Archive for December, 2019

1 Corinthians 10:15-19

In 1 Corinthians 10:15-19 Paul challenges the church in Corinth, who think they are wise and know the truth, to carefully consider what he is saying. “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.” Of course, all of Paul’s teaching needs to be compared to scripture as the ultimate authority of what is true and right. That’s the judgment Paul wants them to do. Paul continues to teach them around the culture they were participating in – eating at a pagan temple which was really fellowshiping with the altar related to idols. It was not behavior that was acceptable for a Christ Follower.

Just as the Christian practice of communion speaks of unity and fellowship with Jesus, so these pagan banquets, given in the honor of idols, spoke of unity with demons who took advantage of misdirected worship.“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Their intent was not to be a partaker of idolatry in all likelihood, but to eat at the same table with someone indicated friendship and fellowship with that person. By eating at the pagan temple banquets, it appeared to others that these Corinthians Christians were worshiping idols.

And since they ate of one bread, that made them one body, because they shared the same food at the same table. So to eat at the table of a pagan temple restaurant was not as innocent as it seemed. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The symbolic outcome of the decision to eat meat sacrificed to idols is that the person was aligned with idol worship. It sent the wrong message to everyone. “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” Actions mean things, and sometimes how we act brings a message that does not align with what we mean to communicate.

Paul’s been clear that idols are dead – nothing at all in this world. He isn’t changing his position here, but he does say demonic spirits take advantage of idol worship to deceive and enslave people. Without knowing it, idol worshippers are glorifying demons in their sacrifice. “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?” The Corinthian Christians thought, “Since an idol is not real, it doesn’t matter what we eat, and it doesn’t matter where we eat it.” Paul answers by agreeing that an idol is in itself nothing, but also explains that demons take advantage of man’s ignorant and self-serving worship. So while it isn’t technically an issue to eat it, the act sets one up for other issues much more severe.

1 Corinthians 10:13-14

In 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 Paul is teaching a key principle and promise we all need to cling to. God is faithful – He will never let us down. If we fall to sin it is because we made that choice, not because God failed us. God has promised to supervise all temptation that comes at us through the world, the flesh or the devil. He promises to limit it according to our capability to endure it – according to our capability as we rely on Him, not our capability as we rely only on ourselves. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability…” Remember that Satan’s desire for you and me is to “kill, steal and destroy”. He would destroy us in a minute if God would let him.

But God doesn’t just let him destroy us. Like a mom who keeps her child from the candy aisle in a store, knowing the child couldn’t handle that temptation, God keeps us from things we can’t handle. But what we can and can’t handle changes over the years. God has promised to not only limit our temptation, but also to provide a way of escape in tempting times. He will never force us to use the way of escape, but he will make the way of escape available. It’s up to us to take God’s way of escape. “…but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The way of escape does not lead us to a place where we escape all temptation (that is heaven alone). The way of escape leads us to the place where we may be able to bear it. We will be tempted, that’s clear because the enemy wants to destroy us and temptation that he can use to lead us to sin is his chosen way to do that. But Paul reminds us that to be tempted is not sin, but to entertain temptation or surrender to temptation is sin. It is the choice we make regarding temptation, which is totally our own, that determines whether temptation becomes sin or not. When we bear temptation, Satan often condemns us for being tempted, but that is condemnation from Satan the Christian does not need to accept. It is merely a lie of the enemy.

Paul then tells the Corinthians to flee from  the idolatry at the pagan temples. It was there and happening around them every day. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Though the Corinthian Christians had the liberty to buy meat at the pagan temple butcher shop and prepare it in their own homes, Paul tells them they should flee from idolatry in regards to the restaurant of the pagan temple. Using the example of Israel, and their lapse into idolatry, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians not to participate in the dinners served at the pagan temple. It may seem harmless, which is how Satan always positions temptation, but there are consequences that we must be wise to so we can resist.

1 Corinthians 10:9-13

In 1 Corinthians 10:9-13 Paul reminds the Corinthian church not to test Christ. He recalls the story from Numbers where the writer describes the incident that occurred in response to the complaining of the people, God sent fiery serpents among the people. In their case, complaining hearts show them to be self-focused and more concerned with their own desires than God’s glory – the same issues causing trouble with the Corinthian Christians, who will not yield their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of another brother. “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”

The Corinthian Christians regard the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and thereby causing their brother to stumble as a “small” issue. Paul wants them and us to know that it reflects a selfish, self-focused heart, which is the kind of heart God destroyed among the Israelites in the wilderness. It may have been a relatively small symptom, but it was a symptom of a great and dangerous disease. “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.” Paul makes it clear that we need to learn from the sins of those who have gone before us so we don’t follow the same path. We have a greater responsibility, because we can learn from Israel’s mistakes.

For the Corinthian Christians to resist the temptation to be selfish and self-focused, they must first understand they are vulnerable. The one who thinks he stands will not stay on guard against temptation, so he may easily fall. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Temptation works like rocks in a harbor; when the tide is low, everybody sees the danger and avoids it. But Satan’s strategy in temptation is to raise the tide, and to cover over the dangers of temptation. Then he likes to crash you upon the rocks that are now covered by water and not easily seen. God promises we have the ability to stand firm, but we must not allow pride to get involved.

Here’s a promise from God we should cling to, and live by. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” We often want to excuse our particular tempting circumstances as “very unique” and a “special exception,” but God reminds us that our temptation is not unique. Many other men and women of God have faced the same or similar temptation, and have found the strength in God to overcome the temptation. Jesus Himself faced temptation from Satan directly in the wilderness under much more trying circumstances than you or I will ever face. Sin happens when we choose to disobey God’s ways and fall to temptation. It will come – but the choice in how we deal with it is ours alone.

1 Corinthians 10:5-8

In 1 Corinthians 10:5-8 Paul continues his history lesson on the days of the Exodus. He reminds the Corinthian church that despite all the blessings and spiritual privileges give to the Israelites in the wilderness, they did not please God. In light of all those blessings, gratitude should have made them more pleasing to God, but they were not. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” “Most of them” is a significant understatement. Only two men from the adult generation that left Egypt came into the Promised Land, that being Joshua and Caleb. The rest never made it in.

The displeasure of God with the Israelites was evident because they never entered into the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness instead. For all their blessings and spiritual experiences, they never entered into what God really had for them. Paul warns the Corinthian church to beware, because just as Israel was blessed and had amazing spiritual experiences, they still perished – and the same could happen to some of the Corinthian Christians as well! Clarke wrote “It seems as if the Corinthians had supposed that their being made partakers of the ordinances of the Gospel, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, would secure their salvation, notwithstanding, they might be found partaking of idolatrous feasts; as long, at least, as they considered an idol to be nothing in the world.”

We can, and should, learn from Israel’s failure in the wilderness. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” They failed in that they could not say “no” to their desires, and so we must not lust after evil things as they did. The Corinthian Christians who insisted on eating meat sacrificed to idols, even though they led other Christians into sin, just couldn’t say “no.” “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Israel failed to keep their focus on God, and they started giving themselves to idolatry. Some in the Corinthians church made an idol out of their own “knowledge” and their own “rights.”

But wait, there was more to learn from their example. Israel, in their idolatry, surrendered to the temptation of sexual immorality. “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” We know the Corinthian Christians were having trouble with sexual immorality and it is connected with their selfish desire to please themselves. God made clear how he felt about the disobedience of the Israelites as 23,000 died in a single day. They sinned, and God responded. Paul is warning the Corinthian church that God is still on the throne and they are putting their future are risk by indulging in sexual sin.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul gives a history lesson on Israel and the Exodus from Egypt. He is continuing to address the whole issue of meat sacrificed to idols that the Corinthian church is hung up over. “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” Paul wrote about the need to finish what God has set before us, and how dangerous it is to refuse to give up something that gets in the way of finishing. Now, he will use Israel’s experience in the Exodus from Egypt to illustrate this principle.

Paul has already established two principles related to this topic in prior chapters of his letter to the church:

  1. An idol really is nothing, and it was fine for Corinthian Christians who understood this to act according to this knowledge, in regard to themselves.
  2. For Christians love is more important than knowledge. So even though I may “know” eating meat sacrificed to an idol is all right for myself, if it causes my brother to stumble, I won’t do it, because it isn’t the loving thing to do.

He also has shown how important it is for Christians to give up their “rights.” Just as Paul gave up his “right” to be supported by his own preaching of the gospel, so some of the Corinthian Christians must sometimes give up their “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, based on the principle of love towards a weaker brother. He wants to have them focus on all the blessings Israel had in the Exodus from Egypt!

Paul reminds them of the cloud of Shekinah glory that overshadowed Israel throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. During the day, the cloud sheltered them from the brutal desert sun, and during the night, it burned as a pillar of fire. It was a constant, ready reminder of God’s glory and presence. He also recalls how all Israel came through the Red Sea and saw God’s incredible power in holding up the walls of the sea so they could cross over on dry ground. Then they saw God send the water back to drown the Egyptian army. This was not only an amazing demonstration of God’s love and power, but also a picture of baptism – by “passing through water,” all of Israel was identified with Moses, even as by “passing through water,” a Christian is identified with Jesus Christ.

All of Israel was sustained by God’s miraculous provision of food and drink during their time in the wilderness. This was a remarkable display of God’s love and power for Israel, and a picture of the spiritual food and drink we receive at the Lord’s table. “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Israel even had the presence of Jesus Christ with them in the wilderness! Here, in identifying the Rock that followed them, Paul builds on a tradition that said Israel was supplied with water by the same rock all through the wilderness, a rock that followed them. Some scholars question this, but the point is the same: Jesus Christ was present with Israel in the wilderness, providing for their needs miraculously.

1 Corinthians 9:23-27

In 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 Paul gives us clarity on his purpose. He’s completely focused on being a minister of the Gospel and that drives everything he does. Paul was willing to offend people over the gospel, but only for that reason. It was central to all he did and who he was. The reason is not self-serving or focused on himself – it was because he knew the power and blessing it has on the life of one who receives Jesus. It is in fact the greatest blessing that any of us can or will ever experience. Paul’s completely consumed with that. “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

Sporting events were big in Paul’s day just like the are today in our world. This was especially meaningful to the Corinthians, because their city was the center for the Isthmian Games, second in prestige to the ancient Olympics. Paul often uses figures from sports competition to share his message and truth. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” Paul tells us to train and compete as athletes who really want to win. Without effort, nothing can be won in a sporting event. The difference between faith and sports is that everyone who will receive the gift of grace can win salvation. It is not a limited offer. All can have it if they will receive it.

In that day, Roman athletes had to train for ten months before being allowed in the games. An athlete must refuse things that may be fine for themselves, but will hinder the pursuit of his goal. As such, the Corinthians must refuse things that are fine in themselves (like meat sacrificed to idols), because having them may hinder the pursuit of the important goal: an imperishable crown, a heavenly reward that will never pass away. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” They are playing for something far better than winning a race – this is grace for all eternity.

With so much at stake, Paul makes it clear that he is all in getting ready to do the work of the ministry. He made sure that his body was the servant, and his inner man was the master. The desires of his body were not going to rule over his entire self. “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Paul saw himself as being like an announcer at the event along with a participant. He told others the rules of the competition, but had to follow them himselves. No one gets a pass to eternity except through faith in Christ. He didn’t want to be disqualified because he did not obey the requirements of winning the race!

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul continues his discussion around his work as a minister of the Gospel. Paul was free to do what he wanted, but bringing people to Jesus was more important to him than using his freedom selfishly. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” His approach was to be a servant leader, not stand up front and demand attention pounding the pulpit and proclaiming that he was to be listened to and respected. Why was he, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, willing to be a servant? Because his eyes were on the goal – to win more people to Jesus. That was the driver and ultimately what mattered to him.

Paul was a bit of a chameleon as he ministered as a servant to all. He dealt with people where they were, not forcing them to come into his world, but by going to theirs. To outside observers, it might have looked like Paul’s life was inconsistent, but he consistently pursued one goal: to win people to Jesus. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” We learn in Acts that Paul participated in Jewish purification ceremonies, which he knew were not necessary for his own life, but he hoped would help build a bridge of ministry to the Jews.

Smith wrote “Paul sought to win people to Jesus Christ by being sensitive to their needs and identifying with them. We should try to reach people where they are today and expect to see changes later.” Paul never changed his message or doctrine in order to appeal to different groups he ministered to, but he did change his behavior and approach. “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” His eyes were always focused on the goal of bringing people to Jesus. His key was to attempt to live or behave in a way that his service and ministry would connect.

Clarke wrote “Let those who plead for the system of accommodation on the example of Paul, attend to the end he had in view, and the manner in which he pursued that end. It was not to get money, influence, or honor, but to save souls! It was not to get ease but to increase his labors. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls!” “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul stayed the course of sharing the Good News of Jesus and threw all he had at people, but realized that he couldn’t save everyone. They have to be willing and ready to make faith their own!

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