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What is A Carnal Christian?   Leave a comment

When my daughter was in Christian school, the high school students complained that the school secretary treated them like small children. While waiting to take my daughter on an appointment one day, I observed the behavior for myself. The high school was located across the parking lot from the main building and so the secretary was used to dealing with small children all day. When she encountered the high schoolers, she tended to treat them just like one of the kids. They objected because they were more mature than this … but some of them actually were pretty immature.

So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? 1 Corhinthians 3:1-4

Image result for image of carnal christiansThe Corinthians felt like those high schoolers toward Paul. He was too elementary and simplistic. They were insulted by his message and his methods. In these first four verses of chapter 3, Paul exposed the reason for his content and method of preaching. It wasn’t that Paul was incapable of going deeper or grasping secular wisdom. A student of Gamaliel,  Israel’s greatest rabbi of that generation, Paul was quite capable of going deeper. It wasn’t that apostolic preaching had gone as far as it could go. Paul hadn’t get written Romans and the writer of Hebrews hadn’t produced that letter yet. The gospel could and did go a lot deeper in the future. The problem was that Paul’s Corinthian readers were carnal, fleshly, not spiritually minded. Paul dealt with them in an elementary fashion because, figuratively speaking, they were still elementary school students. These “kindergarten Christians” wanted to boast that they are taking graduate level courses.

We’re not horribly different today.

In some sense, any observer could agree the Corinthian Christian fell short of the mark. They were childish and immature, quarreling among themselves, incapable of in-depth teaching. What picture should come to mind when we hear the term “carnal Christian”? The subject passage tells us a great deal about the characteristics of a carnal Christian. The rest of the book (and 2 Corinthians) has much to add to the topic. For now, let us make some initial observations about the carnal Christian.

 In general terms, the carnal Christian is the Christian whose thinking and actions are prompted by the flesh. Conversely, the spiritual Christian is the saint whose attitudes, thinking, and actions operate under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual Christian’s life indicates that he or she is walking in the Spirit, in accordance with the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit. The carnal Christian possesses the Spirit, but he or she chooses to follow the impulses of the flesh.

Because the carnal Christian lives in accordance with the flesh, at times it may be hard to distinguish him from the unsaved, “natural,” man, who also thinks and walks according to the flesh. The difference between the carnal Christian and the natural (or unregenerated) person is that the former has the means to live a godly life, while the latter does not. The difference between the carnal man and the natural man is that the former is saved and going to heaven, while the latter is lost and doomed for an eternity apart from God, unless he becomes saved.

 Carnal Christians are like babies. When Paul first came to Corinth, he had to speak to these pagans as to “natural men,”unbelievers, who did not possess the Spirit. He thus proclaimed the gospel at an elementary level. Even after they were saved, Paul still had to speak to the Corinthians as brand new believers. Paul would explain the specifics of their immaturity later in the letter, but let us ponder what babies are like, and then compare this to the spiritual realm.

Babies are little and immature and must begin to grow up quickly. The Corinthian newborn saints were immature babies who needed to grow up. Babies are weak and vulnerable, completely dependent upon others for food, cleaning, clothing, and protection. Being weak, vulnerable and dependent, babies take a great deal from others, but they do not give to others. As babies begin to grow up, they become more independent. Every parent knows about the “terrible two’s”! Children have trouble getting along with other children because they are self-centered and selfish, and so they fight and squabble over toys and attention.

Carnal Christians are little babies who stay babies; they never grow up. We must be careful when we think about “carnal Christians” as babies, because newborn saints may have serioius weaknesses, but they also have capabilities. New Christians often put us more mature Christians to shame. They have a zeal for the lost, and they share boldly about their new-found faith. They have a deep sense of what they have been saved from. They have a hunger for the Word, often devouring it as they discover its riches for the first time.

Paul was not critical of the Corinthians for being immature right after their conversion. His criticism stemmed from their having remained children. They had not grown up and matured into adult, serving saints. Growth is normal and natural, and when children do not grow up, it is considered a tragedy. Spiritual growth is expected also, and when it does not happen, it is abnormal:

It was he [God] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligamentAs each one does its part, the body grows in love.(Ephesians 4:11-16). See also 1Peter 2:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-14.

Paul simply states that the Corinthian believers have never grown up. It is not wrong for them to digest only simple truths as newborn babes, but it is wrong for them to fail to grow up and not to take solid food. To stay immature is sin. The Corinthians are guilty of this malady.

Carnal Christians are “Wimps in the Word.” The Corinthian Christians were only able to handle “milk” when Paul was with them. Their condition had not changed because there was no growth toward maturity, no movement from “milk” to “meat.”

What is “milk,” and what is “meat”? Paul does not spell this out for us in our text, but the writer to the Hebrews does:

For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evilTherefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment(Hebrews 5:13–6:2).

According to these words, “milk” is the elementary truths necessary for salvation, and the taking of the first steps in a Christian’s walk in the Spirit. When the Christian moves from “milk” to “meat,” he is not moving from “Christ crucified” to “deeper truths.” He is moving from a basic grasp of the meaning of Christ crucified to a deeper understanding of Christ and the gospel and the implications for godly living.

Both the “milk” and the solid food, the “meat” of the Christian’s diet is the Word of God, centered in Christ crucified. As I understand Paul’s words, it wasn’t that the Corinthian saints were still trying to digest the “milk” of the Word. They had turned up their noses at “milk” and were seeking “wisdom” from those teachers who were offering teachings that appealed to their fleshly natures.

The carnal Christians of Paul’s day disdained doctrine. Since human nature hasn’t changed much, carnal Christians today also disdain doctrine. They do not want any diet which requires study, hard work, and thought.

They are infants still and display their wretched immaturity even in the way that they complain if you give them more than milk. Not for them solid knowledge of Scripture; not for them mature theological reflection; not for them growing and perceptive Christian thought. They want nothing more than another round of choruses and a ‘simple message’—something that won’t challenge them to think, to examine their lives, to make choices, and to grow in their knowledge and adoration of the living God. D.A Carson, The Cross & Christian Ministry, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1993, page 72

A very substantial “market” exists in the Christian community for sermons, tapes, radio and television talk shows, and Christian gurus who pre-digest truth for us and then tell us exactly how to do everything. The books on Christian marriage, child-rearing, facing life’s problems, and handling money are endless. It is not that all of these books are wrong. Some of them are quite informative. The problem is that many of today’s Christians seem incapable of thinking for ourselves.

Our goal shouldn’t be to teach people in a way which causes them to come back again and again with every new question, every new wrinkle to their problems. Education should provide people with the tools, methods, and motivation to learn for themselves. We are never completely independent of others, nor should we be, but as we grow up in the Word, we should become less dependent. We should not have to be told every “answer,” because we should begin to find the answers for ourselves. In this sense, “milk” is the product which has been produced by someone else, the nourishment we get “second hand.” The plethora of books, tapes, and materials can be either a blessing or a curse to us, depending on whether they aid us in finding the truth in the Scriptures, or whether they give us an excuse not to search out the Scriptural truth for ourselves.

Carnal Christians are not those who think of themselves as carnal, but those who think of themselves as spiritual. Paul started his letter by identifying the Corinthian believers as Christians ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, recipients of ‘the grace of God’, enriched by Christ ‘in all utterance, and in all knowledge’ (1:2-5). He rebuked in chapter 3 not for failing to be saved, but for acting with immaturity and like non-believers in one area of their lives.

The Scriptures don’t give comfort or encouragement to professing Christians who manifest no evidence of spiritual life. In my study of the “carnal Christian” in Corinthians, I reached the surprising conclusion that Paul viewed the carnal Christians of Corinth in a completely different way than we do in modern times.The carnal Christian is not the person who once made a profession of faith, who has done nothing since. The carnal Christian is the person we think of as spiritual—the kind of person who thinks of himself (or herself) as spiritual. When Paul used the term “worldly” Christian, he didn’t mean someone who had made a profession of faith, carried on in the Christian way for a short while, and then reverted to a lifestyle indistinguishable in every respect from that of the world. The Corinthian believers were still meeting together for worship (1 Corinthians. 14) and calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:2). They were extraordinarily endowed with spiritual gifts (1:5, 7; 12-14) and wrestling with theological and ethical issues (1 Cor. 8-10), and they were in contact with the apostle whose ministry brought them to the Lord. Far from being sold out to the world of the flesh, they still pursued spiritual experience.

The “carnal Christian” is one who may well be regarded as “spiritual” by others:

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds  the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. (Revelation 3:1).

The carnal Christians at Sardis were not rebuked for having done no works. God indicates that He is aware of their deeds. It seems the saints in Sardis had a reputation for being “alive” (let’s say “spiritual” and not miss the point) on the basis of their works. But in spite of this apparent evidence, God exposed them as being “dead.”

In the same chapter, we see that the saints in Laodicea also thought they were “spiritual,” but God informed them that they were not:

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following: 

This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouthBecause you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitifulpoor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent(Revelation 3:14-19).

How can the ones who consider themselves “spiritual,” who have a “spirtual” reputation with others, be the very ones God designates as “carnal”? We humans have the wrong criteria for judging spirituality. We judge by appearances of spirituality. But Jesus warned about making judgments on the basis of externals: “And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The “false prophets” Jesus warned about are those who perform very impressive works, and Jesus calls them those “who practice lawlessness”:(See Matthw 7:15-23)

Immediately after, Jesus emphasized that those who are “wise” (an interesting word in relationship to the Corinthians) are those who do what He has taught. (See Matthew 7:24-27)

Addressing the “carnal” Hebrew Christians, the writer to the Hebrews indicates that their immaturity is due to their lack of use of the Word, while the mature are those who are wise concerning good and evil because they have put their biblical knowledge to use. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14 emphasis mine).

What is the difference between the “works” of those who are unspiritual (even unsaved), and the “works” of those who are “spiritual”? It’s simpler than you think.  The works of those who are “fleshly” or “carnal” are those prompted and empowered by the flesh. The works of those who are spiritual are prompted and empowered by the Spirit. Seemingly spiritual people may hustle and bustle around the church, doing so much they appear to put others to shame, while in reality their works are fleshly. The “fleshly” Christian may even prostitute his or her spiritual gifts, employing them in self-serving and self-promoting ways. The Corinthian church was well-endowed with spiritual gifts, and yet Paul’s description of the church worship services implies that the gifts were being misused. More on that later.

Being carnal is not indicated by the absence of what might be called “good works,” but the absence of the Spirit in these “good works.” I can imagine the shock wave that hit the church at Corinth as the saints read and reflected upon Paul’s letter. Paul not only called many of the Corinthian saints carnal, he was calling those carnal who were most highly regarded as spiritual. One more surprise concerning the carnal Corinthians. The carnal Corinthians were not only those who were regarded as spiritual, they were also those who had the audacity to claim that Paul and his fellow-apostles were “carnal”:

Now I, Paul, appeal to you personally by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (I who am meek when present among you, but am full of courage toward you when away!) – now I ask that when I am present I may not have to be bold with the confidence that (I expect) I will dare to use against some who consider us to be behaving  according to human standards. For though we live as human beingswe do not wage war according to human standards. (2Corthians 10:1-3)

The two Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians deal with the fruits of carnality. Paul sought to point his readers to “true spirituality.” As we continue on in our study, we will gain insight into why “spiritual saints” are often considered “carnal” and why “carnal Christians” are thought to be “spiritual.” We will become increasingly aware that times have changed, but people have not. The pages of Paul’s epistles read like the pages of our daily newspaper.

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Saved but Carnal   3 comments

Maybe you’ve heard the term “carnal Christian”. It comes from this section of 1 Corinthians.

Brad and I began this Bible study because of a Christian friend’s carnality, so when we reached this passage, it seemed we should pay it particular attention.

So, brothers and sistersI could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the fleshas infants in ChristI fed you milknot solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the fleshFor since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? (I Corinthians 3:1-4)

The word “carnal” comes from the King James, which was influenced by the Latin Vulgate. It translates the Greek work sarkinos as carnal. Later versions have translated it as “fleshly” and “worldly”. The NET Bible uses “unregenerate”.

Related imageWe’re only going to focus on these four verses because there’s a lot of debate over what constitutes a “carnal” Christian and because you can’t really understand the church at Corinth unless you understand that Paul applied this term to many of the Corinthian Christians. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are about true spirituality, which he contrasted with the carnality of the Corinthian Christians. That carnality affected their understanding of spirituality. Thus, understanding what Paul meant by “carnal” becomes crucial to understanding his letters to the Corinthians.

Just a quick review of the road so far. Paul laid the foundation for this letter at the outset (1 Corithians 1:1-9). He indicated his letter was written not only to the Christians at Corinth, but to all the saints. He assumed his readers are true Christians and gave thanks to God because he knew God has abundantly provided for their salvation, sanctification and future glorification. Paul’s confidence did not lie with the Corinthians, but in the God Who saved them and Who will perfect them (verses 4-9)

And then he turned his attention to the problem of divisions within the church. He exhorted them to live in unity and then dealt with the known factions, which he strongly rejected as contrary to the gospel. He pointed to how his own ministry focused on preaching rather than secondary matters like baptism (verses 14-17).

He explained that he had not come to them as a great orator, because that would be detrimental to the proclamation of the cross of Christ. God did everything to make salvation possible. Paul rejected preaching that relied on human skill and talent in an effort to stay out of God’s way.

Men and women who boast that they are followers of a certain prominent leader or of Christ Himself, are exhibiting pride. Paul reminded his readers that the preaching of Christ crucified is diametrically opposed to worldly pride. He encouraged his readers to look around the church and remind themselves that the culturally elite (who the world prizes) were mostly absent, because the gospel is an offense to them, appearing to them as foolish and weak. Conversely, they were and are attracted to worldly wisdom and power.

God chooses to save those the world’s elite despise and reject — the weak, the foolish, and the “nobodies.” Through them, He accomplishes His purposes so that God’s power is revealed, and He receives the praise and the glory, rather than men. Paul came relying wholly on God’s strength and gospel, rather than prestige and wisdom.

However, just because the world regards the gospel as foolish didn’t mean Paul and the other apostles had no wisdom to teach. Paul taught wisdom, but only to those who were mature in Christ (2:6). Paul’s kind of wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are “wise” in this present age. Paul reminded us that God’s wisdom has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, Who the rulers of His age crucified (verse 8).

If the culturally elite “wise” of Paul’s age and of ours, don’t recognize the Savior of the World. They crucified Him instead. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking they can be won through worldly wisdom and worldly methods. The natural senses cannot discern the things of God.

If men are not capable of knowing God by their own efforts, how can God ever be known by men? In verses 2:10-16, Paul explained that God chose to reveal Himself to men through His Holy Spirit, who inspired the human authors of the New Testament to write them down. Through the Scriptures, the wisdom of God is revealed and, the Holy Spirit guides believers to understand the wisdom of God. The natural, unconverted man, does not have the Spirit within, and thus he cannot understand the Scriptures. The Spirit indwells the Christian and thus he is able to understand this current age and the mysteries of God revealed in Scripture (verses 14-16).

The Corinthian Christians had begun to look down upon Paul and the other apostles and the gospel message he preached because they found it simplistic (Christ crucified) and proclaimed in a less than entertaining way. The Corinthians had turned from Paul and his kind of preaching to others who the world considered wise and prestigious. Their excuse was that Paul failed to measure up to the new standard set by the cultural elite.

Paul had already hinted at the real problem. In chapter 2, verse 6, Paul wrote that he and the apostles spoke wisdom to those who were mature. The Corinthians were not mature. He couldn’t speak words of wisdom to them because they were carnal, or “fleshly,” or “worldly”.  So we have to deal with that term.

C. I. Scofield’s note in the Scofield Bible articulates a definition of the “carnal man,” which some embrace and others eschew:

Paul divides men into three classes: psuchikos, ‘of the senses’ (James 3:15; Jude 19), or ‘natural,’ i.e. the Adamic man, unrenewed through the new birth (John 3:3, 5); pneumatikos, ‘spiritual,’ i.e. the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Ephesians 5:18-20); and sarkikos, ‘carnal,’ ‘fleshly,’ i.e. the renewed man who, walking ‘after the flesh,’ remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent, fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the fleshly, or carnal, Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, ‘milk’ (1 Cor. 3:2).

Not everyone agrees. Ernest C. Reisinger delivers a strong rebuttal to Scofield’s interpretation:

Many who regularly occupy church pews, fill church rolls, and are intellectually acquainted with the facts of the gospel never strike one blow for Christ. They seem to be at peace with his enemies. They have no quarrel with sin and, apart from a few sentimental expressions about Christ, there is no biblical evidence that they have experienced anything of the power of the gospel in their lives. Yet in spite of the evidence against them, they consider themselves to be just what their teachers teach them—that they are ‘carnal Christians’. And as carnal Christians they believe they will go to heaven, though perhaps not first-class, and with few rewards.

Reisinger argues that the category of “carnal Christian” leaves a lot of unregenerate people sitting in the pews, assured they’re going to heaven, so comfortable with their lack of faith.

Reisinger believed that the preponderance of Scripture teaches only two classes or categories of men—regenerate and unregenerate, converted and unconverted, those in Christ and those outside of Christ. He was uncomfortable with the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching, feeling it conflicted with the whole emphasis of Scripture and of the New Testament in particular.

In 1Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul appeared to divide the world into two groups – spiritual (saved, possessed of the Spirit) and natural (unsaved, those who do not have the Spirit). But now, he speaks in three categories. Which is true?

Having both experienced periods of carnal Christianity ourselves, Brad and I believe there is such a thing, but we’ve also seen some people add some truly bizarre twists to it — twists like our friend who we are currently confronting.

It’s an important question that affects every church, so it’s probably important enough to spend some time looking at it. I think there are degrees of carnality. I don’t know any Christians who have never acted in worldly ways. We all struggle with our flesh (Galatians 5:17). And, 1Corinthians 3 is not the only place in the Bible where Christians are referred to as falling sort of the goal of being “spiritual”:

Brothers and sistersif a person is discovered in some sinyou who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.  Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. (Galatians 6:1).

Paul instructed “spiritual” Christians that they should aid those caught in a particular sin. This Christian is not spiritual, so there must be some other category for them to be placed in.

By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, [Abraham] received the ability to procreatebecause he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. So in fact children were fathered by one man – and this one as good as deadlike the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashoreThese all died in faith without receiving the things promisedbut they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Hebrews was not written by Paul, though his name was attached to it by Bible organizers. Whoever wrote it (possibly Barnabas or Apollos, the two together, or even Priscilla and Aquila) was well-acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures, so was likely a well-educated Jew of the 1st century. This writer used very similar terms to Paul’s of those who are unable to handle the spiritual “meat” of his teaching on Melchizedek. Their immaturity caused them to still be dependent on others and to continue to require “milk.”

There are things in Christianity that are either or, but there are also topics that don’t have such black and white depictions.

Perhaps the best analogy is how Jesus dealt with divorce. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees ask Jesus what grounds for divorce are acceptable to Him. Their question is not sincere, and the Pharisees held a much more liberal view on this issue than God taught. Jesus’s response is very instructive. Paraphrased, Jesus’ answered: “I refuse to talk about exceptions, because for you, divorce has become the rule, and keeping your marriage vows the exception. There are exceptions, but you have so abused these that one can divorce for the most casual and insignificant of reasons. I want to emphasize the rule; I want to speak about the ideal, and the ideal is that one man and one woman remain husband and wife until one of them dies” (see Matthew 19:4-6).

The ideal is that all Christians should be “spiritual”. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and every Christian should walk in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul wrote of two categories of men, those with the Spirit and those without. Now, in chapter 3, Paul introduced a sub-category of those who are saved and indwelt by the Spirit: those who are saved, but who do not live in accordance with who they are and what God has adequately provided for them to be. Whether this category is called “sub-standard Christians,” “carnal” or “fleshly” or “unspiritual” does not matter that much. Paul dealt realistically with unspiritual saints while at the same time, not setting aside the broader division of men into two simple categories.

The “carnal” issue isn’t just an academic topic to be debated by theologians. It effects our everyday lives. The “carnal Christian” is not that far removed from the “spiritual Christian”. Every Christian’s daily life manifests the constant battle we face between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 7:14, 18-19, 24-25; 8:1-4; Galatians 5:13-24). The “spiritual” Christian and the “carnal” Christian both struggle with the pull of the flesh and its opposition to the Spirit. The difference between the “carnal” saint and the “spiritual” saint is that the “carnal Christian” is losing the battle, and the “spiritual Christian” is, by the grace of God, holding his or her ground.

Reisinger spoke for many of a pastor and saint when he objected to the concept of the carnal Christian, believing it justifies or inadvertently encourages professing Christians to live a life of minimal commitment and obedience to Christ, all the while confident that they will get to heaven because they at one time made a profession of faith.

I agree with Reisinger that this abuse of the doctrines of the grace of God is deplorable. Nevertheless, abuse of a doctrine does not prove that doctrine wrong. In Romans 5, Paul concluded by saying that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Some had concluded this meant one could, maybe even should, sin that grace might abound (6:1). Paul was horrified at this thought and strongly rejected it. But the perversion of this doctrine in its application by some doesn’t prove the doctrine itself is wrong. We must beware of rejecting the category of the carnal Christian just because some abuse it.

More in a second post

Check Your Pride at the Door   Leave a comment

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of GodFor it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach about a crucified Christ,  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  1Corinthians 1:18-1:25

The Corinthian Christians were characterized by quarrels and a partisan spirit. In verse 13, Paul indicated what he constantly emphasized elsewhere, namely that divisions are contrary to Christ and to the gospel. Christians get caught up by quarrels and strife because of human pride that causes a person to desire to think of himself as being superior to others. In verses 18-31, Paul pointed to two characteristics of the gospel which serve as a death blow to the human pride found in the Corinthian church, and, unfortunately, in our modern churches.

Paul reminded the church that those who are status seekers will never gain recognition and status from the unbelieving world. The gospel does not appeal to human pride. It refuses to co-exist with it. The gospel informs us that there is only one thing to do with pride—crucify it.

Image result for image of prideThe “word of the cross,” meaning the gospel, is not a status symbol to unbelievers. It’s an offense. For those of us who “are being saved,” the gospel is the power of God (see also Romans 1:16). While Christians see the cross as glorious, unbelievers see the cross as a shameful scandal.

The conflict between divine wisdom and power and the secular world’s view of these matters shouldn’t surprise us. Historically, God has worked in ways that the world would never have imagined or believed. God’s purpose is not to glorify man but to glorify Himself by demonstrating the foolishness of man’s wisdom. The text which Paul cited in verse 19 indicates God’s intention of proving man’s wisdom to be folly. Paul referred to Isaiah 29:14 to show that God has always worked in a way that is contrary to human wisdom.

  • Would human wisdom have chosen an insignificant people like the Jews to be the nation among whom God would dwell?
  • Would human wisdom have chosen the land of Palestine over other places on earth?
  • Would human wisdom have led the Israelites to be trapped between the Red Sea and the on-coming Egyptian army?
  • Would human wisdom have instructed the people of God to use their power to help the weak, rather than to use their power to take advantage of the weak?
  • Would human wisdom have purposed to save Gentiles through the rejection and failure of the Jews, rather than through their triumph?
  • Would human wisdom have declared that the coming Messiah was to be born of a virgin?

In verse 20, Paul asked “Where is the wise man, the scribe, the debater of this age?” I think he meant where are they in the church, in the outworking of God’s plans and purposes? Paul wanted the Corinthians to look around them to see where the intellectual and scholarly giants were. Most churches largely don’t have highly esteemed members … people who are recognized by the world as “worthy” of adulation. This is primarily due to the pride of “great men” Even when God draws one of the “greats,” He first humbles them. Consider Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 1-4). But even when “great men” like Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Ben Carson identify publicly with the church, they quickly discover that the world is hostile their faith and distrustful of their science because of their faith.

Does the world think that God’s wisdom is foolish? They certainly say they do. From their perspective, refusing to see the evidence that doesn’t meet their worldview, God has set up a ridiculous system. What they fail to understand is that God will use foolishness to prove the ungodly to be fools. Since the world has not come to know God through its wisdom, God will make Himself known to some through means which the world regards as foolish. God has chosen the cross of Christ as the means whereby men may be saved from their sins.

Image result for image of prideJews and Gentiles may agree on few things, but they mutually hold that the cross of Christ is foolish. The Jews are into power through signs and wonders. All through Jesus’s life, they wanted to see signs and wonders. They expected their Messiah to be a wonder worker, here to do their bidding. Even the disciples bought into this mindset, so that Peter rebuked Jesus for speaking of the cross (Matthew 16).

The Gentiles were into a different kind of power—human wisdom. They took pride in following great intellectual thinkers and powerful orators. The message of a humble carpenter’s son, who died as a common criminal on a Roman cross, was not what Gentiles sought. The straight-forward proclamation of the “word of the cross” presented not as entertainment or deep philosophy was not popular either. To those who are called, this humanly unimpressive gospel is good news, and the proclamation of the cross of Christ is a manifestation of the wisdom and the power of God.

There are two radically different views of the same gospel. The view of the unbeliever, whether Jew or Gentile, is that the gospel is foolish and weak. The view of the Christian is that the gospel is the wisdom and the power of God. What seems to the unbelieving eye to be God’s weakness and foolishness will prove in the end to cause man’s wisdom and power to pale in insignificance.

The Corinthian saints were status seekers. Paul wanted them to see how foolish this was in the light of divine wisdom and power and how inconsistent status-seeking is with the gospel. First, Paul challenged his readers to take a good look around the church to note who was not present among them. Glaringly absent in the church were (and are) those people who hold positions of status in the secular world, in accordance with secular values. The church is not made up of wise men, scribes, and debaters (verse 20). In verses 26-31, Paul wanted the Corinthians to give thought to who is present in the church.

God has not done this because the weak and foolish are any better than the powerful and the proud. He has set aside the highly regarded and employed those things which are disdained so that all the glory might come to Himself and not to mere men. This is the concluding point Paul made in verses 29-31. If God achieved His purposes through the worldly wise and powerful, we would be inclined to give the praise and glory to the men He has used rather than to God. This world believes the “movers and shakers” are the ones who make things happen. Even the church seeks to evangelize and train those whom the world regards as “most likely to succeed.” But God chooses the opposite, those whom we expect to fail (or, more accurately, those we already deem to be failures), so that when His wisdom and power are evident, there are no wise and powerful men to take their bows before men. Instead, men must bow before God, giving all the glory to Him. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Obviously, there are just as many divisions in the church today as there were in Paul’s day. Sometimes it seems like there are more divisions now compared to then. What is the root of these divisions? Paul identified the root of the Corinthian conflicts as pride.

After setting the standard of Christian unity, Paul sought to correct the ungodly divisions in the church. He did so by focusing on the gospel. Our salvation is Christ-centered and not man-centered. How then can Christians divide themselves from other Christians on the basis of the men whom they have chosen to follow? We were saved in the name of Jesus Christ; how is it that we now take pride in the names of the men we follow?

 Over and over and over again, it is the gospel which provides the standard, the basis, the motivation, and the guiding principles for Christian living. The gospel is not just some philosophy we believe in order to be saved. It is the truth which we must seek to grasp more fully day by day, and the truth which we are to live out in our everyday lives. (See Colossians 2:6-7; Colossians 3:12-15; Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Philippians 2:1-8)

Pride is not the root of all evils (see 1 Timothy 6:10), but it is the root of many evils, including strife and division in the church. Pride caused Satan’s downfall (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:1-19). Satan used pride to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden. Pride prompted King David to stay home from the war, resulting in adultery and murder. God warned the nation of Israel about pride, knowing that these people would eventually take credit for that which God had accomplished by His grace. Pride is a great evil, and it historically has been a prominent factor in human strife and division, even among the people of God.

Paul spotlighted pride as the root problem among the Corinthians. Unlike some pastors today,  he didn’t advocate months or years of therapy. He didn’t see the need to know the childhood, background, or individual struggles of each Christian. All they needed to know was the gospel. It is by the gospel that God removed the enmity between sinners and Himself and it is by the gospel that the conflict between men will be removed (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

The gospel is incompatible with human pride, yet too often when men seek to evangelize the lost or attempt to motivate Christians (and unbelievers) to give or to serve, they appeal to human pride. They glorify certain tasks and positions, so that people will fill them for that glory. They publicly laud the gifts or service of people, so that they will be proud of their contribution. Gospel thinking requires us to do just the opposite.

In order to be saved, we must confess our sin and admit that we are unworthy of God’s gift of salvation. We must humble ourselves and accept the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. We must cease trusting in our goodness, efforts, and worthiness, and cast ourselves on the sinless Son of God who died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin, and giving to us His righteousness as a free gift.

The gospel which saves is the gospel which humbles, and that humbling gospel is the basis for Christian unity and harmony. We live in an extremely prideful age that, perhaps not surprisingly, does not focus on the gospel and does not deal with sin in the church. That needs to change if we as a body of believers are to return to Christ. We will not find status with God by seeking status among our secular neighbors.

Posted February 19, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Introduction to 1Corinthians   Leave a comment

Brad and I have been renewing an acquaintance with a man who used to be a good friend and in doing so, we’re confronting a lot of our beliefs and his. This man claims to be a Christian. In fact, he used to be our Sunday School teacher. But he went seriously off the rails a few years back, which contributed to the church we were attending at the time going seriously off the rails and our family deciding to attend another church. He no longer attends our old church either, which is probably a good thing … for that church and possibly for him. He still comes around to us now and again and we still care about him, so we’ve been discussing our appropriate response toward him. As always, we turn to the Bible for guidance.

First Corinthians is a tough book in modern times because Paul might as well be preaching to 21st century Christians. In other words, it is a perfect book for today when Christians have so many voices trying to tell them how they should live. Early Christians, some of whom had met Jesus in the flesh, recognized Paul’s letters as something special, worthy to be preserved, copied and distributed. Peter himself alludes to Paul’s writings as “from God”. We ought to pay attention to what those who knew Jesus personally thought was scripture because these people would have objected if it ran counter to what Jesus taught.

Before we begin our study of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, it would be good for us to view the book as a whole. Why? Because 1Corinthians was not written as a series of disconnected verses or passages that someone stuck together into a book, but as a letter to a specific group of believers — people Paul knew — about specific circumstances. as summarized in this outline:

The letter can be outlined in this way:

1:1-9

Introduction: Salutation (verses 1-3) and thanksgiving (verses 4-9)

1:10–4:21

Dealing with divisions within the church

5:1–6:20

Dealing with sin that separates believers from God

7:1–10:33

Questions answered

11:1–14:40

Church Conduct—Diversity without divisions

15:1-58

The Doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

16:1-24

Conclusion—Getting Personal

I wonder how most Christians would feel about being sent to a church like the one in Corinth, as described in the two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. I suspect most of us would hesitate to be planted there because, from a purely human point of view, the church in Corinth appears to be hopeless.

Yet, Paul’s introductory statements were positive, upbeat, and optimistic. His prayers concerning this church were filled with expressions of thanksgiving. That doesn’t make sense. How could Paul be so positive and optimistic as he communicated with this church? Some would like to say that Paul actually was commending this church for its attitudes, but when you read his actual works, it’s clear that he didn’t condone the conduct of many of its members.

It’s tempting to skip over Paul’s salutation, as if it were just a boiler plate greeting that means nothing, but in our studies, Brad and I realized that Paul began to lay out a theological foundation for his ministry and the teaching he presented throughout the letter.

With the elaborations of this letter Paul begins a habit that will carry through to the end. In each case the elaborations reflect, either directly or subtly, many of the concerns about to be raised in the letter itself. Even as he formally addresses the church in the salutation, Paul’s mind is already at work on the critical behavioral and theological issues at hand. Gordon D. Fee, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Grand Rapis, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), page 28

Paul’s letter was written within a certain context. It fits into history which comes down to us in the Book of Acts. At the end of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council met to decide just what should be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-29). When Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways, Paul took Silas with him and set out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41) while Barnabas went on a separate journey with John Mark. Paul and Silas began by revisiting some of the churches that had been founded on the first journey, primarily delivering the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 16:4-5).

After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6) and Bithynia, Paul, Silas, and Timothy ended up at Troas, where Paul received the “Macedonian vision” (16:9-10), which brought them to Philippi where a number were saved and a church was established. From Philippi, Paul and his party went to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens (Acts 17). From Athens, Paul went to Corinth, the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth. Like Paul, they were tentmakers. They had fled from Italy because of a command from Claudius that all Jews must leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). Every Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue, where he sought to evangelize Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4). Eventually, Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to join Paul at Corinth. Apparently, they brought a gift from the Macedonians which enabled Paul to fully devote himself to the Word, so that he gave all of his efforts to preaching Christ (Acts 18:5).

Paul’s preaching prompted a hostile reaction from the unbelieving Jews, so he left the synagogue and began to concentrate on evangelizing Gentiles (Acts 18:6-7). Paul moved his headquarters to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Gentile “God-fearer” who lived near the synagogue (Acts 18:5-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer and brought his household to the Lord. Many other Corinthians were also being saved and submitting to baptism (Acts 18:8). The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, assuring him that there were many more souls to be saved in that city and that he was not to fear. He was to speak out boldly and not hold back for fear of trouble (Acts 18:9-10). As a result, Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months, which was a longer period of ministry than in almost any other town.

Paul’s lengthy ministry was facilitated, in part, by a ruling of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (18:12-17). The Jews seized Paul and brought him up on charges before Gallio, accusing him of being neither a faithful Jew nor a good citizen, that he was speaking and acting against the Law of God and the law of Rome. Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Gallio simply gave his ruling, seeing this strife between Paul and the Jews as yet another instance of the in-fighting which was so typical of the Jews. Fed up with this situation, Gallio refused to be used by these Jewish zealots to prevail over their Jewish rivals. He threw them and their case out of court.

Gallio was a pagan who cared nothing for the Jews, the gospel, or Paul, but his ruling was a landmark decision, officially legitimizing and protecting those who preached the gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. Judaism was an official religion, recognized and sanctioned by the Roman government. The Jews were seeking to convince Gallio that Paul was really no Jew and that the preaching of the gospel was not the practice of Judaism. They inferred Paul was a threat to the stability of Roman rule and that neither Paul nor any other Christian should be allowed to preach the gospel under the permission and protection of the Roman law. When Gallio refused to rule on this matter, calling it a Jewish squabble, he declared Paul’s preaching of the gospel to be a practice of Judaism. As far as Gallio could see, Christianity was a Jewish sect and thus protected by Roman law. This meant Paul’s ministry was legal, and any Jewish opposition could not claim Rome as their ally.

The Jews were furious. In retaliation, they seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the proconsul, who looked on with disdain, mostly unimpressed and thoroughly unconcerned. This Sosthenes seems to be the same person who is with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:1).

 After about 18 months of ministry in Corinth, Paul set out for Syria with Priscilla and Aquila. On reaching Ephesus, Paul ministered for a short time, promising to return if the Lord willed (Acts 18:19-21). He left Priscilla and Aquila there and journeyed on to Caesarea, Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). After visiting the churches in Asia Minor, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years. While in Ephesus, it appears he received unfavorable reports about the Corinthian church which prompted him to write his first letter to this church. This letter was not preserved as a part of the New Testament canon (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We don’t know why or what became of it. It’s one of the questions I want to ask when I see Paul in heaven. Given the overall consistency of Paul’s entire body of writing, it is unlikely that this letter would vastly change his message to the Corinthians … or to us in the 21st century.

Later, while Paul was still ministering in Ephesus, he heard from some of “Chloe’s people” that divisions were emerging in the church at Corinth and that there was a case of gross immorality in the church. Instead of feeling shame and sorrow over this sin, at least some of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their tolerance (chapter 5), which might sound somewhat familiar to us today. Paul also heard of Christians taking their fellow-believers to court, seeking to have pagans pass judgment on spiritual matters (chapter 6), of unbecoming conduct at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11) and of doctrinal error concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). A three-man delegation consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus arrived from Corinth (1Corinthians 16:17) bringing a letter which asked Paul about marriage (1Corinthians 7:1), virgins (7:25), food sacrificed to idols (8:1), spiritual gifts (12:1), the collection for the saints (16:1), and Apollos (16:12). Paul then wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports and questions he had received.

Posted January 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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