasis the Body of Christ as a whole; others will de-emphasis the local assembly. I am sure that both groups have their reasons and feel justified in what they are doing. Others would rather destroy a church than swallow their pride. Others will ride their pet issues to the point where a church is split apart and the whole body of Christ is affected.

Later God will address the issue that not only is the church the temple of God, but each individual member is the temple of the Holy Spirit as well. Here though, the issue is clearly the church. From the context the danger is divisions and lack of unity. The warning is harsh, and to be honest I don’t really know how to describe since the word of God, to my mind, clearly teaches that our salvation is eternal, that it cannot be destroyed.

There is no difference between the words translated “destroy” and “defile” in Greek. “Whoever wrecks the body God will wreck,” may be a viable paraphrase here. I would have to look at this more to try and understand what God is saying.

One thing is clear – we had better be very, very careful before we let our own ideas, our own issues, or our own agendas harm the church. The church is the temple of God and He is going to protect it.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

No other foundation

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 3v11

I find it interesting how often God gives us just the right thoughts in our devotions at just the right time. Over the last few days I have been reading about the importance of unity in the body of Christ, and specifically in the local church in Corinth. Personalities will be avoided we focus on the cross of Christ and His atoning work there. I am going to be reading more about the building of the church in the next few days, but for a moment I am compelled to look at the foundation.

There is only one foundation whether we look at the body of Christ as a whole or we look at a local church. That foundation is Jesus Christ. We are in the early days of moving from a group of believers worshipping and serving together to an organised church. We must insure as we do so that we remember our foundation. Our foundation cannot be the planter, the pastors, the people, or the property. It is not going to be our games or gimmicks to draw people in. It is not going to be our Kid’s Klub, our Teen Time, or our Mother/Daughter Tea. It is not even our means and methods of study and worship.

All of these things are fine and tools that we can use to build the church. There is a difference between the foundation and the building stones.

What will be our foundation? If it is not Jesus Christ than we are building on sinking sand. No matter where God allows us to meet, no matter who He allows to attend, no matter that ministries He gives us, and no matter who leads this church, our foundation must be Jesus Christ and Him alone.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. - 1Corinthians 3v7


As I look back over the nearly 34 years of my Christian life I think of it as often marked by personalities. The school I went to and the churches I attended, in fact virtually every church I ever attended has had their “personalities.” Their have been certain names that have been portrayed as pictured as successes and if a church could get one of them in for a meeting it indicates that they are a success as well. The big names can get away with more demands than the “nobodies.”

Names and personalities have been the cause for divisions and acceptance or non-acceptance. Schools and churches have been praised our condemned for the names they have had to speak for them. One must prove himself on the small church circuit before he can make it to the big time. Schools recognise the big names with honorary degrees and then that degree insures future success.

Tragically this concept of personality cults has resulted in division after division in the body. The tragedy is that this is not limited to any one part of the body of Christ, but runs the gamut, infiltrating to the whole.

One of the nice things about coming to Ireland was that all of a sudden names meant nothing. I remember when a noted speaker came over and the church advertised the meetings no one had a clue who it was.

From what Paul writes, this is not the way it was meant to be. “Who is Paul? Who is Apollos?” he asks rhetorically. Some plant, some water, some harvest, but God gets the increase. What are the ones who plant, water, and harvest. Paul says that none of us are anything. Today we might say, “We are nobodies.”

That doesn’t set well does it? The unknown, unrecognised faithful pastor of a small church in the Appalachian foothills is a nobody. The noted author, Bible college president, and pastor of a church of 2,000 is a nobody. It is God who gives the increase. Whether we pastor a church of 20 or 2,000 we need to remember that we are nobodies. If we serve in some other ministry, or go out into the workplace to be a faithful witness day after day we are nobodies.

What an army the “nobodies” would be if we remembered that God is the One to give the increase and get the glory.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Carnal divisions

For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? - 1Corinthians 3v4

In some ways I hate to keep coming back to this topic of unity and division. Then I remember that the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write these words for a reason.

I agree with Spurgeon who said, “I feel vexed with the fellow who chopped the Bible up into chapters; I forget his name just now, and I am sure it is not worth recollecting.” There are times when chapter divisions simply get in the way of the flow of a passage. Right after he finishes the comment about the mind of Christ he addresses the issue of carnal divisions. It is clear that the mind of Christ is not a divided mind, but that the Christians at Corinth (we’ll use them, because it is more comfortable to speak of them than us) have not copped on to that yet.

Paul says that he wanted to share some deeper things with them, but they were too carnal to receive it. What was the evidence of their carnality? They were still following parties. There were Paul’s followers and Apollos’ followers. (I am certainly glad that this passage doesn’t apply to today, aren’t you?) How did the division manifest itself? Paul answers that in verse 3, “with envies and strife.”

Believe it or not the Corinthian church was so carnal that they fought over whether they followed Paul and his ideas or Apollos and his ideas! How could Christians ever part company over what man they followed? Paul’s followers and Apollos’ followers were fighting over who was right. If Paul and Apollos had started schools I reckon they would have fought over which school was best and put down the other school! I realise that is a little far fetched, but can’t you see those carnal Corinthians doing that?

I am so grateful that we have outgrown that kind of carnal division and are ready for the meat of the word!