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Biding His Time for Good   Leave a comment

Paul’s trip to Corinth had been delayed by sickness and storm, but Paul also believed it had been delayed by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Corinthian Christians.

Now I appeal to God as my witnessthat to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1:23

The delay had given Paul time to think, but more importantly, it had given the Corinthian Christians time to contemplate what Paul had written in his earlier letter and repent of their own volition.

I do not mean that we rule over your faithbut we are workers with you for your joybecause by faith you stand firm. So I made up my own mind not to pay you another painful visit. For if I make you sadwho would be left to make me  glad but the one I caused to be sad? And I wrote this very thing to you, so that when I came I would not have sadness from those who ought to make me   rejoicesince I am confident in you all that my joy would be yours. For out of great distress and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tearsnot to make you sadbut to let you know the love that I have especially for you. 2 Corinthians 1:24 – 2:4 

Image result for image of hair pin curvesThe Bible wasn’t originally written in chapters and verses. 2 Corinthians was a long-form letter. Why some monk at some time decided to put a chapter break where he did is unnknown, but it makes no sense. I’m focused on topics, so I’ve chosen to ignore the chapter break.

We all know the modern expression “being there for me.” The idea is, if another person really loves us, they will “be there for us” at our time of need. Love is therefore measured in terms of one’s presence. Absence is seen as a failure of love, caring and compassion. Paul challenged this mindset. He felt that love can best be expressed, at times, by being absent. This may not feel right to us, and it certainly isn’t always the case, but in Paul’s situation with the Corinthian church, his absence at their time of need was meant as a benefit to them.

Paul wasn’t a stranger to Corinth. He’d already been there twice. After his initial visit to Corinth, Paul felt compelled to make a hasty second visit. We know this because Paul wrote briefly of this “painful visit” and of his future visit as coming for the “third time” (2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14; 13:1). Some ugly and painful things seem to have happened during that second visit. Paul had to deal severely with some of the saints. It seems a particular individual must have made some kind of personal attack on Paul, which brought a strong response from the church (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Associated with this “painful visit” was a “painful letter,” which caused Paul, as well as the Corinthians, great sorrow (2:4). Now, in spite of Paul’s stated intentions to come for a more pleasant visit, he had not yet done so.

Paul wasn’t “there for them” at the time of their perceived need for him. This must mean, some were saying, that Paul really didn’t care about them. Others were “there for the Corinthians” in their time of need. These “false apostles” who were causing trouble for both Paul and the Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 11). Paul asserted his absence was a purposeful decision motivated by his love.

Paul was very serious about this, so serious that he called God as his witness that his delay in coming to Corinth was for their benefit, to “spare them”,

If you’ve never had an overbearing pastor who thought he could dictate your life, you’ve been most blessed. Paul was not that sort of spiritual leader. He didn’t wish to “lord it over” their faith. He had confidence they would stand firm. Because of his confidence in God’s ability to keep them and bring about their growth and maturity, Paul didn’t feel the need to come, as though the church would get straightened out only by his being present. He had done his part by coming to them and by writing to them concerning needed corrections. They needed time to implement these corrective measures. Not enough time had passed for the Corinthians to fully demonstrate their commitment to obey Paul’s instructions. To come too soon would be painful for both Paul and the Corinthians. He would be obliged to point out what they had not yet done, and they would feel pressured to do them by his presence. A delay gave the Corinthians time to do the right thing and meant Paul’s next visit would be one of great joy.  Paul delayed to allow the Corinthians time to complete their obedience.

Do you have kids? Ever been away on a trip and leave an older teenager in charge? Ever get a phone call from a neighbor who dropped by and found the house in shambles or reported a wild party the night before? Would you cut short a trip and dash home to clean up or would you call your kid and instruct them to clean up before you got there so you didn’t have to yell at them? I would choose the second option mainly because it’s a long trip back from anywhere to Alaska, but also because I’d rather say “Thank you for cleaning up” rather than “This place is a mess. Why should I ever trust you again?” Which do you think the kids would learn more from?  I would opt for a warm welcome and a happy reunion in a meticulously clean house over a confrontation.

Paul was doing the same thing by delaying his visit to Corinth. Paul’s absence is out of love for these saints, knowing it is for their best interest and his. Sometimes love is better demonstrated by keeping our distance from those we love than by being with them. I know that’s hard to accept for some people, but helicopter parenting has proven that over-involvement in your children’s lives is not a healthy thing. Neither is pastoral over-involvement in the lives of church members a good thing. Christianity is not a second-hand faith. We all must learn from the Holy Spirit’s ministry within our own hearts. And sometimes that means our mentors must take a step backward in order for us to grow on our own.

Paul visited many places and founded many churches, but the longest he ever stayed in one place was three years. He sent Titus, Timothy, and others out on their own, rather than keeping them at his side. Paul left churches to struggle and to survive without his presence, not because of his lack of love for them, but because he wanted them to learn to depend upon God’s Word and Spirit. This was accomplished by his absence, as well as by his presence (Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 16:15-18; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). Plus we shouldn’t overlook that it is because of Paul’s physical absence that we have the inspired epistles he wrote to the churches.

There are times when we must demonstrate our love for others by our absence, even though this causes pain to us and to those we are not with. We must sometimes let others fail rather than rush in to rescue them. At times, we must step back and allow others to face the consequences of their folly rather than seek to cushion the blows they have brought upon themselves. This is true of our children, and it is true for others. Sometimes we must physically separate ourselves from others because of their sin — as both Jesus and Paul instructed as to church discipline (Matthew 18:15-201 Corinthians 5:1-13). Our society teaches us “unconditional acceptance,” which implies that we never draw back from those we love, even when they are doing things that are unacceptable. Our society does not know the Scriptures and doesn’t wish to obey them. Loving at a distance is painful, which is why most of us are unwilling to do it, but it is something we must do for the good of those we love as well as for our own good. Jesus is not physically present with us at this moment, but it isn’t because He has ceased to love us. He is not with us because that is better for us (John 16:7f.).

But if anyone has caused sadnesshe has not saddened me alonebut to some extent (not to exaggerate) he has saddened all of you as wellThis punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, so that now instead you  should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For this reason also I wrote you:  to test you to see if you are obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone for anything, I also forgive him – for indeed what I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything) I did so for you in the presence of Christ, so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes). Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christeven though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for meI had no  relief in my spiritbecause I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and set out for Macedonia.  2 Corinhians 2:5-13

Some take Paul’s words in verses 5-11 to refer to the man who was “living with his father’s wife” from 1 Corinthians 5. I am inclined to believe that theory. It resonates with me. Is that the Holy Spirit or just a personal preference? I don’t know. The Bible study guide I’m using for this study doesn’t hold to that theory. The writer has reasons:

  1. Paul doesn’t specifically identify this person with the person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5
  2. Paul’s reference seems deliberately vague; he seems to be purposefully avoiding naming names
  3. Nothing is really gained or lost by knowing exactly who Paul was referring to. The Corinthians knew who it was and what they should do.
  4. Paul spoke of the disciplinary measure to be taken against the man in 1 Corinthians 5 as though the outcome would be physical death. The writer thinks the Corinthians may already have attended that man’s funeral.
  5. It appears the person referred to committed some offense against Paul and the Corinthian church had taken up for Paul by censuring the person from their fellowship.

These are all valid reasons for believing these are two different individuals, although I really only feel resonance from #5. The others I think might be the study writer’s own reluctance to forgive sexual immorality after it has been repented. That’s just a personal observation. I’m not sure that it matters. Paul outlines how we should deal with those who repent of sin, regardless of which sins we’re talking about.

I’m going to suggest that Paul might have been practicing what he preached – not discussing the details of this man’s sin now that he had repented. We’re not supposed to bring up the repented sins … ever again. Discussing it in an open letter to the church sort of negates that principle.

Whatever the case here, it seems that during Paul’s second hasty and painful visit, he took an aggressive course of action which caused both him and the Corinthians great sorrow. Paul discussed it further later in this letter. We can surmise that some time during that visit, an individual reacted in an unseemly manner toward Paul and his apostolic authority. The church rushed to Paul’s defense and censured this man by excluding him from their fellowship. Regardless of what sin is being discussed here, the church exercised discipline on this man who had, at the time of the writing of this letter, repented, but the church had not yet forgiven him and received him back into their fellowship. Paul urged them to do so before he arrived to visit them again.

So, I still think it was the sexual sinner being discussed, but let’s ignore that and just look at what we know. Someone sinned against Paul. Maybe he said horrible things about Paul as the apostle was encouraging the church to discipline him for sleeping with his step-mother. The church took disciplinary action against that person at that point. They might have been reluctant before that, but perhaps his own words and actions condemned him, so they disfellowshipped him.

The man repented (presumably after Paul left town), but the church had not forgiven him and received him back into fellowship. Paul’desired to forgive this man and be reconciled to him, but Paul didn’t speak for the Corinthian church. The people comprising the church must first acknowledge the man’s repentance and reverse their disciplinary action. If Paul were to return before the church restored this man, Paul wouldn’t be free to fellowship with him because Paul would be bound by the church’s disciplinary actions against the man. When the church restored the man, Paul could be reconciled and find joy and comfort in his reunion with him.

The church’s failure to reinstate this man hindered Paul’s return, as it hindered the unity of the church,. It made the saints vulnerable to Satan’s attacks (2:11). Further, it placed an excessive burden of sorrow on this man, which is no longer necessary because of his repentance (see 2:6-7). Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), loves nothing more than to accuse, especially when he can do so through others, like the church.

Sometimes we do things which seem to be spiritual, but which in reality are counter-productive. The church disciplined this man to protect the purity of the church. Good for them. Then, they went too far by refusing to receive him back into fellowship. Not so good for them. They were actually endangering the church and this man. Going too far with a good thing can be bad. We see this also in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul spoke to a husband and wife who decided to refrain from sexual relations. This may be beneficial for a short time, Paul told us, such as when a couple sexually “fasts” in order to devote themselves to prayer (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5), but sexual abstinence should not be maintained for too long a period of time, lest “Satan tempt them for their lack of self-control” (verse 5).

Church discipline is necessary for so long a time as the sinning saint persists in rebellion against God, but once repentance has taken place, restoration should quickly follow. Failing to exercise discipline is dangerous to the whole church (1 Corinthians 5:6).  Failure to remove discipline upon repentence is also dangerous to the whole church (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

Despite Paul’s physical absence from the Corinthians, he was deeply aware of the presence of God in his life and ministry. He practiced the presence of God.

10 But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10, emphasis mine).

Paul was absent from the Corinthians, but he was never absent from God. Paul sought to practice the presence of God by living in a conscious state of awareness of God’s presence.

The two letters of 1 and 2 Corinthinans serve to remind us that sin is dynamic rather than static. After Satan tempted our Lord without success, Luke’s Gospel tells us that after “the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Satan never gives up, and his temptations come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. We really should thank the Corinthians for their bumbling in dealing with sin because they gave Paul an opportunity to teach the whole history of the Christian church something we seem to forget every generation or two. As object lessons, the Corinthian saints are impressive poster-children.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul reminded these saints that he had previously written to them, instructing them not to associate with immoral people (5:9). The Corinthians misunderstood (or at least misapplied) this instruction. They sought to separate themselves from the unbelieving world, while they continued to embrace professing Christians who lived in ways even pagans would not accept. Paul instructed them to separate themselves from the man living with his father’s wife and to maintain some contact with the unsaved world, to whom they had the obligation to be witnesses.

Now in 2 Corinthians, we find the church had over-corrected their error. While they once failed to exercise church discipline where it was desperately needed, they were now reluctant to remove church discipline, when it was no longer necessary.

Living the Christian life is like walking along a path. You can stumble off on either side. Many times when we wander off the path in one direction, we over-correct so that we then depart from the path in the opposite direction. Let us beware of thinking that once we have dealt with a particular problem, we will no longer struggle with it again. The same problem may recur and, in our zeal to avoid falling into the same sin, we may venture to the opposite extreme.

We have our ups and our downs, our peaks and our troughs. We will struggle with sin as long as we live, just as the Corinthians did over the course of Paul’s ministry to them. Christian maturity and spirituality are not the cessation of sin, but the gradual reduction of the extremes to which we wander. The ideal in this case would be to walk a straight line. We won’t accomplish that in this life, but we can strive to avoid the hair-pin curves!

As Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians continues, we see the dynamic nature of the spiritual life and the struggle with sin. We see some of the problems, still in embryonic form in 1 Corinthians, coming to full term and birthing before our eyes. We see other problems dealt with in such a way that new dangers arise. The struggle is life-long, and thus we suffer and groan, along with all creation, until sin is finally removed once for all.

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Confidence Rightly Placed   Leave a comment

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he delivered some heavy criticism for the way that the Corinthian Christians were conducting themselves as Christians. He promised he would come to visit them. He set out on the journey and got waylaid by sickness, which delayed his arrival. Upon hearing that the Corinthians were complaining that he hadn’t shown up, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians in advance of his arrival. In response to their complaints, he professed his own and his fellow-labourers’ integrity and explained why he hadn’t traveled there more quickly.

For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our consciencethat with pure motives and sincerity which are from God – not by human wisdom but by the grace of God – we conducted ourselves in the worldand all the more toward youFor we do not write you anything other than what you can read and also understand. But I hope that you will understand completely just as also you have partly understood us, that we are your source of pride just as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Image result for image of 2 corinthians 1:12-22Despite having been sick, worried and persecuted in recent months, Paul still trusted God to guide him on his journeys. Conscience witnesses concerning the steady course and tenor of his life and work. We, like Paul, are not judged by singular acts, but by the general course of our lives. We may confidently leave our characters in Jesus’ hands, and when questioned, rely on the gospel to measure our efforts.

Paul had no hidden messages in his letter. His meaning was clear. He meant what he wrote. Paul assured the Corinthian Christians that he really told the truth and he didn’t communicate with manipulative hidden meanings.

And with this confidence I intended to come to you first so that you would get a second opportunity to see us, and through your help to go on into Macedonia and then from Macedonia to come back to you and be helped on our way into Judea by you. Therefore when I was planning to do thisI did not do so without thinking about what I was doingdid I? Or do I make my plans according to mere human standards so that I would be saying both “Yesyes” and “Nono” at the same time? But as God is faithfulour message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”  2Corinthians 1:15-18

Why would Paul feel the need to justify his behavior? He was under attack by some of the Corinthian Christians. Remember 1 Corinthians? Some of them were stung by Paul’s rebukes and guidances. Rather than reform their own behavior, they attacked the messenger. They claimed Paul was unreliable because he’d not arrived when he said he would. Paul defended himself from the charge of levity and inconstancy. Christians should strive to keep a reputation for sincerity and constancy. They should not make promises that aren’t well-thought-out, and they shouldn’t change their plans without good reason, but there are times when we should listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul had been prevented from traveling to Corinth as he had planned, giving him time to learn their reaction to his previous letter. If he’d arrived on time, his presence might have interfered with the necessary soul-searching the Corinthians needed to do. They might have become so engrossed in confronting Paul that they might have avoided confronting the ideas Paul had put forth.

For the Son of GodJesus Christthe one who was proclaimed among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy – was not “Yes” and “No,” but it has always been “Yes” in him. For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory   we give to God. But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment. 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

Paul knew their accusations were wrong for spiritual reasons. Paul had preached Jesus as reliable and trustworthy. It wasn’t right for an apostle of such a faithful Savior to be so quickly considered unreliable and untrustworthy. Can we imagine God the Father ever saying “no” to God the Son? God the Father will always say Yes to the Son and will always affirm what the Son says (Amen).

“We might never have had this precious verse if Paul had not been so ill-treated by these men of Corinth. They did him great wrong, and caused him much sorrow of heart . . . yet you see how the evil was overruled by God for good, and through their unsavoury gossip and slander this sweet sentence was pressed out of Paul.” (Charles Spurgeon)

According to my Bible study guides, the only other place where the New Testament speaks about anointing is in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27. Every use speaks of an anointing that is common to all believers, not a special anointing for a few Christian superstars. The idea behind anointed is that we are prepared and empowered for service. The fact that we are anointed means that we share something with the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings who were also anointed ones.

In the ancient world, a seal was used to identify and to protect. If something was sealed, everyone knew who it belonged to (the seal had an insignia), and the seal prevented anyone else from tampering with the item. The Holy Spirit is upon us to identify us and to protect us.

The word guarantee is the word for a down payment. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment for the fullness of what God will do. The Holy Spirit is a pledge of greater things to come. As Christians, God has purchased us on the lay-away plan and has given us an impressive down payment. He won’t walk away from the final payment because He has so much invested already.

Posted December 3, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity, Uncategorized

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2 Corinthians Introduction   Leave a comment

I’m turning my attention to 2 Corinthians because the two letters really are joined at the hip in many ways. The apostle Paul wrote this letter. How do we know?

Image result for image of second corinthiansIn general, the external and internal evidence for Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians are the same as for 1 Corinthians. There are three bits of evidence for this to consider.

  1. The external evidence is quite strong for 2 Corinthians, though not as strong as for 1 Corinthians. Scholars use quotations by the early Church Fathers as evidence that the book was of 1st century origins. 2 Corinthians is not quoted by Clement, but it is quoted by Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Further, it is listed in Marcion’s Apostolicon and the Muratorian Canon.
  2. Internally, using 1 Corinthians as a benchmark of authenticity, this epistle easily passes the test. The literary style and form of argumentation are the same.
  3. There is another significant piece of internal evidence which, though present in traces in 1 Corinthians, is much stronger in 2 Corinthians. A pious imitator would be unlikely to portray Paul as an apostle in danger of losing his authority at Corinth or an apostle struggling to preserve the Corinthians from apostasy.”

It may be helpful here to rehearse the contacts and correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians.

  • Spring 50 AD, Paul arrived in Corinth and stayed there one and one-half years (Acts 18:11), in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.
  • Fall of 51 AD Paul sailed for Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus while Paul returned to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). While in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla met and trained Apollos, sending him back to Corinth to minister in Paul’s absence (Acts 18:24–19:1).
  • Summer/fall of 52 AD, Paul returned to Ephesus (after passing through the Phrygian-Galatian region) on his third missionary journey, and ministered there almost three years (Acts 20:31). Probably in the first year of his ministry in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians—a letter which is now lost (see 1 Corinthians 5:9).
  • Probably in the spring of 54 AD, Paul learned of other problems in Corinth from Chloe (1 Cor 1:11) and the delegation of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17). He then wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians. He was in the second year of his ministry at Ephesus.
  • In the summer/fall of AD 54, he visited Corinth as he had indicated he would in 1 Corinthians 16:6, but he was not able to spend the winter with them. It’s possible Timothy had warned him the Corinthians hadn’t taken kindly to his rebukes in 1 Corinthians. What was originally planned as a positive time ended up being Paul’s “painful visit” (2 Cor 2:1) because of a particular man who was acting immorally (2:5-11; 7:12)—and was, indeed, creating doubts among the congregation about Paul’s apostolic authority. It was also painful because it was done in haste (he went directly to Corinth, bypassing Macedonia) and was much shorter than planned.
  • After the painful visit, Paul returned to Ephesus (Fall 54). Because of his humiliation at Corinth, Paul wrote a “severe letter” (2 Cor 2:3-4; 7:8), which was apparently carried by Titus (2 Cor 7:5-8). Scholars tentatively suggest a date of spring 55 for this severe letter
  • Paul left Ephesus in the spring of 55 AD for Macedonia, probably Philippi (Acts 20:1). On the way he stopped at Troas, intending to meet Titus there on his way back from Corinth. But he could not find Titus and sailed for Macedonia without him (2 Cor 2:12-13), hoping to meet him there.
  • Paul met Titus in Macedonia, learned from him that the Corinthians are getting straightened out (2 Cor 7:6-16), and while in Macedonia he wrote 2 Corinthians. Most likely, it was written in the fall of 55 AD.
  • Finally, in the winter of 55-56 AD Paul again visited the Corinthians (Acts 20:32 Cor 12:14).

If this reconstruction is correct, Paul visited Corinth three times and wrote four letters to the Corinthians, the second and fourth of which have been preserved.

There’s all kinds of different theories as to why the first and third letters no longer exist. There are some scholars who so fear that people will come to question the inspirational nature of scripture that they must twist themselves into pretzels to find some parts of these missing letters in either of the two existing letters. I’m more practical than that.  I think, and scholars at Dallas Theological Seminary appear to agree with me, that the harsher of the four letters weren’t circulated or copied and so, disappeared into the dustbin of history. Rebukes are painful and when a church has no intentions of adjusting to discipline, neglect of correspondence happens.

Nowhere in the Bible is there a claim that inspiration will protect a letter from loss. What we are promised is that what we have preserved now is God’s word. We know from the ending of John, that much more of Jesus’ words could have been recorded, but it would be too much and so, it wasn’t.

Paul began his second (canonical) letter to the Corinthians with a customary greeting (1:1-2), followed by a customary thanksgiving (1:3-11). But the thanksgiving this time is not for the church’s progress in the faith (as is usual in Paul’s salutations), but for God’s comfort of him in the midst of great hardships (1:3-11).

This note on God’s comfort in affliction is a natural bridge to the body of the epistle, for 2 Corinthians is focused on God’s glory in the midst of suffering. There are three main sections to this epistle:

  • defense of Paul’s apostleship in the light of his critics’ charges (1:12–7:16)
  • exhortation of the Corinthians to give to the collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem (8:1–9:15)
  • final affirmation of Paul’s apostolic authority (10:1–13:10).

Posted November 12, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Be Alert & Love   Leave a comment

Do you “get” it?

Will you apply God’s Word to your life and be changed?

We’re drawing to the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (don’t worry, I’ll continue into 2 Corinthians because they really are tied together). We’re about to wrap it up. In this section, Paul suggested love is the remedy for church ills and he provided three elements of spiritual maturity.

Ask yourself – Do you qualify as a mature Christian by Paul’s standards?

Exhortations of Spiritual Maturity

Stay alertstand firm in the faithshow couragebe strong. Everything you do should be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

In these opening two verses, Paul unveiled five moral exhortations:

  • Be on the alert
  • stand firm in the faith
  • act like men
  • be strong
  • let all that you do be done in love.

Image result for standing guardThese five exhortations are all present tense imperatives demanding continuous action. God’s commands are not good advice. They are not optional. God’s commands are not like a cafeteria where we can pick or choose what we want. All five commands are incumbent upon the believer. The first four commands employ military metaphors to encourage resoluteness in the faith, while the final command summarizes the previous four.

  • Be on the alert. This command is a warning to watch out for those that seek to bring about division. Paul urged the Corinthians to be watchful regarding danger from inside as well as outside the church. Most of the problems in Corinth, and in most of our churches today, arise from within the congregation, so we must be especially alert. The expression “be on the alert” sometimes occurs with anticipation of the Lord’s coming, so that may have been in Paul’s thinking as well. We should expect the return of the Lord at any time, and our behavior should reflect the Lord’s values and should not be characterized by sinful activities.
  • Stand firm in the faith. This is a military image that urged the Corinthians “to hold their ground” and not retreat before an enemy. The command to “stand firm” has already served as the bookends for chapter 15 (15:2, 58). The phrase “the faith” here probably denotes both the body of Christian teachings and our own personal relationship with the Lord (theology and lifestyle). Since there are many temptations out there that can cause us to depart from the faith we need to be vigilant and stand firm. Are you standing firm in the faith or are you like shifting sand?
  • Act like men and be strong. These next two commands should be taken together. The verbs are frequently combined in the Old Testament to exhort God’s people to have courage in the face of danger, especially from one’s enemies. The word Paul used for “be strong” is in the passive voice, meaning “be strengthened.” We cannot strengthen ourselves; that is the Lord’s work. Our part is to submit ourselves to Him. General George Patton summed it up well, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

The fifth and final command is the glue that holds the other four together. In 16:14, Paul exclaimed,

  • Let all that you do be done in love. Paul made his point especially clear by framing this letter’s closing: “Let all that you do be done in love” (16:14), and “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus” (16:24). This love involves both love for the Lord (16:22) and love for one another (16:24). Paul earlier challenged his readers with the fact that “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (8:1). Love is the greatest motivating force for ethical behavior. The old saying is still true that “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”

Love is the remedy for church ills.

Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity.

16:15 Nowbrothers and sisters, 12  you know about the household of Stephanusthat as the first converts 13  of Achaiathey devoted themselves to ministry for the saintsI urge you16:16 also to submit to people like thisand to everyone who cooperates in the work andlabors hard. 16:17 I was glad about the arrival of StephanusFortunatusand Achaicusbecause they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. 14  16:18 For they refreshed my spirit and yoursSo thenrecognize people like this.

16:19 The churches in the province of Asia 15  send greetings to youAquila and Prisca 16 greet 17  you warmly in the Lordwith the church that meets in their house. 16:20 All the brothers and sisters 18  send greetingsGreet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Corinthians 16:15-20

In these six verses, Paul shared five characteristics of spiritual maturity:

  • service
  • submission
  • friendship
  • hospitality
  • affection

All five characteristics are essential aspects of growing to maturity in Christ and in our relationships with God’s people.

  • Service. Stephanas and his family were Paul’s first converts (“first fruits”) in Achaia, the province in which Corinth stood. They had given themselves selflessly to serving the Corinthians. They were probably loyal to Paul and may have been the source from which he received some of his information about conditions in this church. Verse 15 states that the household of Stephanas “devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.” The King James Version translates the verb “devoted” as “addicted.” I like this! They were serving in ministry so consistently, so regularly, that it was like an addiction; they were hooked on ministry. That’s not such a bad addiction, is it? Could anyone accuse you of this?
  • Submission. The Corinthians had a problem with submission to authority. They were competitive, stubborn, and even arrogant at times. Many in the church wanted to do their own thing. Paul encouraged them to appreciate some less flashy servants of the Lord. Submission is not earned by holding an office; it’s earned by godly character and service. There’s no indication that Stephanas was a pastor, or even a church officer. He was apparently just an ordinary Christian with extraordinary love. But he deserves as much respect as pastors and elders. Mutual submission is a key theme of Spirit-filled living. All believers are to submit to each other (Ephesian 5:21). Service, not status, should be the basis for honor in the church. Are you submitting to the various servant leaders in our church? Do you esteem them above yourself? Do you seek creative ways to honor them?
  • Friendship. Apparently, when the financial support for Paul’s missionary work dried up, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus bailed him out. But even more meaningful is the fact that they “refreshed” his spirit. One of the finest compliments that can be paid of another Christian is to say that he or she is refreshing to be around, picks up your spirit, and encourages you to keep going. I know a lot of people in our church who are like that; I always feel better after being with them. They are a blessing to everyone they come in contact with.

Consider – when you enter a room, is there more joy, peace, and love than before you arrived? When you leave, is the atmosphere and attitude better? Do you refresh your fellow-believers or bring them down?

When you experience refreshment from other believers, how should you respond? Paul recognized such people and gave them kudos. Thank them. Write them a note. Give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you.

This section closes with two additional marks of spiritual maturity: hospitality and affection.

  • Hospitality. Aquila and Priscilla opened up their home and hosted a church. According to the New Testament, this dynamic ministry couple lived in at least three different cities—Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome—and in all three places they had a church in their house. Furthermore, it was at their house that Paul stayed during his very first visit to Corinth, probably for more than a year and a half. There may be no greater tool for ministry than the Christian home. Because the home is a testing ground for the power of love and acceptance, it serves as a living demonstration of God’s love for those seeking to be part of God’s family.

The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer and his wife, Elizabeth, moved from America to Switzerland and started L’Abri (“shelter”) in their home in 1955. Soon they were inundated by students and others seeking answers to life’s questions. They provided biblical truth, acceptance, and hospitality to all who came to their door.

Some people have a real gift for hospitality. Note the entire household of Stephanas is recognized in 16:15. Parents, children learn love and service in the home, and they learn the lack of love and service there also. They learn hospitality as they see their parents practice it; they also learn to hold on to their stuff tightly as they watch parents who do that. As a parent, are you helping your children learn through observation and practice how to live out these characteristics?

Affection. Paul saw the custom of the holy kiss as a proper corrective to the cliquishness and bickering that characterized the church at Corinth. It could also serve as a remedy to the tremendous personal isolation that so many feel today. Why, then, has this custom of kissing one another on the cheek all but passed from the church? First, it faded because it was liable to abuse. Some people had trouble distinguishing holy kisses from other kinds. Second, it faded because the churches became less and less about fellowship. In the little house churches, where friend met with friend and all were closely bound together, it was the most natural thing in the world; but when the little fellowship turned into a vast congregation, and houses gave way to cathedrals, intimacy was lost and the holy kiss vanished with it. The kiss, of course, is not the important thing; a hug, or a warm two-handed handshake, or an arm around the shoulder can express the same feelings, and in some cultures might be more appropriate. Alaskans are not, societally, big on kisses and I never really know what to do when a near-stranger hugs me. On the the other hand, if someone in my Sunday School spontaneously gave me a hug, I would return it because I consider them at least acquaintances. The key is the love and intimacy that the gesture symbolizes. Who needs a hug or a holy kiss from you today? How will you communicate your love to others in the body of Christ? Love is the remedy for church ills.

Mark of Spiritual Maturity (16:21-24).

I, Paulsend this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone who has no love for the Lord be accursedOur Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with youMy love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 16:21-24

Please notice that this third and final point is singular, not plural. In fact, in these four verses, Paul boiled down everything that he has said in this passage and in this letter to a single word: LOVE. First, however, he provided a note in 16:21: “The greeting is in my own hand—Paul.” This verse indicates that this letter, like most of Paul’s letters, is written by a scribe. The scribe did not compose the letter. He merely put ink to paper or papyrus. In our day, this is akin to an executive that dictates a letter to a secretary but signs it and adds a brief note at the bottom. Paul picked up the quill and signs off this letter with a personal touch.

In 16:22, Paul’s personal touch is a verse with a curse: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.” Wow! Sobering, right? The word “accursed” means “devoted to destruction.” Did Paul mean temporal or eternal destruction? Most scholars argue for the latter; however, there is no contextual reason to assume that Paul is now all of a sudden discussing unbelievers or false teachers. Rather, it seems that he is still addressing believers. True to form, some of the Corinthian church members did not love the Lord. Lack of love for the Lord refers to factiousness, self-seeking, strife, and carnality that practically denies one’s love for Christ. In this context it means lack of obedience to Him in such things as exalting human wisdom over the wisdom of the cross, tolerating incest, attending idol feasts, dividing over spiritual gifts, and abusing the Lord’s Supper. Those who fail to love the Lord and other believers will face God’s curse. This probably is exclusion from fellowship in the local church. The opposite of this is “Maranatha,” an Aramaic word that means, “Our Lord, come.” This is similar to John’s final words in Revelation 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Paul concluded this strong but loving epistle with a prayerful benediction of God’s grace. This is the very same way that he began his letter: “Grace to you” (1:3). What a wonderful reminder that people need the grace of God, for without it they are hopeless. The most loving act that we can perform is to show people God’s grace.

First, we must share God’s grace in salvation. This means informing people that God’s love is not based on our own merit but on Jesus Christ’s merit. We receive salvation the same way that we would receive a Christmas gift. We simply open up our hands, receive it, and then express gratitude. We must also be messengers and dispensers of grace to those who are believers. This means not only do we proclaim God’s grace in salvation, but we exemplify God’s grace in being gracious.

The last sentence of the letter, written in Paul’s own hand, reaffirmed his love for all the Corinthians—despite their failings, despite their arrogance. Although Paul knew some pretty ornery people in the Corinthian church, and some of them made his life difficult, he sent his love to all of them.

Paul wrote thirteen letters, yet this is the only one that he ends with an affirmation of his love for his readers. It’s amazing when you think of the church to which he expressed it. This was the church that resisted him the most, that was the most fractured in its love life. But Paul wrote, “I love you,” not just in himself but because of the relationship with Christ that had transformed his life. Out of that he expressed his love for the church, because he knew that’s the only kind of love that lasts, the only kind of love that makes a difference, the only kind of love that’s tough enough to survive in the face of the personal rejection and insult he had experienced from this church.

Who do you need to express love to today? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to come alongside of? Who do you need to serve or to reach out to? Our church will advance when we show love for one another. As Jesus said, “All men will know that we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Love is the remedy for church ills.

Give & Go   Leave a comment

Paul’s Plans to Visit

Some people who just skip this last chapter of 1 Corinthians because it really isn’t very theological, but I find Paul imparted a lot of wisdom in his farewells. And, I’m systematic, so I prefer not to leave things out, which is what some of us would prefer to do with the first subject in Chapter 16.

With regard to the collection for the saintsplease follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia: On the first day of the weekeach of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come. Thenwhen I arriveI will send those whom you approve with letters of explanation to carry your gift to JerusalemAnd if it seems advisable that I should go alsothey will go with me. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give to the Lord’s Work

Related imagePaul had a practical philosophy of giving to the church, providing six guidelines as to how we should give. Before we look at these biblical guidelines, you must accept the Bible’s premise that you and I don’t own anything. Our home, cars, possessions, and money all belong to the Lord. We are merely stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us. If you accept this premise, you probably won’t object to what I’m going to teach here.

Guideline #1:

Biblical giving is not optional but mandatory. The word translated “direction” is a strong word that is frequently translated “command” or “order.” Paul wrote with apostolic authority, calling for the church in Corinth to do what he had already directed the Galatian churches to do. Generous financial giving is one of the key characteristics of a mature Christian. This ties in rather nicely with the previous verse (15:58), where Paul commands the Corinthians to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It’s like he’s saying, “Speaking of giving yourselves fully, let’s talk about financial giving.”

Guideline #2:

Biblical giving starts with meeting the basic needs of believers. 

Typically, when a pastor preaches a message on money, it’s in order to generate pledges for the annual budget, buy land, or build a new building. Such matters concern most congregations at some point in their church history. But that is not where biblical giving begins. It begins with a heart that cares about the basic needs of other Christians for food, shelter, and clothing. That’s what the collection here in 1 Corinthians 16 is all about—sending a gift to Jerusalem so the believers there can survive. Their financial plight was due to famine, persecution, and economic sanctions against them, making it difficult for new converts to hold anything but the most menial jobs.

The above guideline indicates that we who are wealthy (every American, from a world perspective) have an obligation to help poverty-stricken believers as well as the persecuted church in foreign lands. Such support should never be treated as optional. Instead, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ should be an essential part of our financial giving. This Christmas, what will you give to brothers and sisters in Christ who are less fortunate? When you think about giving to others, think about all God has given you. This ought to compel you to give generously to those who are less fortunate.

Guideline #3:

Biblical giving is the believer’s #1 financial priority. 

Many Christians don’t give at all, and often those who do give do so sporadically. They might give two months in a row, skip three months, give one, and skip two more. Some people don’t give when they are on vacation, sick at home, or snowed in. Some don’t give if they miss the offering plate. Imagine standing before the Lord and explaining why you disobeyed His command to give. Do you think He’d be impressed if you explained that you just kept forgetting to write the check? We don’t think that way about anything else. If our mortgage comes due when we’re on vacation, we don’t not pay it because we’ll lose our house. The wise among us pay our house note before we go on our vacation. Why don’t we take what God is owed as seriously?

Today, you may need to reevaluate your financial giving. God’s Word is clear from cover-to-cover, we are to give to the Lord first, not last. This implies that giving to the Lord’s work should take place before other obligations are met. Every once in a while I hear someone say, “Well, I had to take a pass on giving for a couple of months because we had some unexpected medical expenses, house expenses, etc.” I don’t think Paul would buy that. If we would give the first part of our paycheck, then maybe we wouldn’t get into those tight spots in the first place. That’s the point of the Old Testament prophet, Haggai, who told the poverty-stricken Israelites that God was putting holes in their pockets because their financial priorities were amiss. Giving should come before bill paying, before pursuing hobbies, before eating out, even before repaying debt. And, if you consistently cannot afford to give God’s tithe, then you seriously need to look at your debts and income. People who pay off credit cards and don’t use debt often have a lot more money to give.

Guideline #4:

Biblical giving is every believer’s responsibility.

Ever get stuck by a word’s base meaning? Writer, right? Responsiblity = your ability to respond. This topic is about your response to God.

It’s an individual response. “Each one of you is to put aside and save ….” Notice that Paul didn’t excuse the poor, the slaves, the pastors, or the large family with three kids in college. Giving is every believer’s privilege and responsibility. We are all to be involved in giving regularly, whether we have a lot of money or we’re impoverished, whether we’re children or the most senior adult.

Unfortunately, many of us have erroneously assumed that if we don’t have a lot of money or are in debt, we don’t have to give. Nothing could be further from the truth! The greatest examples in Scripture of sacrificial giving come from those who are in the midst of poverty and persecution. God wants and expects us to give in spite of our circumstances or lack of wealth. The Lord will honor even a meager attempt to prioritize giving.

Guideline #5:

Biblical giving should be proportionate. 

Paul wrote a believer’s giving should be “save it to the extent that God has blessed you.” In other words, the more we are blessed, the more we should give. There are two ways one can approach this matter. If you are giving a set percentage of your income, let’s say 10%, as your income rises your giving will automatically rise proportionately. But a more generous approach to proportionate giving is to increase the percentage of your giving as your income increases. In the case of a substantial raise, you will still be left with more than you had before the promotion. The issue is: where does your heart lie?

The New Testament does not require flat 10% giving. The tithe was an income tax system in the Old Testament. There were three tithes—two tithes per year for two years and on the third year an additional tithe of 10%, making it 30% for that year. The tithes for the third year were for the poor. It worked out to 231/3 % of income over a three-year period. Yeah, most people in America could not manage that since we already have the government in our pockets for 15-40% of our incomes. Then, additionally, we are supposed to give “offerings.” Israelites gave both tithes and offerings. All this was done for the national entity of Israel. A national entity needs an income tax system, so that was the purpose of the tithe. The New Testament does not command tithes for the church. The idea for the church is an offering of proportional giving or as God has blessed the believer financially. There is no percentage in this system of giving.

My personal conviction is 10% of one’s income is a good guideline – a target to hit – for most people. Some people who are poor or deeply in debt may need to build up gradually  to 10% as they retire debt or their income increases. That’s fine. Giving is ultimately a matter between the individual believer and God. Don’t assume you’re violating God’s command if you truly don’t have 10% to give, but don’t think you’re doing just fine if you’re giving 10% when you’re really wealthy. I would suggest that the vast majority of American Christians, if we avoided credit card debt and bought houses and cars we can actually afford, can and should give more than 10% of our income to the Lord. Sadly though, many Christians are more concerned with their standard of living than their standard of giving. For many of us, prosperity has become a greater test of character than poverty.

When it comes to giving, ask two questions:

  • How has God prospered you?
  • To what degree do you want to express your gratitude to Him for all that He has given you?

Guideline #6:

Biblical giving should not be motivated by pressure. 

Looking again at 16:2 we see that the apostle was asking that the collection be made each week so that there didn’t have to be a fund drive when he arrived. He was in Ephesus as he wrote this letter, and he had plans to travel to visit Corinth in the future. He knew that his credibility and charisma were such that he could generate a huge offering with his personal presence, but he didn’t want them to give under that kind of pressure.

Pressure, of course, works. Countless churches and ministries have funded vast building projects through high-pressure fund-raising efforts. Just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s right and Paul seems to have understood that.

In addition to the above six guidelines, there is a concluding principle that has more to do with how offerings are handled than with how they are given.

Biblical givers have a right to expect integrity and accountability from those they give to. 

Verses 3-4 explain that it is the responsibility of every congregation to entrust its funds into the hands of trustworthy members. Paul didn’t say, “Give your money to me and I will handle it for you.” Instead he urged the church to choose their own representatives to disburse the gifts. Obviously, integrity matters. Churches and Christian charities should have the highest level of financial accountability observable in society.

I challenge you to either continue or begin giving generously and cheerfully. Not only does gracious giving please the Lord, but there are also legitimate personal blessings involved.

But I will come to you after I have gone through Macedonia – for I will be going through Macedonia  and perhaps I will stay with youor even spend the winterso that you can send me on my journeywherever I go. For I do not want to see you now in passingsince I hope to spend some time with youif the Lord allows. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, because a door of great opportunity stands wide open for me, but there are many opponents.

Now if Timothy comessee that he has nothing to fear among youfor he is doing the Lord’s workas I am too. So thenlet no one treat him with contemptBut send him on his way in peace so that he may come to meFor I am expecting him with the brothers.

With regard to our brother Apollos: I strongly encouraged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was simply not his intention to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity. 1 Corinthians 16:5-12

Go to the Lord’s People

Image result for image of christian missionariesThese verses explain how Paul and his ministry partners were willing to go to minister to believers and unbelievers alike. There are at least five observations worth making from these eight verses. First, Paul had plans and goals to share the gospel with unbelievers and build up the churches. He had a schedule mapped out. He didn’t just trust God and sit on his hands. He took initiative and moved forward with holy ambition.

Do you have a plan to share Christ and build up His body? If not, why not? Today, make a promise to yourself and God to share the gospel, write down the names of three unbelievers and three believers, and develop a plan to share Christ with those individuals.

Second, Paul submitted his plans and goals to Christ. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “wherever I may go,” and “I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits” reveal Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Although he had plans and goals that he wanted to accomplish, he was always striving to make sure that he was doing what God wanted him to do.

Are you willing to relocate and change jobs if God calls you to? Would you be willing to take on a new ministry? God longs for willing hearts.

Third, God eventually opens a door of ministry for faithful believers. Admittedly, sometimes it takes many years but God has a way of blessing our meager efforts. Paul wrote “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” This “open door” in Ephesus brought great evangelistic fruit. However, with the fruit there were many adversaries. This is to be expected. Where there is light there are bugs. When God pours out His blessing, Satan sends adversaries to destroy God’s work. Those involved in ministry of any sort should expect opposition. It is important to recognize “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:13).

Fourth, Paul valued ministry partners. In this section, he spent considerable ink talking about Timothy and Apollos. In the passage that follows he will mention five more valuable coworkers. Paul recognized how important other ministry leaders were to his ministry and to God’s kingdom. God uses teammates (brothers and sisters) to help us to accomplish His purposes for our lives. More importantly, He uses the purposes He works in us to accomplish His kingdom agenda in the world. Have you expressed gratitude to God for all that He has accomplished in your life? Have you said “thank you” to your Christian teammates?

Going requires more of us than giving and that should be acknowledged. It’s hard with jobs and children and life to pick up and go to Africa or South America – but let’s be honest, the early Christians did much of their ministering right where they were – in the marketplace, mending tents, as they interacted with the people around them. Do you do ministry at work, the grocery store, on your Facebook page? Are you willing to?

We’re part of God’s work team if we’re willing to let Him guide us in the plans He has designed for us. Today, will you commit yourself to fulfilling God’s plans for your life? Will you submit yourself to Him in the areas of giving and going?

Dealing with Death   Leave a comment

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Admiral James T. Kirk, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

We’re looking at Paul’s conclusion to his glorious passage on the resurrection. Consider these closing verses to be a climactic song of victory, similar to Brahm’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Actually the music analogy is a strong one, considering there are three movements or sections to this passage.

Celebrate the future transformation of your body 

Now this is what I am sayingbrothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of Godnor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. ListenI will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a momentin the blinking of an eyeat the last trumpetFor the trumpet will soundand the dead will be raised imperishableand we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishableand this mortal body must put on immortality.  (1Corinthians 15:50-53)

Image result for image of transformationWe are fans of Supernatural, so excuse the borrowing from this highly entertaining, if somewhat irreverent, show. Paul explained that a meat suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the Rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. You and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, sorrow, sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

The word translated “listen” in verse 51 is given more dramatic treatment in the King James Version. “Behold”  is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. The modern vernacular doesn’t do it justice. In the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles.The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the Second Coming of the Messiah, so Paul was not referring to either of these events. This “mystery” is what is called the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture was newly revealed truth. There will be a generation of Christians who will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed! The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. Paul said this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis.

The reason that the Rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed.15For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].”  I could get into a pre-Tribution versus post-Tribution debate here, but I’m going to skip that for today. Paul described our resurrected bodies as immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul called us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

Celebrate the future termination of sin

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortalitythen the saying that is written will happen

Death has been swallowed up in victory.  

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting? 

The sting of death is sinand the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to Godwho gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1Corinthians 15:54-57)

The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. Justice will be served. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won! Truthfully, through the event of Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. He served notice to Satan of his eventual loss. When Jesus resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.21

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die.

“When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.” Peter Joshua, Leadership, Vol 7, no 4.

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat … an auto accident … a stray bullet … a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. AThe verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every morning is Easter morning as we continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! 

Celebrate the future compensation of your work

So thendear brothers and sisters, be firmDo not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lordknowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1Corinthians 15:58)

Paul concluded his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage.30 The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior.This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, yet despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

After affirming his readers, Paul launched into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

What we should be. Paul commanded us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Instead, we should be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

What we should do. Paul urged us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urged us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul said it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. Yeah, you go to church and you read your Bible and you pray. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life.

Everybody Dies, but Not Everybody Lives   2 comments

What gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? Why would anyone who is disabled be encouraged when they think of life after death? How can we see past the martyrdom of believers in the persecuted church? Where do the thoughts of young couples go when they lose their baby? What is God’s final answer to pain and suffering in this world?

Image result for image of life after deathThe answer is the hope of bodily resurrection. We draw strength from this truth almost every day of our lives, probably more than we realize. It becomes the mental glue that holds our otherwise shattered thoughts together. Impossible though it may be for us to understand the details of how God is going to pull it off, we hang our hopes on the fragile threadlike thought, “Someday, He will make it right, and thank God, all this will change.”

Or as my charismatic friends say “It’s all going to burn.”

Still, for many Christians death is disturbing. If we’re honest we acknowledge that death is scary. Yet, Paul said when we die is when we truly begin to live.

The bodily resurrection is familiar and unique 

15:35 But someone will say“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? 15:36 Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. 15:37 And what you sow is not the body that is to bebut a bare seed 23  – perhaps of wheat or something else.15:38 But God gives it a body just as he plannedand to each of the seeds a body of its own.

Paul argued strongly for the resurrection of the body, but he knew his teaching would spur two questions:

  • how will God resurrect our bodies
  • what does a resurrection body look like?

I think we all wonder how God will resurrect people out of the dirt. I still haven’t figured out how God will put all those molecules back together again. If someone died at sea and sailors buried him, maybe fish ate his body. The atoms and molecules of his body would become part of the fish. If a fisherman caught and ate the fish, its body would become part of the fisherman’s body. If the fisherman died and an undertaker buried him in the ground and someone eventually sowed wheat over his grave, the fisherman’s atoms and molecules would go into the wheat. A third person would eat the wheat and so on. How could the first person’s body ever come together again?4

The quick response to this dilemma is:

God is God

He can easily resurrect the humans He created. He constructed man out of dust in the first place, I’m not worried about him reconstructing us out of dust again. Reintegration is a problem for limited humans, but not for the unlimited God. How will He do it? I don’t know. The resurrection of our bodies does not depend upon us understanding how God will do it. When we grasp the fact that nothing is impossible with God, resurrection becomes simple. Absolutely nothing, including raising the dead, is too difficult for God (Jerermiah 32:17). God created the universe out of nothing, so resurrecting people out of dust is minor-league for Him (Hebrew 11:3).7

Of course, not everyone will accept this Biblical argument. Paul anticipated the objection of someone arguing against the idea of a bodily resurrection. In 15:36, he called such a person a “fool.” The Bible defines a “fool” as someone who fails to take God into account. Such a person excludes God from consideration. Remember, if God is God bodily resurrection is absolutely no problem!

Paul used an analogy from nature to get his point across. Calling the hypothetical scoffer a “fool” for not recognizing a simple fact of nature that can be observed every day. Choose any plant and you can  see the body that grows out of the ground is very different from the “body” that was planted. Compare a pumpkin seed with a pumpkin or an orange seed with an orange tree. Paul was not talking about the appearance of our resurrection bodies in terms of whether we will be recognizable. His point was the body that is planted in death is not the same body that is resurrected. When a seed is buried in the ground, a plant, not another seed, comes out of the seed. The plant does not look like the seed it came from. Likewise, when we are buried in the ground and resurrected, our bodies will not look identical to the ones we have now.

Good. I’m hoping to be taller and skinnier.

15:39 All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birdsand fish another. 24 

Paul expanded his argument by describing the unique nature of various “bodies.” How are the earthly sphere and heavenly sphere bridged? All flesh is not the same. There’s man flesh, beast flesh, bird flesh and fish flesh. These four different types of “flesh” also appear in the created order in Genesis but in the reverse of how they appear in here (see Genesis 1:20 – 26. Such a view is derived from Paul’s view of the Old Testament. God designed bodies to fit the environment they live in. Our resurrection bodies will be perfect for the environment of heaven. Earthly bodies equip us to live on earth. We breathe the earth’s oxygen, drink its water, and eat its fruit. However, these earthly bodies aren’t suitable for heaven. To get us ready for the next world they must undergo a change.

15:40 And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. 15:41 There is one glory of the sunand another glory of the moon and another glory of the starsfor star differs from star inglory.

Earthly bodies will pale in comparison to heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies will be glorious! There is a huge difference in brightness between a twenty-five watt light bulb and a 1000-watt light bulb. In the resurrection, our “lumens” of brightness will be turned up to the fullest. Our resurrection bodies will literally shine with brightness (Daniel 12:3Matthew 13:43). This passage could mean that there will be differing degrees of brightness in our glorified bodies or perhaps it refers the difference in glory between our natural and resurrection bodies. I opt for an allusion to the former. In light of the emphasis throughout 1 Corinthians on eternal rewards, it seems that Paul alluded to differences in the eternal state. One thing is certain: every resurrection body will be without defect and will literally radiate brightness. Death for the Christian is not gloom but glory.

The bodily resurrection is new and improved 

15:42 It is the same with the resurrection of the deadWhat is sown is perishablewhat is raised is imperishable. 25  15:43 It is sown in dishonorit is raised in gloryit is sown inweaknessit is raised in power; 15:44 it is sown a natural bodyit is raised a spiritualbodyIf there is a natural bodythere is also a spiritual body.

In these verses, Paul contrasted the two living bodies—the present body and the resurrection body. Your present body was created to last only several decades. Your resurrection body will equip you for a much higher level of existence. At the resurrection, our bodies will be transformed from our current “caterpillar” form to our future “butterfly” status. The beauty of a butterfly is far superior to that of a caterpillar, but the butterfly has to go through the transformation process first. Four changes must take place to transform your body from earthly to heavenly.

Change #1: Perishable to Imperishable (15:42). Our present bodies are perishable, and they degenerate as we race toward the grave. Just like Adam we are headed back to dust. In the resurrection, we will be raised imperishable, never to deteriorate or die again. In heaven no one will comment on your age or notice the years are beginning to take their toll. You will look as young a billion years from now as you will a thousand years from now.

Sir Michael Faraday, one of England’s greatest chemists and physicists, reportedly heard a student scoff at the idea of the resurrection. Faraday threw a silver goblet into a jar of acid, which completely dissolved it. He then added other chemicals that caused the silver to settle to the bottom of the jar. The chemists then took the silver to a silversmith, who made it into a goblet more beautiful than the first. Then Faraday held up a goblet and told the student, “If I, an ordinary scientist, can dissolve and remake a silver goblet, why is it hard to believe that God can raise the body from the dead?”

God will transform your perishable body into one that is indestructible. Once you receive it, dying will be impossible. You will live in it throughout eternity. Truly, it can be said, although our body is perishing our spirit can be flourishing. When we die we have truly begun to live.

Change #2: Dishonor to Glory (15:43a). All of us come to a point in life when we look in the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall—you’ve got to be kidding!” There is a sense in which our bodies are “dishonorable.” But God promises that we will be raised in glory. When a body is transported to a funeral home, it is always covered by a sheet to shield gaping eyes from the dishonor of looking upon the corpse. Every dead body is a reminder of our dishonor, a reminder that we are but frail.

Change #3: Weakness to Power (15:43b). Have you ever noticed everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to grow old? It is true. Our bodies wear out, slow down, decay, sag, groan, and even begin to smell bad. We brag about our strength but a tiny microbe can kill us. Sooner or later, we grow old and our bodies begin to break down. Eventually, they stop working altogether. No amount of Vitamin C or Siberian Ginseng can change that fact. At best, we can only slow down the aging process; we cannot delay it forever.

If you are like me, you probably have one part of your body (or maybe several parts) that you would like to change. Maybe it’s your weight, your height, your hair, or something about your face. To make it worse, our culture bombards us daily with images of beautiful, well-built people. In heaven, there will be no fad diets, Weight Watchers, aerobics, exercise bikes, personal trainers, physical therapists, stair masters, weight rooms, saunas, jogging tracks, low-fat foods, diet drinks, or plastic surgeons. God will give every one of His children a glorious, unique, perfect new body at the resurrection that will never fail or disappoint them.

Our resurrection bodies will be extremely powerful. We will never grow weary or weak. Can you imagine not having to sleep throughout all eternity? Since there will be no need to nap, we will never again have to toss and turn on lumpy mattresses. Wives will not have to listen to their husband snoring anymore. No more insomnia, sleeping pills, or alarm clocks, either. Our way of life will be radically different than our lifestyles here on earth.

Change #4: Natural to Spiritual. When Paul stated that our resurrection bodies will be spiritual, he does not mean like Casper the friendly ghost. He referred to the type of body we will have. When the disciples saw Jesus after He was resurrected, they thought they had seen a ghost. Jesus assured them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Jesus did not become a spirit, but was raised with a spiritual body. In heaven we will not be “spirits,” but we will have spiritual bodies. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He didn’t have two bodies, one natural and another spiritual. He had one body—a natural body that had been transformed into a spiritual body. Jesus showed His disciples the marks of the nails in His hands and feet and the wounds in His side that proved it was the same body. That body had undergone a radical change. Similarly, when you are resurrected your body also will be changed and perfected.

15:45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; 26  the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 15:46 Howeverthe spiritual did not come firstbut the naturaland then the spiritual. 15:47 The first man is from the earthmade of dustthe second man is fromheaven. 15:48 Like the one made of dustso too are those made of dustand like the one from heavenso too those who are heavenly. 15:49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dustlet us also bear 27  the image of the man of heaven.

Paul compared Adam and Jesus, arguing that there is a difference between earthy and spiritual bodies. The first Adam was merely “a living human being.” By emphatic contrast, the last Adam is not merely “living,” but “life-giving.” Christ gives life through His resurrection. The heavenly is greater than the earthy. But in order to experience the heavenly body, one must first live in the earthy body.

I knew this pastor mentioned in this story. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” said the pastor. “This is important,” the woman said. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, ‘What’s with the fork?’ I want you to tell them, ‘The best is yet to come!’”

This elderly woman got it right! The best is yet to come for when we die we have truly begun to live.

Matthew Winters (Comeback Pastor)

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