1 Corinthians 16 ends Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. As he wraps up he handles some housekeeping and future planning. He begins by talking about giving. “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”. God does expect us to give to the ministry of the Body. He gives freely to us, not only that we may live, but that we may learn to give to others as He prospers us. All we have, after all, is from Him. We tend to forget that and believe that we make our money and accumulate our stuff all on our own. That is really a pretty dangerous and self-centered way to look at it. God gives us the ability to make money. It is all His. And it is important we not only don’t forget that truth, but that we learn to give generously back as well. Paul expected that of the church in Corinth, and God has a similar expectation for you and me – it is called tithing – and we need to live by it.
Paul goes on to talk about things in Ephesus – but his description likely is accurate for the places you and I live today as well. Check out how Paul describes things: ”a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries”. There was significant opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus where he was – but there was also a battle occurring as well. Doesn’t that describe your neighborhood and community? There are many who don’t know the gospel, but it isn’t as easy as it seems it should be. We have the answer to eternal life – yet people refuse to receive or come against that message. So people are kept away and in the dark. Paul is committed to making a difference before he moves on. Sometimes we just need to continue to minister to those in our patch and not get in a hurry to go to the next opportunity.
Paul ends things with a list – a powerful list – of things he asks the church to do. We would all do well to read and heed this list. Paul tells them:
– “Be watchful
– Stand firm in the faith
– Act like men
– Be strong
– Let all that you do be done in love
– Be subject to such as these (the saints)
– Greet one another with a holy kiss”
Paul is giving direction on how the body needs to live. We can’t forget that we are under attack and face a very real enemy. Sometimes we think that since we are in the church all will be well. That is not necessarily the way it works. We must be vigilant in our efforts to stand together and be ready for the challenges that will come our way. Are you living the way Paul calls us to live? If not – now is the time to make those changes!
1 Corinthians 15 is a very powerful chapter. Paul begins by reviewing the facts around the life of Jesus. He is making the case that this is the foundation for the church and our spiritual lives. It has to be true in order for our salvation for it is the Truth ”in which you stand, and by which you are being saved”. Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection are the very core of Christianity. Here is the description of Jesus as shared by Paul beginning with His death on the Cross:
– “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures
– he was buried
– he was raised on the third day
– he appeared to Cephas
– then to the twelve
– he appeared to more than five hundred brothers
– he appeared to James
– then to all the apostles
– he appeared also to me”
Paul is laying out the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Does it seem like a little overkill here – a few more details than needed. Not really since this is the very foundation of our faith. Paul is making sure there is no doubt that Jesus arose. He wants no one to doubt that Jesus overcame death. He says it this way: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”.
He goes on to remind us “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. All of us can make that statement. It is by God’s grace that any of us are alive and living life as we do today. God is the Creator and the Giver of all. We sometimes forget this truth. We buy into the old adage that we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and go get the American dream all on our own. I don’t think it works quite like that. We tend to buy into the lies that we should live this way: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. While we will all die at some point – life as a Christ Follower is not about just enjoying whatever happens. God has a plan for us. And Paul reminds us that who we hang out with impacts our ability to live according to His plan: “Bad company ruins good morals”. We need to surround ourselves with the right folks. If we don’t we will mess up and Paul is clear that we must not “go on sinning”. Who are you hanging with these days?
The chapter ends with my life verse. Do you have a verse that defines your life? God gave this too me over 30 years ago as the key verse to define how I live. Paul ends the chapter with it: “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”. I have had that verse memorized since my college days. And often I come back to it when I am discouraged with my work for God. It has been the rock of my relationship with Him. It ties into the truth Paul has shared earlier – to be steadfast, immovable, abounding I have to be surrounded with the right folks. We won’t live that way in isolation. But the key for me has been the last few words – knowing my labor is not in vain. I often hear the whispers from the enemy that all the things I do to minister for God don’t matter. After all, I am just a lowly sinner and no one is really listening. But God’s promise here keeps me focused and moving forward. I realize it is not my job to make sure my labor matters – God has promised that and takes that responsibility. My job is to just keep on walking faithfully in obedience and leave the results to Him!
1 Corinthians 14 is a difficult chapter from Paul. It falls on the heels of the love chapter and he reminds us of that as he begins with “pursue love”. That is the excellent way as he described it. He once again goes back to talking about spiritual gifts and says “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts”. You will recall that in chapter 12, Paul lists out the gifts and gives us some guidance around them. Gifts are given to us as Christ Followers by God through His Spirit and are given for one major reason – to build up the body of Christ. Paul reinforces that when he teaches “strive to excel in building up the church”. And later he says “let all things be done for building up”. Gifts should never divide or tear down – if so they are not from God. We have to keep them in balance with His framework for the church.
Paul focuses on two of the gifts primarily in this chapter – the gifts of prophecy and tongues. I don’t think they are called out as being the only ones that matter but rather as examples of how they can take us off God’s track into the weeds. Both are gifts from God with a very specific purpose. Prophecy is described as a gift for unbelievers that they may be drawn to the truth while tongues is a gift given for the believers. Both have very specific guidelines for appropriateness and use and must be kept in the framework of building up the body, not just personal use.
Paul does give us a very clear roadmap on the power of prophecy done well. He gives us the steps that occur when a non-believer hears this gift in action:
– Called to account
– Secrets of the heart are disclosed
– Falling on his face
– He will worship God
– Declare that God is really among you”
When God’s gifts are used God’s way – powerful results occur. When they are used incorrectly – division can happen. We have to be careful to follow His direction and make sure they are used to build up the body of Christ. “God is not a God of confusion but peace”. His gifts will never cause disruption in the ministry but will guide it toward His glory!
There is one other difficult section in this chapter regarding women. Check out what Paul writes: “women should keep silent in the churches….they are not permitted to speak…..but should be in submission…..If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home”. At first glance this really is troubling for many. But I think the lesson her is not focusing on the literal translation that women need to keep quiet but rather than the reality that men need to step up. Most churches would have to close their doors if women kept silent and did not serve. Why? Not because men shouldn’t or can’t lead and do the work of the church – but because men don’t.
This does reinforce the reality that God has a very specific design for the home. Men are given the task of leading. But our world is very different than Paul’s world 2000 years ago. I don’t claim to understand exactly how these verses should be applied for women – but I am absolutely confident how they should be applied to men. Men need to step up and lead. They need to quit passing the buck and pushing their responsibility to know God’s truth and teach it to their families onto their wives. The problem is not with the women – it is men who fail to do what God has instructed and designed. I’ll let someone much smarter interpret the first part. I only know that before we can worry about that – men have to get their act together!
1 Corinthians 13 contains Paul’s “more excellent way” as he ended the prior chapter. Love is that formula. There is no chapter in scripture that shows us God’s heart more than this one. As we see over and over – God is love – and here Paul helps us understand exactly what that means. He starts by contrasting actions that do not have love as the foundation, and just how empty those things are. The actions he describes are not bad in and of themselves, but without the proper motive behind them, they miss the mark completely. “If I” turns into “I am nothing” when love is absent or not the motivation. A lot of us lost track of that reality. We think that somehow we are in good shape because we are doing stuff. But stuff alone is not the key. Stuff done from love is what makes it work. That is the reality of our God that makes being a Christ Follower so unique.
Paul gives us a list of what love is, and what love is not. See how you are doing with these things:
– Rejoices with the truth
– Bears all things
– Believes all things
– Hopes all things
– Endures all things
– Never ends”
Love is not:
– Insist on its own way
– Rejoice at wrongdoing”
Love is God’s heart. It is how He is. And His desire is that we all learn to love as He does. It means we must “give up childish ways” and put on the very nature of God. Love is not easy. It is an absolute choice. It is an act of the will. We won’t always feel like loving, even those in our family that we live life with every day. But God does want us to love and to learn to put aside our selfish ways and live His way – total, unconditional and complete love.
Paul ends with these words: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. Love has some good companions, but it is the most excellent way. Love is the greatest gift we will ever give, and the most important gift we can ever receive. God taught us how to love. “For God so loved the world that He gave”. Love is an action. It means we must do something. It also means we must not do somethings as well. Are you loving God’s way? It is the most excellent way to live!
1 Corinthians 12 contains some of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts. Why? “I do not want you to be uniformed”. Paul knows this is an area where people can get off course and his goal is to help us understand the gifts that God gives us as Christ Followers. It is important to understand that all these gifts come from the same place. Over and over Paul reminds us we are “one”. If you count that word in this chapter, it is there numerous times. Gifts should never divide the body. They are given to unify and be used to help the body grow. They are God’s way of empowering us as members of the body to do His work. “God has so composed the body” so that we can be effective. That means we are not all alike – in fact quite the opposite – we are each created and gifted uniquely to serve Him.
It is interesting that Paul sort of breaks things down into three buckets:
– “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit
– there are varieties of service, but the same Lord
– there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God”
Gifts, service and activities are listed in this chapter. But they come from the same source and all are given to us by Him. “To each is given” and a bit later “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills”. We don’t determine what gifts we receive. God gives them to us freely and for His purpose. Some get caught up seeking specific gifts or manifestations. But God is the giver. Our role is to receive and then use those gifts to build up the body of Christ.
So what kinds if things is Paul writing about: “wisdom…..knowledge…..faith…..healing…..miracles…..prophecy…..ability to distinguish between spirits…..tongues…..interpretation of tongues” and later he lists gifts in the church as “apostles…..prophets…..teachers…..miracles…..healing…..helping…..administrating…..tongues”. There is much variety in the gifts that God has prepared for us. These are important in the life of the church. We need to understand our gifting’s and then be focused on how we can use those to serve God both in and out of the church. Gifts are for the body – and we must remember that “there may be no division in the body”. Gifts never cause division if used appropriately. They are to create unity and oneness. They come to us from God to build up, not tear down.
Paul reminds us of that with these words: “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”. We are part of the whole yet individuals as well. God does not stamp us out as mirror images of each other. We are each created with and given unique talents and gifts to help build the church. It is exciting to understand those and how God wants to use them in our life as well as the body. But even with all the goodness that the gifts can bring, Paul ends the chapter with these key words: “I will show you a still more excellent way”. What is that way? He writes about it in the next chapter. Gifts are powerful, they are important, they are necessary to help the body. But Paul will show us the more excellent way is all about love. Without love, as we will see in the next chapter, gifts are hollow and ineffective. Love is the glue that makes life happen God’s way. God is love. We must be too!
1 Corinthians 11 gives us a few key teachings from Paul. He begins this chapter saying “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. Here we have the basis for discipleship. Paul wants others to follow him. How about you? If someone follows you, where will they end up? Will it be at the Cross of Jesus? As Christ Followers it would seem to make sense that following you or me would lead someone to Jesus. That is how we ought to live. That is our mission – to lead people to the Savior as they follow our example. Simple words – but the consequences can be eternal!
Paul goes on to make sure we understand the hierarchy of God’s creation:
– “the head of every man is Christ
– the head of a wife is her husband
– the head of Christ is God”
A lot of people struggle with that middle bullet point. It isn’t a typo, and scripture tells us that many times. Husbands are given the role of being head of the wife. Husbands are to be the spiritual leader in the home. Husbands are to set the example for the family to follow. There is a huge responsibility assigned to husbands. SO the question is – how are you doing as the spiritual leader? Do you lead at all? Or do you just expect your wife and kids to pick it up somehow. Is it “do as I say and not as I do”? That is not leadership. That is wrong. God assigned husbands with a critical task and many of us fail miserably here. We want to be in charge when it comes to bossing our wives around regarding the house, money, the kids and definitely sex. Right? But when it comes to what matters – understanding that headship means responsibility and not so much focus on authority – we head for the TV or man cave and don’t want anything to do with that.
Guys – God has tasked us to lead. That leadership means servanthood. It means we serve our wife and kids and show them the way to Jesus. It means we put them first and get over ourselves. It means we love like Jesus did – sacrificial and complete – not focused on what we want – but what they need and deserve from us. Being the “head” is not all that glamorous when you consider what it truly requires and means. But it is God’s design and plan. And it is definitely our responsibility.
Paul goes on to call out the fact that “I hear that there are divisions among you…..there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”. So are divisions all bad? No – they don’t have to be bad. It depends on how we handle them. If we realize that we are all people who think differently and celebrate the fact God created us that way – divisions aren’t necessarily bad. It is when we focus on what divides that causes us to fall off the wagon. And that seems to be what a lot of us want to do. We may agree with 90 – 95 – 99 percent of life – but we focus on that small percentage where we are different. It is particularly true of the church. We all have the same Savior – there is only One. We all serve the same God – there is only One. We all read the same Bible – ok there are a few different versions of this Book – but you get the point. The issue is that we want to focus on what divides rather than what unites. We do it in our marriages and families too. We focus on the things that cause struggle rather than the covenant of our marriage. We point out what bothers us – over and over and over – rather than focusing on the blessing of our vows. We need to get our heads on straight. We will never agree with anyone on everything. That is not the problem. It is what we do with that reality that matters!
1 Corinthians 10 contains several key areas we need to look at. The first part of the chapter contains Paul’s explanation of what happened too many during the time of Moses. “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction”. That is really what the Bible is about in general – a guidebook for how we are to live. It is our example and is the instruction for our life. You may have heard that BIBLE stands for basic instruction before leaving Earth. It is how we know how we are to live. And Paul call’s out what the real issues were for the people of Moses day:
– Sexual immorality
– Put Christ to the test
These things caused people to die and be prevented from entering the Promised Land. How do we view them today? Unfortunately we almost don’t even slow down for these – and certainly many don’t consider them evil – not enough to cause God to wipe someone out or prevent their inheritance to the Kingdom. But Paul says they are examples “that we might not desire evil as they did”. We sometimes miss just how high God’s expectations are for us.
Paul then gives us a promise we all need to cling to. “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 the truth here? NO means none – not one – absolutely nothing is such a temptation that we are not able – IF WE CHOOSE – to endure and choose God’s way. There is no such thing as “the devil made me do it”. That is not scriptural. The devil may tempt you, he may whisper lies into your ear, he may make it very easy to sin – but the only way sin happens is we CHOOSE it. Period. And sin is NEVER God’s plan for us. The key words here are “God is faithful”. He never lets us fight the sin battle alone. He always provides a way out. He is cheering for us to choose His way. But it still comes down to our choice. The simplistic answer comes in the next few words: “Therefore, my beloved, flee …”. Since God has already won the war and has given us a way to escape the temptation that the enemy will put in our path, our option is to flee.
We choose whether we look when we shouldn’t. We choose whether we say something that should not be said. We choose whether we act in a way that is ungodly. We choose to cheat or steal or lie or grumble. We choose……God never makes us nor does Satan. Sin is a CHOICE. And God’s plan is for us not to make that choice. He has done all He can by giving us a way out – He promises that – so all that is left is our own free will. What do you choose?
Paul ends the chapter with a couple more principles that we can use to make decisions on how we should live:
– “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up”.
– “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.
You can ask yourself these couple questions when you are trying to make decisions on action to take. Does whatever I am considering build up? Does it help people come closer to God? Will it lead them to the Cross? And secondly – does it glorify God? If Jesus was right here with me right now – what would I do? Truth is – He is – and He knows – and we need to choose like that. Does it build up and does it glorify God? Two key principles that can help us in our decision making. Put these two along with his guidance in chapters 6 and 8 – will it enslave me and will is cause a brother to fall – and we have four very valuable ways to help make decisions around God’s desire for our lives. Are you choosing to live God’s way? He has given us the Book to follow. He has shown us the examples. All that is left is for us to choose to live His way!