1 Corinthians 16
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians comes to a close. This church, planted and so loved by Paul, is a spiritual mess. They receive quite a rebuke from Paul with many words of “do not”, “stop”, “quit.” In his final instructions, Paul offers up military-like commands to turn the spiritual battle back around.
WAKE UP! The first instruction is to be watchful. To be aware and alert and on guard. We can’t sleep through this life and hope for the best. We must be alert to the devil. He prowls around seeking to devour those of us caught off guard; those of us half asleep. He’s crafty and subtle and manipulative. He whispers just enough truth sprinkled with lies. If we are distracted or lazy, we fall for it without even realizing it. We must be watchful of temptations we are faced with. Fully awake and aware to see them for what they are. We need to be awake and aware of false teachers. Aware of losing our passion; of apathy and indifference. The Corinthians in their spiritual stupor had become victims to all of these things.
STAND FIRM in the faith. Know what we believe. Stand up for what we believe. Bold and upright, full of confidence. Hold on to the Word of God; the Gospel; the truth. It is sacred and far superior to human knowledge and “spirituality”. Do not be distracted or deceived.
ACT LIKE MEN. In other words, GROW UP! Don’t remain a spiritual infant. Continue to mature in faith and grow in courage.
Be STRENGTHENED. We need the strength that comes from the Lord; from the mighty Holy Spirit within us. This is a race…a spiritual war. This battle isn’t for wimps. We need to be strong.
In all, LOVE. Binding it all together must be love above all. Love in all things. Love in action, not merely feeling. It’s the secret sauce.
1 Corinthians 15
The Gospel is preached.
We receive it.
We stand on it.
Not believing in vain, we are saved by it.
Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day in accordance with Scriptures.
He appeared to Cephas (Peter).
Then to the Twelve.
Then to more than 500 brothers.
Then to James.
Then to all the apostles.
Lastly, He appeared to Paul.
And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Christ the firstfruits.
Then at his coming, those who belong to Christ.
Then comes the end.
After destroying every rule and every authority and power.
God the Son delivers the kingdom to God the Father.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust.
The second man is from heaven.
And we shall bear the image of the man of heaven.
We shall not fall asleep.
But we shall be changed.
In a moment.
In the twinkling of an eye.
At the last trumpet.
The trumpet will sound.
The dead will be raised imperishable.
And we shall be changed.
This perishable body must put on the imperishable.
This mortal body must put on immorality.
Death is swallowed up in victory!
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Victory is through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So now…be steadfast, immovable.
Always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
THIS. Praise be to God. Thank you, Jesus.
1 Corinthians 14
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Oh, Paul. As a woman, what are we to do with this? As a lover of God and the church and truth, what are we to do with this? What do we do when we read things that make us uncomfortable?
I read many commentaries, blog posts, and sermon transcripts on this passage. Some with interpretations suppressing all women involvement in teaching. On the other end, some cite context, cultural, and translation nuances to dismiss its current relevance entirely. And many fall in between.
Context matters for sure. Words and truth matter too. I do believe this is God’s inspired Word and He knew all of the cultures and times it would be read in. I want to always be careful not to dismiss or alter the meaning of something just because it makes me uncomfortable. If I desire truth, I want all of it, not just the easy parts. The Bible is full of warnings about false teaching, submitting to the whims of cultural pressures, and teaching what our itching ears want to hear...all at the expense of truth.
I’m no theologian, but here’s where I am with this... Without a doubt I believe that God will give each of us wisdom and discernment when we need it and ask for it. This particular cause isn’t one I currently struggle with. I don’t have a desire or calling to speak, lead, or teach in church. I’m blessed to sit under great Biblical teaching. At the same time, I love and admire many Godly, spirit-filled women teachers who have greatly impacted my faith journey and flamed an intense desire to know more about God. And I also know Jesus deeply valued women during His ministry, as did Paul. And in God’s eyes we are ALL - men and women alike - so loved and valued; ALL created in His image on purpose for purpose.
I believe God’s wisdom and ways and plans are so much greater than my own, and I am okay with not fully understanding all things when I don’t need to yet (it took me a long time to get there). It’s not my current bridge to cross. At the same time I respect the platform of others to fight for issues God may have given them a passion to fight for. After all, this part of Paul’s letter follows his teaching that we are all members of one body with different functions that all work together for the whole. I never want to assume I know more that what the Holy Spirit has led someone to. The Jewish leaders knew an awful lot and they missed Jesus by digging in their heels and staying in their comfort zones.
It may seem non-committal, but it’s all I’ve got now...on this and a few other things. God knows my heart and desire. I pray for wisdom, discernment, and revelation of truth ALL the time. And I trust the Spirit will give me what I need to know and say and do when I need it. So, how do you wrestle with things you don’t quite fully understand?
1 Corinthians 13
In one of the most quoted passages at weddings, Paul’s poetic words paint a beautiful picture of love. After much theology and advice, he brings us to the linchpin of it all…love. All of the gifts, all of the knowledge, all of the faith, all of the humility and service -- no matter how impressive -- mean nothing if they are not rooted in love. Christianity is built on relationship, not religion, ritual or rules. And relationships are meaningless without love. It is the essence of who God is.
1 John 4:7-8 tells us God is love. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that it isn’t just about following rules, it is about the condition of our heart. And Jesus tells us that the way people will know we belong to Him is by our love. And He tells us the greatest commandments – the ones all the other laws and commandments hang off of – is to LOVE God and LOVE one another. And the greatest gift – the blood of Jesus to pay in full our sin debt and make us righteous – was based on love; for God so LOVED the world.
Paul wants to make sure we know what love is, and equally important, what love is NOT. I’m reposting this picture from February based on this chapter when I started working on a Bible for my daughter to give to her when she graduates in two years. This was the first thing I put in it. To me, it is a beautiful picture of the character of a big God that is hard to wrap our head around. And when I think about her heading off to college, I want her to remember these truths about love…love in her Savior, love in friendships, and even love in that cute guy that she starts dating.
The “love is” side is a gage for real love….patient, kind, rejoicing in TRUTH, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. It is a check on how we are being treated and how we are treating others. The “love is not” side -- envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, insistent on own ways, rejoicing in wrongdoing -- these are red flags both in our own hearts, as well as in assessing a potentially toxic friendship or relationship. One that may feel good in the manipulative moment, but it isn’t true, lasting, satisfying, fulfilling, mutually beneficial, edifying love.
Let us love real and love big and love one another well. Thank you, God, for being love and modeling love to your creation.
1 Corinthians 12
The devil is the father of lies, and some of his big ones are exposed in the truth Paul is trying to instill in the Corinthian church.
The first lie is we aren’t good enough. We don’t have anything of value. We have no unique gifts worthy to share. And as we look around, we feel all alone and useless. It seems like everyone else has these amazing gifts and talents and platforms. But we just don’t matter. This is a LIE.
But on the other end of the spectrum, the devil is working just as hard. Making us believe that we are all that. That we are so valuable and independent. We can do it all on our own. We are better alone. We don’t need anyone else. This too is a LIE.
The devil works hard to get our eyes looking to the front, back, left, and right…anywhere but up. Comparing and condemning… ourselves or others, or often both at the same time. He plants lies in our head that if people are different than us…in their look, behavior, mannerisms, giftings, priorities, passions, platforms, ministries, ways of worship…then they are wrong or they are better…both LIES.
Paul is basically saying, “JUST STOP!” We are different because we have different purposes and callings, but they all come from the same source and we are all stronger together. There are things that we can accomplish in unity that the sum of all the parts could never accomplish in isolation. In a symphony, if even one of the instruments is off key, the entire sound is off. We are all instruments to make a joyful noise at the hands of the great Conductor. We are all parts of one body. Though we are different, we all share the same DNA at our core…we are all created in the image and likeness of God, the creator of all things. No part of the body is more important than the other. No part of the body is insignificant. We all need each other. Paul is essentially saying, “Let’s start acting like it.”
The crazy thing is there is so much joy and freedom and peace in doing our thing…the thing we are good at and called to do…in beautiful community with other people doing their thing for the Kingdom of God. So why in the world do we let the devil talk us into going down the road of doubt, comparison, criticism and trying to go at it alone? Why????? Oh, he’s good at doing his thing, but we have more power in us that he has in him. We don’t have to buy into it or go along with it. God, help us discover, deepen, and pour out our unique gifts, and let us simultaneously celebrate and join hands with others who are doing the same.
1 Corinthians 11
Authority has become a four-letter word. Wait, scratch that… four-letter words are more accepted and often even revered than the idea of authority. We brisk at the concept, puff our chests and assert our authority over ourselves. No one is the boss of me, we declare.
It is such a stumbling block to our faith and our ability to genuinely accept God as the authority over our lives. Do we understand this? It is essential to get this!
God is a God of order and authority. Authority exists in the Trinity itself – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- though all are fully and equally God. Jesus, God in the flesh, willingly submitted to the authority of God the Father.
The cycle of life from dependent infants to toddlers to figuring it out teens to students to employees to spouses all include places where we learn to submit to authority. Not only as a means for order and proper development, but to train our hearts and minds toward a posture of authority SO THAT we can willingly and lovingly submit to the ultimate authority of Jesus. The more we buck authority in our training times the more difficult it is to submit to the authority of Jesus. The more we clench our fists around our authority over ourselves, the less our hearts are open to the authority of our Creator and Savior.
Paul has spent much ink ensuring we as believers understand this incredible freedom we have. Freedom paid for by the blood of Jesus. It is good, he says. Why would we go back to a posture of slavery when we are free people? So when he speaks of authority, he isn’t taking something away from us or belittling us or squashing us under the thumb of another. Authority does not equal inferiority. Authority is not about submitting to the whims of the will of another. Jesus was no less God when He was submitting to the authority of the good and perfect will of the Father. Spiritual authority is always in the context of a loving a mutually beneficial relationship. Authority ultimately belongs to God. We are free, but we aren’t our own. And it is a good thing, not a bad thing. We need a renewal of the mind in this space.
I know this is a hard chapter for many to read. But give this consideration…when we bristle at the idea of submitting to anyone’s authority – and I’ll admit, when I first read passages like this, I bristle -- view it is a gut check to examine how we view authority, particularly the authority of God in our lives. Am I wanting to be the boss? Am I wanting to call the shots? Am I wanting to be in control? These wants are planted straight from the devil’s playbook and pit us head-to-head with God’s authority.
Paul uses headcoverings as an example (likely from another question that was asked of him by the Corinthians along with the others he previously addressed). The wearing or not wearing of headcoverings was an outward display of an inward bucking of authority. I’m challenged today to think of all the ways I outwardly rebel against the authority of Jesus as more Lord. The more I truly submit to the authority of Jesus, the less concerned I am about wielding my own authority. I want to fully submit to Jesus, my Lord, and I’m willing to put in the training. What about you?
1 Corinthians 10
If we are honest, we often look for the line. Some rebellious ones love nothing more than to cross the line just to show they can, or don’t care what people think, or to be their own boss. But I’m guessing most of us search out and tiptoe toward the place we can go just up to and still technically be “okay.” We live life close to the line basking in our freedom. It’s all about us and the most we can get out of life. We look around at others to see where they interpret the line to be, or how crafty they are at getting as close as possible to it.
But our thinking here is all whack. It is self-centered, and it does little to add true joy to our lives or glorify God. In so many different ways God teaches us how to live radically differently. To be the one to pick up the towel and water basin and wash feet at the table. To put the comfort and success of others ahead of our own. To love others more than ourselves. To use our time and talents and resources to build others up; to build the kingdom here on earth. But often we look at our time, talent and resources and spin our wheels trying to get the most out of them for ourselves. We put ourselves first. We make sure we are comfortable before turning our eyes to others. We seek to glorify ourselves. All the while trying to maintain “good Christians” status and not cross the line. And quite honestly it is exhausting and unfulfilling.
We have beautiful freedom bestowed on us because of the blood of Jesus. A great many things are permissible to us…but, not all are helpful. Not all are beneficial. Not all are constructive. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. Just because something is on the okay side of the metaphorical line doesn’t mean we have to slither up to it as close as possible. People are watching and even suffering a great distance from the line, and we are missing them. And as a result, they are missing God. Nobody wins.
I don’t want (want to want) to l my live my life with my eyes on the permissible line, only seeking what I can get or get away with; I want (want to want) my eyes on the people and tasks God has set before me. I want (want to want) more than the acceptable; I want (want to want) what is beneficial, edifying, glorifying, transforming. God, change my want to.
1 Corinthians 9
Paul has been critical of the Corinthians for using their freedom, knowledge, and rights to tear down and turn off fellow believers and non-believers. He contrasts this with the model of Jesus he follows, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” He explains that to the Jews, he became a Jew. To those under the law, he became one under the law. To the one on the outside, he became one on the outside. To the weak, he became weak. He became all things to all people. Paul is sensitive to where people are and attempts to identify with them and meet them there.
Our first thought may be that this seems very inconsistent. But an important key to each statement Paul makes is the “so that” which follows…he did all these things SO THAT he might win them to Christ, save them, share with them in the gospel’s blessings. The one consistency was the goal of making Jesus knows as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. He never wanted anything unnecessarily to get in the way of the most important message they will ever hear.
Paul’s approach often brings about questions… Are we at risk for compromising ourselves or the message in our attempt to join people where they are? To what extent do we take it? Where is the line not to be crossed?
Steven Cole says, “Paul shows us three things about how he preached the gospel boldly and yet avoided needless personal offense: There is an attitude to adopt; a perception to gain; and, a balance to maintain.”
What is our heart attitude and motive? Paul’s posture is that of a servant whose main goal is to win others to Christ; to save souls. It isn’t to fit in, blend in, and be accepted for personal gain. His motive is love and leading people to Christ. Period.
What is our message? Paul’s message never changed. It was the Gospel. The truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior. That Jesus came and paid the price for our sin in full. And not only that, He gave us His righteousness. Paul’s doctrine and message never wavered. But what did change was his approach and behavior at times. He took into account where those he was trying to reach were…spiritually, culturally, behaviorally, attitudinally. Cole summarizes, “Paul’s overall point is that we need to understand where a person is at and not to do things in our behavior or manners that needlessly offend them. The message of the cross may well offend them, but we should not be personally offensive to them. Don’t make non-gospel issues the issue. Make the gospel the issue.”
As we are in the world, who is being influenced? We never compromise on our obedience. We never sin to reach people where they are. This is never where God will call us. As we meet people where they are, who is being influenced?
John Piper offers two checks for us to consider: 1. Are you becoming more worldly-minded than they are becoming spiritually-minded? If so, you have probably crossed the line of the law of Christ. Christ does not call you to lose your holiness, but to gain theirs. 2. Is your passion for winning your friends and family growing, or is it shrinking as you become all things to them? If it is shrinking, then you are not in the law of Christ at that point.
God, give us wisdom, courage, and discernment to meet people where they are. To go after the lost, even if it means sacrificing some of our liberties, comforts, and rights. And may we always have the goal of winning them to You above all else.
1 Corinthians 8
“’Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (v.1)
I’m a knowledge girl. I love to learn new things. I love to study and dig in deep, especially in God’s Word. And this is a good thing…until it isn’t. Knowledge is essential, but it isn’t end game. If not correctly wielded, knowledge can backfire.
As Paul says, instead of building up, knowledge can puff up… and then explode into judgment, condescension, arrogance, disdain. Quite the opposite of love.
It was an issue with the Corinthians, and honestly, you don’ have to look hard on social media to see knowledge used as a weapon by Christians today. Francis Chan has an incredible talk on this topic (including at the end of this post). He says Paul is addressing Corinthians who may have their facts right, but their hearts are wrong. They are intelligent but unloving. They may technically have the correct theology, but they are wrong because they lack love. Their know-it-all-ness is becoming a stumbling block for their fellow believers.
Chan supposes Paul is saying…“You might be brilliant, but you’re killing our team. You’re not building up the brothers; you’re making them feel dumb and wounding their conscience. You’re not stirring them up to love and good deeds. You just keep making them feel inadequate. By your knowledge, this weaker brother is being destroyed!”
Chan challenges all of us more academic thinkers…how often do we think about people? How hard do we think about loving fellow Christians? How much do we think about the lost? Isn’t becoming like Jesus supposed to be the goal of all this knowledge accumulation?
We can be highly intelligent, a gifted communicator, generate the biggest crowds, memorize the most Bible verses, but it means nothing if we are not becoming more like Jesus.
Chan says, “Your brilliance is worthless if you’re not building up your brother — and even worse if you’re destroying him with your knowledge. So when you look at people, do you love them? Do you think, ‘Let me use my knowledge to build this person up?’”
People will know Jesus by our love, not our knowledge. Knowledge is an essential tool. Accurate theology and a right view of God are critical. But it is the foundation, not the end result.
Francis Chan gave an inedible talk on 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. It is about an hour long, but so worth the listen. Here it is...
Backgound Photo: To The Market
1 Corinthians 7
“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (v. 17)
At this mid-point in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he begins to answer questions they had previously sent him. This Jesus thing is relatively new to them, and as they begin to process some truths, they have questions among themselves. I get it. I feel like the more I know, the more I don’t know. That is what makes the Bible so amazing to me. What book could you read over and over and over and still continually uncover new truths, while simultaneously feeling like you understand even less than you thought?
While we don’t see the questions sent by the Corinthians, from Paul’s responses we know they are about sexual relations, vocation, marriage, singleness, separation. Questions about making life status changes to be a “better” Christian to please God more.
Paul says to remain where you are; in the place you are called. And it isn’t remaining in a sinful state or even remaining stagnant and not developing and becoming more Christ-like. It is letting God use you where you are; not changing for the sake of changing…not wanting the situation someone else has…not thinking the grass is so much greener over there. Think about it…we tend to want to change everything except what God is actually calling us to change, don’t we? Ugh.
Paul is saying where we are – our vocation, marital status, current situation – isn’t the key; it is living on mission for God. And we can do it where we are if it is a godly place.
John Piper says, “In a word, the application of Paul's principle to cultural distinctives is this: Don't fret and don't boast about your present state of cultural distinctives; they are of little importance to God compared to whether you are devoting yourself, soul and mind and body, to obeying his commandments, which are all fulfilled in this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
As new believers, we don’t need to get a new job, leave an unbelieving spouse, or get married. We can live on mission for God where we are in the moment. Our newfound faith doesn’t require a change in status, but new eyes to serve and love and disciple where we are. There is significance where we are; we need only be faithful.
May our eyes be wide open to our assignments right where we are.
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