Archive for October, 2017

2 Corinthians 2

2 Corinthians 2 carries on Paul’s comments to the church explaining why he hadn’t come sooner as expected.  Paul is defending himself against the Corinthian Christians.  Some among them were criticizing him because he changed his travel plans, and did not come when he had planned to.  They used this change of plans to say that Paul was unreliable and untrustworthy.  They basically said we don’t need to listen to him at all.  But Paul explains there were many reasons why he did not come as planned, one of them being he was trying to spare the Corinthian Christians.

For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you”.  Paul’s message is that he cared for them and certainly wanted to cause no pain.  It seems that Paul thought it best to give the Corinthian Christians a little room, and give them space to repent and get their act together.  He didn’t want to be on them all the time.  So instead of a visit, he wrote a letter to communicate the important things.  A letter would reveal Paul’s heart, and not give as much opportunity for their relationship to go bad even further.  It would give them room to repent and get right with God and Paul again.

Paul did not enjoy confronting the Corinthian Christians.  It was hard for him to do, and he did it with many tears.  It would take some maturity for the Corinthian Christians to receive Paul’s correction this way.  He tries to deal with them head on, but it would be easy for them to reject it completely.  That’s what the enemy is all about.  Paul focuses on the power of forgiveness.  “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs”. This is really a spiritual battle and together Paul asks the church to resist the enemy and recognize his attacks.

Paul makes it clear that he is unwilling to ‘water down’ the gospel so it is easier for the Corinth church to swallow. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ”.  This is one of the issues in the church today – God’s standards are diminished so people don’t feel convicted.  But sin is sin, and Paul calls it what it is.  He knows, and we should know too, that God’s Word is not to be reduced to something man is comfortable with.  It is unchanging.  Sin is always sin, no matter what we try and call it.

2 Corinthians 1

2 Corinthians 1 has Paul introducing himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus.  Why?  Because he was held in low regard among the Christians in Corinth.  They didn’t really want to hear from him.  But that doesn’t stop Paul.  He knows His apostleship was “by the will of God”, not any man or even himself.  God had ordained him with a message for both the Corinth church and all Christ Followers and he was going to be faithful to deliver it whether this particular church wanted to hear it or not.  That is one of his strongest qualities – he is not slowed or stopped by what man thinks – he only answers to God.

His many trips and missionary service hasn’t been easy, so he makes it clear he’s continuing the journey.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”.  We go through trials and affliction that we might learn how to depend on God to get us through, and then help others do the same.  We aren’t islands, but part of the Body and as such we need to share what we learn as we serve Christ.

Paul and his team had experienced hardship during a good portion of their ministry.  “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself”.  Guzik points out at least five things that happened:

  1. Fighting with “wild beasts” in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32).
  2. Suffering 39 stripes after being brought before a Jewish court (2 Corinthians 11:24).
  3. The riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41).
  4. A particular persecution shortly before he left for Troas (Acts 20:19; 1 Corinthians 16:9).
  5. A recurring physical malady.

Being an apostle of Jesus was no simple matter.  In fact, Paul was pretty discouraged at times and wanted to give up, but kept walking faithfully.

How can we do that?  By keeping the focus on Jesus.  Life is hard, and ministry is even harder.  There are many days when the enemy has us wondering exactly why we do what we do.  It would be so much simpler to just give in.  But God is always faithful, and He has given us a promise to cling to.  “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him”.  And that “Him” is Jesus.  The Son of God is His way of always being faithful to us.  God sent Christ to the Cross.  He sent His Holy Spirit to live within us as Christ Followers.  God’s promises always come true because God has made a way.  We merely need to cling to Jesus as He is the Yes of God’s promises!

1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16 has Paul giving some ‘matter of fact’ direction to the Christ Followers in Corinth regarding how they give.  Paul has a heart for the poor believers in Jerusalem, and as such, is asking the church to come alongside his efforts to support them.  “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come”.  Paul doesn’t want to have to spend his time there gathering up funds.  In Paul’s mind, this is a no brainer and folks merely need to take a collection and have it ready to send on to Jerusalem.

The offering was to come from ‘each of you’ – Paul wanted all to give. Every Christian should be a giver, because God is giver and He loves a cheerful giver too.  The giving was to occur based on ability – ‘as he may prosper’.  God doesn’t measure our giving on the amount we give in total, but in comparison to the amount He has entrusted to us.  We need to be giving based on what He has given to us, not comparing ourselves with others around us.  The amount is relative to what we have, not what others have given.  You can give a lot and still miss the real giving part.

Paul writes much about his travels and how he enjoys spending time with Christ Followers everywhere.  He is somewhat open ended on exactly what or when he’ll be doing things – it appears He merely responds to God’s leading and opportunities as doors open to share the gospel.  That is how we all ought to live life – with an open hand around our time and money – so we can respond completely to God’s plans and align ourselves with His will.  When we have all our time and money committed it makes it hard to truly serve Him completely.

As Paul winds down this first letter to the Corinthians, he gives some strong words to follow.  “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love”.  He begins by telling us to watch, just like Jesus did in Matthew 24.  We need to have our eyes wide open and our ears turned on to keep an eye out for the enemy who wants to resist us.  We need to stand fast in our faith and in Jesus, and resist and lead well.  He speaks to us like we are all part of the Lord’s army, which indeed we are.  We are in the midst of a spiritual battle and need to be prepared to deal with the enemy at all times.

1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15 has Paul explaining exactly what it is he is focused on.  “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

  • that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures
  • that he was buried
  • that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
  • and that he appeared to Cephas
  • then  to the twelve
  • Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep
  • Then he appeared to James
  • then  to all the apostles
  • Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”

Here is the summary of what Jesus did, chronologically with all the details.  And as Paul points out, completely aligned with the prophecy of scripture.

Paul brings up the rear of the list of things that happened.  He doesn’t hold himself up as some rock star of the faith that needs attention.  Rather, he is pretty hard on himself.  “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain”.  Paul just wants to preach Christ crucified and use his life as an example of what it means to be a Christ Follower.  He sometimes brings himself pretty low in an effort to keep the focus on Jesus.

There is a simple truth that we all need to keep in mind.  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”.  Death is not optional.  It hovers right around 100%.  So the question is not ‘if’ we will die.  The question is ‘when’ we will die and ‘what’ will happen when we do.  Paul answers that in this simple statement.  If we have a relationship with the Savior – Jesus Christ – we will be alive and spend that life in eternity.  If we don’t we will spend eternity separated from God.  We have a decision point to face.  We will stand before God someday when we die.  The only question is what we’ll tell Him about our relationship with Jesus.

Paul closes this chapter with a verse that has become my life verse since college days some 40 plus years ago.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain”.  This verse really struck me when a freshman at Iowa State back in 1975, and it continues to define my walk with Christ to this day.  God has a plan for each of us, and we need to stay the course, follow with our whole heart, and know that when we do He will honor that work and use it for His glory.  I’ve claimed this verse constantly over the years, and God’s been faithful to use my efforts to have impact and bring Him glory.  What’s your life verse?

1 Corinthians 14

1 Corinthians 14 has Paul setting the agenda for the church – first and foremost as Christ Followers we are to pursue love – the kind of love he defines in the previous chapter as agape love.  He then addresses the topic of spiritual gifts again – primarily the manifestation gifts of tongues and prophecy.  There was nothing wrong with the Corinthian Christ Followers desire for spiritual gifts. But they had made a godly desire into an obsessive pursuit, when the only pursuit for Christians ought to be love. “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”.  In the Corinthian church, there was an over-emphasis on tongues, and an under-emphasis on prophecy.

Paul encourages the Christ Followers in Corinth to seek spiritual gifts, but addresses in particular two that were creating some conflict.  There was some misunderstanding of the purpose of speaking in tongues in the church.  “One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God…. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation”. With the gift of tongues, the speaker is addressing God, not men. Disregarding this verse leads to one of the most significant misunderstandings regarding the gift of tongues, believing tongues is a supernatural way to communicate “man to man” instead of “man to God.”  The gift of tongues is a way to worship God not relate to men.

Paul returns to the direction he gave on spiritual gifts back in 1 Corinthians 12 – namely that gifts are given to unify, not divide the church.  “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church”.  It isn’t the expression of spiritual gifts that is the key, it is the building up of one another.  Gifts are not for our benefit but for the benefit of the Body and as a way to worship God Himself.  Too often we get caught up in thinking spiritual gifts are all about us when in fact they are completely not about us at all.

Paul goes on to define the correct way to express tongues in the Body.  He gives lots of direction and makes it clear that speaking in tongues is a gift from God.  But he also tempers the desire when he says “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues”. The gift of prophecy is more impactful in that it speaks to man.  Farnell wrote “Preaching is essentially a merging of the gifts of teaching and exhortation, prophecy has the primary elements of prediction and revelation”.  In summary, Paul reminds the church that “all things should be done decently and in order”.  God is not a God of chaos but order and His gifts will not create chaos in the Body if expressed correctly.

1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13 is the ‘love chapter’ where Paul gives us the clearest description of agape love in all of scripture.  I ran across an insightful modern version of this chapter from the blog Reflections on the Journey in Christ by Christopher Page which I share here below.  These are his words and one you might file away for February 14 next year!

For Valentine’s Day here is my paraphrase of Paul’s I Corinthians 13 meditation on love.

If I say all the right words, filled with sentiment and romance, but do not choose to behave in ways that demonstrate the practical action of my love for you, my words are empty and meaningless.

If I provide for you a lavish lifestyle and cater to your every need but do not choose to live in relationship to you in a way that is loving, I am not really in relationship with you at all. My behavior is just one more strategy to meet my own needs. Without love, I will always treat you as an object for my personal gratification.

If I sacrifice myself for you, appearing to give up my desires in service to you, but do this without love, no one gains anything. My actions are merely another form of self-indulgence.

Love chooses to be patient. This means I will stick with you even at those times when our relationship may be painful.

Love chooses to behave in ways that are kind. To be kind is to be generous towards you, making space for you to be the person you are, rather than demanding you be the person I might think I would like you to be.

When I choose to love you I will not indulge my petty emotions. I will choose to be gentle towards you and to let go of those small irritants upon which it is so easy to focus. We can all find them, if we look hard enough. But, clinging to an endless litany of little complaints will corrode the love in our relationship.

Love does not insist on winning. It is ready to let go, to surrender, to lay down the need to be right all the time. I will know I have chosen love when I am no longer determined to get my way.

Resentment and irritability are sure signs that I am walking away from love.

When I take delight in your failings and emphasize what I perceive to be your flaws, I have given up on love.

Love always seeks to see the truth, even when it may be painful.

There are times when love simply puts up with things as they are.

When I choose love I commit myself to trust you even when I feel as if your behavior has let me down.

My love for you never gives up hoping we will continue to grow and prosper together.

Love is the ultimate power that generates and sustains life. It is the enduring force of the universe. It will never be defeated.

Everything else is temporary.

I know that I do not understand life fully. I understand neither myself nor you completely. There are so many ways in which my vision is inadequate. I am so often self-deceived.

We will only prosper in this relationship of love if we determine we will carry on together being as honest as we possibly can with ourselves and with one another. Anything less than this deep commitment to transparency and truthfulness is simply childish.

When I choose love, I choose to grow up into that fullness for which I know in my deepest being, I was created. I trust that as I stay open to love and to you, I will see more clearly and understand more accurately. One day I will see fully how love always wins.

The greatest things in my life are my choice to trust, my determination to look forward in hope, and my intention to behave in ways that nurture love. But the greatest thing of all is to choose consistently to live more fully a practical active life of love.

1 Corinthians 12

1 Corinthians 12 has Paul jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.  He just finished laying out God’s plan for authority and accountability, and certainly wasn’t popular with most everyone who heard the design of God’s headship plan.  But now he dives into the topic of spiritual gifts, another area that has been divisive in the church for centuries. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone”.  My understanding of spiritual gifts breaks the spiritual gifts into three distinct buckets or varieties:

  • Motivational gifts (equipping) – Rom 12:4-8
  • Ministry gifts (service) – Ephesians 4:11–13 and 1 Corinthians 12:27–31
  • Manifestation gifts (activities to bring God glory) – 1 Cor 12:7-11

Paul lists the manifestation gifts specifically:

  • Word of wisdom
  • Word of knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healing
  • Working of miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of spirits
  • Diverse kinds of tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues

God works through a believer in a given situation to demonstrate His supernatural power. The Spirit of God is the Source of these gifts, and they are manifested for the benefit of others and to bring God glory.

Churches and those who attend have gotten hung up on spiritual gifts in many ways.  Paul makes it very clear that they are a direct gift from God.  “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills”.  We don’t make them.  We don’t find them.  We simply are given them by God as He desires.  And most importantly, gifts are never given to divide, but to unify us as the body of Christ.  “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit…. God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose”.  Having a certain gift does not make one more important or holy.  God gives out His gifts as He wishes and we merely are the recipient of His blessing and should use whatever gifts He bestows for His glory, not our own.

We need each other to succeed as the Body of Christ.  It is not a solo event where we are off doing our own thing in our own way.  As a member of the Body, God has gifted us with certain spiritual gifts that we might be unified and together accomplish His will and bring His Kingdom to earth.  “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another”.  We are knit together through our Heavenly Father as Christ Followers and need to realize that we are part of His plan given His gifts to give Him glory.  Whatever gifts we have, we need to use them to unify the body and glorify God!

1 Corinthians 11

1 Corinthians 11 has Paul beginning with a charge to the church to follow him.  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”.  That is a bold statement – to set himself out as the way to walk with Christ.  Paul knew he was an example, and a good example at that. At the same time, he also knew that it was not “Paul” who was a worthy example, but “Paul the follower of Jesus” who was the example.  That’s the key to how we lead others.  It can’t be about us and what we know or do.  It has to be about how we follow Jesus.  If others follow us, they need to come to the Savior, not continue to follow us.

He sarcastically addresses the church for keeping the traditions.  “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you”.  That wasn’t really the case at all. Without a doubt, the church now, and then too, had some resistance to the order and headship Paul was explaining to them. They did not remember Paul in all things; they disregarded him as they sought fit. Additionally, they did not keep the traditions as they should have.  In fact, they were living the way they wanted, not as they had been taught.  The traditions Paul delivered to the Corinthian Christians were simply the teachings and practices of the apostles, received from Jesus. But they were difficult to accept just as they are for many today.

Paul tackles a topic many are resistant to. “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and  the head of Christ is God”.  There it is – a picture of God’s structure for mankind and the family.  Before you stop reading and discard Paul’s words, please take a closer look.  ‘Head’ has the idea of headship and authority. It means to have the appropriate responsibility to lead, and the matching accountability.  It isn’t just being in charge and telling others what to do.  It is being accountable to lead, care for and protect the person under authority. Paul connects three relationships making the principles of headship the same among them.  How did Jesus show His love for man – by sacrificing Himself on the cross to cover sin.  That’s the kind of leadership God demands from us.

God has a plan for how we fit into His picture of the world.  The idea of headship and authority is important to God. In His great plan for the ages, one great thing God looks for from man is voluntary submission. This is what Jesus showed in His life over and over again, and this is exactly what God looks for from both men and women, though it will be expressed in different ways.  Paul talks about head coverings and prayer in this letter to the Corinthians, but the application of headship and submission changes over time based on the cultural times.  The expression may change, but the underlying principles remain the same.  Headship is not about directing others, it is about setting an example of love and servant leadership where we imitate Christ and serve those around us with unfailing, unselfish, and never ending love.  It’s not about lording over another, but loving completely.  That’s how Jesus loves.

1 Corinthians 10

1 Corinthians 10 has Paul giving a history lesson on how God’s children got to where they were.  “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea”.  They all came out of Egypt the same way following the same God and escaping through the same grace.  “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ”.  God led them to safety, but He was not pleased.  “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness”.  They forgot His blessing and fell into idolatry.

So why does scripture take such care to record those things?  “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as  they did….Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come”.  God desires us to walk successfully with Him.  He’s given us a manual to give us the path to success.  We merely need to walk in obedience to His will.  We need to stay in sync with Him and His standards.  It’s not impossible.  They chose idolatry, sexual immorality and put Christ to the test.  That didn’t end well.

But we have their history and God’s success manual (the Bible) at our disposal.  Plus we have this promise: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”.  Did you catch that.  NO temptation we face is beyond our ability to resist.  It completely comes down to choice.  We are not victims of sin.  We choose to sin.  Which means we can choose NOT to sin as well.  And one of those key areas is how we relate to God and His rightful place on the throne of our life.  When we allow ANYTHING else to take God’s place, it is idolatry.  “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry”.  We have to choose to keep God on the throne!

Paul goes on to give us two key live principles that we should remember.  “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up”.  We have a lot of flexibility in how we live before God.  But life is not just about us.  In fact, it really is not about us at all.  We often take the selfish approach and think only of ourselves and not the consequences of our actions on those in our patch.  That is not God’s way to live.  We must always pay attention to how our choices impact those around us.  He goes on to give us the real measure of those choices we must make.  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.  It is about asking ourselves whether the choice we face will honor and glorify God.  Does it give God glory, or is it an embarrassment that we are Christ Followers failing to live for Him?  That is the question.

1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9 has Paul talking about how he is acting as a messenger of the gospel.  “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you”?  Paul almost seems irritated that the Corinthians were complaining about how he was living as a messenger of the gospel.  He makes a strong case as to why and how the church should support him.  But he also makes it clear he has never taken advantage of what was rightfully his.  “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ”.

Paul is focused on being above reproach.  He was not willing to take a chance of being accused of taking advantage of people.  “I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting”.  Paul is focused on being above reproach.  He was focused on preaching Christ crucified and leading people, no matter their state, to the Cross.

He didn’t have to live that way.  He chose to do it to be sure as to not cause any reason for suspicion and to be completely above reproach.  “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them”.  Paul wasn’t focused on himself and what he deserved as a minister of the gospel.  He was focused on the end game and making sure that he led people to Jesus.  “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some”.  He has one mission on his mind – bringing people to Christ.

Singlemindedness is a trait that defines Paul’s life.  “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings”.  His eyes were on the end game and he was focused on that alone.  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So  run that you may obtain it”.  He challenges us to be likeminded and focused as well on the mission of leading people to Jesus. How do we do that?  By walking with Christ and living in obedience to God’s commands.  “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified”.  His focus was clear and he was dedicated to living life fully for that purpose!

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