Thursday, July 31, 2014

FROM GLORY TO GLORY (2 Corinthians Chapter 3)

2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

You may have read the story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes.  Weavers provided for the Emperor new clothes which they claimed to be invisible to the unenlightened.  The citizens kept up the pretense, saying nothing though the Emperor’s nakedness was readily apparent.  When the Emperor once paraded through the city, a child—naively blunt--blurted out that the Emperor was naked.  The cry was then taken up by others.  The Emperor cringed, suspecting the assertion to be true.

Adam and Eve sinned against God and as an immediate consequence found themselves naked (Genesis 3:7a).  In a tragedy of unrivaled proportion they have left to us all a legacy of nakedness in sin (Cf. Romans 5:12).  Many “fig-leaf religions” (Cf. Genesis 3:7b) are devised in an effort to rectify the “nakedness” problem, but apart from Christ none of us can be properly dressed.  In a universal “what not to wear” reality, lost sinners---devoid of righteousness and naked in sin—are all consistently guilty of indecent exposure before God.

In what sense were Adam and Eve naked?  Had they somehow misplaced their clothing?  Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”  Two different Hebrew terms are translated “image” in the verse, both bear an element, in their definitions, of visible correspondence.  Adam and Eve had looked something like their glorious creator.  It was with some kind of glorious God-imparted covering that they were clothed, but their attire was lost to them when they fell. As someone has humorously put it…they looked at each other and declared “ICK, A BOD! (“Ichabod” is Hebrew for the “glory of the Lord has departed”).  In response to their fall, God promised a future Redeemer (who would one day come to restore that which was lost in the fall; Genesis 3:15), and provided for Adam and Eve a “prototypical“ by grace, via sacrifice, set of clothes (Cf. Genesis 3:21).

It is to this matter of restoration that our text speaks.  Sin has left us all naked before God.  We were created to know and worship our Creator, but sin has gotten in the way (Cf. Romans 3:23).  How are we to be restored?  Jesus has provided a means of restoration through His work on the cross (Cf. 1 Peter 3:18).  His shed blood is the only God-acceptable means for cleansing from sin.  By grace through faith sinners are made righteous.  This sin-cleansing work is in three tenses.  All three have to do with the restoration of that which was lost in the fall.  Justification represents freedom from the penalty of sin (Cf. Romans 5:1).  By faith a person is declared once-for-all righteous on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Sanctification is a progressive work by which the believer is set free from the practice of sin, and transformed by the Spirit into Christ-likeness.  That is the focus of our text: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  In salvation one’s face is unveiled to Christ (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).  To behold Christ is to look in a mirror inasmuch as He indwells the believer.  We are being progressively transformed (Greek “metamorphoo,”: “to change into another form”) by the Spirit into Christ’s image (Cf. Romans 8:29).  This metamorphis occurs from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The transforming work is completed in the believer’s future glorification (freedom from the presence of sin).  Philippians 3:20, “(He) will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”  By the Spirit of God we now long for the culmination of this work: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life ” (2 Corinthians 5:4; Cf. Romans 8:18-24).  And so there we have the end result of Christ’s saving work—sin is purged from the believer and God-imputed glory restored.  “Glory” culminates God’s saving work (Cf. Romans 8:21, 9:23; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Colossians 1:27). Salvation is more than just salvation from sin and hell.  It is more than merely being brought to heaven.  It is being restored to glory to enjoy intimate and eternal fellowship with the God who has created us and who has lovingly worked to save us.  The Spirit is even now at work to transform us from one degree of glory to another, and He will continue in that work until there are no degrees left (Cf. Hebrews 7:25; Philippians 1:6).  “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress!”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? (2 Corinthians Chapter 2)

2 Corinthians 2:14-17, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

Our church sits next to dairy.  Sometimes we experience something called “dairy-air.”  The dairy business is pretty simple—cows eat grass, cows digest grass, cows make both milk and cow-pies, cow-pies make manure, manure makes grass grow, cows eat grass.  It’s the “manure makes grass grow” part of the cycle that leads to that which we refer to as “dairy-air.”  A manure spreader is used to broadcast the liquefied, grass-fertilizing, brown stuff across the surrounding acreage.  Wind works to spread the fragrance all-around.  What smells like profit to the dairy farmer, stinks to the rest of us. The sense of smell is a powerful thing.  It warns us of things to avoid or rectify (think soiled baby diaper).  Other aromatic fragrances are pleasing to our nostrils.  Sometimes we might smell a thing and be readily reminded of some long ago experience connected to that smell. 

The Apostle Paul compared the ministry of the gospel to a “triumphal procession” led by God Himself (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14).  A great Roman victory was celebrated with a lavish parade, with the victorious general leading and his army marching behind.  Priests would accompany the parade waving censers of incense, filling the streets of Rome with a sweet smelling aroma.  Conquered foes followed behind in the procession--the aroma served but to remind them of their vanquished estate.

The ministry of the gospel is likened to such a thing.  And in God’s triumphal procession “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” is “everywhere” spread “through us” (2 Corinthians 2:17).  It should be noted that we are aromatic in a positive sense only in relationship to Christ, who “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).  His death on the cross, and its attending suffering and sacrifice, is deemed “folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), but not to God.  The OT sacrifices, which looked forward to Christ, which were likewise said to represent “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Cf. Leviticus 1:13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, etc.).  The fragrance aroma, sourced in Calvary’s sacrifice, lingers on and goes with Christ’s followers wherever they go.

The fragrance meets with divergent response.  “Among those who are being saved” it is a “fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16).  “Among those who are perishing” it is a “fragrance from death to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16).  We, God’s people, stand in such a fragrance-emitting position in this world.  The ministry of the gospel is a “triumphant procession” in which God’s victory has already been won and in thereby assured.  The proclamation of the gospel amidst suffering is akin to the sacrifice from which it was born.  It is likened to a fragrance pleasing both to God and His children.  God’s children have had their senses trained to sense the beauty in it.  It is a fragrant aroma representing life.  But it is not so pleasing to the nostrils of the lost.  It works to remind them of pending judgment and hence the cause of suffering for God’s people in this world.  The perishing would sooner eradicate the source of the fragrance than deal with root of the problem (i.e. sinful unbelief).

How smelly are you?  And in what sense?  It is not just the gospel that emits the fragrance, but the gospel lived out.  And, not just the gospel lived out, but the gospel lived out by means of loving sacrifice amidst suffering.  Paul’s opponents didn’t understand how an Apostle of the Risen Christ could suffer so (indeed, suffering is a major theme in this epistle).  But it was in his sufferings that the life of Christ and grace of God were made manifest (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 12:9-10).  A rose petal emits a beautiful fragrance to those who draw near, but in a more effusive manner when crushed.  The gospel—that Christ died for sins and rose from the dead—is a fragrance of life unto life in this sin-decaying world.  In the lives of His followers “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” is spread all around.  It meets with varying responses, but it is beautiful thing to those having a Spirit-borne sense of smell.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (2 Corinthians Chapter 1)

2 Corinthians 1:3-7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.  But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”

We sometimes need to be comforted.  Afflictions and sufferings of various kinds can work to bring us into a vulnerable and fearful estate.  In such situations, we might wonder “Does anybody care about what I’m going through?”  Our text assures us that God does.

The word “comfort” (and its relatives) appears ten times in these five verses.  The Greek term paraklesis means “a calling to one’s side” and hence represents “an exhortation, or consolation, comfort” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).

There is need for comfort because sin has left us in a vulnerable and needy condition.  Adam and Eve sinned against God and sin and death (and all its corresponding maladies) entered into man’s existence.  The “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” intervened on their behalf.  Though they had rebelled, He sought them out, made promise of a coming Redeemer, and mercifully worked to meet their immediate need (Genesis 3:9, 15, 21). 

Jesus was Heaven-sent from the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” to walk amongst us and to die for our sins (the preeminent demonstration of God’s loving concern; John 3:16; Titus 3:4).  In His ministry Jesus lovingly worked to comfort the afflicted--be they sick, blind, hungry, bereaved or otherwise in need.  He promised to impart comfort (i.e. rest of soul) to the “heavy laden” (Cf. Matthew 11:28-29).  His warning to his disciples of His pending departure left them troubled (Cf. John 14:1; 16:6).  “Believe in God, believe also in me” He said (John 14:1).  Then He comforted them with news of a future reunion and of God’s provision of the Holy Spirit (a Helper, a Comforter, like unto Himself) who would be with them forever (Cf. John 14:16).  The Father of Mercies and God of all comfort does indeed care!

The God of all comfort is the ultimate source of all comfort and were it not for Him there would be no comfort to be found in this sin-weary and troubled world.  He is the source and avails comfort to us in various ways to meet a host of needs.  He sometimes uses those who have been comforted by Him “to comfort those who are in any affliction” with the comfort they themselves have received from God (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4).

Paul himself had received comfort from God.  “Fighting without and fear within” left him weary and in need (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5).  God comforted Paul by sending to him Titus (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:6).  Titus in turn had been comforted by the Corinthians and the news of their loving concern for Paul (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:7).  Titus comforted Paul by his coming, but Paul traced the circumstance back to the God of all comfort.  Sometimes we are comforted by God through the comforting presence or words of others.

Thomas Brooks once wrote, “When we are in a very low condition, when we are spent with grief and swallowed up in sorrows, when we are destitute of all relief and comfort—then the God of all comforts comes to console us!  No tribulations, no persecutions, no grievances, no prison doors, no bolts, no bars—can keep the consolations of God from flowing in upon His people. God loves to comfort His people—when all their outward comforts fail them. God's comforts are not only sweet, but seasonable.”

There will come a day, in God’s presence, when “He will wipe away ever tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).  In the meantime, we have this assurance that God does indeed care and can work to heal our inner hurts.  He is not far from us or callous to our needs.  He comforts us and calls on us to pass it on.   You, or someone you know, has need of it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A HEALTHY ADDICTION (1 Corinthians Chapter 16)

1 Corinthians 16:15, “They have addicted themselves to the ministry” (KJV).

According to Webster’s Dictionary to be addicted is “to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively.” There are a lot of different kinds of addictions—alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, video games, etc. Some people are even addicted to shopping. Oniomania is the technical name given to that disorder.

We are prone, by nature, to addictive behaviors. “The desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16) demand satisfaction.  The pleasure experienced in sin is short-lived (Hebrews 11:25), and never fully satisfying.  Sin thereby works to enslave us: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Jesus died on the cross to set us free from both the penalty and power of sin.  We are, by nature, selfish-sinners, salvation works to free us to worship and serve. 

Paul commended the household of Stephanas. “They have addicted themselves to the ministry,” he said. The term “addicted” translates a Greek term means “to arrange, assign, order.” The thought here is that they had so ordered their lives that ministry came first (Cf. Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:5). The term “ministry” is the Greek, “diakonia,” which speaks of service. It is the same term elsewhere translated “deacon.” The household of Stephanas was addicted to ministry in the sense that they had prioritized their lives such that the service of others came first. They were given to it. Their lives were characterized by it. They were devoted to serving Jesus by serving others.

Jesus was addicted to ministry.  He served—humbly, wholeheartedly, relentlessly.  Any day in the life of Jesus was a day in which He served.  He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, raised the dead, fed the multitudes and did more miracles than it was possible to record (Cf. John 21:25).  His disciples sometimes argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest (Cf. Luke 22:24).  On one occasion two of His disciples came forward to request that they might sit and His right and His left in His glory (Cf. Mark 10:35-37).  The situation caused some friction amongst the disciples.  Jesus called them all together and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be first among you must be your servant.  And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).  The world doesn’t think much of servanthood, but God does.  In His economy greatness is defined in such terms.  Man naturally gravitates to a “looking out for number one,” way of living, but Jesus walked in a revolutionary manner.  By His sacrifice He served in preeminent fashion.  He calls us to lovingly serve others according to His example (Cf. Philippians 2:3-8; Galatians 5:13).

Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer” (1 Corinthians 16:16). Many in the church in Corinth were walking as “mere men” and behaving in selfish and childish ways (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 13:11-13). Paul directed them to subject themselves to those who demonstrated a capacity to serve, like those of the household of Stephanas (Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17). The church of our day (in America) is characterized by a selfish brand of Christianity that bears little resemblance to its Biblical counterpart.  Servanthood—as a virtue--has fallen on hard times amongst some who profess Christ. But there are still many who walk in same the manner that Christ has established (Cf. 1 John 2:6)—let’s be careful to look to their example.

Jesus was addicted to serving.  He calls us to follow in His steps.  Serving Jesus by serving others is at the heart of worship (Cf. Hebrews 13:15-16; 2 Corinthians 9:12).  It is a healthy addiction for which no cure is necessary, for it meets with God’s approval.

Friday, July 25, 2014

GOOD NEWS! (1 Corinthians Chapter 15)

1 Corinthians Chapter 15:1-4, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

As I write this, news of another plane crash has just been reported.  A Swiftair flight enroute from Burkina Faso to Algeria, with 116 people on board, has crashed somewhere in Mali.  This on the heels of the two other recent plane crash disasters, in Taiwan and the Ukraine, that have left hundreds dead and thousands mourning.  There is a lot of other bad news in our world.  The centuries-old conflict between Israel and its neighbors has flared up again, and lives are being lost as Israel endeavors to defend itself.  Daily, news of other wars (and rumors of wars) cross the headlines.  An Islamic terrorist group is hell-bent on eliminating all Christians from parts of Iraq, telling them that they must leave, convert, or die.  And the persecution of Christians is on the rise all around the globe.  All this as our society continues to spiral downward into a moral abyss.  Some say that the world is spirally out of control.

There is a lot of bad news in our world.  And you don’t need to look very hard to find some.  Bad news prevails in this sin-cursed planet.  Adam and Eve sinned against God and unleashed a sin-contagion.  No one is immune to the disease and no one is exempt from its consequences (Cf. Romans 3:23, 5:12, 6:23).  We were created to know and worship our Creator.  Sin has worked to turn us all into rebels deserving of death

Were that the end of the matter, man’s existence on this planet would constitute the ultimate of horror stories.  We’ve all sinned.  We’re all deserving of death.  Eternal separation in a place called hell is what we deserve (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9).  There is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from our plight or avert God’s righteous judgment (Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3).

In the midst of this darkness there is a message of hope and salvation.  That message is the good news (i.e. gospel; 1 Corinthians 15:1).  It is a message about a Person and His work.  That person is Jesus Christ and because of Him there is good news amidst all the bad.  In fulfillment of the Scriptures, the eternal Son of God became man and dwelt among us (Cf. John 1:14; Luke 24:44-46).  In a radical divergent manner of life, He spoke truth, showed love, lived without sin, and purposed “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He came into the world for the express purpose of saving sinners (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:15).  His death on the cross was no accident, for He was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  “He was raised on the third day,” having triumphed over sin, and death, and the devil himself (Cf. Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56).  On the basis of Christ’s finished work, salvation—from sin and death to glory in heaven--has been availed to those who believe.

Like a ray of gloriously bright sunshine beaming through a cloud darkened sky, the gospel is a light to us in this darkness.  The Apostle Paul elsewhere referred to it as “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11).  The message illumines us to the truth about God.  There is bad news in this world!  Does God care?  Will He, can He, do anything about it?  The message is God’s declarative response.  Does He care?  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Can he do anything to rescue us from our plight?  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

That message proclaimed by Paul to the Corinthians two millennia ago has spread from those early days to the four corners of the globe.  It has worked through the centuries to “save to the uttermost” those who have believed (Cf. Hebrews 7:25).  It is a timeless, powerful, and glorious message of truth imparting forgiveness and life eternal!  It represents the sole means by which anyone can be saved (Cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and is the only answer to any of the problems that beset the sons of Adam.  Someone shared it with you—you believed and were saved.  God made it known to you that you might pass it on.  There is a lot of bad news in the world, but Christ died for sins and rose from the dead, and that’s good news!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

BUILDING UP (1 Corinthians Chapter 14)

1 Corinthians 14:26b, “Let all things be done for building up.”

This verse serves as a fitting summary of the instruction given 1 Corinthians chapter 14.  The main theme of this and the two preceding chapters is the proper use of one’s spiritual gifts.  The church in Corinth was experiencing a variety of problems.  Amongst them was the misuse of the spiritual gifts that God had distributed amongst the member of the body.  Some were exalting themselves according to their particular gifts, deeming some gifts to be of a greater degree of importance than others.  Others were using their gifts for selfish reasons apart from love and their God-given intent—for the common good for the building up of the body.

The term “build” and its related words and phrases appear 7 times in this chapter.  The verb translates the Greek oikodomeo which means literally “to build a house.”  In this context it “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

Much of the instruction in this chapter is specific to the issue of speaking in tongues.  Tongues and interpretation of tongues were amongst the gifts that God had given to the early church (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:30).  But the Corinthians were misusing the gift.  Paul taught three basic truths regarding the practice of tongues: 1) the practice of speaking in tongues in secondary to prophesy (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1-19); 2) the purpose of speaking in tongues was to be a sign to unbelievers (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20-25); and 3) the proper procedure for speaking in tongues was to do so in an orderly fashion (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40).

But no matter whether it is in the practice of one’s spiritual gift, or anything else that is done, the primary purpose for the coming together of God’s people is the “building up” of the body (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26).  The building metaphor is used by both Paul and Peter to express the truth of what God is doing in the spiritual realm.  Every believer in Christ is a part of God’s building project (Cf. Ephesians 2:21b-22; 1 Peter 2:5).  

“Building up” is a corporate and cooperate endeavor.  We mutually relate to one another in love according to a “building up” mandate.  The gifts we’ve been given are for that specific purpose.  God wants for us to grow in Christ-like maturity and that happens as each member of the body uses his or her gifts and for the right purpose: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

You may have heard of the “carpenter’s tool-belt.”  Brother Hammer served as the chairman.  The other members of the tool belt informed him that he must leave, because he was too noisy.  But brother Hammer said, "If I have to leave this carpenter’s shop, then brother Gimlet must go too.  He’s insignificant and makes a very small impression.”  Little brother Gimlet arose and said, "All right, but brother Screwdriver must go also.  You have to turn him around and around to get anywhere with him."  Brother Screwdriver turned to the other tools in the belt and said, "If you wish, I will go, but brother Plane must leave too.  All of his work is on the surface; there’s no depth to what he does."  To this brother Plane leveled his terse reply, "Well, then, brother Saw will have to depart too.  The changes he proposes always cut too deep.”  Brother Saw complained, saying, "Brother Ruler will have to withdraw if I leave, for he’s always measuring other folks as though he were the only one who is right.”  Brother Ruler then surveyed the group and said, "Brother Sandpaper doesn’t belong here either.  He’s rougher than he ought to be, and is always rubbing people the wrong way."

In the midst of the discussion, the Carpenter of Nazareth walked in.  He had come to perform his day’s work.  He put on His tool belt and went to the workbench to make a pulpit.  He employed the ruler, the saw, the plane, the hammer, the gimlet, the screwdriver, the sandpaper, and all the other tools.  When the day’s work was over, the pulpit was finished, and the carpenter went home.  All the accusations against each of these tools were absolutely true, yet the carpenter used every one of them.  No matter which tool He used, no other tool could have done the work better.  And the final product would be used to fulfill the purposes of God!  We are all gifted by God to serve and to be used by Him in the building up of the body of Christ.  Use--don’t ignore or misuse--the gifts you’ve been given.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

LOVING LIKE JESUS (1 Corinthians Chapter 13)

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

How loving are you?  That was the question asked at a Youth Conference I attended many years ago.  My immediate response to the question was to think of examples in my life where I had done some nice things for someone or had treated others with kindness, etc.  I hadn’t hit or murdered anybody.  I therefore supposed myself to be at least average when it came to loving others.

How loving are you?  Your response to the question will be depend, to some extent, on how you define the word “love.”  Our society has gone through some drastic changes in recent decades.  The golden rule was once commonly understood to be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  That’s changed, the golden rule in our day is “Don’t’ judge.”  Love is now defined in terms of tolerance.  Tolerance is thought to be the supreme virtue and love is therein defined as the capacity to accept and approve of all other beliefs and practices (except when it comes to Biblical truths which are not likewise tolerated).

The term translated “love” in this passage is the Greek agape which is defined as follows: “agapao and the corresponding noun agape present ‘the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown, inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the NT” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words).  The term expresses “ideas previously unknown.”  The definition is speaking, of course, in broad terms reflecting the appearance of the term in the progress of revelation.  God’s love has been manifested to us in countless ways (His creation, HIs providential dealings with man, the fact that He patiently endures wishing none to perish, etc.), but its nature and extent has been uniquely defined for us by way of Christ’s sacrifice.  “By this we know love (agape)” wrote the Apostle John.  How do we know?  What does it look like?  How can we distinguish it from the world’s definition or even from its common misrepresentations--what J. Vernon Magee once referred to as “Slippery, Slurpee, Sloppy, Agape.”  “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  Agape love has been demonstrated and defined for us by the person of Jesus Christ in His willing sacrifice for our sins.  The sacrificial and selfless nature of agape love is reiterated to us in other passages in Scripture (Cf. John 13:34-35; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 5:1-2, 25; Philippians 2:3-8).

We should not think of love as something we conjure up in our own strength or according to our wisdom.  Nor is it human love improved upon.  “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7).  It’s been revealed to us in Christ’s sacrifice (Cf. 1 John 3:16).  That “idea previously unknown” has been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Cf. Romans 5:5).  As believers, we don’t love because we are somehow in some manner special, we love because the God who is love indwells us and has filled us to overflowing with His love.

Jesus is the standard to which we must measure ourselves (Cf. Ephesians 4:13).  And when we measure ourselves to His immeasurable standard we will always find room to grow (Cf. Ephesians 3:17-19; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).  What does Christ-like love look like?  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us.  Selfless love is described in terms of what it does and doesn’t do.  The love described is not merely emotional, but volitional and intentional.  The virtuous activities described are the product of difficult decisions whereby fleshly responses are spurned for spiritually preferable alternatives by the direction and power of the Spirit (Cf. Galatians 5:13-24).

What does love look like?  It looks like Jesus.  He is the perfect example of all that is describe for us in this passage.  A rewrite of the passage substituting His name for love would serve to accurately describe Him: Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude.  Jesus It does not insist on (his) own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Jesus commands us to love one another with His kind of love and this is what it looks like (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16-17). 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

GIFTED TO SERVE (1 Corinthians Chapter 12)

1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14 have to do with the matter of spiritual gifts.  It is apparent, by Paul’s response to the Corinthians, that some were misusing their gifts.  Emphasis was being placed on particular gifts and those lacking those gifts were deemed to be less important.  Gifts were also being misused for selfish purposes, hence the instruction regarding the preeminence of love in chapter 13.

Every believer in Christ has at least one spiritual gift.  Various terms are used to describe them.  The phrase “spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1) translates the Greek pneumatika and emphasizes the source and nature of the gifts.  “Gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:4) translates the Greek charisma which is related to the Greek word for grace (Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the term as “a gift of grace).  A diversity of gifts have been graciously provided to the members of the body by the triune God (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6).   

Spiritual gifts are not talents.  A talent is the ability to do a thing in the natural realm.  A spiritual gift is the God-given supernatural ability to do a thing in the spiritual—in contributing to the health and growth of the body of Christ.  For example: everyone is to show mercy (Cf. Colossians 3:12), but some have the gift of mercy (Cf. Romans 12:8).  Those having the gift of mercy have a unique, supernatural, desire and ability to recognize and respond to needs.

There are four main passages in the New Testament which speak to the nature and practice of spiritual gifts.  1 Peter 4:10-11 speaks of two broad categories of gifts: speaking gifts and serving gifts.  Ephesians 4:11-12 gives a list of various gifted men.  Romans 12:6-8 provides a list of the various gifts.  Two lists of gifts are provided in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 (12:8-10 and 12:28-30).

The Spiritual gifts have been distributed amongst the members of the body such that there might be mutual dependence upon one another (1 Corinthians 12:25).  The analogy of the human body is used by Paul to describe the proper functioning of the body of Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).  The human body, being fearfully and wonderfully made, is made up many complimentary members.  Each part of the body, “presentable” or not, is important.  It is the same with the body of Christ—each gifted member serves an important function.  W. A. Criswell, “Each gift is needed and is not to be neglected.  Every member is essential to the body.  No great church became that way on a one-man ministry.  All, each, every one, great, small, rich, poor, old, young, have essential parts.”

The “mutual dependence” nature of the distribution of the spiritual gifts can be illustrated by the specific response of each gift to a particular need.  Imagine a family gathered together for a meal when someone drops the dessert to the floor.  One with the gift of mercy might say, “Don’t feel badly, it could have happened to anyone.”  Serving?: “Oh, let me help you clean it up.”  Teaching?: “The reason that fell is that it was too heavy on the one side.”  Exhortation?: “Next time, let’s serve the dessert with the meal.”  Giving?: “I’ll be happy to buy a new dessert.”  Administration?: “Jim, would you get the mop?  Sue, please help pick it up and Mary, help me fix another dessert.”  Faith?: “Maybe God didn’t want us to have that pudding.  If He does, He’ll supply something better by the end of the meal.”  Evangelist?: “Say, that’s just like our lives before we trusted in Christ.  God has provided a way to clean up the mess.”

It is important that Spiritual gifts be practiced in the right way and for the right reasons.  Spiritual gifts are to be exercised in love in serving others (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 Peter 4:10), for the common good (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7), for the building up of the body (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:12), unto the glory of God (Cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

You can know what your spiritual gifts are.  Here are some questions that might help: 1)               What is it that you most enjoy doing in serving the body of Christ?  2) What is it that you are best equipped to do?; and 3) In what kind of activity are you most effective in serving?  The key concern is that you endeavor to serve Jesus by serving others.  The Holy Spirit can lead you to serve in roles that are in keeping with your particular area of giftedness.  But it’s useless to steer a vehicle that is not moving.  You’ve been gifted to serve.  The body of Christ needs your gifts.  God is glorified when your gifts are well utilized (Cf. 1 Peter 4:10-11).  You’ve been gifted to serve.

Monday, July 21, 2014

IMITATE CHRIST (1 Corinthians Chapter 11)

1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

My seminary thesis--written some 24 and ½ years ago--was entitled “The Imitation of Christ: A Proposed Doctrine.”  Knowing what I now know, I’m thinking it could probably use some revision.  The basic premises of the thesis are good, but the topic is a big one and there is much room for growth in understanding and practice.

The English Standard Version starts a new paragraph at verse 2, which means that verse 1 actually belongs with that which precedes it.  Verse 1 serves as a fitting summary to Paul’s instructions regarding the matter of eating food offered to idols.  That was the main theme of the preceding chapters in which the Apostle Paul spoke of the need for believers to be willing to sacrifice their own rights and freedoms for the sake of the spiritual benefit of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:12b, 19; 10:23-24, 31-33).  Christ Himself walked in that kind of self-sacrificial manner (Cf. Romans 15:2-3; Philippians 2:1-8).  The Apostle Paul followed in His steps. 

The terms used here are important.  The word translated “imitators” is the Greek mimetes which means literally to mimic.  It was used with regards to imitating the conduct of someone.  Our English word, “mimic,” is derived from the Greek term and means “to imitate closely; to resemble.”  The term “be” is a present tense imperative.  We are therefore commanded to on-goingly follow the example of Christ in the manner in which we live.  Paul set himself forth as one who was doing the same and whose life was therefore, in that respect, worthy of emulation (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Philippians 3:17).

The “imitation of Christ” is a doctrine not much written about.  It has wrongly been perceived by some to be something that we can attain to according to our own wisdom and self-effort.  One of the most widely circulated books related to this theme is Charles Sheldon’s book, “In His Steps.”  That fictional account tells the story of a church that adopts a “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) perspective.  Life was improved in the community as church members endeavored to apply Christ’s example to their everyday lives.  But the premise of the book gives man too much credit.  It supposes that we have, in ourselves, the wisdom, compassion, and discernment to make such choices.  That thematic question, “What Would Jesus Do?” gave birth to movement.  And for a time Christian bookstores were filled with WWJD bracelets, journal covers, etc.

But the imitation of Christ is not something we do or attain to, it is something that happens as a matter of course when we walk by the Spirit.  A better question than “What Would Jesus Do?” is “What Would Jesus Have Me to Do?”  The foundational corollary in the example of Christ to us is His willing submission to the Father (Cf. John 5:30).  By the Spirit alone are we brought into such a submissive relationship and a corresponding conformity to Christ in all other respects (Cf. 1 John 2:5-6).  It is as we walk by the Spirit that Christ-likeness is borne in us (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:18f; Colossians 3:16f).  We are called to more than a “monkey-see, monkey-do” kind of imitation.  By the Christ-instructing and exalting work of the Spirit we are called to a radical inside-out transformation that changes both the way we think and live (Cf. John 16:13-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Christ is our example in every virtuous matter: in how we are to walk (Cf. 1 John 2:5-6), lead (Cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4), think (Cf. Philippians 2:3-8), love (Cf. Ephesians 5:1-2, 5:25; John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7), forgive (Cf. Colossians 3:14), serve (Cf. Mark 10:43-45; Philippians 2:3-8), suffer (Cf. 1 Peter 2:21-23), speak (Cf. 1 Peter 22), etc.  It is by a miracle of divine grace that we are enabled to follow in the radically divergent footsteps of Jesus.  Christ’s presence is us brings about a glorious transformation.  “I can see Jesus in you” is amongst the most precious things we might ever hear.  That God would work such a change in us speaks to the glory of His grace!  “May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day, by His love and pow’r controlling all I do and say…May His beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE PLIMSOLL LINE (1 Corinthians Chapter 10)

1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Trials are an inevitable part of life and are of various kinds (i.e. common troubles, Job 5:7; relationship problems, Philippians 4:1-4; health issues, Philippians 2:27; temptations to sin, 1 Corinthians 10:13; sin failures, Luke 22:62; concern for loved ones, 2 Corinthians 11:28; loss of possessions, Hebrews 10:34; persecution, 1 Peter 4:14; and death, 1 Thessalonians 4:13; etc.

The Greek word translated “temptation” means to test or prove.  It has no negative connotation in itself.  Whether it constitutes a “trial with a beneficial purpose and effect” or a “trial definitely designed to lead to wrong doing” depends on our response (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  A trial/temptation resisted serves as a test in which one’s faithfulness is proved (Cf. 1 Peter 1:7).  A temptation succumbed to becomes to us a source of spiritual defeat and discouragement (Cf. James 1:14-15).

No temptation comes to any of us beyond that which is common to man.  There is no trouble or trial experienced in which a person can say, “this is something altogether new, and no one has ever had to deal with something like this before.”  Indeed, no temptation exists that Jesus Himself has not already triumphed over (Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”).  We might feel sometimes as if “no one knows the troubles I’ve seen,” but Jesus does know—He faced them all.

It is helpful to remember that God is not oblivious to our circumstances.  He is omnisciently aware of all of our comings and goings (Cf. Psalm 139:1-6).  He is faithful--we can always count on Him—to not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability.  He mercifully sets a limit to our troubles.  Job’s troubles were limited according to God’s decree (Cf. Job 1:12; 2:6).

The Plimsoll Line--named after Samuel Plimsoll who argued in the 1860s of the need for such a marker-- is the name of a special marking, also known as the International Load Line, that indicates the draft of the ship and the legal limit to which a ship may be loaded in order to safely maintain buoyancy.  The Plimsoll line of any specific ship is established by the ship’s designer.  Ships are not to be loaded beyond that point.  Our designer, God, sets a limit (a Plimsoll Line) to our burdens.  Sometimes it might seem that we’ve been given too much to bear, but it is in such instances where we experience previously unexplored dimensions of God’s strengthening and sustaining grace (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  God is well-pleased and able to supply to us “mercy and…grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16; Cf. James 1:5; 1 Peter 5:7).

Not only does God providentially work to limit our burdens, He also provides for “the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  God will not set us “between a rock and a hard place” such that we have no choice but to sin (Cf. James 1:13).  That might have appeared to some to be the case when Meriam Ibrahim was recently brought before a judge in Sudan.  The eight-month pregnant Sudanese mother was threatened with capital punishment unless she renounced Christ.  She faced a seemingly inescapable predicament.  But she trusted and obeyed God.  God ultimately worked to deliver her from punishment and jail.

Andrew Murray offered this wise counsel on how to deal with difficult situations: 1) Realize that God brought me here.  It is by His will I am in this place; in that fact I will rest; 2) Realize that He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child; 3) Realize that He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons that He intends me to learn, and working in me that grace He means to bestow; and 4) In His good time He can bring me out again -- how and when -- He knows.  So, I am here...By God's appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.”

God is not oblivious to the temptations that you face.  He knows.  He cares.  He can use them in your life to accomplish HIs divine purpose for you.  He can even work to bring a blessing out of them.  Our part is to trust and obey.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

RUN TO WIN (1 Corinthians Chapter 9)

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

The Apostle Paul frequently used athletic analogies when speaking of spiritual matters (Cf. Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5, 4:7).  The metaphor was particularly relevant to the Corinthians inasmuch as the city of Corinth served to host the biennial Isthmian games, which were at the time second in fame only to the Olympics.

The Isthmian games were widely celebrated.  Every two years they were held in a great stadium located near the city.  Only “freeborn” men could enter the games.  They were required to engage in ten months of preparation.  They had to be able to certify to their faithfulness in training.  They were to keep themselves morally clean in the period preceding the contest.  The contestants were led about the arena by a master of ceremonies while he shouted out in a loud voice to all the spectators inquiring of them if they had some matter in which they could accuse a contestant of any crime or wickedness.  For thirty days before the contests a rigid period of preparation was observed.  Each contestant was announced and introduced by name and country.  The victor in the games was crowned.  In the earlier days it was with a garland of parsley.  Quite a prize!  That was later changed to a pine wreath.  That is what they sought after and exercised self-control and discipline to obtain.  To be sure they became quite famous in their hometowns—and were sometimes even written about--but their winnings were all of the perishable variety.

And even today there are countless examples of athletes who sacrifice much by way of discipline and self-control that they might excel in their particular athletic endeavor.  Successful athletes are the ones who take their sport seriously.  The requirements of their training impact their sleep, diet, exercise.  Their freedom to do as they please is limited.

That which is true in the physical holds true in the spiritual.  The Christian life is compared to a race.  A prize (reward) awaits the winner (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).  The contestants (believers) don’t compete against each other, but against the obstacles that would work to hinder each one (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  Holding on tightly to one’s rights and freedoms is a sure way to lose.  It is self-control—the fruit of the Spirit (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23)—that is necessary.  “Self-control” translates a Greek word meaning “strength.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary comments on the meaning of the term, “The various powers bestowed by God upon man are capable of abuse; the right use demands the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God.”  By the means of Spirit-imparted self-control the will of a man is brought into submission to the will of God.  In this matter, restraint and discipline—in both the negative and positive sense—is exercised. 

Paul was a great example in all of this.  Like an athlete he single-mindedly pursued the goal (1 Corinthians 9:26, “So I do not run aimlessly”; Cf. Philippians 3:13-14).  In exercising self-control and discipline, Paul endured hardship (Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:1-10), gave up his right to receive material support (1 Corinthians 9:1-18), and went out of his way to relate to various groups of people (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)—that he “might win more of them” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19).  In his single-minded pursuit of a worthwhile goal he serves as a good example for us to follow (Cf. Philippians 3:17).  How you doing in the race?  Are you pressing on to the goal?  Is there evidence in your life of the Spirit-imparted self-control enabling you to make wise choices?  Are you faltering?  “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith,” we find strength and encouragement that we might “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 4:13).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

LOVE BUILDS UP (1 Corinthians Chapter 8)

1 Corinthians 8:1, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’  This ‘knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

1 Corinthians chapters 8 through 10 have to do with the subject of eating food offered to idols.  This was a matter of direct relevance to the believers in Corinth because of the sacrifices made in pagan temples.  Oftentimes meat from the temples was offered for sale in the marketplace.  Some felt that it was okay to eat such meat, knowing that “’an idol has no real existence, and that ‘there is no God but one’” (1 Corinthians 8:4).

Not all possessed that knowledge (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:7).  The pagan worshippers of that day believed that they could placate the gods and gain their favor through such sacrifices.  Some of the Christians in Corinth likely struggled in their efforts to completely sever themselves from their old ways.  If they were to eat food offered to idols their conscience would be defiled (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:7).

The realization that an idol isn’t real is a good thing, but is of no value if unaccompanied by love.  This kind of “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).  The believers in Corinth had an issue with prideful arrogance (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21; 4:6, 8, 18-19).  The phrase “puffs up” translates a Greek term meaning to blow up or inflate.  The Corinthians had an inflated view of themselves, especially when measured against their inability to express love. 

1 Corinthians 13:2 speaks to the vanity of this kind of knowledge: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  It matters not how much one’s ego is inflated by one’s supposed “knowledge,” apart from love it is of no value.

“Love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).  Knowledge puffs up self, love builds up others.  Love, God’s kind of love, is self-less and sacrificial in nature.  It concerns itself with the spiritual well-being of others.  According to Christ’s own “mind” (i.e. way of thinking), love does “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count(s) others” to be more significant (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4).  Though all things are lawful, “not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  In love, Paul admonished the Corinthians to set aside their own freedom to eat for “the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

The knowledgeable but loveless response to one’s fellow believer was of grave consequence.  “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:10-11).  The callous disregard for the weak brother would work to destroy his conscience.

The Corinthian problem was that they were not generally relating to one another according to a “the brother for whom Christ died” way of thinking.  They were dividing over particular leaders, suing one another in the court, celebrating gross immorality, leaving some hungry in the Lord’s Supper, inappropriately using their spiritual gifts apart from love, etc. etc.  Their brothers and sisters in Christ were fellow believers for whom Christ had shed His precious blood.  The brother or sister callously disregarded was a brother or sister for whom Christ died.

The instruction, “the brother for whom Christ died” is doubly instructive (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11).  Every believer is hereby instructed to love his brothers and sisters inasmuch as they are loved by Christ Himself (Cf. John 13:34-35).  Christ loved by sacrificing Himself, the members of His body are called upon to do the same (Cf. Romans 15:2-3, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’”).  Callous disregard of a brother in Christ—whether under the pretense of superior knowledge or in asserting one’s rights or freedom--is never appropriate for those who claim to belong to Him.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BLOOM WHERE YOU'RE PLANTED (1 Corinthians Chapter 7)

1 Corinthians 7:17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him, and to which God has called him.”

There is a dairy next door to our church.  On occasion malcontent cows escape and make their way to the church premises assuming the grass to be greener on the other side of the fence.  We call the dairy and they put the cows back where they belong.  To my eyes the grass looks the same on either side of the fence, but the cows are thinking otherwise.

Sometimes we humans act like those cows.  God would have us to be content in serving Him in the situation He has placed us, but instead we are occasionally prone to long for something else.  Paul was not telling the Corinthians that they should remain in an illegal or immoral situation (i.e. a thief was not to remain a thief), but outside of that they were to accept that which God had assigned and faithfully serve Him in that situation.

Several areas of discontent prevailed amongst the Corinthians.  Some wanted to change their marital status—from single to married, from married to single, from having an unbelieving partner to having a believing one (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:8-16).  Some were slaves and wanted to be free (it should be noted that slaves in NT times were usually well treated).  Some were Jews but wanted to appear as Gentiles.  Some were Gentiles and wanted to become like Jews (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

It was to that attitude of discontent that the Apostle spoke.  The believers in Corinth were to be less concerned about their particular circumstances and more concerned about faithfully serving God in whatever circumstance they found themselves.  We sometimes fall into a “If only (fill in the blank)” way of thinking.  If only I had a different job (marriage partner, church, location, etc.), then I would be happy.  But as Chuck Swindoll once pointed out, life is less about our circumstances and more about how we respond to them: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company... a church... a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.  I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.  And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

It has been said that we should endeavor to “bloom where we are planted.”  God has planted you in a particular place, so bloom (bear fruit) in that place.  OT Joseph is a great example of this principle.  He was sold off into slavery and became the personal servant to Potiphar, “and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3).  He was falsely accused and put in prison and the Lord “gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21).  God orchestrated his release and his eventual promotion to the position of Prime Minister of Egypt (Cf. Genesis 41:37f).  No matter his circumstance--be it a slave, prisoner, or prime minister—Joseph faithfully served and glorified God in that situation.

God sometimes moves people from one job or location or church to another.  And it is good for us to carefully and prayerfully seek God’s leading in such occasions.  In the meantime, in whatever setting we find ourselves, we need to bloom where He has planted us.  There is no place on planet earth that is without need for the beauty and fragrance of Christ’s loving presence made manifest through His people.  Be content.  Be obedient.  Bear fruit in good works.  God can use you in your present calling, whatever it is, to make Him known.

Monday, July 14, 2014

THE WAY WE WERE (1 Corinthians Chapter 6)

1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you…”

The context of this blessed proclamation was Paul’s corrective instruction to the Corinthian believers regarding their destructive practice of settling disputes between brethren in the courts of the unrighteous.  Motivated by selfish concerns, and seeking revenge or compensation, their practice worked both to cause division and bring dishonor to the cause of Christ.  Disputes between believers should be settled by believers (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:1, 5).  It would be better “suffer wrong” or “be defrauded” than to attempt to settle such grievances before the lost (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:7-8).

At the heart of the Corinthian problem was confusion regarding their true identity.  In salvation they had been born again.  Every believer is a “new creation” in Christ (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), but the Corinthians weren’t acting like that.  Their lives, standards, and motives were no different than those of the lost.  They were called to a holy, separate manner of life, but were, by their actions, acknowledging no such distinction.  They were inclined to seek justice in the courts of the lost because they didn’t clearly understand that they had been called out of their old manner of life.

They were settling their disputes “before the unrighteous” (1 Corinthians 6:1), but the unrighteous have no relationship to “the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).  The lives of the unrighteous are characterized by the practice of a laundry list of various vices—“neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  The language used to describe each vice speaks not to the occasional sin, but the habitual practice which would then work to characterize a person.  The list of sinful identities is not exhaustive, but sufficient to encompass all.  Every son and daughter of Adam can find something here to relate to (Cf. Romans 5:12).  Paul emphatically affirmed the truth that the unrighteous are not destined to heaven (Cf. Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5).  But “Christ Jesus came into the world to save” such folks (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:15).  None in that offensive list stand beyond the reach of God’s capacity in Christ to save (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:16).

“And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11).  How blessed is that word “were!”  An alteration has taken place in the life of the believer in Christ.  There is a “before” and “after.”  There is a way you “were!”  And there is a way you “are!”  Paul had previously identified his readers to be “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2).  They possessed that identity not through religious self-improvement, but through a decisive one-for-all act.  God Himself had intervened on their behalf and caused that to happen (“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption”--1 Corinthians 1:30).  Ephesians 2:4 speaks to the same manner and expresses--succinctly in two words--the means by which the believer has been delivered—“But God.”  The believer is one who has had a “but God” experience.  That intervention itself was founded in the rich mercy and great love of God (Cf. Ephesians 2:4).

As a result of God’s intervention those believers had experienced (past tense) three wonderful realities—“you were washed, your were sanctified, you were justified” (1 Corinthians 1:11).  The word “washed” speaks to the cleansing of soul experienced in regeneration (Cf. Titus 3:5).  The precious blood of the lamb unblemished and spotless had worked to purify their souls.  “Sanctified” speaks to that work of God through which the believer has been set apart from the love and power of sin.  “Justified,” is the positive counterpart to the word “unrighteous.”  It speaks to judicious act whereby God has declared the believer righteous on the basis of Christ and His sacrifice (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:1).

In the name of the Lord Jesus and Christ, by the power of the Spirit of God, the believer in Christ has experienced a radical transformation and now possesses a new identity in Christ.  He is not now who he once was.  His new identity calls for an altogether new manner of life (Cf. Romans 6:3-4).

Friday, July 11, 2014

A LITTLE LEAVEN (1 Corinthians Chapter 5)

1 Corinthians 5:6, “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”

The shocking report of what was happening in the Corinthian church ultimately found its way to the Apostle Paul.  A man had his father’s wife, his step-mother (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1).  He had taken her in and was having sexual relations with her.  This kind of incestuous behavior was something clearly forbidden in the Old Testament (Cf. Leviticus 18:7-8, 29) and even under Roman law.  That a man in the church, a professing believer, was doing such a thing was bad enough.  That the church was refusing to address the matter was even more grievous.

The church ought to have mourned.  They should have been sorrowed in their hearts over what had taken place.  The deed worked to tarnish the reputation of the church and hinder the cause of Christ.  It was inconsistent to the person and work of Christ, who had sacrificed Himself that He might deliver them from such evil deeds (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7).  Left unaddressed the matter would eventually work to spread a destructive influence throughout the body.

Instead of mourning the believers in Corinth were arrogant and boastful (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:2, 6).  They were characteristically arrogant (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21; 4:6, 8, 18-19), but their boastful response in this particular case may have been ill-founded on the mistaken notion that grace had worked to free them from any moral constraints (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12; 8:1; 10:23).  In either case, their arrogance worked to blind their eyes to the evils of the blatant sin that was occurring in their midst.

The Corinthian believers boastfully tolerated the matter.  They were doctrinally na├»ve as to the correct response.  Paul’s “do you not know” question is the first occurrence in this epistle of this repeated phrase (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16; 7:16; 9:13, 24).  We might say, “You spiritual dunderheads!  Don’t you realize?”  The Corinthian error is an all too common one.  It is supposed in our day that doctrine is not important.  Doctrine is a dirty word to far too many Christians.  But doctrine and duty are inseparably linked.  One cannot live in Christ as he is supposed to if he doesn’t know what he is supposed to.

What was it that they didn’t know?  They didn’t realize the far-reaching implications of their failure to address the matter—“a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).  The people of that day would use fermented dough in the baking of bread.  When bread was about to be baked, a small lump was pulled off and set aside for later use.  That leaven would then be set aside in water, and would later be kneaded into a fresh batch of dough.  Leaven in Scripture represents influence, usually—but not always (Cf. Matthew 13:33)--evil in nature.  Left unchecked the evil deed would exercise a permeating influence on the body.  Others would naively suppose such sins to be “no big deal.”  Ultimately the refusal of the church to intervene would work to generate a culture of general disregard for sin. 

Paul’s exhorted the church to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:12).  For the sake of the body they were to discipline the erring member.  Other passages speak to the nature of such loving discipline (Cf. Galatians 6:1).  It is carefully and prayerfully undertaken with the goal that the person might repent and be restored to fellowship (Cf. Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 5:7).  In his book “If you Bite and Devour,” Alexander Strauch commented on this matter, “When a member is unrepentant and persists in sin, fellowship with that person is broken and he or she must be excluded from the church.  Such severe discipline is intended to protect the church from moral and spiritual corruption.  It also awakens the sinner to the seriousness of his (or her) sin.”  This chapter reminds us of the dangerous consequences associated with the tolerance of sin, either on a personal or corporate level.  “Blessed are those who mourn” over it (Matthew 5:4).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FOUND FAITHFUL (1 Corinthians Chapter 4)

1 Corinthians 4:1, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

How are we to evaluate one’s success in ministry?  What criteria should we use?  From man’s perspective we might consider a person’s number of followers or the size of their church budget (i.e. “nickels and noses”).  Some might cite a man’s influence by way of degrees garnered, souls saved, or books written.  But what does God look for?  What constitutes “success” in ministry from His perspective?

The church in Corinth was characterized by a spirit of partisanship.  The church was prone, in a spirit of “jealousy and strife” (1 Corinthians 3:3), to the elevating of men and dividing amongst themselves according to which particular leader they followed.  Given their fleshly ways, they were no doubt spiritually ill-equipped to properly esteem the leader’s role before God.  Paul repeatedly addressed their error (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-7).  Indeed, much of this chapter is devoted to the correction of that specific problem.

A part of the answer to this problem (i.e. a spirit of partisanship) is rightly esteeming the relationship of the leader to Christ and his limitations with respect to the role he has been given.  Paul used two terms in addressing this. He identified himself to be a “servant” with respect to Christ.  The term “servant” translates the Greek huperetes which was used in that day of an “under rower.”  An under rower was a galley slave who served in the lowest level on board ship.  He was subjected to the hardest labor, cruelest punishment, and least appreciation of all the slaves on board.  The term later evolved in use to refer to “any subordinate acting under another’s direction” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  That’s the term Paul used of himself in expressing his relationship to Christ.  It also spoke of the manner in which he wanted his readers to regard both himself and Apollos.  He could have thought and responded otherwise.  He could have pridefully asserted his ministry credentials—in which he was unrivaled--and elevated himself above his peers.  But he understood who he was—he was but a servant doing the bidding of his Master.  We are all, regardless of our unique positions or ministries, servants of the same Master (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:22b).

He was a “steward” of the mysteries of God.  The term “steward” translates a Greek term that literally means “house manager.”  A steward’s role was to manage the household or property of his master.  A steward bears the responsibility of overseeing that which has been put in his care.  He is not the owner and has no authority or right to step outside the bounds of his assigned responsibilities, his job is to do that which he has been given to do.  In this case Paul referred to himself and Apollos as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).  They were responsible for proclaiming the truth that had been revealed to them (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1-3).  That is a responsibility borne by every minister of the gospel (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

A steward is successful to the extent that he is found faithful in discharging his responsibility.  This is the standard which God uses in measuring a person’s “success.”  The same term is used in the parable of the talents in expressing the Master’s response to the servant for his wise use of this gifts and responsibility (Cf. Matthew 25:20-23). 

James R. Sizoo once wrote, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence.  The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages.  A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.  It is what the unimportant people do that really counts and determines the course of history.  The greatest forces in the universe are never spectacular.  Summer showers are more effective than hurricanes, but they get no publicity.  The world would soon die but for the fidelity, loyalty, and consecration of those whose names are unhonored and unsung.” 

As a servant of Christ your name might remain “unhonored and unsung” before men, but it is God’s perspective that matters (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6).  He deems faithfulness to be praiseworthy.