Archive for November, 2019

1 Corinthians 7:8-11

In 1 Corinthians 7:8-11 Paul continues answering the questions from the church. Paul, at the time of this writing, was unmarried (putting himself among the unmarried and the widows). Here he recognizes the benefit of being single, which he will speak more of later in the letter. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” Paul’s understanding that the unmarried state can be a gift is especially striking when we consider the Jewish background of Paul himself and the early church. It was regarded as a sin for a Jewish man to be unmarried. There is little question that Paul was married at one time because he would not have been able to serve on the Sanhedrin if that was not the case.

While Paul recognizes that some are gifted for marriage, and some are gifted for the unmarried state, no one is “gifted” for sexual immorality! The married must live faithfully to their spouse, and the unmarried must live celibate. “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Paul’s recommendation to marry is not based on marriage being more or less spiritual, but on very practical concerns. A godly sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage is God’s plan for meeting our sexual needs. Paul recognizes marriage as a legitimate refuge from pressures of sexual immorality. One should not feel they are immature or unspiritual because they desire to get married so they will no longer burn with passion.

Paul is continuing to give answers to the questions the Corinthian church had asked him. He has already dealt with the questions about the relative merits of being married or single, and if it is more spiritual to abstain from sex in a marriage relationship. Now he is moving to another question, and these questions and answers have to do with marriage and divorce. He begins with the married folks. “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Paul makes it clear that his answers are not his opinion, but from the Lord. The Corinthian Christians wondered if it might be more spiritual to be single, and if they should break up existing marriages for the cause of greater holiness. Paul answers their question straight from the heart of the Lord: absolutely not! In addressing a marriage where both partners are Christians, Paul says that they should not – indeed, cannot – break up the marriage in a misguided search for higher spirituality. And if they do there are only two proper responses:

  1. Remain unmarried
  2. Reconcile

Divorce is a messy topic. Scripture gives two specific instances when God recognizes a divorce:

  • when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:3-9)
  • when a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15)

In those instances where God recognizes His reasons for divorce, remarriage is allowed in His eyes. That should only happen after attempts to reconcile have been made.

1 Corinthians 7:5-7

In 1 Corinthians 7:5-7 Paul rejects the idea that a husband and wife can be more holy if they don’t engage in sexual relations. Abstinence does have a place when it is agreed upon for a specific purpose. But withholding sex is depriving (better translated as defrauding) your spouse. When we deny physical affection and sexual intimacy to our spouse, we cheat them. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

We need to realize that sexual deprivation in marriage has not only to do with frequency, but with romance also. When we withhold sex without agreement, it gives occasion for the deprived to look elsewhere for fulfillment – and to destroy the marriage. Anything along those lines is sin, but we should not create a situation where our spouse is tempted around sex. We all lack self control, and Satan is a master at leveraging that to cause us to fall flat on our face. This is an area of marriage where temptation can quickly gain a foothold which is why husband and wives need to understand and work to fulfill the needs of each other.

God will permit (reluctantly, as a concession) a married couple to abstain from sexual relations for a short time, for the sake of fasting and prayer. But if this concession is used, it is only to be for a time, and then husband and wife must come together again in a sexual sense. “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.” God does not command or even recommend abstaining from sex within marriage, but it can be done for a brief time for a specific spiritual reason. God makes it clear that there is nothing wrong, and everything right, about sex in marriage. Satan’s great strategy, when it comes to sex, is to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of marriage, and to discourage sex within marriage.

Though Paul was unmarried when he wrote this letter, he probably had been married at one time. We can say this because we know Paul was an extremely observant Jew and an example among his people. “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin and an unmarried man could not be a member of the Sanhedrin, so Paul was probably married at one time. The scriptures don’t tell us what happened to Paul’s wife. But we know Paul knew singleness was good for him, yet he would not impose it on anyone. The important thing is what gift one has from God, either being gifted to singleness or marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:1-4

In 1 Corinthians 7:1-4 Paul begins to address questions that the Corinthian church had for him. The first was about sex. “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” His response seems pretty strong if we take it at face value from this first sentence. He seems to say stay away from sex. Like all scripture, we have to be careful not to take things out of context. That is where the next verse comes in. It begins with the word ‘but’ which tells us there is more to the answer than the initial response Paul makes.

Why would the Corinthian believers suggest celibacy? Maybe because they figured sexual immorality was a significant danger (which it certainly can be) and by abstaining completely from sex they might have a better shot at remaining pure. But Paul doesn’t see it that way. That is why God designed sex to be something shared between husband and wife. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Sex is designed to be part of marriage in God’s plan. And it is to be shared between them in an ongoing way.

Paul makes it clear that it is part of the marriage covenant as God designed it. He is not saying sex is the only reason for marriage, or the most important reason for marriage. Paul is simply answering their specific questions about marriage, not trying to give a complete theology of marriage. But he is clear that sex should not be something withheld from one another inside the bonds of marriage. Sex is God’s idea, created by Him for the pleasure of a husband and wife to share together. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

Paul does go on to remind us that we need to be submissive to each other in marriage. In fact, these obligations are so concrete, it could be said that the wife’s body does not even belong to herself, but to her husband. The same principle is true of the husband’s body in regard to his wife. “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This does not justify any sort of mistreatment or abuse but rather the need to care for each other. Paul’s point is that we have a binding obligation to serve our partner with physical affection.

1 Corinthians 6:16-20

In 1 Corinthians 6:16-20 Paul concludes his teaching in this chapter to the church at Corinth about sex. He calls it out clearly – sex is more than a physical act. When we have sex, we become one with that person. It is God’s design for sex – that it be an intimate event that brings two people together to become ‘one flesh’. So we can’t dismiss it as something we do that is disconnected from who we are as a spiritual being. That’s not how it works. “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

Paul warns us that the sexual activity we engage in impacts us. In the heat of lustful passion, spiritual things may seem far away. Yet, at the root of most lustful passion is the desire for love, acceptance, and adventure – all of which is far better, and more completely satisfied in our relationship with the Lord instead of with sexual immorality. We can never gain true love in the bedroom. But Jesus went to the cross as an act of true love and we have been offered the opportunity to become one in spirit with Him through grace and faith. It’s the most powerful relationship we can ever have. “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”

Paul’s advice? Run from sexual immorality. He doesn’t tell us to be brave and resist the lustful passion of sexual immorality, but to flee from its very presence. Many fall because they underestimate the power of the flesh, or think they will “test” themselves and see how much they can “take.” They have convinced themselves that they can always just walk away if things go too far. Joseph showed us how to flee – he ran from sin. Paul doesn’t tell us to flee from sex – after all it is a gift from God to mankind. It’s the immorality that we can fall into that we are to flee from. “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

Paul ends with a principle and a command regarding sexual purity. We have to understand that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit – He dwells within us. Our bodies are not our own. They completely belong to God to use as He desires, not to fulfill our personal wishes. With God living within us, we have power over sin. The principle here is that the Holy Spirit is in us and will equip us to resist sexual temptation. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The command is clear. We are to glorify God in our body. Harry Ironside wrote, “Glorify God in your body and the spiritual side will take care of itself.”

1 Corinthians 6:13-15

In 1 Corinthians 6:13-15 Paul continues his teaching to the church in Corinth about sexual immorality. The people there had a motto around food and giving their stomach whatever it wanted to eat. They had the same view around sex, but Paul quickly calls out that the two are very different and they can’t take an irrelevant thinking about food restrictions and apply it to sexual conduct. There is no relationship between the two.  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

Some think that God made us sexual beings and it’s His fault that we have these struggles around sex. That isn’t how God created man – but Adam messed things up in the Garden of Eden and sin has had its fingers in this area of mankind ever since. God’s design was and is for sexual purity. Sex was never intended for our use any way we desire. There is a price that must be paid when we choose to use our body for sexual immorality. We will stand before God someday and give account for the choices we made regarding our sexual conduct. That result can be lifted into His presence or separated for eternity. But God will ask for us to address our sin, and sexual misconduct will be one of those areas. “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” He’ll raise us to eternal life. The only question is where we’ll spend it.

The people at Corinth had separated their sexual conduct from their faith and relationship with Jesus. They had compartmentalized the two and made the distinction that there was no connection. That is a very wrong thought process. As Christ Followers, we are members of of His body – the church. When we choose to commit sexual immorality, we disgrace the entire body and link it to sin. This isn’t merely true of sexual sin, but any sin. Yet Paul calls out the issue of the Corinthian church around sex because it was blatant and widespread during that day. We should remember that God indeed is the creator and designer of sex. In itself, sex is a gift of God and part of His plan for mankind. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”

The problem comes when we don’t treat it the way God intended. In their sexual relationship, a husband and wife become “one flesh” in a way that is under God’s blessing. In sex outside of marriage, the partners become “one flesh” in a way that is under God’s curse. Since we belong to Jesus – body, soul, and spirit – we have no right to give any part of our self away to an “unauthorized” person. Wiersbe wrote ““Sex outside of marriage is like a man robbing a bank: he gets something, but it is not his and he will one day pay for it. Sex within marriage can be like a person putting money into a bank: there is safety, security, and he will collect dividends.”

1 Corinthians 6:7-12

In 1 Corinthians 6:7-12 Paul continues to address the behavior of the church to file lawsuits against one another and let the legal system make decisions rather than use the wisdom of the church. “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” The church looks outwardly and accuses the world for many things, yet it doesn’t live out the laws of God and live in a way that is different. We shouldn’t just fit into the world around us, we should stick out like a sore thumb. The objective is not to merely fit in, but to live God’s way so clearly that we can’t be missed. “But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers!” But Paul definitely calls out the church for doing anything but that.

Paul reminds us that there is a price to pay for sin. And that outcome will not be to spend eternity with the Father. Sinners won’t be in heaven unless their sin has been dealt with through forgiveness. And that forgiveness only comes through one way – the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross. There are many sins – in fact all of them large and small – that are enough to keep us from heaven. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

We are all guilty of sin. Maybe not the sins listed in the verse above, but that isn’t a complete and total list, just some of the most prevalent of the time when Paul wrote. We’ve got all those and many more today. And just like the church in Paul’s day was guilty of sin, so are you and me today. The good news then, and for us today, is that God has made a way to overcome the outcome of sin in our life. We won’t be able to stop sinning and live in complete obedience to His will, but we can be set free from the consequence of sin through Jesus. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul gives us a couple principles about how we should live regarding the options we have and decisions we are faced with. There are a handful of these guiding principles in the letter Paul penned to the Corinthian church, and the first two are here:

  1. All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.” We have freedom in Christ to do many things. But that freedom doesn’t mean we should necessarily do something. We have to ask the question – is it helpful to myself and to those around me?
  2.  “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” We again have freedom to do many things in life, but nothing we do should control us. We need to ask the question – will it control me?

These are two important questions we should ask when we face decisions about whether to do something or not. Is it helpful? Will it control me? If it isn’t helpful and could potentially control me we should just say no and not do it. Simply following Paul’s guidance here can save us from a lot of trouble and heartache and certainly can help limit the negative influence our life may have on someone else.

1 Corinthians 6:1-6

In 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 Paul tackles the way that believers should live with each other. Conflict will happen, it is a part of the human experience. So when it does, how should we work to resolve it? Paul makes clear that the answer is not to run to the worldly law and use legal resources that are not based on God’s laws and standards. When we have a grievance, we need to seek counsel and ultimately resolution from those within the body of Christ. “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” It is God’s truth that we should be measured and punished against by God’s people.

Even though there are many in places of legal authority around us, that won’t be the final outcome. God’s laws will be applied by God’s people when Jesus comes back. Jesus alone will sit at the right hand of God and hold every one of us accountable to give account for our lives when that final examination comes. There will be no ducking or finding a way around it. We will stand before Him and have to explain what we have done and when we are accused of sin in our life, we need the blood of Jesus as a covering of our sin or it’s not going to end well. “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?”

God’s going to give Christ Followers a clean slate because the blood of Jesus covers all sin. Anyone of anything not believing in Him will not gain entry into heaven. There will be no exceptions. There will be no free passes. We will have to give account and as we do we’ll be held responsible for the choices we made to sin against God and His standards. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” Who will be able to face that judgment on their own actions? None of us will. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior, and if we don’t have One, the judgment will be harsh and eternal.

Paul questions the church as to why it has not been active in dealing with judging within the body of Christ. Rather than address issues internally, there has been a history of taking each other to court outside the church. “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” Paul questions that logic and approach. He challenges them to settle things among themselves rather than run elsewhere. “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?”

1 Corinthians 5:11-13

In 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 Paul hands down some pretty strong guidance for how we should live as Christ Followers. The short version is that if we know someone who is guilty of sin, we should avoid them. Does this mean habitual sinners, or everyone who sins. If the later we’ll have a pretty quiet existence because all have sinned and fall short of God’s obedience. Paul is referring here to habitually make the choice to continue in a sinful behavior even after being confronted or convicted about it. All sin is a choice. Satan doesn’t make us sin. We choose to sin, sometimes helped along that path by the enemy or people we associate with, but make no mistake that all sin is a choice we make first and foremost.

Paul is warning us not to hang out with people who might lead us into the ongoing choice to continue in a sin, or may actually bring us along into a new area of sinfulness. We certainly don’t need those kind of influences in our life. So he warns us not to associate with them, even to the point of sharing a meal together. We need to isolate ourselves and be sure we don’t intentionally do things that will cause us to fall. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.”

Does Paul’s directive apply to people around us who are not Christ Followers? The text seems to indicate that what matters is those who are Christ Followers. They have a different level of accountability and expectation to keep. So while it wold be easy to apply the same filter to all, Paul is clear it begins within the body of Christ. God’s standards must first be applied to those who call Him Lord. We may prefer to do it the other way around, but that is not God’s way. He’s about cleaning His house first, and we play a role in that process, first in cleaning up the sin in our own life, and then by confronting sin in the lives of other Christ Followers we are connected with. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”

Paul summarizes his teaching on sin very succinctly. God alone will address the sins of the world. That’s not our job from within the body of Christ. “God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” What is our responsibility is to purge sin from within the walls of the church. Not by pointing fingers or posting pictures on social media. It has to begin with ourselves and an honest assessment of where we fall short and have a sin problem. Scripture is clear that we do – so this isn’t a case where some get a pass and others have to change their ways. We look inside, we look at the lives of those around us, and we deal with sin or should face the reality that the church should discipline us until we choose to live God’s way.

1 Corinthians 5:6-10

In 1 Corinthians 5:6-10 Paul continues rebuking the church for their failure to handle sin directly. Church discipline is an area that many prefer to stay clear of. There can be differing opinions as to the severity of the sin and the action that should be taken as a result, so often things may be talked about but seldom truly dealt with. Paul makes clear the problem with that approach, or lack thereof. If we overlook or ignore sin, really at any level, we lower the standard of expectations to a point where sin just becomes accepted. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”

Ignoring or accepting sin is never ok with God. Sin is mankind’s biggest problem – it is what causes our separation from God and ultimately eternity in hell if not addressed through the grace of Jesus Christ expressed freely for us on the Cross. “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Man has a sin problem, and God graciously offered up a complete and everlasting solution. He sent Jesus as a sacrifice to die on a cross, be buried in a tomb, and raise after three days to give us victory over death. God has given us the solution, but we have to get rid our our sin problem by accepting His gift of grace.

Paul exhorts the church to celebrate the new way of receiving the forgiveness of sin – the shed blood of Jesus. Sin has been around since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve experienced it then, and it’s been with us ever since. But the method of dealing with it changed when Jesus went to Calvary. Before that, it had been based on the law and obedience to God’s commands. Those things still guide how we should live, but the forgiveness of sin now happens through receiving Christ as Savior and Lord. That is the new truth we need to understand and accept. “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Paul has instructed the church to remove the sinful behavior and person choosing to live in it. But now he goes further to blanket the sin of sexual immorality. Actually he addresses a broader subject of sin itself. We’re not to hang with people who are sinners. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” We need to understand that sin carries a price tag and certainly can cause those in its patch to be swayed toward it if not careful. We need to associate with those who are not consumed by sin, and not just sexual sin. Any sin can cause us to fall and be separated from God.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul tackles some sensitive issues in the church. He begins with a focus on sexual immorality – not a topic most churches want to address publicly. Paul puts it out there front and center, calling out behavior that is not acceptable in any situation, where a man is sexually engaging with his fathers wife, which would be his mom or step mom. Even in our permissive world today, that stretches the boundary of acceptability. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”

Paul gets after the church for being less than quick and decisive with how to address this behavior. The leadership was not addressing it, acting as if it wasn’t their problem to deal with. Their attitude was somewhat ‘above this lowly behavior’ and they were coming across as arrogant as a result. Paul tells them they should not only deal with it, but mourn the fact it occurred under their leadership and oversight. But more than that, he is extremely blunt with what should happen – the guilty party should be removed from the body. There is no place for tolerance here. “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Decisive and quick action is what Paul expects.

Paul realizes that he is writing from afar, but the news has gotten to him and he’s not going to remain quiet and let it slide. He is not there physically, but he cares deeply for the church and makes it clear that he is part of that body and feels responsible to direct action as if he was there. He knows this is a divisive and sinful act that has to be addressed. So there is no need to wait for him to arrive in person – he passes judgment and demands action by the leadership of the church. Sin cannot be tolerated. Blatant sin must be addressed quickly. “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”

Paul goes further than just a hand slapping for this sinful behavior. He wants him thrown out of the church, but beyond that, they are to completely separate themselves from his sinful and destructive behavior. Paul instructs them to hand him over to Satan, that he will experience the penalty of his sin, but with the hope that he will repent and be saved. No matter the sin, there is not one so bad that we can’t be forgiven. We need to confess, repent and receive God’s grace, but it is offered freely to all of us, even someone who commits sin at this blatant level. “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Each of us needs to examine ourselves and see where we need to confess and repent.

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