Monthly Archives: June 2015
Paul may seem a little bit egocentric at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, but I think he is trying to point out the importance of discipleship within the Christian community.
1Co 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
1Co 11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
Paul is not comparing himself to Jesus Christ by any means. He was one who clearly understood that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He would never compare himself to Jesus Christ, but in this chapter he identified as one who was committed to following Jesus Christ. Although he was not one of the original disciples, the term disciple applies in my opinion. He was committed to following the teachings that he had been given.
When Jesus went back to heaven, He commanded the apostles to go across the world and create disciples. How would those newly converted disciples know anything unless they were emulating the example of their teachers? In elementary school, we learn mathematics from our teachers who already know mathematics. It is not that our teachers are the source of mathematics, but they can help guide us along the way as we learn more and more about that subject.
Christians are the same way. We need others alongside us to help us nurture our relationship with Jesus Christ. Mentors are valuable; they can see things that we don’t recognize about ourselves. People were not made to live in isolation. Friends and teachers are important for all of us. Paul understood that he was able to provide this type of service to the church in Corinth. He could help them develop into a more mature church. He could provide that type of mentoring.
I hope that we all have some type of support structure like this in our own lives to continually help us and challenge us to move closer to Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul points out how the people of Israel suffered from a variety of sin issues while they were wandering in the wilderness. He used that as a way to encourage the church of Corinth that even though it might feel like they were entirely alone, human beings have been dealing with these issues from the beginning.
1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
I think that sin has a type of isolating effect. We often times think that maybe we are the only one who has this particular problem. Paul was writing to encourage the people from Corinth that there was nothing that would make God abandon them. Even if they felt tempted by a certain issue like idolatry, God would be able to help them come through it.
We all can identify with this I’m sure. We might all have different sinful tendencies, and what sets me back will be different than what sets you back. God promises that He will help us make it through. It doesn’t matter what the issue is.
What God does not promise is that it will be easy. You will be able to bear it. However, if you think about twisting your ankle, you are able to bear the pain, but it doesn’t mean that the pain is easy. I think that is the same way for us. We are inherently sinful people, and that is what we want to do. To break out of that pattern is not easy, but God will make it possible. It might seem to be the most natural thing in the world, and we might justify our sinful behavior as not so bad or acceptable given my personal circumstances, but we are told to run away from that. We are supposed to use the option that God will provide to us so that we can escape the temptation.
Temptation is not easy, but it comes to each and every one of us. We’re certainly not alone, and God is still right there with us. We just need to make a conscious effort to work for the freedom that He has given us.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is speaking about being called as a minister, and he explained that we ought to do our best at that endeavor. He draws an athletic parallel.
1Co 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
1Co 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1Co 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
1Co 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
He disciplined himself, he worked hard and he was working to win. I think this is an example for all of us. Notice that Paul did not necessarily say that he was trying to be other people. He was trying to do his best. It wasn’t that he was going to undercut somebody else in his mission, but he was going to do everything he could to do his best.
I think that that is something that the church falls into every now and then. We see congregations as competitions. I want to have the biggest church in my town, or I want to have the most kids in our youth group. Both of those are perfectly fine things, and somebody has to be the biggest, but we want to be careful that it does not descend into competition.
Every church ought to do what it does well. Every church ought to run the race just like every Christian ought to individually run the race. However, everything needs to come back to the idea that we’re still on the same team. It is like watching the Olympics when there are two American runners in the 100 m final. They are certainly on the same team, but they each do their best to maximize their own talent and win the race.
If it is Christian, it ought to be better, and the only way it is going to be better is if we do everything to our best.
Sometimes we just want to know what we have to do and what we should avoid doing. We want to reduce Christianity to a long checklist of concrete items that we can use to accurately evaluate our performance in a progression towards holiness. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way, and 1 Corinthians 8 points out the kind of difficult situation that I’m sure many of us have encountered before in a modern context.
1Co 8:7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
1Co 8:8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
1Co 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Paul was be about the context of eating food that had previously been offered to idols. For some people, that was a really big problem, and others were saying that it really was not that big of a deal. Paul did not think it was a big deal unless it caused someone else to stumble. If eating this meat was causing a division, then as he said in verse eight, it is not going to hurt us to abstain for that one meal.
It wasn’t that the meat was inherently sinful, but causing divisions is mentioned many times throughout the letters of Paul. If this becomes such a big deal that people are going to be offended by something that really doesn’t even benefit the consumer that much, then it is not worth doing.
It seems to me that this is somewhat similar to the perspective on alcohol. There are some people who don’t mind consuming some, and there are other people who do not think it is right to consume any. If you happen to be one of those who believe it is all right to consume some, I think this verse might be applicable for you when you are with one of those who believe that all alcohol ought to be prohibited. It is more about consideration for your fellow Christian, and it is more about preserving unity.
Obviously, we don’t compromise on major issues, but when we are causing problems for our brothers and sisters, we need to look out for their interests as well
I am not married, so I am probably somewhat unqualified to speak an awful lot about marriage. However, I find it interesting that Paul speaks about the relative advantages of marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7. This passage in particular stood out to me.
1Co 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
1Co 7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Paul was not married, and he thought that was a valuable thing. As he goes on to say later in the chapter, he did not have to worry about providing for a family if he did not have one. That meant that he could commit more of his attention to the calling that God had for him specifically.
However, as you can see in this passage, it is not as if marriage is a bad thing. Some people need that companionship. As Paul says in verse seven, everyone has their own gifts. Some people can remain single and be okay with that. Some people would really struggle without having a husband or wife. Above all, it is better to marry than to burn. It is rather vivid imagery, but I think the point is rather obvious. If you are called to get married, then that is what you should do. You don’t want to stumble into sin because you are neglecting the call that God placed in you to desire a spouse.
It does seem to me though that Christianity can get caught up in the necessity of the family, and on some level I think that is incredibly important. It is important for people to have children for obvious reasons. However, we also cannot forget that there are some people who, like Paul, simply do not need to get married. That is not their calling in life, and as Paul says, they have a different gift from God. They will have a gift of potentially more available time. They are still valuable members of the community.
The bottom line is that the body of Christ has room for everyone. That includes those who are married and single.
Christians seem to have one of two reactions to the free gift of salvation that we have received from God. One reaction is to be incredibly grateful for what God has done. Of course, that is the preferable one. It is good and right for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ to appreciate everything that he has done for us.
The other option is what Paul speaks against at the end of 1 Corinthians 6.
1Co 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
1Co 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
We forget that we have been bought with a price. We forget that we need to be thankful. We take salvation for granted, and we almost take our motto of “you get what you pay for” literally. We think that because salvation is free, it is cheap. That could not be more wrong. It is free, but it is also infinitely valuable.
What does that mean for us? I think it certainly calls us to think about our own behavior. Do we try to glorify God in all areas of our lives? Do we just go to church on Sunday morning but then follow a different master the rest of the week? I hope not, but I do think all of us are guilty of that on some level. We all create idols that we follow occasionally.
Maybe that should be our goal. We should try to remember where our priorities should lie. If we make that our target, we can develop the attitude of gratefulness that Paul seems to be encouraging in this passage.
Church discipline can be difficult, and I’m certainly not going to pretend to have all of the answers, but if we look at 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly seems to indicate that there is a way that we should treat those who call themselves Christians and those who make no such claim.
1Co 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
1Co 5:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
1Co 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
I think that the best way to approach this topic is to consider what it means to be a Christian. We agree to certain things as Christians. As much as identifying as an accountant comes with the expectation of certain pieces of information and expertise, being a Christian means that we are identified with certain things.
One thing that we ought to agree on is the authority of Scripture. I know that people disagree on certain interpretations of Scripture, but I think we all ought to agree on the fact that the Bible is a guide to life. If we agree that the Bible ought to influence how we live our lives, then we have a common ground to identify violations of that agreement.
For people who are not Christians and do not agree to the Bible as an important piece of God’s revelation, it is not possible to hold them to the same standard because they don’t know the standard. We can still identify sinful behavior, but we should not be surprised when people who are not Christians don’t live in the way that God wants us to live.
However, Christians, or at least people who identify as Christians, understand what God expects of us, and as a result, it seems to be the case that one a fellow Christian falls into something that he or she should know is wrong, then we have the responsibility to help him or her correct that relationship with God.
Humans seem to be wired for community. We generally enjoy being around other people, and we learn a lot from the people we associate with. In the case of the early church, Paul clearly wanted to emphasize in 1 Corinthians 4 that there is value in learning in a community that taught classical Christianity.
1Co 4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
1Co 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
On the surface, some people might argue that this sounds very egocentric. After all, Paul is encouraging people to do what he had done. Was Paul implying that he had everything in order? I don’t think he was implying that at all, but I think he was implying that Timothy would remind the people about this is that Paul did that were in Christ. In other words, he was going to be passing along important doctrines which I imagine included teachings on the resurrection as well as how to live as a Christian in the non-Christian world.
More importantly, I think that this emphasizes the importance of the Christian community. We know that Paul had been taught by the apostles, and we know that Timothy had been taught by Paul. It wasn’t like Paul made up a random cult. Rather, there was a sense of community where all of these guys were working to share a consistent message. They were working together rather than creating derivatives.
We can learn from that today. We might have differences of opinion on certain issues, but at the same time, we can have common ground around the essentials of the faith, and we can work together. We do not need to be tiny islands.
Here is a question for you. How do you build an effective ministry for Jesus Christ? Let’s talk about this website here.
To make it effective, I need to have great writing, great design, great search engine optimization, cultural relevance and so many other things.
Actually, that is only part way accurate. I do have a responsibility to do my best work. However, I would argue that effectiveness is not my ultimate concern. I draw that from 1 Corinthians 3.
1Co 3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
1Co 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
1Co 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
1Co 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
God uses everything for His benefit. Yes, perhaps He could use my writing to encourage someone. I would love to hear that. Like Apollos, maybe I am watering the ground. However, God provides the increase. God is the one who brings about any of the increase that comes from any of our ministries.
Obviously, if you run a website, you want people to read it. If you pastor a church, you want people to attend. However, ultimately our responsibility seems to be to do our best, but God is going to provide the increase at His pleasure. Paul and Apollos were faithful at doing their jobs. They ministered to the church in Corinth, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. However, what we definitely do not want to do is become obsessed over the results. If God is calling you to a certain ministry and you are faithful to give it your best work, then that is all you ultimately have control over. Think about the Old Testament prophets. Nobody ever listened to them, but they were faithful to the mission that God had given them. We need to keep that perspective in our modern day ministries as well.
As an apologist, it is easy to become far too dependent on general revelation. The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, and the spectacular design of the universe seems to point towards a creator. These types of external testimony are important, and I think that they are incredibly important to use as we answer objections that people have to the Christian faith.
However, as we see in 1 Corinthians 2, there is also another barrier. There is also a personal level that we experience as we develop a relationship with God.
1Co 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Admittedly, there are some things about being a Christian that are hard to explain. Think about how hard it is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is difficult to understand someone else’s perspective. Similarly, it is hard for someone who does not have a relationship with God to understand what it is like to have a relationship with God. If they don’t know Him, how would they know what it is like?
Even if it is hard to explain what it is like to have a relationship with God, the evidence should come out in our behavior. I have heard it said that the most powerful apologetic is a transformed life. When major changes take place, people recognize it. They don’t understand what could have had such a dynamic impact, but they will notice it. God can do that, and He has done that in thousands of lives throughout history.