Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Tag

Run!!!   Leave a comment

We live in a sex-obsessed society. If people aren’t thinking about having sex, they’re thinking about how to be attractive enough to attract people who want to have sex with them. Our movies are filled with beautiful, sexy people. Magazine ads sell everything from cars to deodorant based on sexual attraction.

It’s not a new problem. The society in Corinth in the 1st century was also sexually obsessed. Paul’s admonition in the coming passage was not the standard response for the era. In fact, he was quite out of step with the times.

All things are lawful for me — but not everything is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me– but I will not be controlled by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food” — but God will do away with both. The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”  But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body” – but the immoral person sins against his own bodyOr do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in youwhom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.  1 Corinthians 6:12-20

The items in quotation marks were popular slogans of Paul’s day, used by the Corinthians to justify their behavior. Paul agrees wit the slogans in part, but corrects them to show how the Corinthians have misused these ideas.

Drawing from my lessons on economics, I’ve learned that short-term pleasure can lead to long-term disaster. This is especially true in the area of sexual immorality. For a few minutes of pleasure, countless men and women will throw their lives away — lose fellowship with God, end up divorced, diseased, or pregnant, and face estrangement from family and friends. There can be psychological and financial losses, damage to your reputation and many other consequences. Most of us assume we’ll be the exception. We won’t get caught. Nobody needs to know. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Rather than tell the Corinthians what bad things might happen, Paul used another approach. He suggested the Corinthians honor God by recognizing their bodies are God’s temple.

Image result for image of fleeing sexual immoralityThere is such a thing as freedom in Christ. I don’t get flung into the fires of hell because I screwed up. Those slogans came from somewhere, most probably from an expression of freedom, but our freedom in Christ is meant for our good and God’s glory. When we step beyond those boundaries, we end up out in a swamp with only a hard way back.

Yes, all things are lawful for the Christian. God’s world is meant to be enjoyed. Everything God created is good, including sex. That’s very, very good! But not everything we can do is good for us. Sex outside of marriage is unprofitable and can lead to being mastered. Christians are to refuse to be mastered by their bodies. Enjoy the world, but don’t press your freedom so far that you do damage to yourself. Immorality breaks marriages and shatters homes. We are free to do it, but sin still has serious consequences. Will what I want to do help my relationship with God or hurt it? Will it damage someone else? Will it affect the church’s testimony?

Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. I live in Alaska where I am free to walk out into the woods whenever I wish, but if I do it without bear protection, I stand a good chance of ending up a bear’s dinner. I am constrained by my need of self-protection to carry a gun so that I can enjoy the beauty of nature. God’s moral laws act the same way: they restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom.

Paul argued that sexual immorality is an offense against God the Father (v 13-14), Jesus Christ (v 15-1) and the Holy Spirit (v 18-20).

“Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them.” This sentence isn’t about food, but about sexual immorality. Paul emphasized the subject to show how God values the human body. Both the stomach and the food are temporal. Later, in Chapter 15, we’ll learn that God will raise our bodies from the dead. Our bodies are precious to Him. Why?

This passage sees the return of Paul’s “do you not know” questions. Paul also used the word “members” several times. And this gets to why our bodies are precious to God and why what we do with our bodies matters to Him a great deal.

The moment we believed in Jesus Christ we were grafted into His body. We are now members of Christ. So, just like we wouldn’t want to stick our physical hand in a food processor, God doesn’t want us to misuse parts of His body. It was therefore unthinkable to Paul that Christians would ever be sexually immoral, because what we do to our bodies we also do to God.

Now, I’ve heard it argued that Paul was preaching against prostitution because of the lack of love and commitment. He’d be okay with the sexual relationship between two people who love one another. Yeah, there’s a moral distinction between sleeping with a prostitute and a passionate interlude with a steady date.

Sin remains sin.

Armed robbery is a much more violent form of theft than shoplifting, but that doesn’t mean shoplifting is okay. Corinth had a big prostitute trade, so Paul addressed it, but the Greek word used for “immorality (porneia) deals with all kinds of sexual immorality. And, Paul had just listed some of them a few sentences before.

The word “joins” or “unites” (NIV) is used in each of these verses. The Greek word was used for gluing. An immoral man glues himself to an immoral woman. A believer, on the other hand, should glue himself to the Lord. Why do you think the word “glue” is used of sexual relationships? After all, aren’t many sex acts purely physical, without any real personal involvement? No. Paul says it is impossible to have a physical-only sexual relationship. There is no such thing as casual sex, inconsequential sex, or recreational sex. I’ve met psychologists who will admit that the sexual act is such an intimate act that it involves and affects the whole person. Paul quoted from the Old Testament to prove his point. In Genesis 2:24, God says of the sexual act, “the two will become one flesh or one personality.” We error when we dismiss sex as inconsequential. If you’re a Christian, your body is God’s body. When you have a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse, you glue yourself to another instead of God.

The last three verses provide tremendous encouragement about the resources God has given us to live a sexually pure life. It starts with the powerful admonition to “Flee sexual immorality!” It is a present imperative and should be translated, “Keep on fleeing” or “Make it your habit to flee!” The Bible’s advice for avoiding sexual immorality is simple: stay as far away as possible from the persons and places and things likely to get you in trouble. Real men and women run! They don’t stick in and fight.

In 6:18, Paul put sexual sin in a category all its own. All the sins in the world are put in one column and sexual sin is put in another. All sins are outside the body except sexual infidelity, which alone is a sin against one’s own body. There is no gradation of sin. Sin is just sin, but sexual sin is unique in its character. Like a malignant cancer to the body, immorality internally destroys the soul like no other sin. This is why we must flee from it. If we allow ourselves to succumb to immorality, we will be guilty of destroying our own body and the bodies of other partners, but more — we damage the temple of God.

Paul finished the passage with the crux of his argument. “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?”

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, the local church is called the “temple.” Here, the same Greek word (naos) is used of the individual Christian. The term used in both passages for “temple” is not the word for a pagan temple, or even for the Jewish temple structure and grounds. It refers to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place for the people of God in the Old Testament. Paul was saying that God Himself is resident within us. Your body is His mailing address. He dwells in YOU!

The New Testament never calls a church building a Holy of Holies, but it designates the believer’s body as such. Does that change your perspective on the subject, Christian? Few of us would consider committing an act of sexual immorality in a church chapel, but some of us frequently commit sexual immorality with God’s temple.

The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit. He lives inside of us, ready to help us in our battle against sin. One of the words for Holy Spirit in the New Testament is parakaleo, which means “counselor” or “helper.” We have been given a divine resource in the battle against the flesh which includes sexual sin. We don’t have to be in bondage, because we have the power of the Spirit of God within us to supernaturally help us resist temptation. It is possible to live a life of sexual purity, especially as we rely on the Holy Spirit Who gives us strength to abstain from our fleshly lusts.

Finally, we have been bought with a price. We know longer belong to ourselves. In a sense we never did. Paul’s image does not picture a slave being sold to a god and then set free, but being transferred by sale from one owner to another. Formerly, we were slaves of sin, now we are slaves to God (Romans 6:16-23; 7:6).Your body belongs to God, Christian. So we have no right to pervert or misuse our bodies sexually, because they don’t belong to us to do with what we will. We’re not the masters of our bodies. Verse 20 teaches that we have been purchased by God at the cost of the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us. That blood has cleansed us from sin. In light of this great purchase price, Paul commanded us to glorify God through sexual purity, out of gratitude for what Jesus did. This means to show God off, to make Him look good.

We have the privilege of living lives that honor God physically, emotionally, and relationally. Being sexually pure affects our relationships with each other, but ultimately it’s about our relationship with God. He is the only one to whom we owe adoration and ultimate obedience. This is an amazing reality—God can be glorified in the choices we make in expressing our sexuality. The Lord is honored when we resist sexual temptation. God is glorified when we express our sexuality through the marriage relationship.

Yeah, we live in a sexually saturated society in the 21st century. It’s not unlike 1st century Corinth. Paul didn’t lower the bar for them and God has not lowered the bar for us.

So what if you’ve already blown it? I’m not surprised. We live in a sexually saturated society. A message like this can make you feel guilty that you’ve already violated God’s word, which is no doubt why people try to reject teaching like this. The Bible is filled with people who made mistakes and wandered in the wilderness for a while before coming back to God. Confess your sin and God is willing and able to forgive it. You must confess to God because sin against God is so much greater than the sin against anyone else that the other victims pale into insignificance. The question of confession to others besides God is a difficult one. From a 12-Step perspective, it’s always good to confess your wrongs and offer to make amends. Just remember, there is temptation in that direction, so you might want to make your apology in writing.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Choose this day who you will follow and get on with it. Sexual sin is cumulative in its damaging effects, kind of like carbon monoxide. It stays in a person’s system for a long time, with the result that a non-lethal dose can sometimes kill because of the accumulation of poison in the system. A second act of immorality is not a freebee—it compounds the sin of the first one, spreads the cancer a little further, and eats away at a little more of one’s personality and spirit. The only way to deal with such sin is to end it immediately, radically, permanently, and in complete dependence upon God. Covenant with God that you will never let it happen again. Ask Him to give you strength. Become accountable to someone.

In recent years there has been a movement among Christian young adults called “secondary virginity.” It’s been a way to encourage those who have already sinned sexually at a young age to establish a new marker and commit to abstinence from now until marriage. Some in the liberal press have made fun of this effort, but I applaud the young people who have committed to starting over.

A word to those of us who have no fallen, but know those who have. Be willing to forgive them. Remember, God has forgiven you too, of other things. Was the sin in the life of your spouse, child, close friend any worse than the sin you have committed? God forgave YOU. Forgiveness is not just a feeling; it is a decision to do what God does for you every day!

Yeah, we know it’s not easy. We’ve been there ourselves.

Judging the Church   Leave a comment

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians focus on the problem of fleshly divisions within the church. Little factions, each with their own leader, had arisen. Worldly wisdom was embraced in place of the wisdom of God in Christ. Pride was a distinguishing feature of these Corinthians. In their false pride, the Corinthians began to judge Paul (and other apostles) unfairly, and to look down upon him, his ministry, and his message. Paul had gently rebuked these saints, and at the end of chapter 4, he urged them to heed his admonition so that he would not have to come to them “with a rod” (4:21).

Image result for image of christian courtsWhile the Corinthians were wrongly dividing over petty distinctions, they were unwilling to separate themselves from a church member who persisted in a sin so abominable that even the pagans of very rowdy Corinth were shocked. Paul rebuked the church for failing to exercise church discipline on a man who was living with his father’s wife. Paul informed the church of his action, even from afar, and urged them to follow his example. They had somehow misunderstood his previous letter, supposing that he was teaching that Christian separation is separation from unbelieving sinners. Paul corrected this misconception not just for them, but for us as well.

The divisions Paul spoke of theoretically in chapter 4 are now addressed specifically in chapter 6. Paul sought to show the Corinthians the “higher road” of morality, which doesn’t come from civil laws but from the gospel.

When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 1 Corinthians 6:1

Paul had been exceedingly gentle in the previous chapters, only indirectly introducing the problem of divisions in the church. How dare the Corinthian Christians air their disagreements out before the unrighteous rather than go before the church!

Paul was distressed on many levels in this topic:

  • Disputes were erupting between believers in the church. Christians were at odds with one another.
  • These disputes between believers were being taken to the secular courts by these Corinthian believers.
  • Unbelieving judges were being asked to arbitrate between Christians.
  • When these disputes were taken before unbelieving judges, the whole ugly ordeal was carried out before the curious eyes of unbelieving spectators. The world gets to watch these Christians fight with one another in court.
  • These disputes had not been taken to the church, where they belong.

Remember what Jesus said about church discipline in Matthew 18? Disputes between believers should be resolved as privately as possible within the church, unless the wayward saint chooses to disregard the church, in which case that individual should be publicly disfellowshipped. Instead of these two individuals at Corinth going through this process, they took their grievances to the local courts to seek a judgment from an unbelieving judge. Paul was flabbergasted.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow ChristiansInstead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:2-6

Paul asked a sequence of questions which indirectly exposed the pathetic condition of the saints at Corinth. Five times in this chapter Paul asks the question, “Do you not know…?” This strikes a very hard blow at the pride of the Corinthians, who think themselves so very wise, and Paul so very naive and provincial in his thinking. I suspect Paul had already taught on these subjects and was flabbergasted that they had forgotten.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (see Daniel 7:21-22, 27;  Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4.

Paul assumes they do know it, and that their actions are completely contradictory to their theology. If Christians are going to reign with Christ and participate in the judgment of the world, how in the world could these Corinthians turn to the unsaved for judgment? If the righteous will judge the unrighteous at the Second Coming, how could the Corinthian Christians look to a heathen to judge the righteous

Do the Corinthians not know that they will be judging the angels? (See Isaiah 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 20:10)

If they know, why would they feel they are unable to judge in trivial matters of this life?

Both the Old and New Testament scriptures are clear that the saints will judge the world. However, there is no clear statement in the Old or New Testaments (other than this statement by Paul) that the saints will judge the angels. It is not a great reach to infer this, however. The saints will reign with Christ when He comes and establishes His kingdom. When Christ judges the world, we will participate. Through Jesus, God will also judge the angels . If this judging of the angels is also a part of Jesus’s reign, and if we shall reign with Him, then we too will judge the angels. Furthermore Paul, as an apostle, was given the authority to reveal that which is a mystery in the Old Testament. If the Corinthians had begun to trust in other (false) apostles, then perhaps it was time they reconsidered their source of authority and revelation. If they were listening to Paul, they would know such things.

Verse 4 is understood in a number of different ways, depending upon the translation. I prefer the translation (paraphrase) of J. B. Phillips: “In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church?”  If the saints will judge both the world and the angels at the coming of Christ, why in the world would they turn to the world’s judicial system to pronounce judgment in a dispute between two believers? Paul had just written in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, that natural men cannot understand thing Spirit of God, so why would church members turn to them for judgment in spiritual things?

Wasn’t there even one wise person among the Corinthians who was qualified to judge the dispute between these two believers? This church thought it was very wise. They were so quick to judge Paul and find him wanting. They proudly followed one leader and condemned the rest. Where were these Corinthian “wise men” when they were needed? They were very good at judging when they wanted, so why was no one able to judge such mundane matters? Believers were at each other’s throats before the world.

The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this wayBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11

For the competitive Corinthians, life was all about winning and losing. Lawsuits are certainly about winning and losing. Paul argued that any Corinthian Christian who took another believer to court had already lost. Going to court with a fellow-believer is a no-win situation. The better way is to take the loss. Yeah, Paul is telling us that it is better to be a victim than a victor. We want to argue against that because we don’t want to take a loss because of our pride. We don’t want to let the other person get the better of us. We don’t want to lose — money, possessions, prestige …. We protect and exercise our rights, no matter what the cost to others. Our rights are unlimited … the other guy’s can be limited.

Christians are supposed to have an utterly different value system from the unbeliever. When Jesus invited men to follow Him, they were instructed to “take up their cross daily” to follow Him. Thus, the Christian is a person whose life is dominated and directed by the cross of Calvary. It was on the cross of Calvary that Jesus was wronged to bring about our salvation.The wrongful death of Christ is the model for the Christian (see 1 Peter 2, 18-25). This is the reason Jesus taught His disciples not to retaliate, but to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Paul teaches us similarly (Romans 12:17-21). Jesus taught that if a man forces you to go a mile, you should go two miles instead (Matthew 5:41). The one who asks of us should receive from us (Matthew 5:42). Our goal in life is not to accumulate possessions or to protect and preserve them. We are to give all these things up, gladly. Our attitude should not be to seek our own interests ahead of others, but rather to seek the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:1-8). This being the case, we should be willing to be wronged and defrauded, especially for the sake of the gospel and for the testimony of the church.

Yes, I am an individual rights advocate, but the non-aggression principle teaches that my rights are not more important than the other person’s rights.

It is a terrible thing for a Christian to take another Christian to court. In verses 1-7, Paul addressed the plaintiff, the one who felt offended or ill-treated and urged him to take his grievance to the church and to risk suffering loss rather than damage the reputation of the church and hinder the gospel by exposing the sins of a brother to the world. Love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Paul then turned to the defendant, who might have been feeling self-satisfied at that moment, comforted by Paul’s rebuke of his adversary. Paul didn’t left him off the hook, though.

If the plaintiff must be willing to be wronged and defrauded, it’s not an invitation for others to wrong and defraud. Some of these Corinthians Christians are crooks, and they prey upon their fellow Christians. Paul warned them that heaven is not a haven for sinners, but a blessed sanctuary for those who have been saved, whose sins have been forgiven because they have forsaken their sins. Some Corinthian Christians were once sinners with sinful lifestyles, but that was the past, and this was the present. Paul provided a broad and all-inclusive list of their sins that include:

  • those who commit sexual sin outside of marriage (idolaters),
  • those who serve other gods of various kinds (idolaters),
  • those who commit sexual sins against their partner in marriage (adulterers),
  • passive (effeminate) and active (homosexuals) sexual deviates.
  • thieves
  • those who lust for what others possess (the covetous),
  • alcoholics (drunkards),
  • those who speak against others (revilers), and
  • con artists (swindlers).

This is a sampling of those who won’t make it into heaven because heaven is a holy place, because God dwells there. Consequently, unholy people will not be there.

The Corinthian church included people who had previously lived such sinful lives, but when they were saved, this became a past, which should be forgotten and forsaken. Salvation includes repentance. Repentance means that we not only agree with God that we are sinners, doomed to eternal torment, and that Christ’s righteousness will save us, but also that we turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Of course this does not mean that we will live a life of sinless perfection. It means we can’t keep on living in sin, as we once did while we were unsaved. Salvation is the process of turning from darkness to light, from death to life, from sin to righteousness. Salvation means that we should never consider continuing on in sin, even though God’s grace is greater than all our sin (see Romans 6:1).

That’s a sobering thought! The gospel is about sinners who are turned from sin to righteousness. It is one of the greatest comforts for the Christian. What we were as unbelievers, we are not now as Christians. Our sins of the past are not only forgiven, they are forgotten by God. God doesn’t treat us like felons on parole. The Christian who was once a thief is not just an ex-thief; he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, replaced by a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). What we once were as an unbeliever, we will never be again. No sinner is too far gone for God to save.

Paul had a very different view of the relationship of the past to the present than that popularly held by many psychologists and psychiatrists today. In the psychological world of our day, what one was in the past determines what he is in the present. This is why so much time and money is spent digging up the past. It makes a great excuse for sin in the present. Paul’s thinking was just the opposite for Christians. What we were in the past does not determine what we are today, because the cross of Christ separates us not only from our sins but from our past. Christ stands between us in the present and us as we were in the past. What we were is not what we are. The cross of Christ is the reason why we can be now what we were not then. Christians cannot and must not be crooks. It is not because Christians cannot sin, but because they must not sin. For a Christian to be a crook is for a person to return to that wicked state from which he or she was delivered by the grace of God in Christ.

When we were saved, we were completely saved, severed from our past identity and given a new identity. We were washed, cleansed of our sin and our guilt. We were sanctified, set apart from sin unto holiness. We were justified, legally declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us by faith. All of this transpired in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul rebuked the Corinthian saints for failing to resolve their disputes with one another within the church. Paul wanted his readers to see the folly of taking spiritual matters before unbelievers, who have no grasp of the real issues. Paul knew, as the Corinthians should have known, that the legal system deals with the protection of men’s rights and the seeking of one’s self-interest, while the gospel is about the surrender of one’s rights and the seeking of the best interests of others. If the dispute cannot be resolved within the church, Paul advocated that the offended party suffer the loss, for the sake of the gospel. In no case should any Christian think that breaking the laws of man or God is something a person can continue after coming to faith in Christ, as though this doesn’t matter. Crooks do not go to heaven. Only saints do.

Why did Paul take this situation in Corinth so seriously? He was gentler with them over condoning sexual immorality in the church than he was about lawsuits between Christians. The issue is the unity of the church, the body of Christ. The church is one body, and believers are all brothers. The focus of each believer is to build up the body of Christ, which means that he must build up individual believers. Taking a fellow-believer to court is not what building up is about. Generally, we take another person to court to take him apart. The church is a temple, the dwelling place of a holy God. To destroy the temple by attacking its members is to invite divine destruction (3:16-17). Lawsuits in Corinth were a denial of the gospel. To continue to act as we formerly did as sinners denies the radical change the gospel makes. We were sinners; we are now saints, a holy nation, declaring the excellencies of Him who saved us (1 Peter 2:1-11). As Christians, we cannot persist in thinking and acting as we formerly did, apart from Christ.

Corinthian Hot Potato   1 comment

Paul had just ordered the Corinthian church to expel a sinning Christian for the purposes of disciple. You should go back and read last week’s post if you haven’t already. Casual readers of the Bible or those who use search engines to cherry pick will accuse Paul of being abusive at this point, but it’s important to recognize that he had a long-standing relationship with the church at Corinth and this wasn’t the first time he’d communicated with them on this point.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

This is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Paul indicated in verse 9 that he had previously written to the Corinthians on the subject of separation. In that first letter, he instructed them not to associate with immoral people, including unbelieving sinners of all kinds, those who are immoral, those who are covetous, those who swindle, and those who are idolaters. The Corinthians either misunderstood or twisted Paul’s words to mean something other than what Paul intended. They apparently had the Pharisaical notion that equated holiness with separation from unbelievers. Now, Paul clarified his instructions. He wasn’t talking about avoiding contact with unbelievers. In Corinth in the 1st cenutry or the United States in the 21st century, there is no way to avoid contact with unsaved sinners. The only way to avoid “the world” is not to live in the world. I don’t know about you, but I like electricity and running water and access to a grocery store. That requires a job and living at least on the edge of society. Besides, Christians are not tasked with avoiding sinners. We’re supposed to live among them in such a way as to reveal Christ to them (see Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12)

Image result for image of church disciplineThe Christian must rub shoulders with the world in order to be a witness to the lost. What a Christian cannot do is participate with the world in sin. We are to be in the world, but we are to be unlike the world, living out the life of Christ as lights in a dark place (see Ephesians 5:3-14).

Paul never meant for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world. They were supposed to keep the world out of the church, meaning that those who profess to be saved must live like they’ve been saved. Among those practices, we should not embrace a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction to Biblical teaching. The Corinthians were not to associate with a person claiming to be a Christian, who continued to live in sin. Immorality is not the only basis for church discipline. Paul touches on them briefly — there’s covetousness, idolatry, slanderous speech, drunkenness, or swindling. Fellowship with someone who falls into this category is forbidden. This does not simply mean that this person is disfellowshipped from the meetings of the church. It means that individual believers must withdraw any manifestations of fellowship. This includes the sharing of a meal, which in biblical times was an intimate act of friendship (see Revelation 3:20).

Church discipline is a form of judging that is not only permitted but required. We’re not supposed to judge outsiders, but the conduct of those who profess Christ are to be scrutinized. God will judge unbelievers at the proper time. Some unbelievers will be saved by the grace of God and, like us, escape the wrath of God through faith in Christ. Others will be judged by God, but this is not our responsibility. The bottom line for the Corinthians is that they must put this immoral man out of their church.

This last expression, “Remove the evil person from among you,” is virtually a quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7: 

Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you – in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you – who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant by serving other gods and worshiping them – the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing – that very man or woman – and you must stone that person to death. At the testimony of two or three witnesses they must be executed. They cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witnessThe witnesses must be first to begin the execution, and then all the people are to join in afterward. In this way you will purge evil from among you. Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The expression is similar to that found elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 24:7). What Paul called for in the New Testament church is not significantly different from what Moses communicated to the nation Israel. We forget that God dwelt in the midst of His people in the Old Testament and thus the Israelites were required to remove sin and sinners from their midst. In the New Testament, Paul informed the Corinthians that God now indwells His temple, the church. They too must remove sin from their midst, because a holy God indwells them. In both cases, it is recognized that removing the sinner may include death. This is a serious step that can only be taken by Christians who take sin and God’s commandments seriously.

It’s hard for us in this day and age to read Paul’s words to the church of Corinth. He’s reminding the Corinthians of their duty to play a part in this process by removing the wayward and willful sinner from their midst. That raises several important issues for 21st century Christians.

Whatever happened to sin?

Dr. Karl Menninger, a secular psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin. Though not a Christian, Menninger recognized that evil was become “psychologized”. Had the Corinthian sinner lived today, I can just imaging the diagnoses that would be applied to him in order to explain away his behavior. Here’s a man, living with his father’s wife, so a psychologist would probably look for childhood sexual abuse while another advocate would insist it’s a genetic predisposition. Some would argue that his behavior is perfectly normal and that the narrow-minded church people are the real problem. There were be long, expensive, and intensive therapy prescribed … perhaps to the man and woman, but more like to the church members since church discipline would be considered harmful rather than helpful. Paul’s diagnosis was simple, and so was the prescription. The problem was the sin of immorality, and the prescription was to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.

Whatever happened to discipline (church and otherwise)? The Corinthian church failed to exercise discipline on the immoral man to whom Paul was referring. At the same time, Paul accused the church of being arrogant. To exercise discipline is to acknowledge that you have done all that you can, and that you have failed. If we are thinking clearly as Christians, we realize that there is nothing spiritual which we can accomplish. We cannot save anyone; we can only proclaim the message of Christ crucified, and know that God, through His Spirit, will draw those to Himself whom He has chosen. We cannot bring about the right living of a believer. Once again, we can, as faithful stewards, do what God has given us to do, but we cannot produce the results. In Paul’s words, we may plant or water, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our arrogance, we sometimes convince ourselves that, given enough time, we can turn someone from their sin. There is a great deal of emphasis on counseling in our culture, even in the church. There is a place for counsel, but we often give ourselves and our system of counseling too much credit. We don’t want to admit failure, and so we refuse to take that final step of “removing the wicked person from our midst.” Just a little more time and we can correct this person’s thinking. Church discipline is based upon the recognition that we have done what we can in the context of the church, and that God can turn that wayward person to repentance apart from us and apart from our ministry.

The modern churches have unconsciously begun to think of themselves as support groups. There are times when we rightly act as a support group, but the overall support group mentality is a very dangerous one. Support groups can cause individuals to put their trust in “the group” rather than in God, priding themselves for “being there,” no matter what the wayward one has done, or will do. The support group purposes to always “be there,” while the church is called not to be there indefinitely for the one who refuses to heed a rebuke and to turn from willful sin.

The therapeutic movement within Christianity has propagated an assumption is that we must love one another unconditionally. There is a sense in which this is true, of course. But we are not to “love” others unconditionally if we are attempting to redefine what love means. To exercise discipline on a wayward saint is to love that person and to seek their highest good. To unconditionally accept that person is to never refuse to have fellowship with them, thinking which directly opposes Paul’s teaching in our text. Popular theories about psychology and theology must never set aside Biblical commands. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter 5 end with a clear command. When called for, we will either obey this command, or we will sin.

Image result for image of church disciplineWhatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. That’s pretty serious because, if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do that is to become a partner with that person in his or her sin.

Church discipline is a very clear duty of the church and individual Christians. So why don’t we practice it? I think arrogance plays a large role in that, with a huge sidecar of fear. I think we’re afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection because we’re being viewed as narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen and I think we’ll see more court actions in the future.

Sometimes we are afraid that the work of God will be thwarted by church discipline. I know of several instances where a Christian leader was the brother in sin. That leader, when rebuked, would not repent. It would ruin their career. And, when the church became aware of it, they feared the harm publicity would do to the work of God. Some of those Christian leaders are still on the field. Brad and I left a church we loved because of it. God’s work is bigger than any man or any organization. God’s work is making sinners holy, to His glory. When a leader continues in sin, the church should discipline him publicly, as an example to all (1 Timothy 5:19-20). When any saint is placed under discipline, it serves notice to the world that the church does not accommodate sin.

Finally, the teachings and practices of the “church growth movement” discourage church discipline. The church growth experts generally measure the success of a church by numerical growth. This movement seeks to attract unbelievers to the church by being “seeker-friendly,” by making unbelieving “seekers” feel comfortable with the church and with the Christian message. If you’ve stuck with me through Paul’s teachings in Chapters 1 & 2, you know this is impossible. The message of the cross is foolish. Divine truth concerning God is incomprehensible to the lost. Men and women are not saved by getting comfortable with God, but by becoming uncomfortable by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they are sinners, that God is righteous, and that judgment awaits the sinner (John 16:7-11). When God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for their deception, the unbelieving world was not comfortable. It caused them to stay away from the church. Nevertheless, many were being saved (see Acts 5:11-16). Sinful men should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God.

Now for the bottom line. Why would we discipline a wayward saint, when we will not discipline ourselves? I’m remarkably passive and quiet about those sins in others that I also have in my life. Self-discipline is often harder than church discipline.

God takes sin seriously. Just think about the cross of Calvary and you’ll see what I mean. God took our sin so seriously that He stepped down into history as Jesus to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins. The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin ourselves.

Modern Christian Persecution   Leave a comment

This last week, several Christian friends with Middle-Eastern connections asked me if I would write something about the persecution of Christians in the birthplace of Christianity.

Image result for image of coptic christian martyrsWhatever questionable benefit they were for democracy, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East and the Arab Spring have become pure hell for Arab Christians. In 2016, an estimated 90,000 Christians worldwide died for their faith.

Copts are among the earliest Christians, dating to the first century A.D., when John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas and writer of one of the four Gospels, became bishop in Alexandria and established the first church outside the Holy Land.

Copts make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They have been especially targeted for terrorist attacks since the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, who had been elected president after the ouster of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In the subsequent struggle between Egypt’s Islamists and the regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (who was welcomed to the Trump White House in March) the Copts are seen as soft-target allies of Gen. el-Sissi’s though they’ve long been hated for their faith.

On Palm Sunday, 44 Copts were martyred in Egypt while celebrating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Over 100 were injured in the blasts at St. George’s Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s in Alexandria.

The Islamic State group claims credit for the murders, which were given only cursory coverage by the media which was far more concerned with the dead children from the Syrian gas attacks. I’m not rating either one as more horrible than the other. I’m saying the persecution and murder of Christians by Islamists deserves as much coverage as the killing of Muslims by Islamists. I do not buy  that Assad, on the eve of a peace treaty, would have gassed his own people. It defies logic and if you watch Baraba Walters’ interview with Assad, he does not come off as insane.

In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Christians were left alone if they did not interfere in politics. Iraqi Christians prospered as doctors, lawyers, journalists, academics, engineers, businessmen. A Christian, Tariq Aziz, was Saddam’s foreign minister who negotiated with Secretary of State James Baker to try to prevent what became the Gulf War.

Before 2003, there were still 800,000 Christians in Iraq. But after a decade of church bombings and murders of priests, their numbers have plummeted. When the Islamic State seized a third of Iraq, Christians under the group’s rule had to convert to Islam and pay a crushing tax or face beheading.

Under Syria’s dictator Hafez al-Assad and son Bashar, Christians have been 10 percent of the population and protected by the regime. They thus have sided with Assad against the terrorists of the Islamic State and al-Qaida, whose victory would mean their expulsion or death.

Of the 10 nations deemed by Christianity Today to be the most hateful and hostile toward Christianity, eight are majority-Muslim nations, with the Middle East being the site of the worst of today’s persecutions.

Afghanistan, which the US “liberated” in 2001, is listed as the third-most hostile nation toward Christians. Christian baptism there is punishable by death. A decade ago, a Christian convert had to flee his country to avoid beheading.

A decade and a half after we launched invasions and occupations of the Muslim world in Afghanistan and then Iraq to bring the “blessings” of “democracy”, the people there who profess the Christian faith are being persecuted as horribly as they were under the Romans in Nero’s time. I’m still waiting for the promised gains for religious freedom and human rights that will justify the bombings, invasions and wars we have conducted from Libya to Pakistan, the death and suffering the US military has inflicted, and the losses US citizens have endured.

Pride Leads to Tripping   Leave a comment

Centuries before Paul confronted the Corinthians, the prophet Nathan provided an excellent example of indirect confrontation. David had sinned greatly, taking Bathsheba in an adulterous act, then attempting to cover up his sin with the thinly-veiled murder of her husband. When Nathan confronted David, he did not immediately accuse him of his sins. Instead, he approached David with the story of a poor man whose only lamb was taken away by a very rich man. David was incensed and demanded that this “sinner” be brought to justice. Only then did Nathan disclose that this story was a parable, and that the guilty man was none other than King David. David confessed his sin and was forgiven, although serious consequences followed. The indirect approach of Nathan was effective as it committed David to a righteous course of action in principle when it did not appear to relate personally to him. Once David embraced the matter in principle, Nathan spelled it out to the king in very personal terms.

Image result for image of pride as tripping hazardPaul did something very similar in the first chapters of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians had a problem of divisions in the church based upon undue attachment to a particular leader that led to the rejection (or at least disdain) of other leaders. The leader they followed was a great source of pride to these cultic cliques. They boasted of belonging to a particular person as their leader. Paul first dealt with the matter in principle, contrasting the gospel, weak and foolish in the eyes of the unbelieving world, with the false wisdom and power of those who are considered leaders in the secular world.

I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? Already you are satisfied! Already you are rich! You have become kings without us! I wish you had become kings so that we could reign with you! For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored! To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads. We do hard work, toiling with our own hands. When we are verbally abused, we respond with a blessing, when persecuted, we endure, when people lie about us, we answer in a friendly manner. We are the world’sdirt and scum, even now. (1 Corinthians 4:6-13)

The real problem at Corinth was not between any of the apostles or their alleged followers. The real problem was divisions and cliques which centered on others. Paul’s teaching to this point in the first Epistle to the Corinthians was intended to draw men’s attention and commitment to the Scriptures, to “what is written.” The Corinthians departed from the Scriptures, and in so doing, proudly boasted of their attachment to a certain leader and their disdain for others. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul exposed the carnality of the Corinthians. The evidence of their condition could be seen in their weakness in handling the Word and their attachment to men. In 1 Corinthians 4:6-13, Paul indicated that carnal Christians attach themselves to men because they have gone beyond the Scriptures to find truth and wisdom.

The Corinthians had become arrogant against the apostles. Verses 7-13 are a graphic description of how the Corinthians looked at themselves and, in contrast, how they looked at Paul and his fellow-apostles.

Paul raised three very crucial questions in verse 7 which will expose the seriousness of their self-deception and sin.

Who regards you as superior?” Who was their judge? Who esteemed the Corinthians as so high and mighty? Was it the unbelieving community? God was their judge, not the corrupt Corinthians of that day.

What do you have that you did not receive?” The Corinthians boasted in their abilities. Where did these abilities come from? If they were given (and they were), then they were given by God. If the Corinthians were boasting in their God-given gifts, then they were boasting in God’s place. They had the wrong judge and the wrong object of praise. Men have taken the place of God.

“If all that the Corinthians possess is a God-given gift, then how can they boast, as if it were not a gift?” The Corinthians thought themselves so wise, but they were arrogant and boastful. If they were so wise, how could they be so foolish as to take credit for something they were given, as though they were not the recipients of a gift? They had forgotten (or forsaken) grace. These all-wise Corinthians are self-deceived.

The minds of the Corinthians were not mysterious to Paul. He virtually read their minds and described the way they looked at themselves. They were “already” filled; they had “already” become rich. Indeed, they had become kings. These Corinthians were much like the Laodiceans of Revelation 3: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked’” (Revelation 3:17).

The word “already” indicates that in their minds, the Corinthians had “already” arrived. It will soon be clear that Paul and the other apostles have not. How can this be? How can the carnal Corinthians think they had arrived when the apostles had not?

In effect, the Corinthians thought they have already” entered into the kingdom; they had “already entered into the full benefits and blessings of Christ’s work at Calvary. They were not unlike a number of professing Christians today, who argue that all of the blessings resulting from Christ’s work on the cross are our present possession, and that all we need do is have the faith to claim them. They claim to possess them and look down upon all who do not. They also claim that those who do not possess them suffer and are afflicted in this life and do not experience success and the good life here and now.

Such thinking contradicts the clear teaching of our Savior and of His apostles. Jesus clearly speaks of suffering and adversity in this life, and the glories of His kingdom in the next, as did all of the apostles (see John 15:18-19; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Philippians 1:27-30; Philippians 3:10-11; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-13).

How ccould these Corinthians and modern-day prosperity gospel acolytes miss the fact that if we identify with Christ in this age, we will suffer rejection, persecution, and affliction, but with the assurance of entering into the blessings of His kingdom when He comes? Paul already told us that these Corinthians needed to learn not to “go beyond what is written.” They were wrong because they had forsaken the Scriptures as the only source of divine truth. Second, they had twisted the Scriptures pertaining to prophecy and future things. Like many others in New Testament times, including our own, they had distorted the doctrine of the resurrection, future judgment, and the blessings of Christ’s kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Peter 3:3-4).

If the Corinthians, boasting in their worldly wisdom, thought they had arrived, they were equally convinced the apostles had not. Judgmentally, they looked down upon the apostles in their suffering and humble service. Paul paints the picture of the Corinthians, sitting “on high” looking down from their lofty heights, disdaining the apostles who were a shame and a reproach to them. Paul said God has exhibited the apostles before the world as those condemned to die, as those being led to their execution. They were a spectacle to angels and to men. The apostles were fools; the Corinthians were wise. The apostles were weak; the Corinthians were strong. The Corinthians were distinguished; the apostles were without honor.

Paul’s description of the apostles in verse 11 sounds remarkably like a description of the lowest rung of our own social ladder today. It also sounds like the men and women Brad and I have seen in prisons and rescue missions. They are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless. It takes little imagination to picture the contrasting condition of the Corinthians. In today’s terms, the Corinthians were like many of the televangelists of our time. They were well fed, impeccably dressed, highly esteemed, often possessing several expensive mansions.

Rather than living like kings off of the saints, Paul labored with his own hands, not supported by those he served. He supported his ministry with his labor (Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Corinthians 9:1-23; 2 Corinthians 11:7-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). When the apostles were reviled, they gave a blessing in return. When persecuted, they endured. When slandered, they sought to conciliate. In spite of this (or perhaps, because of this), they were regarded as the scum of the world, the bottom of the social barrel.

Let God Judge   Leave a comment

The Corinthian church had a leadership crisis. Small cliques had attached themselves to leaders in whom they took pride. Highly regarded in the secular world, these leaders were chosen because of their message and their methods. Their content was thought to be the essence of wisdom. Their methods were powerful. In the 21st Century we’d be expecting the church at Corinth to be experiencing significant growth.

Although each clique appears to have been a personally following of one of the apostles — of Paul, Apollos, or Peter — it wasn’t the apostles themselves who were the problem. They were not competing with one another for positions of power and prominence. If we think the rivalry at Corinth was between the followers of certain apostles like Paul or Apollos or Peter, Paul has a surprise for us in chapter 4. Here, in verse 6, Paul indicates that the real cliques have been established around personal allegiance to certain unnamed men, who are not apostles. As the two letters to the Corinthians continue to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that some of these leaders were spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37-38), and some were not even believers, but rather “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5

The Corinthians had given themselves to one leader, whom they elevated to the place which rightly belongs only to our Lord. Speaking for himself and for the other true apostles, Paul sought to revise their perception of leaders. Even those whom God had appointed as apostles were to be regarded as servants, not as masters. Paul made this point earlier in chapter 3, verse 5: “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.”

Image result for image of god as judgeIn this verse (3:5), Paul employed the first of three Greek terms for a servant, which he would employ in reference to himself and the other apostles.

Diakonos is a common term for servant, which on a few occasions refers to the office of deacon. The term for servant in 4:1 is hyperetes, which refers to a slave who was seated under the deck of a ship and was one of a number of rowers, by whom the ship was propelled. It was not a position of status, and thus Paul employed this term to emphasize the humble service of the apostles. The third term, oikonomos, is rendered “steward.” The steward was also a slave, but one given a higher authority, under his master. He was the responsible head of the estate, assigning to each slave his duties and entrusted with the administration of the stores. He was a slave in relation to his master, but the epitropos or overseer in relation to the workmen.

Even apostles are mere men, who have been chosen and appointed by God to be His servants, and to whom He has given authority to serve as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Servants do not own things; they are owned by their Master. As servants, the apostles did not own or possess their followers as the false teachers seemed to do, and as their followers even boasted (“We are of …”). As stewards, the apostles had a certain authority to act in behalf of their Master, but they were still servants of Christ. As slaves and stewards, the apostles were not intent on pleasing men (see Galatians 1:10), but on pleasing the Master. The Lord was their Master, and He will be their Judge. They will give account to Him for their stewardship, and the standard for judgment will be their faithfulness in fulfilling their stewardship.

In verses 3 and 4, Paul pursued the matter of the judgment of himself and the other apostles as God’s stewards. He conveyed to the Corinthians the inherent weaknesses in human judgment. Paul informed them that he was not overly influenced by their judgment of his faithfulness to his calling as an apostle. He didn’t directly attack their ability to judge him, but pointed out his own limitations in judging himself. If Paul couldn’t rely completely on his own self-evaluation, then how could he be heavily influenced by the judgment of the Corinthians, whose knowledge of Paul was much more limited? Paul could search his conscience to see if there was something worthy of an indictment, but even if his conscience gave him a clean bill, his conscience might be ill-informed. Consequently, the only One who is completely qualified to judge Paul is his Master. It is the Lord Who examines him.

If human judgment is fallible, then Paul could rightly instruct the Corinthians to refrain from making final judgments, which should be left to God. When he wrote, “do not go on passing judgment,” we know that the Corinthians were passing judgment, and Paul was instructing them to cease doing so.

Let us pause for a moment to consider what the Bible as a whole has to say on the subject of judging. It does NOT say we shouldn’t judge. That’s a manipulation of Scripture. We are required to judge many things. The Book of Proverbs is written to enable us to discern character, and various character types are vividly described: the naive, simple or gullible, the fool, the sluggard, and the scoffer — all contrasted against the wise. We are to deal with a person according to their character, and thus we must judge character, based upon the descriptions given in Scripture. We are to judge sin, which is clearly defined in the Scriptures, and clearly evident in our life (1 Corinthians 11:17-31) and in the life of another (1 Corinthians 5). We are also to make judgments on spiritual matters involving believers (1 Corinthians 6). We are to judge the doctrinal truth of what we are taught (Acts 17:10-11).

There are also things we must not judge. We are not to judge the convictions of a brother in the Lord, since these are not matters of biblically defined sin, but of liberties (Romans 14:4). Neither are we to judge or speak against a brother in any matter which the Scriptures have not defined as sin, and for which we have no biblical support. To do so is to place ourselves above the Word of God and to pass judgment on God’s law and God, the Lawgiver and the Judge (James 4:11-12).

When God calls upon the saints to judge, they do so in God’s behalf (Matthew 18:18-19). When we wrongly judge, we judge in God’s place (James 4:11-12). In our text, Paul is forbidding men to judge in God’s place, passing judgment upon those things which God alone can judge. The judgment which does not belong to men is that which will be done by God in the day of judgment, when He returns to the earth to establish His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We dare not “go on passing judgment” before “the time” (4:5). This judgment is God’s judgment alone, because it is that which only God can perform.

Human judgment is temporal and incomplete; it is not final, nor can it be. Consider this. During the recent elections, television networks continued to give updated results, as the precincts closed and votes were counted and reported. After a while, certain trends became apparent, and winners were “predicted” and announced as such. While such predictions are usually accurate, the final outcome cannot be determined until all the precinct voting places have closed and all the ballots have been counted. Our judgment is not the final verdict. Such pronouncements belong only to God.

Paul instructed the Corinthian saints to cease judging their fellow servants because they did not have sufficient data on which to base a judgment. The arrogant, boastful Corinthians who were judging actually thought they were wise enough to judge in God’s place. They based their judgments on outward appearances, which is a very dangerous thing to do (see Luke 16:15). Later Paul insisted that not all gifts produce visible results (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). The boastful Corinthians preferred the gift that were visible because they felt it put them in higher esteem that their fellow-saints.

One thing remains vague in what Paul says, something we must infer from the context. What judgment is Paul instructing them to cease? It seems evident that it is making a final and decisive judgment on the success and quality of the ministry of an apostle of God. Paul warned these Corinthians, who are also mere servants of Christ, not to continue passing judgment on the service of the apostles, condemning apostolic leadership, while choosing to follow a particular favorite leader.

Self-Deception   Leave a comment

Four key words sum up the problems Paul addressed in the church at Corinth:

Divisions. There were divisions in the church at Corinth. Paul contended that there must be unity, for it was Christ alone Who has saved us. Chrisitans are all one body. Paul reminded his readers (then and now) that while leaders in the church may have different tasks to perform, all are engaged in the same cause.

Image result for image of teaching silos

Leaders. The existing divisions had been made on the basis of personalities. The Corinthians had chosen who to follow as their leader. Paul meant to show that leaders are merely servants. Those who think of themselves as “belonging” to a certain group need to be reminded that all the leaders in the church of Christ belong to them, and not the reverse.

Pride. The Corinthians boasted in their leaders, taking great pride in them. The Corinthians did not take pride in what they themselves were, or in what they were doing, but in the status and success of their leader. Paul undermines and attacks human pride by pointing to the kind of people God generally excludes (the cultural elite), and those whom He includes (the weak, the foolish, the nobodies). The things of God are foolish to the world, and the things of the world are foolish to God. The gospel is not about indulging the flesh, but mortification of the flesh. The gospel spells death to human pride, for all that is worthy of praise is the work of God and not of men.

Wisdom. Status in Corinth seems to be determined more on one’s intellectual standing than on one’s wealth. Those whose teaching was highly regarded by the secular community as being “wise” were most highly esteemed. The one who was highly skilled in speaking and persuasion was even more highly esteemed. Paul reminds his readers (past and present) that divine wisdom is incomprehensible to the natural (lost, unsaved) man. Divine wisdom does not come from the great thinkers of this age. God reveals His wisdom through His Word and through His Spirit.

In chapter 3, Paul comes right to the heart of the matter. The problem in Corinth was not Paul’s fault, but the problem of the Corinthian saints. Paul was unable to speak God’s wisdom to the Corinthians because they were too immature, too unspiritual (“carnal”) to handle it. The Corinthians’ carnality was evident in their inability to handle teaching and doctrine which had not been predigested by someone for them (“milk”). Indeed, even the “milky” truths were looked upon with scorn, because they seemed so elementary and simplistic. Not only was the carnality of the Corinthians evident in their spiritual appetite (and digestion), it was evident in the factions which existed in the church, factions centered upon certain leaders.

Up to 1 Corinthians 3:18, Paul “laid a foundation” for his bottom line, which begins at verse 18. For the first time, Paul calls upon his readers to do something, to change something. The key word is the word “let” (3:18, 21; 4:1). His readers are challenged to stop deceiving themselves and to become fools (3:18). They are to cease boasting in men. They are to look upon Paul and his fellow-apostles in a new way (4:1f.). Our focus in this lesson is the final verses (18-23) of chapter 3.

Guard against self-deception, each of you. If someone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish so that he can become wise. For the wisdom of this age is foolishness with God. As it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20

The Corinthians were an arrogant and conceited bunch, who took great pride in their wisdom, which becomes increasingly clear as this letter continues. Paul’s first words in verse 18 must have stung, for he addressed the Corinthians as self-deceived. To keep on as they were thinking and behaving, the Corinthians proved themselves to be unwise—indeed to be downright foolish—at least in the sight of God.

Paul calls upon Christians of all time to “fess up” to our error, to acknowledge that by thinking ourselves to be wise, we are foolish and self-deceived. He instructs us to forsake wisdom” and to embrace “folly”, which will make us wise. Jesus employed a similar kind of argument in the Gospels (see Matthew 16:24-26)

The Corinthians had been saved by believing the “foolish” message proclaimed by Paul, the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary for our sins, and was buried and then raised from the dead, ascending into heaven and being seated at the right hand of God. They had been saved by the preaching of Christ crucified when Paul came in weakness, fear, and much trembling, proclaiming the simple truths of the gospel in a straightforward fashion. Since Paul’s departure, some saints had begun to look down upon Paul, his message, and his methods. They were being tempted to follow others whose message had a worldly appeal, messengers whose style was eloquent and impressive.

We tend to forget that Paul was a highly trained Jewish rabbi before his conversion to Christianity. He reminds both the Corinthians and us of this fact by employing two Old Testament passages as proof texts to show that worldly wisdom is folly and that God’s “folly” (in the eyes of the world) is true wisdom. “For it is written, ‘He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness’” (verse 19b; see Job 5:3). These are the words of Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends.” Paul quoted a man who is later rebuked by God for being wrong: “And it came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has’” (Job 42:7).

How can Paul cite these words as a proof text? Eliphaz, like his friends, was not wrong in what he said about God; he was wrong in how he applied this truth to Job. Eliphaz was accusing Job of being “crafty,” and thus explained Job’s sufferings as divine judgment for sin. This was not the case (see Job 1:1, 8). God does trip up the wicked by employing their own cunning (wisdom) to be the means of their downfall (see Proverbs 1:16-19, 29-32).

The “wise” of this age are not so smart after all. God allows the wise to carry out their schemes, but He employs their cunning schemes (their wisdom) to bring about their own downfall. The gallows which proud Haman built, on which he planned to hang Mordecai, became the very instrument by which the king ended Haman’s life. In the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees deemed themselves to be “wise” in the interpretation of the Old Testament. In their “wisdom,” the scribes and Pharisees orchestrated the crucifixion of our Lord. This cunning, which resulted in the crucifixion of Christ, also resulted in the guilt and condemnation of those leaders if they did not repent and acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah.

The second quote Paul employed comes from the Psalms: “And again, ‘The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless’” (verse 20; see Psalm 94:11). It is interesting that the Psalm actually reads: “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath.” Paul’s citation varies slightly at two points. First, Paul exchanges the word “wise” for the word “man.” In the context of the Psalm, it becomes clear that the unbelieving man thinks himself wise, when he is really foolish (see verses 2, 4, 8). The reasonings or thoughts of unsaved man are the reasonings of one who thinks himself wise. Second, Paul uses the rendering “useless,” while the translators of the Psalm use the expression “mere breath.” The thoughts of arrogant (wise) men are futile, or useless, because they are temporal rather than eternal. Man’s thoughts are restricted to “this age” and God’s thoughts are eternal. Man’s thoughts, even if true in this age, are not true in the next. They pass away. Merely temporal truths are thus “useless” truths, so far as eternity is concerned.

So then, no more boasting about mere mortals! For everything belongs to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23

Paul instructed us to forsake boasting in men. There is no question but that the Corinthians boasted in their leaders, in the men to whom they belong (see 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:6).

The situation in Corinth was neither new or novel. Throughout history, men have found their “identity” or “significance” in groups. They take pride in belonging to a certain group, a certain leader. We see this in street gangs, the mob, the military and cults. Certain charismatic leaders attract a following of people who need a sense of identity, of belonging. Some of these followers will believe anything they are taught and do anything they are told by their leader. Their pride is not in themselves necessarily, but in the one leader they have chosen to follow above all others. These people become proud and arrogant, and they boast in a mere man as their leader.

Let’s take the Biblical Way-Back Machine to identify some crucial differences between true wisdom, God’s wisdom, and false “wisdom”.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, the “wisdom of God” was simple.The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “hidden wisdom,” that which God indicated men were not to know. Satan virtually called God’s wisdom a lie, succeeding in getting Eve to seek that knowledge which was forbidden. Really, since that time, true wisdom is that which God has revealed in His Word and false wisdom is that which He has concealed (see Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 7:1-15; 8:1-11).

When Jesus presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, He did so by publicly teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount). He did not seek to gain followers on the fringes of Judaism, but He went to Jerusalem and taught in the Temple. He engaged the teachers and leaders of the nation, and showed their teaching to be in error.

Paul and the apostles taught publicly on the teaching of divine wisdom. As he traveled from city to city, the first place Paul went was the synagogue, where he began to proclaim Christ crucified. It is true that unbelievers did not grasp or accept his message, but this was because they were blind, not because Paul was being secretive or vague. While Paul and the other apostles proclaimed the Word of God openly, the false teachers specialized in the unknown or in the obscure. They gained their reputation and following by teaching what was new and novel, and the reason was that it was not true, and it was not wise. But it did appeal to many of the unsaved (See Acts 17:16-21; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-6; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:16)

False teachers, in order to draw a personal following, must teach “truth” unique to them, which is not being taught by others. They must have a distinctive message. This message cannot be the gospel, or the apostles’ doctrine, because every Christian teacher would teach these truths. They must teach a “higher” truth, a truth which results from speculative teaching on obscure issues. These matters appeal to the curiosity of some. In gaining this “inside information,” the followers of such a leader consider their understanding of truth above that of the rest. It allowed men to become proud and to look down on others. Whatever novel truth a given teacher emphasized, he alone would be the source of that truth. No wonder the Corinthians took pride in men. Their spiritual “gurus” were finding all kinds of “truth” which others did not or couldn’t see. The only way to be in this inner circle of “truth,” this gnostic (from the word “to know”) cult, is to “belong” to the group, especially to its leader.

But suppose there is no such thing as the “truth” these false teachers peddle so persuasively?  Suppose, as Paul indicated in verses 18-20, this “worldly wisdom” of the false teachers is really worthless and destructive? What appeal do these leaders have now? None! The church does not have an exclusive “inner circle” of the informed and an “outer circle” of the ignorant. And, yeah, I may be speaking to some churches that exist today.

According to Paul, the truth of God (like wisdom in Proverbs) is proclaimed to all, and all are urged to embrace that truth. The truth belongs to every believer. Teachers of God’s truth wisdom belong to the whole body. Teachers do not own their followers; the saints own their teachers, each and every one of them!

A word of explanation may be helpful at this point. In the text, the different teachers to whom Paul refers in verse 22 were all apostolic leaders. You can’t really say they are false teachers. But in verse 6 of chapter 4, Paul indicated that these well known and highly regarded leaders are being used symbolically to refer to other unnamed leaders. As Paul’s teaching in his Corinthian letters continues, it becomes increasingly clear that a number of these cultic leaders were false apostles, false teachers, who were seeking to lead men astray from the truth (see Acts 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 15:31-38; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 11:12-15). I have gone beyond Paul’s immediate meaning, because it is all too clear where he is going. In these early chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul already sees the divisions in the church as the seed bed of heresy.

D. A. Carson, an excellent scholar, poses this explanation:

The five things that follow “Paul or Apollos or Cephas” represent the fundamental tyrannies of human life, the things that enslave us, the things that hold us in bondage … The world squeezes us into its mold (compare Rom. 12:1-2). It demands so much of our attention and allegiance that we seldom devote thought and passion to the world to come … Similarly, this present life clamors to be treated as if it were worthy of ultimate respect … And at the end of this life there is only … death, which hovers over us, the ultimate specter … Thus the constant urgency of the present and … the vague promises and threats of the future combine to divert our attention away from the God who holds both the present and the future in his hands.

In his excellent book, entitled, God in the Wasteland, David F. Wells makes a strong distinction between these two wisdoms. He sums up this distinction in this paragraph:

There are, then, two opposing ways of thinking about the world that can be found in the West today. The one belongs to those who have narrowed their perception solely to what is natural; the other belongs to those whose understanding of the natural is framed by the supernatural. The one takes in no more than what the senses can glean; the other allows this accumulation of information to be informed by the reality of the transcendent. The one indiscriminately celebrates diversity; the other seeks to understand life’s diversity in the light of its unity. The one can go no further than intuition; the other pierces through to truth. The one presumes that everything changes and that change is the only constant; the other measures the things that change by the standard of things that are changeless. The one looks only to the shifting contents of human consciousness, which differ from one individual to the next; the other holds the individual consciousness up for comparison to the larger realms of meaning in which are rooted those things that are common to all human nature. The one acknowledges no ultimate certainties; the other places the highest value on ultimate certainties. All of these differences arise from the simple fact that the one perspective receives its meaning from God and the other does not.

First, Paul calls on us to renounce the secular wisdom of this age and to view life through the divine wisdom which God provides through His Word and His Spirit.

This doesn’t say that Christians should not be deeply engaged in the search for knowledge and truth. It says that for the Christian, wisdom begins with God and ends with Him. As the writer of the proverb says, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). When we study nuclear physics, astronomy, or computer science, we begin with the foundation which God has laid. We test all claims to truth by the standard of God’s truth, the Word of God. When divine wisdom contradicts human knowledge, we know which to question and which to trust.

Too many Christians are seeking truth in the opposite direction. They begin with human understanding and reasoning, and then look to the Bible for an illustration or a proof text. The wisdom of God is the foundation on which all of our building should take place, and the standard for all that we think and do. Let us carefully consider the vast differences between divine wisdom and the wisdom of this age. Let us beware of placing our trust or our pride in the wisdom of men; let us embrace the wisdom of God, knowing that it alone is true wisdom.

Jesus made it clear that men are not to usurp the position and the prerogatives which are His alone (Matthew 23:1-12). Jesus did not choose one apostle, but twelve. He did not instruct the church to have only one leader, but a plurality of leaders known as elders. The position of “pastor,” as it is practiced today, was unknown to the New Testament writers. We find churches today structured in a way that directly contradicts the teaching of Paul—churches established on the basis of allegiance to one man.

Men are exalted in other ways above and beyond what they should be. Those of us who teach the Scriptures often use Greek, Hebrew, and theological terms in a way which sends an entirely wrong message that no one can study or teach the Scriptures who has not learned Hebrew, Greek, and theology. Thus we have a whole congregation of people who feed on the truth processed and delivered by the preacher, but who cannot chew on any meat of the Word themselves. We often seek to develop leadership in the same ways the world does, and we honor those who gather a personal following. We sanctify this by saying, “A leader is one who has followers.” This is wrong. A Biblical leader is a man or woman who, in obedience to God’s direction and calling, leads. He may or may not have a lot of followers. Jesus did not have many followers in the end, and neither did Paul. We must not judge “leaders” by how many people follow them.

Certain practices and teachings in the church of our time should be carefully thought through in the light of Paul’s teaching in our text. One of the current buzz words in leadership circles is “mentoring.” If that is pointing Christians to God’s truths, great, but we must not to train people to become followers of other people. We are to teach and encourage men and women to be followers of Christ. “Accountability” is another popular concept, which can easily be distorted into an undue attachment and devotion to a mere man. This is how our friend who inspired this series sought to lead other men astray – through “accountability”.

Finally, Paul’s words should cause us to see the folly of following one man to the neglect (and even rejection) of others. How easy it is to find our identity and our status linked with one person. When we do this, divisions arise within the church of God. Although I do not speak in tongues, I think Baptists might learn some things from good, solid charismatic teaching and practice. Likewise, charismatics could gain by learning from us. Pre-tribulational thinkers could learn some things from the “post-tribbers,” and vice-versa. Arminians could learn much from Calvinists as well as the other way around. Isolating ourselves to the point where our identity is summed up by one person, or one perspective, deprives us of the wealth God has for each of us. “All” things are ours. Let us learn from many of those gifted to teach, and not just one or a few. We can learn through radio, tapes, and reading, as well as by a broader contact with believers. Let us make use of the vast wealth God has given to us in Christ.

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