Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 12: One body, many parts

join-the-clubMost of us treat joining clubs and organisations in a very practical way. With a brutal pragmatism. We’re happy to join, and even contribute, as long as IT’S IN OUR BEST INTERESTS.

We’ll sign the kids up to soccer, or gymnastics, or dance, because our KIDS benefit. We join the swimming club because we enjoy the exercise and the friendship. We join the dog obedience school so our dog will learn to behave. We enrol in a course to learn how to knit, or use our camera, or build a website.

And that may last a week, a month, a year, a DECADE. But when we decide the BENEFIT is no longer worth our TIME, ENERGY OR MONEY. Or it doesn’t meet our NEEDS anymore. Or we no longer feel COMFORTABLE. We STOP. Because it’s all about US. WE’RE the customer, THEY’RE just providing a service. That’s just the way things WORK.

The problem in Corinth was that people were treating the CHURCH like that. As if it was all about THEM. As if it was for their benefit. Or for their glory. AS if it was all about RECEIVING, rather than GIVING. And Paul says that’s just not on.

We saw last week how that showed itself in the way they ate the Lord’s Supper. Instead of focussing on JESUS. Instead of including and caring for each other. They focussed on feeding themselves, and getting drunk. It was THEIR supper they ate, not the LORD’s supper.

THIS week we look at ch 12. And Paul turns to another of the questions they’d asked in a previous letter. “Now about spiritual gifts,” verse 1 begins.

Right from the first few paragraphs of the letter we can see the Corinthians’ focus on spiritual gifts. In v4 of Ch 1 Paul thanks God for them because they’ve been enriched in every way – in all their speaking and knowledge. They don’t lack any spiritual gift.

And as we keep reading, we see their PRIDE and BOASTING. We see their emphasis on wisdom and knowledge. And their jealousy about who’s GREATER.

And by the time we get to chapter 12, we see how those attitudes show themselves in the use of spiritual gifts. They want to be FIRST, and BEST, and MOST IMPORTANT. They want to be SEEN, rather than SERVE.

And Paul’s going to turn what they think about church upside down. Because church should be THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of the way groups work in the world. First, church is about GOD, not about YOU. And second, church is about MANY, not ONE.

  1. It’s about God, not you

The chapter begins. They want to know about spiritual gifts. So he’ll TELL them about spiritual gifts. From v4. Sure, there’s different kinds of gifts. But it’s the same SPIRIT who GIVES the gifts. Sure, there’s different kinds of SERVICE. But it’s the same Lord everyone is SERVING. And, v6, there are different kinds of WORKING, but the same God who works, or energises, all of them in everyone. It’s GOD who’s at work, not just THEM.

The Corinthians thought gifts SEPARATED people. Split them into the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS. Into those with the SPECTACULAR, ATTENTION-GRABBING gifts. And everyone else who WASN’T spiritual. But Paul says gifts don’t DIVIDE, they UNITE. That’s not God’s purpose.

There’s ONE GOD. One Spirit who GIVES all the gifts. One Lord everyone SERVES. It’s about furthering HIS agenda, not THEIRS. And there’s one GOD who energises and guides the working OUT of the gifts.  It’s about GOD, not YOU.

In fact, v4-6 suggest the nature of GOD HIMSELF shows us what the church is like. Father, Son and Holy Spirit each contribute differently to the gifts of the church. Yet there’s ONE GOD. Diversity working together in unity. Each person of the Trinity working WITH, but not dominating the others. Cooperating, but not controlling. And that’s what the church should be like. Diversity working together in unity. Working for the common good.

The very fact that they’re called GIFTS should move the emphasis from PEOPLE onto GOD. GIFTS are about the GIVER, not the RECEIVER. Gifts produce thanks and humility, not comparison and pride.

Paul moves on to get specific about gifts. Verses 7-11 describe a whole range of gifts. Given for the common good. The Spirit gives wisdom, or knowledge, or special faith, or gifts of healing, or miracles, or prophecy, or tongues. And then the conclusion. V11.

11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to EACH ONE, just as HE determines.

It’s about who and what GOD decides. Not about how good WE are because we have a certain gift. God decides the total shape of the gifts across an entire church. Right down to the particular gifts of each individual person.

If we jump ahead a couple of paragraphs. Down to v18. We see a similar point. Instead of different GIFTS, the picture is of one BODY made up of MANY PARTS. Each one doing a different JOB. And then v18 concludes

8 But in fact GOD has arranged the parts in the body, every ONE of them, JUST AS HE WANTED THEM TO BE.

GOD is at work as people use their gifts. He’s DISTRIBUTED them, just as he wants.  Which means we should be CONTENT with our gifts, and our place, and our church. Rather than JEALOUS or DISCONTENTED.

As LEADERS, we can moan about how we don’t have enough piano players, or evangelists, or kids club leaders. And how there’s not enough people to run a mid-week lunch time service.  And as INDIVIDUALS, you can wish you could play the guitar, or be friendly and hospitable. But God’s distributed the gifts, and arranged the parts of the body, JUST AS HE INTENDS. We have exactly WHO God needs/ to do WHAT God needs for his church here in Ashfield at the moment. Which is comforting.

It MAY mean, as leaders, rather than being content with mediocrity, that we need to work hard at IDENTIFYING and ENCOURAGING and the people we DO have. TRAINING and RELEASING them to develop and use their gifts BETTER.

And, as individuals, it may mean you should look to identify OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE, rather than trying to identify what spiritual gifts you might have. Look OUTSIDE for NEEDS, then look to GOD to equip. Rather than looking WITHIN.

That’s Paul’s FIRST point about the spiritual gifts. It’s about GOD, not YOU.

  1. It’s about “many”, not “one”

His SECOND point is connected, and woven through the chapter too. God’s purpose is that spiritual gifts are about MANY, not ONE.  Back up in verse 7 we read 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given FOR THE COMMON GOOD.

God reveals himself to individuals, not so that ONE PERSON can be built up. But FOR THE COMMON GOOD. FOR EVERYONE’S benefit.

Gifts are given to be SHARED, not kept to yourself. How are YOU using the gifts God’s given YOU? EACH ONE has been given the manifestation of the Spirit. Or v11. The Spirit gives gifts to EACH ONE, just as he determines. Or v18. God has arranged the parts of the body, EVERY ONE OF THEM, just as he wanted them to be.

God has GIFTED you. Gifted you for a purpose. For the COMMON GOOD. To SERVE OTHERS.  Are you DOING that? We show our GRATITUDE for his gifts by USING them for the common good. Not keeping them locked up in a cupboard, wrapped up and unopened.

Or, the OPPOSITE.  We shouldn’t use our gifts to PROMOTE ourselves, or build our own kingdom. I was talking to someone last weekend. His church is going through a difficult time. Transitioning from tradition-based to Bible-based. And the song leader wasn’t a Christian. She told my friend that the only reason she came to church was to sing up the front. To perform. She might have had a good voice, but it wasn’t WORSHIP. And she wasn’t doing it for the COMMON GOOD.

From v12, we get a long section describing how the church is like a BODY. ONE, but made up of MANY PARTS.  Which seems simple enough. But right at the beginning, in v12, there’s something unexpected.

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with … Christ.

We expect to read “so it is with THE CHURCH”. But instead it says Christ. CHRIST has many parts, but one body. And that’s because the church is CHRIST’S body. Yes, the church is one body. It’s full of individuals who are united, and connected. But only because the individuals are each connected to CHRIST. HE’S the source of our unity.  It’s not a song book, or a rule book, or a constitution that bind us together. It’s Christ. It’s not common interests, or friendship, or agreed goals that bind us together. It’s Christ. V13 continues

13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

WHICH body were we baptised into? Christ? Or the Church? Well, YES! When we became Christians, we were initiated into, and immersed in CHRIST HIMSELF. Gulping down HIS Spirit.

But that means we were initiated into his body, THE CHURCH. A solo Christian isn’t natural. It’s not healthy, it doesn’t help YOU / OR anyone else. And it’s not God’s DESIGN.

The Presbyterian way of doing things reflects that. Baptism as a believer is always baptism INTO local church membership.

And that connection with each other, as part of one body, has A NUMBER OF PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES.  First, it means each person BELONGS EQUALLY. V15.

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.

A foot may not be as be able to pick things up. Or have the fine motor skills of a hand. But it’s pretty good at walking across hot sand, or climbing up a ladder. It’s perfectly suited to the job it does as part of the body.

And Christ’s body, the church, is the same. Each person belongs. WHATEVER it is they contribute. It’s not only ONE type of person who belongs.  Do our attitudes and the way we do things REFLECT that truth?

Secondly, one body many parts means that EACH PART CONTRIBUTES. V17.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

It’s meant to be ludicrous. Imagine a body that was just an EAR! Or an EYE! And a church made up of all the same types of gifts is JUST as unhealthy. All talkers and no listeners. All preachers, and no helpers. All thinkers, and no feelers. Or all young families, and no grandparents. Or all oldies and no kids. I think there’s something basically unbiblical about churches that are designed to cater for ONE TYPE of PERSON. Like a church for young professionals, or musicians, or youth, or families. It might be EASIER. But are they missing out on some of the rich diversity of God’s distribution of gifts?

The THIRD practical application of “one body, many parts” is that EACH PART NEEDS EACH OTHER PART. V21.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

This one’s really the flipside of the FIRST point. (The application for the one who thinks he’s BETTER.) There’s no room for PRIDE if you’re just a PART. An eye might be very sophisticated, and do an important job for the whole body. Same with the head. But they can’t do without the parts that do a SIMPLER job. They can guide and direct, but they can’t ACTION anything without hands and feet.

LEADERS and SPEAKERS in the church have a temptation to think that they don’t need anyone else. Same with ANYONE who has an upfront role. But the reality is the unseen, less complicated, less noticed jobs are just as important.

If the treasurer didn’t pay the electricity bill, there’d be no light or sound for people to HEAR the preacher. If no one opened the doors, or replaced the paper towels, or turned on the urn, or mowed the lawns. Then things would be more difficult for EVERYONE.

But Paul goes one step FURTHER. V22. Not only are the less impressive parts EQUAL with the impressive parts. God’s given them GREATER honour.

He begins by describing the HUMAN body. V22.

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

A shoulder, or a kneecap, is pretty STRONG. And they’re in public view for everyone to see. But the reality is they’re not CRUCIAL. We can live WITHOUT them.  But a heart or a liver is easily damaged. And God’s hidden them away inside ribs to protect them. But we can’t live without them. They’re indispensable. And then there are our PRIVATE EMBARRASSING bits, we’re VERY careful about who gets to see those.

God’s designed it that way with the HUMAN body. And, interestingly, that’s what it should be like WITH CHRIST’S BODY, THE CHURCH. (halfway through v24.)

But God has combined the members of the body and HAS GIVEN GREATER HONOR TO THE PARTS THAT LACKED IT,

The way God has put together the church makes it UNIQUE in the world. He’s given GREATER HONOUR to the PARTS that LACKED it. What does THAT mean?

Every other club or group PUTS UP WITH the weak or obnoxious or different or exhausting. Or excludes them ALTOGETHER. But a church that’s healthy will WELCOME all those sorts of people. In fact God gives them GREATER honour.

Let me give you an example. My friend Jacob has two mentally and physically handicapped sons. He posted a video the other week of one of them up the front at church during the singing. He was clapping and dancing and having a great time.

Ethan can’t speak. And it’s hard to know how much he understands about being a Christian. But he’s communicating without words something of God, and his response to him. It was as inspiring and encouraging to me as the clearest, most eloquent sermon. And it says something special about the song leader, and the church, who didn’t even bat an eyelid at it. God’s given GREATER honour to, and USES MIGHTILY, the parts that LACKED it.

Or as I think about Frank and Janet. Married 65 years. Frank’s 90. But they show up week after week despite their failing health. And they read the Bible and pray together every day. And they still hold hands. They’re not able to do much more, but they have a great impact on people here. God USES them to encourage and build us all up.

Or as I think about the testimonies that have had the greatest impact on me. It’s not the people who’ve had one victory after another. The people who have everything together. The most powerful witness comes from people who are clinging to God with everything they’ve got. Whose life is falling apart. People who are weak, and struggling. God works IN them, and he works THROUGH them. God’s given GREATER honour to, and USES MIGHTILY, the parts that LACKED it.

So let’s REJOICE in our awkward and inconvenient people and weak people. And look for God’s training and encouragement through them.

That’s the sort of thing that will really set us apart from the world around us.

  1. So

As we work at THOSE attitudes and actions, we’ll see God’s purposes worked out in us. See what the results will be? (v25)

(But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it), 25 SO THAT THERE SHOULD BE NO DIVISION IN THE BODY, but that its parts should have EQUAL CONCERN FOR EACH OTHER. 26 If ONE part suffers, every part suffers WITH it; if one part is HONORED, every part REJOICES with it.

By God’s design, as we generously and patiently and faithfully include and honour the weak and dishonourable. We find that, miraculously, divisions and boundaries drop away. There’s no us and them, just US.

And instead, of being concerned for the wealthy, or spectacularly gifted, there’ll be EQUAL CONCERN for each other – WHATEVER people are able to contribute.

And as we start to SEE each other, and EMPATHISE with each other. Then, v26, we’ll actually begin to weep with the weak who weep. And we’ll rejoice with those who are honoured. WHATEVER the world thinks, or doesn’t think, of them.

And we’ll start to see EVERYONE contributing to building up EVERYONE. With the wide variety of gifts described from v28. Young or old, educated or not, active or not, experienced or not. EACH ONE part of the body, and contributing to its health.

And because we all WANT to see the body healthy, v31, we’ll eagerly desire the GREATER gifts – the ones that build people up the most. That point people to Jesus, and lead them to maturity in the clearest way.

And the more we can do THAT, the LESS like the WORLD we become. And the MORE we become Jesus’ BODY. The more we reflect the reality of what Paul describes in Ephesians 4.

11 Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ… speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

1 Corinthians 7: What God says about singleness

Bush-Fire-Survival-Plan-Cover_RFS-FB-CrestsSummer is on the way. And one of the things that means is BUSHFIRES. Not so relevant for us in Ashfield, but pretty important if you live in the Blue Mountains.

And the authorities encourage people living in a bushfire zone to have a BUSHFIRE SURVIVAL PLAN. To be READY when a bushfire threatens.

And the first part of a bushfire survival plan is to decide whether to STAY, or GO. As the flames get closer, should you STAY where you are, or CHANGE where you are? If you GO, you’re guaranteed to be safe. But there’s no chance you’ll save your home. But if you STAY, there’s a RISK to your safety. If you STAY, you need to make sure you’re PREPARED. And you need to TRUST your equipment and your home.  Stay, or go? Make the choice, and prepare accordingly.

Stay

And there’s a similar choice here in 1 Corinthians 7. The Corinthian Christians knew that Jesus was coming back soon, and so they wanted to be ready. They were putting together their JUDGMENT DAY SURVIVAL PLAN. They were living in the LAST DAYS, and they wanted to be ready. And it seems like some of them thought it was all about GOING. About moving from where they were / to somewhere ELSE. Especially in the area of MARRIAGE. Which is what chapter 7 is all about.

But Paul’s message is that God’s put you exactly where he WANTS you. And you should REMAIN AS YOU ARE. You should STAY. Being CONTENT, and being STEADFAST, is a measure of your trust in God. And that’s true whether you’re married, or widowed, or single. And it’s just as true TODAY as it was THEN.

The chapter begins, v1, with a reference to a letter the Corinthian church had written to Paul. “Now for the matters you wrote about.” And it seems like they had a number of questions. And here’s the FIRST one.  “It is good for a man not to marry.”

It literally says, “It is good for a man not to TOUCH a woman.” And it’s probably what the Corinthians themselves thought. So Paul is QUOTING their letter.

It seems there were some who thought it was more spiritual for husbands and wives not to have sex. And their thinking probably goes something like this: “Jesus is coming back soon. And the flesh will be FINISHED. And we’ve already begun to live the heavenly life. We’re in the END TIMES. So let’s get a head start on that by being extra spiritual NOW.

But Paul says that’s not God’s will. Marriage isn’t the PROBLEM. It’s part of the SOLUTION. Abstaining from sex in marriage won’t make you LESS EVIL and MORE SPIRITUAL. It’s actually God’s way for us to AVOID sexual immorality. It’s part of his protection AGAINST evil behaviour. Not PART of the evil.

God’s will is verses 2-6. To guard against sexual immorality, each man should have a wife, and each woman a husband. And they shouldn’t DENY each other. Because their bodies belong to each other. THAT’S God’s plan for these last days. Depriving each other doesn’t lead to greater spiritual maturity. It doesn’t prepare you any better for Jesus’ return. It just leads to a lack of self-control and temptation. The message is “Don’t change. Stay as you are!”

And he’s got the same message for those who’ve been WIDOWED. V8-9. It’s good to STAY unmarried. (Which he comes BACK TO near the END of the chapter.)

Or those who are married (v10-11). They should STAY married. Don’t divorce because you think it’s, somehow, more SPIRITUAL. Or getting you ready for Jesus’ return.

Or the SPECIAL case of those married to UNBELIEVERS. V12-16. It’s no different for you. STAY AS YOU ARE, he says. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re any less holy because your husband or wife isn’t a believer. In FACT, (v14-15) there’s a sense in which THEY are more holy, because of YOU. They might benefit from YOU. It may be, v16, that your spouse is saved by YOU.

But notice what he DOES say. V15. If your unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce, let them DO so. You can’t MAKE someone commit to a marriage if they don’t WANT to. And then he makes two comments. “God has called us to live in peace.” And “how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” In other words, it’s not about YOU convincing them. (Only GOD can do that). You can’t FORCE them to stay married. Or force them to become a Christian. Better to lose the argument, and win the soul. Act with grace and humility and love and peace. And leave the “saving” up to God.

In verse 17 we can see the general principle that applies in a whole range of situations.

17 Nevertheless, each one should RETAIN the place in life that the Lord ASSIGNED to him and to which God has CALLED him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

In all sorts of situations. And not just in Corinth, but every OTHER city where there’s a church. God has CALLED each person to that position in life. And so they should STAY AS THEY ARE. It’s an expression of trust that God is SOVEREIGN. That he doesn’t make mistakes. And that he’s working all things for the good of those who love him. Who’ve been called according to his purpose.

And he goes on to give some MORE examples. Circumcised or Uncircumcised. Stay as you ARE. And then the REASON, v19. Circumcision is NOTHING. Doesn’t affect anything either way. What MATTERS is obeying God.

And then the general principle again in v20. Each one should remain in the situation they were in when they were called.

Same thing, v21, if you were A SLAVE when you were called. Don’t let it TROUBLE you. Stay as you ARE. Because the REALITY is you’ve been purchased by something far more valuable than MONEY. By the BLOOD OF JESUS. And you’ve been SET FREE in the way that’s MOST IMPORTANT. Set free from sin and judgment and death. So work at being the best Christian slave you can be. And then, again, at the end of the paragraph, v24, the same instruction. “Each man should remain in the situation God called him to.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s advocating slavery. Notice what ELSE he says? Some wise, realistic advice. There at the end of v21. “Although if you CAN gain your freedom, DO SO!” This confidence in God’s sovereignty shouldn’t be misunderstood to be FATALISM. Sometimes it’s RIGHT to try to change your situation. But if it doesn’t work out, don’t be concerned. God’s in control, and he’s working things for good.

If we pushed Paul’s position too far, we end up with FATALISM. We might stay as we are when it’s RIGHT to change. Like not seeing a doctor when we’re SICK. Or not getting an education when you have the opportunity. Or not buying a house, or getting a job, when you’re ABLE to. Paul’s saying, “If the opportunity comes up to change, and it seems right. Take it. But don’t WORRY about it EITHER WAY. Because God knows what he’s doing.”

So how do you know whether it’s a situation where it’s RIGHT to change, or whether it’s right to STAY AS YOU ARE? One test is to look at your MOTIVATION. Is your desire to change because you’re not CONTENT? Do you think you know better than God? Are you distrusting God’s plans? Or is it genuinely because you’re seeking God’s will? And you’re happy EITHER WAY, because you know God’s in control? (Like Jesus, who prayed, “If it’s POSSIBLE, take this cup from me. But not MY will, but YOURS be done.”)

V25. Paul moves on to consider those who’ve NEVER been married. Same thing with THEM. V26. “Now about VIRGINS.” (Probably another question from the Corinthians’ letter).

26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for YOU to REMAIN AS YOU ARE.

He’s careful to point out that it’s not a matter of right and wrong. They’re not disobedient if they marry. V28. But if you DO marry, you have not SINNED

Rather, it’s a matter of WISDOM. V25, he says there’s no specific command from the Lord, just Paul’s own JUDGMENT as someone who’s trustworthy. There’s some good reasons NOT to marry. And then at the end of v28 he says  But those who marry will face MANY TROUBLES in this life, and I want to spare you this.

Now, taken out of CONTEXT that verse could get you into a lot of trouble! (That there’s many troubles in marriage). But remember he’s just said WHY it’s better not to marry. “Because of the present CRISIS.” Which is probably PERSECUTION.

What a terrible situation it must be for those fathers and husbands whose family are taken by ISIS. Or they themselves are threatened with having a family member killed unless they renounce Jesus. What a choice to make! And Paul’s saying that, in the light of THAT sort of situation, it’s WISER not to have any earthly connections, like a wife or children. It’s the PRESENT CRISIS that causes the TROUBLES he’s thinking of.

Everything needs to be coloured by the fact that Jesus is coming back

In fact, this advice to remain single is just ONE example of A BIGGER PRINCIPLE. EVERYTHING needs to be influenced by the fact that Jesus is coming back. V29. 29 What I mean, brothers, is that THE TIME IS SHORT.   And then again, at the end of v31. For this world in its present form is PASSING AWAY.

And then, in between, a whole series of situations and relationships, INCLUDING remaining SINGLE, that need the perspective that Jesus is coming back. And that nothing will LAST, and so shouldn’t be over-valued. V29 “From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.”

Gordon Fee, in his commentary, says “Those who have A DEFINITE FUTURE, and see it with clarity, live in the present with RADICALLY ALTERED VALUES as to what COUNTS and what does NOT.” None of these situations (marrying, buying, using things of the world) is wrong or right on its OWN. What counts is your ATTITUDE to them. How you VIEW them through the lens that Jesus is coming back.  If you’re MARRIED, remember that marriage won’t last. ENJOY it, WORK at it. But don’t IDOLISE it, or make it your top priority. Only your relationship with JESUS will last. Your marriage is coloured by THAT reality. If you MOURN, remember THAT won’t last. Grieve, but not like those who grieve without HOPE. If you’re HAPPY, don’t OVER-EMPHASISE that. It’s not ULTIMATE. IT won’t last EITHER.

And when it comes to THINGS, don’t set your HOPES on them. Because you can’t take them with you when you die. Certainly, BUY stuff, and ENJOY IT. But keep some perspective. Don’t be ENGROSSED by it. Only fools build up riches on EARTH, and aren’t rich towards GOD.

And, even though he doesn’t MENTION singleness, it’s good advice for singles. Some singles want to marry so badly, they OVER-DESIRE it. But marriage won’t solve all your problems, or stop you ever feeling lonely, or satisfy all your sexual frustration.

And to put all that expectation on a marriage partner is FOOLISHNESS. A marriage partner isn’t perfect and can’t save you, or complete you. And even marriage ITSELF won’t LAST. It’s passing away. Much better, says Paul, to treat it as a GOOD thing, but not an ULTIMATE thing.

What these verses are really saying is that it’s about where you find your IDENTITY. If you see yourself as being a Christian FIRST, and a single SECOND. That determines your attitude to singleness. It’s not ultimate, because it won’t last. That’s not WHO YOU ARE. Being a CHRISTIAN is ETERNAL, Being a SINGLE isn’t.

Same with being married, or rejoicing, or being widowed, or using the things of the world.  They’re all passing away. But YOU belong to GOD, and you’re eternal future’s WITH HIM.

Paige Benton Brown has written about her experience of being single. “Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian? The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound. Which word is DETERMINATIVE and which is DESCRIPTIVE? You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs—we forget who we are, we forget WHOSE we are. I am a single Christian. My identity is not found in my MARITAL status but in my REDEMPTIVE status. I’m one of the “haves,” not one of the “have-nots.”[1]

What a great word THAT is!

From v32 Paul has a few more things to say about SINGLENESS. And how it compares to MARRIAGE. And his point is that, because of the present persecution, getting married MAKES LIFE MORE COMPLICATED. It’s all about which life has the least concerns, or anxieties. V32 begins, “I want you to be FREE from anxieties, or concerns.” Someone who’s SINGLE can be UNDIVIDED in his concerns. He can focus on the Lord’s affairs. While a MARRIED person has concerns to do with his family, AS WELL as with the Lord. One’s not better or worse than the OTHER. There’s just MORE concerns when you marry. And they’re not necessarily OPPOSING concerns either. It’s not a matter of serving God OR your family. In fact, one of the ways married people SERVE God is to look after our FAMILY. One of the ways we SHOW our love for God is loving OTHERS, beginning with our family.

And so one of the advantages of being single is that you can be UNDIVIDED in what you’re devoted to. That means that if you’re single, make the most of this time in your life. Perhaps there’s a whole area of ministry you can be involved in / that married people CAN’T. Like missionary service, or youth work. Or some sort of TRAVELLING ministry. Grab hold of it with both hands. Don’t look longingly at ANOTHER situation. Be CONTENT where God’s placed you.

I think that’s what Paul means back in v7. When he’s describing God’s plans for sexual satisfaction in marriage, and then he says “I wish that all men were as I am (that is unmarried). But each man has his OWN GIFT FROM GOD. One has THIS gift, another has THAT.”

I think Paul’s saying that both states are gifts. Singleness is a gift, AND marriage is a gift. If you’re single at the moment, that’s the gift God’s given you at the moment. So rejoice in that. Use it. Be content with it.

It MAY be that, one day, God may give you the gift of MARRIAGE. Then, your response will be to rejoice in THAT. And work away in the area God’s given you THEN.

Paul’s sometimes accused of hating women and being anti-marriage. But I think it’s better to say he’s PRO-singleness. He saw the single life as VALID and VALUABLE. In a way that was INCREDIBLY counter-cultural. That’s what God says about singleness.

And a word to the REST of us. (Those of us who are married). Let’s make sure we INCLUDE our singles. Our church family is God’s instrument for providing love and nurture and support for ALL of us, but especially for singles, who often need it the MOST.

And INCLUDE them in your married life. Be real and transparent. Show them the REALITIES of married life. So they won’t OVER desire marriage. But feel free to show them what’s GOOD about marriage TOO, so they won’t UNDER desire it.

And PRAY for our singles. For contentment and self-control. It’s probably never been harder to be single. With all the garbage that’s on the internet, and all the expectations the media is filled with.

Paige Benton Brown finishes with a great perspective:

I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single.”

Remain as you are. CONTENT and TRUSTING. That’s the attitude God wants ALL OF US to have. The time is short, we should use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away.

[1] “Singled out by God for good,” PCPC Witness, Feb, 1988.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9-20: Ten reasons you should flee sexual immorality

 

st-paul-s-cathedral-SEEING THE BIG PICTURE makes all the difference for how you BEHAVE.  In London around 1670, the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren began building a new St Paul’s cathedral. The story is told of a journalist interviewing three workmen on the site. He asked them, “What are YOU doing here?” The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for three shillings a day”. The second answered, “I’m working ten hours a day.” And the third replied, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build the greatest cathedral in Great Britain for the glory of God”. It’s easy to imagine who WORKED THE HARDEST, and had the GREATEST JOB SATISFACTION. Seeing the big picture makes all the difference for HOW YOU BEHAVE.

And if it’s true for your WORK, it’s MORE true in THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. Seeing the big picture of who God is, and who we are in Jesus. All of that helps and motivates and energises us to live pure and holy lives NOW.

That’s Paul’s strategy all the way through 1 Corinthians. He begins with the INDICATIVE (WHO WE ARE and WHAT GOD’S DONE). And THEN he moves on to the IMPERATIVE (what we should DO in RESPONSE).

And we need to hear BOTH in the Christian life. (Who we are, AND what we should DO). If it’s just the indicative, without the imperative, (FACTS without APPLICATION). It’s just EDUCATION. (Dry and lifeless. Irrelevant.) If it’s just the IMPERATIVE without the indicative, (the COMMAND without the REASON). It’s just LEGALISM. MAN-CENTRED RELIGION.

Seeing the big picture makes all the difference for how you behave.

Ten reasons you should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with your body.

And that’s true here in Ch 6. TEN REASONS WHY you should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with your body.

Have you noticed how that’s a new technique in journalism? No one seems to be able to read ARTICLES anymore. So journalists are basically just writing LISTS. The SPORTS journalist: Five things we learned from the Wallabies losing. The TRAVEL journalist: Ten places you HAVE to visit in Europe. The GOSSIP columnist: Five things you never knew about Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe. The POLITICAL correspondent: Sixty five mistakes Donald Trump has made.

None of THOSE things matter. But what we REALLY need to hear is THIS list. TEN REASONS WHY we should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with our bodies.

We’re up to week six of our series on What God Says About Marriage. And we really need to HEAR what God says. Because the world says THE OPPOSITE. When it comes to sex, the world screams LOUDLY that ANYTHING GOES. And that Christians are old-fashioned and bigoted and judgmental for believing there are BOUNDARIES for sexual behaviour. That there’s right and wrong. That God has STANDARDS, and that he JUDGES US according to them.

  1. You won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.

And the FIRST reason God gives to flee sexual immorality is because you won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. See there in v9? 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

A broad list of sexual sins. With idolatry thrown in, probably because it was all happening at the pagan temples in Corinth. People like THAT won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.  And then in v10, Paul moves OUT of the temple, next door, into the Corinthian MARKETPLACE.  10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

People who continue to practice that sort of behaviour won’t be part of God’s future kingdom. They’ve DISQUALIFIED themselves.  Like the Olympic athletes exposed for cheating, or lying, or drug-taking. It’s not behaviour befitting the Olympic movement. They miss out.

“Don’t you KNOW this?” says Paul. It’s BASIC. Christian teaching 101. The character of the Kingdom of God is the complete OPPOSITE of these things. It’s OBVIOUS.

And “Don’t be DECEIVED!” he adds. Don’t let the world try to tell you DIFFERENTLY. The world says, “These aren’t SINS TO BE PUNISHED. But DIVERSITY TO BE CELEBRATED.

The world says, “It’s not harmful or evil, it’s just harmless SELF-EXPRESSION!” The world says, “Do whatever you feel like. There’s no such thing as Right and wrong. The world says “Sex is an appetite, like hunger or thirst. And appetites are there for a reason, so it’s UNHEALTHY to deny yourself. It leads to ALL SORTS of psychological and physical harm.”  The world says, “Behaviour like this is FREEDOM. And RULES and MORALITY are SLAVERY.”

And it’s not just TODAY’S culture. You can see the sorts of lies the people in Corinth were using in v12 and 13. “Everything is permissible for me!” In other words, “I’m free to do whatever I feel like. No one tells me what to do!”

And ANOTHER lie they spread is there in v13. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Which SEEMS fair enough. Except they’re not talking about FOOD. It’s their reasoning for satisfying the SEXUAL appetite. In other words, “It’s not wrong, it’s just an appetite. If you FEEL like it – DO it. No harm done. In fact, it’s GOOD.”

But Paul says, “Don’t be DECEIVED! Don’t be fooled. It’s not FREEDOM. There are CONSEQUENCES. People who continue in THIS sort of lifestyle miss out on God’s kingdom.”

  1. you’re not that person anymore – you were washed, sanctified, justified

But almost straight away you can understand how the Corinthians might react. Perhaps you’re even feeling it yourself. Perhaps you’ve committed some of these sexual sins. Or maybe you’re same sex attracted. Or maybe you’re taking seriously Jesus’ words that anyone who looks at a woman LUSTFULLY is guilty of adultery. Or maybe it’s just the SECOND part of that list that’s got you worried. Thieves, greedy and drunkards. Who is there who’s never felt GREEDY? Who HASN’T looked at what someone else has, and WANTED it? And so your head sinks, your despair deepens. And you feel like these verses are describing YOU. And God’s judgment hangs over you. And you doubt whether you’ll make it into the kingdom. But there’s THREE rays of light that shed HOPE on the despair.

FIRST, these are descriptions of the NATURE of people. People DEFINED by these things. Who HABITUALLY do them. Adulterers, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy and drunkards. People whose basic direction is AWAY from the Kingdom of God. NOT people heading TOWARDS God, who WANT to please him, but who STUMBLE. But then they REPENT, and turn back to God in humility. If that’s YOU, then DON’T DESPAIR. The kingdom’s about God’s FORGIVENESS, not your PERFORMANCE.

And the SECOND ray of light HINTS at that. When it describes INHERITING the kingdom. Inheritance comes by FAMILY CONNECTION. By RELATIONSHIP. Not by merit. That’s PAYMENT. The kingdom is given by God the Father to those he’s made his children by GRACE. Forgiven sinners inherit the kingdom by GRACE.

And the third ray of light is Paul’s SECOND reason. There in v11. It might have described them PREVIOUSLY. But NOT ANY MORE.  11 And that is what some of you WERE. 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.

The difference between “ARE”, and “WERE”. The TENSE of the verb makes ALL THE difference! The GLORIOUS past tense. That USED to be you! But you were WASHED. But you were SANCTIFIED. But you were JUSTIFIED. Three “buts” in the Greek. Each one answering a doubt.

Doubt: I’m a sinner. I feel DIRTY.  Answer? But you were WASHED! Washed clean, and forgiven by God. Spotless and pure. Doubt: I’m a sinner. I’m JUST THE SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE. Answer? But you were SANCTIFIED. Made HOLY. Set apart from the world, removed, for a DIFFERENT PURPOSE. Doubt: I’m a sinner. I’m guilty. I deserve JUDGMENT.Answer? Yes, you DO. But you were JUSTIFIED. The judge of the universe declared you INNOCENT. His justice satisfied. Your fine paid by another. You’re INNOCENT.

And all of it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. By his AUTHORITY. By his POWER. Status guaranteed.

If that’s you, REJOICE! If it’s NOT you, it CAN be. All you need to do is ASK. None of those actions are ones you can do yourself. Only God can do them. And he WILL. If you ASK him. If you turn away from those sins in v9 and 10. And turn to HIM, then he’ll wash you, and sanctify you and justify you.

  1. It’s not beneficial

Third reason to flee sexual immorality. V12. It’s not BENEFICIAL. Not HELPFUL. Which isn’t what gets whispered in your ear as you’re TEMPTED. It doesn’t make you MORE human, but LESS. It doesn’t FULFIL you, it DISAPPOINTS you. It doesn’t lead to greater PLEASURE AND SATISFACTION, but greater FRUSTRATION and hurt and DISsatisfaction. And guilt and divorce and HIV. And in the END, it leads to God’s JUDGMENT, and missing out on the Kingdom of God. It’s not BENEFICIAL.

  1. It enslaves you.

Fourth reason. V12. It ENSLAVES you. Paul concedes, “Everything MIGHT be permissible. But then adds, “But I will not be MASTERED by ANYTHING.” The world whispers that sexual sin, without boundaries or restrictions, SETS YOU FREE. But the TRUTH is it ENSLAVES you. Traps you. Like a drug addict whose world shrinks down so small that all he thinks about is his next hit. It CONSUMES him. Sexual desire is so strong, and its effect so THOROUGH, every interaction is viewed through that lens. It’s a monster that grows as you FEED it. Every person is a conquest. Every conversation an opportunity. Every image lingered over. People aren’t personalities, they’re an object.

Your desires end up controlling you. That’s not FREEDOM, that’s SLAVERY. The reality is YOU are the master of your body. You’re free to say NO to your body.

Why not PRACTICE saying NO to your body? Take a cold shower when your body wants a hot one. Go without breakfast to pray, when your stomach is rumbling. Run an extra lap of the oval when your lungs are bursting. PRACTICE some self-control in ways that DON’T matter. To prepare yourself for temptations that DO matter. So that when temptations come, and your body says, DO IT! You can say NO! You control your body. Not the other way around. So you CAN flee sexual immorality.

  1. Your body was made for the Lord instead.

Fifth, your body was made for the Lord instead. See there in the second half of v13?

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord,  Our bodies were designed for a different purpose. Our bodies MATTER. They’re not evil. They can just be USED for evil. Instead, our bodies were made FOR THE LORD. To be used IN HIS SERVICE. Romans 12:1 says “In view of God’s mercies, offer your BODIES as LIVING sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. THIS is your spiritual act of worship.”

Our worship is very DOWN TO EARTH. PHYSICAL. Everything we DO can be worship. In obedience and thanks to Jesus. And for his glory. Our place of worship isn’t a building, but the WHOLE WORLD. Our worship service isn’t just WORDS from our MOUTH, but ACTIONS from our BODY. It’s not a SONG, but a CHOICE, a DEED, a COMMITMENT.

It’s what we were MADE FOR. Our bodies work BEST when they’re performing the tasks they were DESIGNED for. Right tool for the right task. I’ve got a reasonable set of tools. But sometimes I need a SPECIALIST tool. Like a spark plug socket wrench, or a bicycle gear remover, or a torque wrench. But I haven’t GOT one, so I have to use a pair of pliers, or a NORMAL wrench, or the good old favourite, a HAMMER. But they never work as well, because I’m not using them for the purpose they were DESIGNED for.  And it’s the same with our BODIES. They were made for THE LORD, not for SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

  1. Jesus has a plan for your body.

Six. Flee sexual immorality because JESUS HAS A PLAN for your body. (The end of v13) The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, AND THE LORD FOR THE BODY. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and HE WILL RAISE US ALSO.

Not only is the body for the Lord, but the Lord is for the BODY. What does THAT mean? Jesus CAME in a body. He showed that the body is IMPORTANT by taking on FLESH. He got blisters and bleeding noses and indigestion. And then he GAVE his body up to DEATH. And he did that to redeem YOUR body. The resurrection of HIS body is the guarantee that OUR bodies will be resurrected. Our bodies are destined for a greater purpose. The Lord is FOR the body.

So what does all of THAT mean? It means that if our RESURRECTED bodies are for Jesus’ eternal service and glory, then we should use THESE bodies NOW for Jesus’ service and glory. And to be involved in sexual immorality doesn’t match up with Jesus’ future plans for our bodies.

  1. Your bodies are part of Christ.

Seven. Flee sexual immorality because your bodies are PART OF CHRIST. V15. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! When we trust Christ, we’re JOINED to him. We’re ONE with him. He REPRESENTS us. He died, and so WE died to our old selves. We are seated in the heavenly realms because that’s where JESUS is.

But not only THAT. WE represent HIM. We are his hands and feet, and his eyes and his mouth. We achieve his purposes, in his strength. He exerts his power IN us, and partly, THROUGH us. Which is LOVELY if you’re thinking about how we LOVE and SERVE and WITNESS to the world, as Jesus’ hands and feet. But it’s SHOCKING if the image is that Jesus comes along while you have an affair with your boss. Or Jesus looks over your shoulder as you watch porn on the internet.

When a member of Christ’s BODY commits sexual sin, it’s as if JESUS HIMSELF is joined to a prostitute. That’s v15. It’s shocking and wrong and unnatural. “Don’t you KNOW that?” says Paul.

  1. Sexual sin damages you profoundly

Reason number EIGHT. Sexual sin damages you PROFOUNDLY. There in v18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are OUTSIDE his body, but he who sins sexually SINS AGAINST HIS OWN BODY. The reality is sexual sin can SCAR you like no other sin. Lying or stealing can damage other people. But sexual sin damages YOU. Damages your mind and your emotions and your spirit. And it’s not like sneezing, or a workout at the gym. It’s sin you can’t get over quickly. It impacts your thoughts and expectations and behaviour for years to come.

And that’s because sex is POWERFUL. That’s the way God DESIGNED it. That’s the point in verses 16-18. Sex CONNECTS two people. Makes them ONE. And it makes a profound impact. It’s powerful for GOOD in the RIGHT context. Or for BAD in the WRONG context. So FLEE sexual immorality. Because it’s powerful. It’s a nuclear bomb, not a firecracker.

9 Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit

Nine. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s v19. Corinth was FULL of temples. And when you entered a temple, different rules applied. Different behaviour was expected. But with Christianity, your temple is with you, wherever you went. Because God’s HOLY SPIRIT is in you. That means there’s no switching from secular to sacred. From worldly to spiritual. Your BODY is God’s holy temple, so EVERYTHING it does is sacred and holy. And it doesn’t make SENSE for a holy temple to be involved in sexual immorality.

  1. You were bought for a price

And finally, reason number 10. You were bought for a price. See there in v20? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. In other words, it’s not your body. If you’re a Christian, then your body no longer belongs to you. It belongs to JESUS’. So don’t abuse it, or trash it. If you borrowed someone’s CAR, you’d look after it. So look after your BODY even MORE. Jesus considered it so valuable he DIED for it. You belong to a different master.

Two imperatives

So, that’s it. Ten reasons. Ten descriptions of the way things are. But did you notice there’s only TWO COMMANDS? At the BEGINNING, and the END of that last paragraph. The start of v18, and the end of v20. Flee from sexual immorality. And honour God with your body. Ten reasons, and only two commands. Because the reality is/ knowing what’s right and wrong is fairly SIMPLE. God’s rules are CLEAR. And knowing what you should DO is fairly simple. Flee what’s WRONG. And, instead, put God FIRST – OBEY him – in everything. Simple in THEORY. But often so difficult in PRACTICE. So we get this long list of REASONS. MOTIVATIONS. When you lose sight of the big picture of who God is, and what he’s done, and who you are, this list REMINDS you. And lifts your gaze, and speaks truth to you. And gives you the strength to USE your bodies, rather than for immorality, to HONOUR GOD.

Like Eric Liddell. Eric Liddell was a Scottish school teacher and international rugby player. He’s best known from the movie Chariots of Fire. He was selected to run for Great Britain in 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Against the odds, he won the 400m, breaking the Olympic and World records, and beating his own personal best by 2 seconds.

A committed Christian, he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.” That’s what it means to honour God with your body.

But it’s not just ATHLETES God takes pleasure in. Or gold medals. EVERYDAY ACTIONS bring him pleasure And bring him glory. Many people don’t know that Liddell went to China as a missionary the following year. He served there for the next 17 years in relative obscurity, until the Japanese invaded in 1943 and he was sent to an internment camp. He died of a brain tumour there, only a few months before the end of the war in February, 1945.

He was once asked if he ever regretted giving up the fame of athletics for missionary work. He replied, “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A FELLOW’S LIFE COUNTS FOR FAR MORE AT THIS THAN THE OTHER.”

That’s someone who understood and who lived out verse 20. Who understood the INDICATIVE, so obeyed the imperative. Go and do likewise. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

1 Corinthians 5-6: Behaviour matters

behaviourDoes our behaviour matter, or not? On the ONE hand, God offers unconditional forgiveness – WHATEVER sins you’ve committed. And we’re to welcome EVERY repentant sinner. But we shouldn’t confuse that with what he expects of his children. He’s a HOLY God. And he commands us to be HOLY because HE is holy.

The reality is, of course, our behaviour DOES matter. We expect the right behaviour from all SORTS of people in society. From financial advisors, and politicians and actors and sportsmen. And yet, we often seem to have LOWER standards for Christians. We excuse sin by saying things like, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Or “We’re all a work in progress.” Or “Surely it doesn’t matter TOO much. Just confess your sin, and move on.”

That’s the issue Paul’s facing in Corinth. A church who are OVERLOOKING and MINIMISING unrepentant sin. And he gives us seven answers to the question, “Why does my behaviour as a Christian MATTER?” And time and again, it’s stuff the Corinthians should KNOW. Did you notice it? Six times in 30 verses. “Don’t you know? Don’t you know? Don’t you know?” Because the Corinthians have been Christian long enough to know how they SHOULD live. And yet they DON’T. Or they KNOW it, but they’re IGNORING it. And so, again and again in these chapters, Paul has to POINT OUT THE OBVIOUS to them.

  1. A little yeast works through the whole batch

The first situation involves serious sexual immorality. A man’s living with his father’s wife. His step mum. It’s against Jewish law, as well as Greek and Roman law. And it’s even frowned on by Corinthian pagan society. Which REALLY says something about how bad it was. But what really astounds Paul isn’t the MAN’S behaviour. But the CHURCH’S. They’re PROUD. When they really should have been filled with GRIEF. (See it there in v2?) That MAY mean they’re willing to OVERLOOK the man’s sin because he’s important. And they’re proud he’s part of the church. So they’re willing to sweep it under the carpet.

Or it could mean, even WORSE, that they’re proud of the SIN. That they’ve MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL. Misunderstood GRACE. And they’ve TWISTED it, and STRETCHED it, until it becomes “We’re saved by grace. Therefore it doesn’t matter WHAT we do – God will still forgive us”.

And once you start believing that, it’s only a short jump to saying, “God’s about LOVE, but not about JUDGMENT OR HOLINESS. He accepts people as they are. And he’s happy for them to STAY as they are.”

Unfortunately, that’s the argument we’ve heard from some churches during the same sex marriage debate. And once again during the gender diversity debate. More than just being willing to OVERLOOK unrepentant sin, they ACCEPT it. In fact, they PRIDE themselves on their inclusiveness and tolerance. And call it Christian LOVE.

Paul’s response is there in v6. His first “don’t you know?” 6 Your boasting is not good. DON’T YOU KNOW that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

They SHOULD know. But they DON’T. They think sin doesn’t matter. But the reality is IT DOES. Because it only takes a small amount to INFECT THE WHOLE CHURCH. “Don’t you KNOW that?” he says. Like yeast and dough. A couple of teaspoons of yeast can transform a bowlful of dough into SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

But it’s more than a picture from the KITCHEN. The idea of yeast representing SIN comes from the Old Testament. All the way back to the Passover. Where the people left Egypt in a hurry. And because they didn’t have time to bake bread with YEAST, they baked unleavened or FLAT bread. And so Moses commanded Jewish households to REMEMBER that rescue, every year, by eating unleavened bread for seven days. And to search out and get rid of all the yeast in the house. It represented the polluting influence of Egypt. Of the world.

And so that’s what the Corinthians Christians are to do as well. V7. “Get rid of the old yeast.” That’s the sinner. And he describes the process back up in v2. “Put him out of the fellowship.” Now, that sounds harsh and judgmental. But we’re to understand that as the LAST step. He’s been WARNED. But he won’t repent.

And so, Paul gives his endorsement. V4. At a public meeting. By the authority of our Lord Jesus. When I’m with you in spirit. Hand him over to Satan. Which means putting him out of the church. Out into the world. He’s no longer a member.

And notice what the purpose is? Firstly, for the benefit of THE SINNER. Verse 5

Hand this man over to Satan, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD.

Notice the two benefits for the sinner. There’s DISCIPLINE, but also CORRECTION. First, discipline, “so that the sinful nature might be DESTROYED. It’s literally “so that the BODY (OR FLESH) might be destroyed”. Life outside the church is uncomfortable. There are CONSEQUENCES. It might be loneliness, or separation from friendships and support structures.

But whatever it might be, it’s not POINTLESS PUNISHMENT. The purpose is SPIRITUAL SALVATION. There’s a CORRECTIVE element to the discipline. Its goal is the repentance and restoration of the sinner. That’s the SECOND benefit.

But notice, too, it’s not just for the sake of the INDIVIDUAL. It’s also for the sake of the CHURCH. Because a little yeast works through the whole lump. One man’s sin affects EVERYONE. The DISCIPLINE is public because the SIN was public. People are TALKING. When nothing’s done, it sends all sorts of messages. To the congregation. As well as the wider community. Messages like “sin doesn’t matter.” And that perhaps it’s really alright for OTHERS to be doing it too. But by publicly removing him from membership, his influence is stopped. And others are protected and warned.

Why does Christian behaviour matter? Because it only takes a little yeast to infect the whole batch.

  1. Your Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. (5:7)

But that’s not all. There’s a SECOND reason there in v7. Because Christ, your Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. 7 Get RID of the old yeast that you may BE a new batch without yeast-as you really are. FOR CHRIST, OUR PASSOVER LAMB HAS BEEN SACRIFICED.

This verse is full of ideas from the Exodus TOO. Let’s start at the end. Jesus is the sacrificed Passover Lamb. When each Jewish family in Egypt killed a goat or sheep, and then painted its blood on the doorpost. The blood would protect them from God’s wrath as his angel PASSED OVER them.

And that’s how it works with Jesus’ death. He’s the FINAL Passover Lamb. And his blood protects us from God’s wrath. He dies in our place. He’s DEALT with sin, and the guilty verdict that goes with it. His blood washes you clean of sin’s guilt. So BECAUSE that’s happened (v7) Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new batch without yeast AS YOU ARE.  In other words, Jesus has got rid of the yeast. (You’re clean). SO LIVE that way. He’s DEALT with your sin – now YOU need to start dealing with it. You’re already on the TEAM. So start wearing the UNIFORM. Put ON the new nature, like a jacket.

V8 explains what that LOOKS LIKE PRACTICALLY. Therefore let us KEEP THE FESTIVAL, not with the OLD yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of SINCERITY AND TRUTH.

Forget hunting out the yeast in your house for one week a year. That’s symbolic and short-term. Get rid of sin in your WHOLE LIFE. Hunt out MALICE and WICKEDNESS. And then bake a delicious fresh loaf of SINCERITY AND TRUTH. Malice is the desire to harm someone. Wickedness is the ACTIONS. And replace them, instead, with the desire of SINCERITY. Genuineness. And the actions of TRUTH. (What’s right and proper in the way you deal with each other.) WHY do those things MATTER? Because Jesus has DIED for you. He’s MADE you holy. So ACT holy.

 

  1. You live by a different standard (5:10, 12)

And the THIRD reason is there in v10. Because you live by a different standard. The context is that Paul’s written a PREVIOUS letter they misunderstood. He said not to associate with sexually immoral people (v9). The Corinthians thought he meant to cut themselves off from EVERYONE who was wicked. What Paul MEANT (v11) was to have nothing to do with anyone who CALLED HIMSELF A CHRISTIAN, but was sexually immoral. (Which is just what he’s commanding they do at the START of the chapter). Don’t even EAT with them, he says.

And Paul adds a few MORE sins as well in v11. Not just sexual immorality. But greed, idolatry. Slander. Drunkenness. Swindling, or fraud. He’s not thinking about ONE-OFF sins, because EVERY Christian would be included. It’s CONTINUING in those sins that’s the problem. HABITUAL, UNREPENTANT PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOUR. Where the church has stepped in to correct and rebuke, and it makes no difference.

They’re certainly not ACTING like Christians. So TREAT them as non-Christians. Have nothing to DO with people like that. So that it might bring them to their senses, and to repentance.

And that’s serious and drastic. And, can I say, that we elders feel the WEIGHT of that. But the point I want to make is a slightly different one. Look at v10. Paul says, “When I said have nothing to do with the sexually immoral, I didn’t mean the people OUT THERE. In that case, YOU’D HAVE TO LEAVE THE WORLD.” Which says something very interesting. In our pursuit to be holy, we’re not to cut ourselves off from the world.

Non-Christians have all sorts of vices, all sorts of lifestyle choices, but we’re to be friends with them anyway. Our job’s not to judge them. We’re to work with them, play sport with them, have dinner with them. Go on holidays with them. We’re just not to BE LIKE them.

Being holy isn’t about cutting ourselves OFF. Be salt and light says Jesus. That’s about being MIXED IN, but DIFFERENT. And MAKING a difference. You can’t do that stuck in the saltshaker. Or a light under a basket.

Our job is to focus on OUR behaviour. Our job’s not enforcing OUR standards on people who aren’t US. See there in v12? What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?

Nothing turns off non-Christians more than when Christians expect them to keep standards they never agreed to. And which half the Christians don’t keep EITHER. Our job is to encourage people to GET RIGHT WITH GOD. Then the behaviour will look after itself.

  1. You have a higher calling (6:2)

As we move into Ch 6, we see ANOTHER reason why your behaviour matters. Because you HAVE A HIGHER CALLING. The context is the fights and quarrels in the Corinthian church. Which we’ve seen right from the beginning. But here, we find out they’re taking each other to court. Now, admittedly, it was a national sport in Corinth to take each other to court. People used to sit around the courts for ENTERTAINMENT. And, especially the RICH, used to take people to court for JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.

And it’s like that IN THE CHURCH. TRIVIAL CASES it says in v2. One guy bumps into another car in the carpark, and the owner says, “You’ll hear from my lawyers!” And off they run to the courthouse. And when we combine it with Ch 5, they’re getting in DOUBLY wrong. They overlook serious sexual sin they SHOULD take further. But then they take each other to court over TRIVIA. (Things they should overlook).

But, v2, Paul asks another of his “Don’t you know” questions. Don’t you know THE SAINTS WILL JUDGE THE WORLD? Now, we’re not exactly certain what he’s thinking of here. But the idea is that God’s children will have a great responsibility come judgment day. Rather than being the ACCUSED, they’ll be ON THE OTHER side. In SOME way, MAKING THE JUDGMENTS. Even about ANGELS. Perhaps like being part of the JURY, while Jesus is the JUDGE. Or maybe it’s about our ongoing role of kingly rule in the new heavens and earth.

And Paul’s point is, if THAT’S their calling, then surely they make wise judgments between themselves NOW. Isn’t there SOMEONE among them (v5) wise enough who can act as a judge between believers? Which is kind of ironic, since they think they’re so wise already!

It should be EASY to deal with their minor disputes. When it comes to EARTHLY matters of justice and righteousness. Of mercy and forgiveness. Who better to decide/ than someone who KNOWS THE GOD OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS? Someone who’s been dealt with justly and fairly by the God of mercy and forgiveness? But instead, they hand it over to UNBELIEVERS. Which just makes the whole thing WORSE.

Why does their behaviour matter? Because they have a higher calling. And they need to start living UP to that.

  1. You may miss out on your inheritance (6:9)

And Paul’s next reason is there in v9. Another “Don’t you know?”  “9 Don’t you know that the wicked won’t inherit the kingdom of God?” Why does your behaviour matter? Because you may miss out on your inheritance.  Persistent, unrepentant wickedness SHOWS that someone doesn’t have saving faith.  You can’t have Jesus has SAVIOUR without having him as LORD. Don’t be TRICKED, Paul says, v9. Sin MATTERS. Don’t let anyone tell you OTHERWISE. The sexually immoral will miss out. Which includes adulterers and homosexuals. You CAN’T just do what you like, and expect God to forgive you.

But not just them. V10, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers – they’ll miss out too. Pretty much the list he gave back in Ch 5 of people who called themselves Christians. And here he’s saying persistent behaviour like THAT / won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. Which is a pretty good reason why behaviour MATTERS. Which is where we’ll finish for today.

  1. You were washed (6:11)

But let me finish on a POSITIVE note. Perhaps all this talk about sexual sin and guilt has left you feeling flat. And guilty. And damaged. And it’s dragged up a whole lot of memories you’d rather not think about.

So it’s possible that for some of you, there’s stuff in your past you’ve never shared with ANYONE. And you’re deeply ASHAMED of it. And perhaps today has just brought it all back again. Please talk to me. I can help.

But there’s one OTHER thing I can do. And that’s point you to verse 11. Which I LOVE. (My favourite verse in the Bible. This week). Here’s the bright light in the darkness of these couple of chapters. The hope in the midst of despair.

11 And THAT is what some of you WERE. 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.

If you’re a Christian – that long list of sins USED TO describe you. Immoral, idolaters, greedy, drunkards. But NOT ANY MORE. Jesus has WASHED you CLEAN. You were SANCTIFIED – set aside as holy and different. You were JUSTIFIED – declared righteous. How? In the NAME of Jesus – by his authority and power. And BY God’s Spirit.

God’s WORKED in you. And he’s WORKING in you. (You’re not where you WANT to be, or SHOULD be). But you’re also not where you USED to be EITHER.

And if you’re NOT a Christian, perhaps you look through that list in v10, and it’s a bit like looking in a mirror. And you don’t particularly LIKE what you see.

But v11 could be just what YOU need, too. Perhaps you LOVE the idea of being washed clean of your past. So, while v11 is a description of OUR past. It’s also an OFFER for your FUTURE.

God can DEAL with all your rubbish and sin and guilt. He can WASH YOU CLEAN from it all. Forgiven before him. And he can get to work on healing some of those SCARS as WELL.

These couple of chapters seem to focus so much on OUR BEHAVIOUR. And why it matters.

But in the end, the key point is that it’s all about what GOD has done. He’s WASHED you. And that’s the BEST reason of ALL for why your behaviour matters.

 

1 Corinthians 3-4: Being before doing

what-do-you-doOne of the first questions we ask when we meet someone is, “What do you DO?” Because how you earn a living gives us a quick snapshot in getting to know someone.

Or perhaps you ask someone on Monday morning, “What did you DO on the weekend?” A fairly safe topic.

But I want to suggest there’s a more important question. Not “what do you DO?” But “WHO are you?” WHO were you during the week? How do you THINK of yourself? It’s more important because WHO YOU ARE affects WHAT YOU DO. Self-identity determines behaviour.

For example, in relationships with people. If someone feels insecure or threatened by another person’s ability, then that SHOWS ITSELF in how they ACT. They might work hard to COMPETE. Or they criticise or make fun of the other person. They look for ways to build up their own self-confidence. But if you’re confident in who you are, then you’re not threatened by others. You can complement them. And rejoice in their success.

Or let’s think about marriage. If you feel loved and appreciated and accepted. Then that will SHOW ITSELF. You feel free to serve and be selfless. You can be confident and comfortable in the relationship. But if you feel UNLOVED and UNAPPRECIATED, then you’ll strive to perform. To earn some appreciation. Or you’ll get bitter and frustrated and resentful.

How you SEE yourself affects how you ACT.

And it’s the same with the Christian life. WHAT’S YOUR IDENTITY AS A CHRISTIAN? How do you see yourself? A sinner saved by grace? Then you’ll live out a grateful RESPONSE to grace. But if you see yourself as a good person working hard to earn salvation, uncertain whether you’ve achieved it. Then you’ll behave very DIFFERENTLY.

WHO ARE YOU AS A CHRISTIAN? It’s a powerful question. Because it shows itself in your actions and attitudes. The Bible gives us all sorts of answers to that question. Do you see yourself as a child of God? As a disciple or follower? A learner or student? A herald or witness? A lover? A saint? A leader? A shepherd? It’s worth thinking about.

It’s an important principle here in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Remember what’s been going on? The Corinthian church thought they were wise, rich, powerful winners. So they BEHAVED like it. Just like the world around them. They picked sides based on which teacher they proudly supported. They were individual, rather than one united group.

And so Paul wants to remind them of WHO THEY ARE. Because that’s where to begin if you want to change their BEHAVIOUR. And he’s going to use a number of different pictures to DO it.

  1. Infants:

First up, Ch 3 v1, he says they’re INFANTS. Which would come as a bit of a shock. Paul himself recognised that God’s richly blessed them in speaking and knowledge (back in Ch 1 v3). And they think they’re pretty impressive too. Over in Ch 4, Paul describes how they think of themselves. V8. Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings

And then in Ch 2, Paul’s just described how he’s got A MESSAGE OF WISDOM FOR THE MATURE. Deep, spiritual truths. And that it comes from God’s Spirit, rather than human wisdom. No doubt the Corinthians thought that message suited them PERFECTLY. But they’ve got it wrong. Instead, Paul writes (Ch 3 v1) Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-MERE INFANTS in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, YOU ARE STILL NOT READY.

Far from being mature and spiritual, feeding on deep, solid wisdom, they’re BABIES! Why? V3.

3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

They STARTED as worldly. We ALL did. But they’re not supposed to STAY that way. They’re supposed to GROW UP. MOVE ON. But they HAVEN’T. They’re proudly choosing sides, arguing and disagreeing. Choosing their individual preferences, rather than their group unity. And that behaviour doesn’t make you mature and sophisticated. It makes you immature and worldly.

Who are you? You’re not mature. You’re INFANTS. So what should you do? You need to GROW UP, says Paul. Recognise who you are. Then change your behaviour.

  1. God’s field

The second description Paul uses begins in v5. They’re a FIELD. GOD’S field. And he’s assigned different workers working away in them. V6, Paul planted the seed. Then Apollos came along and WATERED it. Both of them preaching and teaching in the church.

But, just like REAL gardening, it’s GOD who makes things grow. No matter how clever you are at planting or watering. Only GOD grows a harvest. And so, Paul asks in v5, why do you focus on the WORKERS? They’re just messenger boys. It doesn’t make sense!

When my grandma turned 100, she received a letter from the Queen. Delivered by post. Pretty special. And I understand all the staff in the nursing home made a big deal. But imagine if everyone was more impressed by the POSTMAN than by THE LETTER HE DELIVERED. That’s foolish! He’s just the MESSENGER.

Paul’s point is that’s what the Corinthians are doing when they focus on Paul and Apollos. They’re just POSTMEN. It’s GOD who gives the message. GOD, who makes the church grow!

Who are you? God’s FIELD. He’s using WORKERS among you. But GOD causes the growth. So what should you DO? Don’t focus on PEOPLE. Look to GOD in gratitude and dependence, because HE’S the one who grows and rewards.

  1. God’s building

Next image is there at the end of v9. Who are they? God’s BUILDING. Paul’s laid the foundation. That’s his SPECIALITY – planting churches. Then OTHERS have come along, and are building on TOP of the foundation. It’s LEADERS, but it’s also EVERYONE ELSE in the church.

If that’s TRUE, (end of v10), then that means you need to be careful what you BUILD with. Because buildings have to be WELL-BUILT, or they won’t SURVIVE. Just like the buildings in Indonesia when an earthquake or tsunami strikes.

V11. Their FOUNDATION is solid. That was Jesus. The church doesn’t EXIST without him. And Paul doesn’t begin building his churches any other way. But what matters is what building materials you use on TOP. You can either build with GOOD, SOLID, LONG-LASTING materials. Gold, silver or stone. Or you can use RUBBISH. Wood, hay or straw.

And, v13, the QUALITY of your work will be seen in whether it LASTS. THE DAY will bring it light. It will be revealed with FIRE. And the fire will test the quality of the work. That’s JUDGMENT day. And there are two sorts of consequences on that day. First for the BUILDING. And second for the BUILDER. V14. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul’s planted the church, and then others have come along, building on what he’s started. And, instead of building a strong, united building, they’re TAKING SIDES. There’s pride and jealousy and quarrels and divisions. It’s focussing on MEN, instead of Christ. And it’s splitting the church. That sort of behaviour is like building with wood and hay and straw. A building like THAT won’t be very strong!

The church is all about building on the foundation of Jesus. Building with poor materials/ is any sort of work in the church that doesn’t have the goal of GROWING PEOPLE as FOLLOWERS OF JESUS. ALL SORTS of ways churches can get DISTRACTED from that goal. Running child care or aged care centres. Knitting clubs, or music groups. Or sports clubs or dramatic societies. Nothing WRONG with churches doing those things. As long as they’re part of a strategy that MOVES PEOPLE TOWARDS MATURITY IN JESUS. The problem is when they lose the STRATEGY. They forget what their GOAL is. And they end up concentrating on building things that won’t LAST. That won’t help people get ready for judgment day. And the Corinthians are running that risk. Of getting distracted from the MAIN GAME by divisions and quarrels.

What a terrible day it will be for builders LIKE THAT. What LOSS! (v15). The builders will be saved – because their own salvation depends on Christ’s work. But there won’t be a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” from Jesus.

Who ARE you? God’s building built on the foundation of Jesus. So what should you DO? Make sure you build on Jesus with SOLID materials. Focussed on Jesus. United under him. Preparing people to MEET him. Don’t get distracted.

  1. God’s temple.

Paul’s NEXT picture is there in v16. You’re not just a BUILDING, you’re a TEMPLE. Which is SPECIAL. HOLY. God’s particular attention and focus is on you. And just like God’s glory filled the temple, like a cloud. So his Spirit fills his church. And if he’s the HOLY Spirit, that means the temple is HOLY. Precious to God.

And if that’s who you ARE, what does that mean for what you should DO? Be HOLY. Be DIFFERENT. Pure. Above reproach. Just. Fair. Welcoming. Inclusive – in the right use of that word. God’s holy temple should be different to OTHER groups.

And it means that the church is PRECIOUS and SPECIAL. So be very careful you don’t DESTROY it. Don’t destroy it with selfish, disunity and arguments. God will jealously DEFEND his church by destroying those who destroy IT. And that’s comforting. It means God’s looking out for his church. It’s so precious to him, he’s jealously PROTECTING it. It’s like the little kid in kindy walking out onto the playground surrounded by the whole big school. But he’s confident because he knows his big brother is there too. And he’s looking out for him.

That’s what God thinks of his church, his holy temple. We’re not any old group of people, like the Rotary Club, or the Landcare committee, or sports club. We’re precious to God. We’re HIS CHILDREN! So VALUE the church, like GOD does.

Paul’s FIFTH aspect of their identity is there in v21. He’s concluding his argument in the chapter. I’ve shown you WHO YOU ARE. Now, here’s what YOU SHOULD DO. V21.

21 So then, no more boasting about men!

But then he takes things in an interesting direction. You want to cling onto ONE leader over another? You’re determined to OWN him? The reality is you have SO MUCH MORE than ONE MAN. (No more boasting about men) ALL things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God

His point is that God has blessed them with SO MUCH. As children of God, they have an inheritance stored up for eternity. Victorious life in the new heavens and earth. The defeat and death of all sin and sickness. It’s all theirs. Including ALL the leaders, as servants working for their growth. Not just ONE of them. And to top it all off, they have Christ! The greatest and richest and loveliest of all. And they’re fighting over which group has the best leader!

It’s like two children fighting over a scrap of bread underneath a table that’s covered in the finest and most extravagant of delicious banquets. All just waiting for them to eat. You see, when you know what your INHERITANCE is, you’ll behave accordingly. You’ll be filled with THANKFULNESS to God for lavishing every spiritual blessing on you in Christ. And it means that OTHER temptations that distract us (wealth and influence and pleasure and approval) will lose their attraction and their power.

When you know WHO YOU ARE, you’ll BEHAVE ACCORDINGLY.

Paul

But Paul wants to push the lesson a bit FURTHER. In chapter 4 he describes how HE SEES HIMSELF. His OWN identity. And how that influences what HE does.

  1. Christ’s assistant and steward

And the first image he uses about himself is there in v1. So then, men ought to regard us as SERVANTS of Christ and as THOSE ENTRUSTED with the secret things of God.

He’s a SERVANT. That word for servant is about being an assistant, or someone who reports to a superior. And the word translated as “entrusted” refers to the chief steward of the house. He was given authority by the master to do all sorts of things. Authority over the other servants, over the budget, and the running of the house.

And his point is there in v2. If that’s how he THINKS of himself. Then that means, his motivation is TO BE FAITHFUL TO JESUS, HIS MASTER. Every decision is coloured by, “Would Jesus WANT me to do this? Would it please HIM?”

And, on the flip-side, it means he’s not concerned with what OTHERS think of him. He performs only for an audience of ONE. And that’s something WE need learn TOO, not just the Corinthians. Because we’re so easily swayed by public opinion. Pleasing people is such a strong temptation. But we need to remember we’re servants and stewards of Jesus, first and foremost.

  1. A ridiculed fool

The second way Paul thinks of himself is as a RIDICULED FOOL. Jump down to v9. The Corinthians think they’re so sophisticated and impressive. But Paul and the other apostles are the OPPOSITE. For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ,

God’s plan for the apostles was to display them as LAST. As LEAST. As unimportant. Condemned to die. A public spectacle before the whole universe. Fools. To take up their cross daily, just like Jesus.

Down in v11 he describes the working conditions of being an apostle. I can’t imagine people are lining up for the job! TO THIS VERY HOUR we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. UP TO THIS MOMENT we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

Things were terrible. And they’re STILL bad. Right up to the time he’s writing. Only a FOOL would deliberately choose a job like that! And that’s what Paul calls himself. A FOOL… for Christ.

But he’s HAPPY to do it. Because God’s CALLED him to it. It seems so much against the way we’re encouraged to think about ourselves. The world says a positive self-image is crucial. SELF-confidence. But God’s way, as we’ve already seen, is to use foolish, weak people to proclaim a foolish, weak message about a foolish, weak Saviour. GOD-confidence INSTEAD.

Who is Paul? Christ’s FOOL. What does that mean about how he BEHAVES? When the gospel Paul preaches CHANGES people, by God’s power. When it brings them from death to life. Then GOD gets the glory, and not Paul. Paul stays HUMBLE and DEPENDENT.

And that’s the lesson he wants the Corinthians to learn. See there in v14? “I am not writing this to SHAME you, but to WARN you, as my DEAR CHILDREN.” Think differently about yourself, and change your behaviour.

  1. A father

And then Paul brings out the last aspect of his self-identity. He’s a FATHER. V15.

15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

A father never gives up on his children. He protects and guides them. And they learn by IMITATING him. Which is what Paul expects. V16. “Therefore I urge you to IMITATE me.” That’s why he’s sending Timothy, so he can remind them about Paul’s WAY OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS. And sometimes a father even has to DISCIPLINE. Which is how he finishes off the chapter. V18.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.

“Wait ‘til your father gets home,” my mother used to say, when I was naughty. And Paul’s saying the same. I’m your father, and I’m coming to discipline. So get rid of the arrogance!

Above all, a father wants to see his children grow up to maturity, healthy, strong and well-adjusted. And that’s what Paul wants. Imitate my way of life in Christ Jesus – that’s his plea.

But it’s not just about DOING. Instruction to DO becomes legalism. Remember Paul’s big point? DOING begins with BEING. With knowing WHO YOU ARE. Or more accurately, know WHOSE you are.

  • You’re infants, not mature. So grow up!
  • You’re God’s field. So look to God for the growth.
  • You’re God’s building. So build on Christ with good materials.
  • You’re God’s holy temple, so value and respect your church.
  • You’ve inherited all things, so gratefully rejoice in the riches you have, rather than complain about what you DON’T have.
  • You’re Christ’s assistants and stewards, so work for his approval alone.
  • You’re Christ’s ridiculed fool, so give HIM the honour, and imitate Jesus.

And if you doubt whether you have the strength to put all of that into practice. Remember God’s promise there in v20. “The kingdom of God isn’t a matter of talk, but of POWER.” He gives you his Holy Spirit-power to work OUT in you all those things you already ARE.  So that HE receives all the glory.

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16: Ship of Fools

embarrsingAre you a PROUD person? Most of us would probably say NO. But let me probe a little deeper. Do you ever trip up a stair, then quickly look around to see if anyone noticed? Or have you ever said or done something embarrassing, and, as people laugh, you wish the ground would just open up and swallow you? Or you achieve something significant, and when no one notices, you’re secretly disappointed. Or perhaps you’ve had the nightmare about standing up in front of people to give a speech or a presentation, and realising that you’re naked? We ALL do. We may not call it pride. But we don’t like to feel FOOLISH OR ASHAMED. We like to be RESPECTED. For people to see us as competent, and in control.

And then there’s COMPARISONS with OTHERS. If we’re honest, we all have areas of our life where we think we do BETTER than OTHER people. You may not be competitive at sport. But it might be cooking, or making friends, or interior decorating, or giving generously, or physical appearance, or attending church, or public speaking, or playing a musical instrument. It might even be you think you’re better than others at being HUMBLE.

Folks, that’s PRIDE! We’ve all got it. It’s natural in fallen humanity. Augustine of Hippo, writing in the fourth century, said that pride is the beginning of sin. He was thinking of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was pride that caused Satan to rebel against God. It was pride he tempted Eve with, “Did God REALLY say…?” And it was PRIDE Adam and Eve were guilty of. Thinking they knew better than God.

And pride’s the root of OUR sin, TOO. Every sinful action begins with the sinful ATTITUDE of pride. The attitude that says, “I’m more important than God. I’ll do what I want. I DESERVE it. I matter more than other people. I’ll please MYSELF.”

(pause) Pride might be OUR way, but it’s not GOD’S way. Pride works AGAINST the things of God. He delights, instead, in using the weak and the least. Always HAS. And so, his way is to bring DOWN the proud, and lift up the HUMBLE. To take away any grounds for human independence and self-sufficiency.

We see it right through the Bible. God chose Jacob instead of Esau, though he was the youngest. He chose Israel, though they were the fewest of all people. He chose Gideon to be a mighty warrior while he was hiding, quivering, in a hole in the ground. And sent home 90% of his army, lest they become proud. He chose David to be king, the youngest and smallest of his brothers. Because God doesn’t look at outward appearances.

There’s even a quote from Isaiah 29 in today’s passage. God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.” About how he’ll put an end to the terrifying forces of Judah’s enemies. Humanly speaking, they look unstoppable. And God’s people look helpless. But God’s way is to turn those things upside down. To work with SMALL and INSIGNIFICANT things. So that people might trust GOD, rather than THEMSELVES.

And on we go. He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. No royal birth or palace. She gave birth in a dirty stable, and placed him in a manger. Insignificant and unnoticed. And Mary praised God, “My soul glorifies God, because he has been MINDFUL OF THE HUMBLE STATE OF HIS SERVANT.”

And Jesus grew up, and proclaimed his Father’s heart. “Blessed are the POOR IN SPIRIT, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the MEEK, for they’ll inherit the earth.” God DELIGHTS to work with weak and humble and mourning people. And then to lift them up, and give them his kingdom.

And then, because he BELIEVED that, Jesus chose to walk that same path himself. Chose arrest and abuse and ridicule and injustice. Chose weakness and submission. And then chose the torture of DEATH on a cross, the ultimate humiliation.

And it’s through THAT DEATH that God lifts US up, and gives us LIFE. God uses that humiliating defeat for his purposes.

The word of weakness

And that’s the gospel. The good news that we LOVE. That we CELEBRATE and REJOICE in.

But most people just DON’T UNDERSTAND it. It seems FOOLISH. It’s the word of weakness. That’s what it says in v18.

18 For the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS to those who are PERISHING, but to us who are being SAVED it is THE POWER OF GOD.

Two groups of people. One group sees foolishness and weakness in the cross. The OTHER sees power over sin and death. One group says, “Christianity is just a crunch for the weak.” And the OTHER group says, “Exactly! That’s what I LOVE. Because I’m WEAK!”

And that’s exactly the way God’s PLANNED it. His way frustrates the wise and impressive. It doesn’t fit their categories. You can’t discover God because you’ve got a high IQ, or the problem-solving skills of a mathematician, or because you’ve donated the most money. Or performed the most good works.

Academics, mystics and thinkers aren’t any better off. In fact they’re WORSE off, because they try to understand God with their own UNDERSTANDING. See there in v21?

For since in the wisdom of God the world THROUGH ITS WISDOM did not know him

But look at the REST of the verse. How GOD’S chosen to do things.

(For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him), God was pleased THROUGH THE FOOLISHNESS OF WHAT WAS PREACHED to save those who believe.

God’s wise plan is that foolish, weak, simple preaching about a foolish, weak death actually SAVES people. It’s NONSENSE from an earthly point of view. But I LOVE IT! It forces me, as a foolish preacher, to take my eyes of myself, and keep them on God who saves.

And look at what’s so FOOLISH about our message. V22. Jews demand signs and Greeks demand wisdom. We could add “and Aussies demand… scientific proof. Or relevance. Or rationality. Or life empowerment. Or freedom of choice. Or improvement in quality of life.” All good human motivations to follow an idea.

V23 “But we preach Christ CRUCIFIED.” Ridiculous! A stumbling block to Jews, who’d NEVER connect the Messiah with crucifixion. How could their military rescuer suffer the defeat of DEATH?

And foolishness to Gentiles. God is spirit. ALOOF. Transcendent. He doesn’t come to EARTH. And get his hands dirty. And he CERTAINLY doesn’t lower himself to endure DEATH. Ridiculous!

We’ve seen God ridiculed in the last couple of weeks. Perhaps you heard the English comedian Stephen Fry’s rant. He’s intelligent, and articulate. Thoughtful and passionate.

He’s an atheist, but if he DID meet God, he’d ABUSE him for the way he chose to do things. For creating a world filled with all sorts of misery and evil. For allowing unspeakable suffering and then expecting us to bow down to him in grateful praise. It just doesn’t make sense.

And v21 actually says that’s the way God DESIGNED it. See there in v21? “For since IN THE WISDOM OF GOD, the world through its wisdom didn’t know him.”

That doesn’t mean he’s deliberately keeping us in the dark. But that God’s plan is we’ll never understand him when we start with HUMAN understanding. When we come at God with the PRIDE that says, “God, you come to me on MY TERMS, you fit MY categories, or don’t bother coming at ALL!”

But God’s plan is/ to understand him you don’t have to be as intelligent, or articulate, or passionate as Stephen Fry. Which is great news for me, because I fail on all THREE counts. Look at the great news of v24.

24 but to those whom God has CALLED, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

See the only necessary criteria? Not intelligent, articulate or passionate. Just… CALLED. GOD does it. Calls people. He’s the one who ENABLES people to recognise Jesus. That’s what the second half of ch 2 is about.

The message of the cross isn’t REALLY foolish. It just LOOKS that way. V6 of Ch 2, it’s actually WISDOM for those who are mature, v10 revealed by God’s Spirit. He’s the ONLY one who can understand God.

And that means, when I’m preparing to preach the Bible, when I’m translating, and making notes, and thinking, and reading commentaries. I’m WASTING MY TIME if I’m not PRAYING. Praying that God’s Spirit will help ME to understand it. And that God’s Spirit will help YOU to understand it. I’m WASTING MY TIME. I KNOW it, and yet my temptation, when time is SHORT, is to rush straight into DOING, rather than PRAYING. It takes God’s SPIRIT to see God’s wisdom in the gospel. It takes God’s Spirit (back up in Ch 1 v24) to see POWER in a broken body. To see WISDOM in the foolishness of a life given up.

It goes against human intuition. But SOMETIMES we DO catch a glimpse of the WISDOM AND POWER IN SACRIFICE. Like The Miracle on the River Kwai. The true story by Ernest Gordon, a British army officer, about the Allied P.O.W.’s building the Thai-Burma Railway for the Japanese.It was a time of utter misery and suffering. Thousands died of tropical diseases, malnutrition, or sheer exhaustion. Japanese guards would kill the weak, with bayonet, sword or club. For most of the war, the camp had been a place of survival of the fittest, where prisoners fought like animals over scraps of food, or possessions. At the end of one day a work group returned their shovels, but the Japanese guard counted them and found them one short. He demanded to know where the missing shovel was. The prisoners all shook their heads.

Gordon writes, “He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. “All die! All die!” he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward, and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to camp, the tools were counted again, and no shovel was missing.”He’d sacrificed his life for many. On the surface it seemed a foolish waste of life! For NOTHING! With no power or influence. For no purpose.

And yet, as the story continues, we see the wisdom and power in that sacrifice. That one act began to change hearts. Prisoners were inspired to show a new attitude of “you first” rather than “me first.” The sick were CARED FOR, rather than ABANDONED. The dead were buried with honour and respect, rather than piled up. The prisoners formed a library and taught courses in everything from maths to philosophy to languages. They staged plays. They formed an orchestra and held concerts. Camp conditions hadn’t changed. Frightful diseases still claimed lives. Food was still scarce and nauseating. But sacrifice had brought meaning out of misery. Gordon writes: “Death was still with us — no doubt about that. But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness, and pride were all ANTI-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity, and creative faith, on the other hand, were the ESSENCE of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God to men. There was death, but there was also life. God had not left us. He was with us calling us to live the divine life in fellowship.”That act of weakness and foolishness turned out to be wisdom and power.

And if it was true for ordinary humans in the Japanese P.O.W. camps. How much MORE is it true for the work of CHRIST, the perfect God-man, who died in our place? Whose weakness God turned into power. Who took our sin, and gave us his righteousness instead. Who gave up his life, so we could live.

The conclusion is there in v25. God’s plans, foolish and weak to the world, turn out to be wiser than man’s wisdom, and stronger than man’s strength.

Examples of weakness: The Corinthians

Paul’s made his case with respect to his MESSAGE. Now he’s gives a couple of personal examples to ILLUSTRATE it. Examples of weakness. First, the Corinthians. From v26. “Brothers, God CALLED you. What were you like when he did? Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

This wasn’t exactly a group who were the A-list of VIP’s in Corinth. They were just NORMAL. But Paul goes further. He probably could have stopped there, but he rubs it in. Not just what they WEREN’T, but what they WERE (v27). Foolish, weak, lowly, despised. Nothings. Paul really knows how to make friends and influence people! I can understand why he was single!

But Paul’s emphasis isn’t on THEM. It’s on GOD. He chose them ANYWAY! And notice WHY?

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world TO SHAME THE WISE; God chose the weak things of the world TO SHAME THE STRONG. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-TO NULLIFY THE THINGS THAT ARE,

Just like he’s ALWAYS done. He destroys the wisdom of the wise. Cuts it off at the knees. He refuses to be known through the world’s wisdom. And see his purpose there in v29? “So that no one may BOAST before him.” He chooses those who RECOGNISE their weakness and need. Who come to him with empty hands.

Jesus said, “Unless you accept the kingdom of God like a little child, you can’t enter it.” Children don’t do a deal with their parents to get fed, or clothed. They PRESUME it. They don’t come with the expectation of PAYMENT for services rendered. And that’s the only terms under which we can come to God. With no boasting.

Gough Whitlam was once asked in a TV interview what he thought God would say to him when they met in heaven, Whitlam replied that he didn’t know, but assured the interviewer that he’d treat God “as an equal”.It may have been tongue in cheek, or he may have been serious. But plenty of people have that exact same attitude, even if they don’t put it quite so boldly.

If they were to die tonight, and God were to ask them why he should let them into heaven, their instinctive response is, “Because I…” Because I’m a good person. Because I’m better than Betty. Because I’m generous. Because I’ve never had a speeding fine.That’s boasting before God. And he’ll have NONE of it. His intention instead is choosing ZEROS, not HEROES. So that we might sing “NOTHING in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling,”

(pause) But Paul’s not finished yet. It’s not just the CORINTHIANS who are nothing. He’s got a second example. PAUL HIMSELF is nothing. Ch 2,

2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,

Not only was his MESSAGE about a weak and foolish crucified Jesus. But his METHOD was weak and foolish TOO. There was no polished presentation. No slick show. In fact, far from power and pizazz, there was fear and fumbling.

On a HUMAN level, Paul seemed destined to FAIL. But what he DID have (the end of v4) was a demonstration of the Spirit’s POWER. God was pleased to use His simple message to SAVE PEOPLE. To drag them from darkness to light. In fact God LOVES to use a simple message, and a trembling, fumbling messenger (v5)so that YOUR FAITH MIGHT NOT REST ON MEN’S WISDOM, BUT ON GOD’S POWER.

So God wants me to spend more time in PRAYER over my sermon. And God wants you to spend more time in prayer for your non-Christian friends and family. And God wants us to have more people at our prayer meetings. Because that shows that our faith rests, not on men’s wisdom and words and strategy and events and money. But on God’s POWER.

He’s the ONE we need to be focussing on. Look at v30 of Ch 1.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

God, by his power, has CHOSEN us, and given us his Spirit to understand his foolish gospel and connected us to Jesus. And all we have, and who we are, is because of Jesus. We have righteousness. Declared innocent. We’re holy, and we’re BEING made holy. And we’ve been REDEEMED. Bought Back. Rescued.

And so, while we may have no grounds to be proud, or to boast in ourselves. There is ONE reason to boast. Boast in the LORD. Rejoice and glory in him. Shake your heads in amazement at his plans and his choice.

Weak, foolish, lowly ZEROS. That’s US. But God’s chosen LOWLY things, and given us EVERYTHING.

And when we begin to understand that, it will be the end of pride. The end of competition and comparison. It will become more important to humbly represent and imitate Jesus (to take up our cross) than to win an argument, and put someone in their place.

When we begin to understand the wisdom and the power of the cross, we’ll be able to REJOICE at the successes of others. Other PEOPLE, other MINISTRIES, other CHURCHES. We won’t MIND when we’re overlooked, or beaten, or second.

And we’ll be content. With what we have, and with who we are, and WHERE we are. We’ll let go of competing and comparing.

And it will be the end of striving. Of independence. Of worry. We’ll rest more and more on God’s power. And less and less on man’s wisdom.

Doesn’t that sound like TRUE wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:10-17: Cliques at Corinth

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ALL of you/ AGREE with one another so that there may be NO DIVISIONS among you and that you may be PERFECTLY UNITED in mind and thought.”

Paul launches straight into his number one issue. So I thought I’d do the same. V10. It’s a key verse in the whole letter. It’s about UNITY. And how important it is.

I’ve struggled all week to come up with a personal introduction. Some story about disunity and division. Normally that’s a BAD thing when I can’t think of an introduction. But I realise it’s actually GOOD. Because the churches I’ve been involved in have, largely, been UNITED and settled. Not PERFECT, just like Ashfield isn’t perfect. But even with differences of opinion, they’re generally all working for the same goal.Churches_of_Scotland_timeline

The tragedy is the same can’t be said for lots of other churches around. Like the Church of Scotland. Here’s a diagram showing the various splits and new denominations since the Reformation. Now, I know the Scots have a reputation for being disagreeable, but that’s just incredible. It would be FUNNY, if it wasn’t so tragic.

They’ve had divisions over THEOLOGY. Like when the Church of Scotland split from the Catholic Church. And splits over BISHOPS. Which produced the Episcopal church. They’ve had splits over the division of church and state. That led to the burghers and the anti-burghers. Which sounds more like a vegetarian restaurant.

The Covenanters split over using a prayer book. And they even split over the right of elders to disagree and object to decisions made at Assembly, which sounds VERY Scottish. The end result of it all is that, by the year 2000, Scotland had seven different Presbyterian denominations, as well as Episcopal and Catholic churches. All from ONE church.

You might think that’s an extreme example. But things aren’t much better in other parts of the world. Gordon Fee, in his commentary on these verses, is spot on.

“It’s easy to see the urgency of a paragraph like this for the contemporary church, which not only experiences quarrels such as these at the LOCAL level, but also is deeply fragmented at every OTHER level… Churches and denominations, renewal movements that all too often are broken off and become their own ‘church of Christ,’ and every imaginable individualistic movement and sect… The likelihood of total visible unity in the church is more remote than ever. This fragmentation is both a shame on our house and a cause for deep repentance.

If there’s a way forward, it probably lies less in structures and more in our readiness to recapture Paul’s focus here – on the PREACHING OF THE CROSS as the great divine contradiction to our merely human ways of doing things. (Fee, 1 Corinthians, 66)

And that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Focus on the SOURCE of our unity. On Christ, and his cross, and the gospel that proclaims him. And at the same time identify some of the traps, so we can avoid the mistakes THIS church made.

What?

So what is it Paul wants to see? V10, he APPEALS, PLEADS. “Brothers, each one of you, agree with one another, so that there’ll be NO DIVISIONS. And that you’ll be PERFECTLY UNITED in mind and thought.

“Brothers”, he calls them. Family. Family sticks together in the face of everything. FAMILY are connected by bonds stronger than FRIENDS. There may be times when you fight and argue, but you come back tomorrow. Because you’re still family. ONE family.

And he appeals to EACH ONE. It’s a group task, but there’s also an individual responsibility. Each person, in practical, small-scale decisions. At the level of how you respond in conversations and situations. What you choose to make an issue, and what you choose to overlook. Make the choice. Again and again. Agree. Be united.

And it’s an ACTIVE thing. It will take WORK and INTENTIONALITY. The word for BEING UNITED is also used for forming something, or restoring something, or mending fishing nets.

Are YOU active at building that unity here? Can you LIST the things you do/ that contribute to it?

And Paul’s EMPHASISING his point. He doesn’t just say it once. “Agree with one another” is literally, “speak the same.” Then he adds, be united in the same MIND, and the same THOUGHT OR INTENTION.The same, the same, the same. Get it into your heads.

“Speak the same” – perhaps it’s not translated more literally because it suggests everyone always has to agree about EVERYTHING. Is that what Paul wants? A church full of little clones?

Every church. Every FAMILY for that matter. Would fail THAT test!

No, Paul explains what he means in the negative. Speak the same means no DIVISIONS. Different OPINIONS are fine. But those opinions don’t DIVIDE.

I can have a different opinion about a literalistic 7 day creation, or about which Bible is the best translation, or about what you can do on a Sunday. But I’m not going to let those differences DIVIDE. Even as we try to convince the other person, we’re still UNITED in Christ.

It’s about the different between UNITY and UNIFORMITY. We’ll see later that Paul REJOICES in differences. In fact they’re CRUCIAL for the church to fulfil its mission. Up in Ch 12 he describes the church like a body, made up of Different parts. And each part has a different job. But they’re all working for the SAME GOAL. For the good of the body, and under the direction of the head, Jesus.

And that’s what we want at Petersham, with our new church plant. The core group is having their first pre-launch meeting this afternoon. And we want that group to have a whole range of different skills and gifts. Different ways of thinking about things. Different ages, and jobs, and preferences. Different connections to different parts of society. But we want them all to be united in their GOAL. With no divisions. All one in reaching Petersham and Marrickville with the gospel.

And that’s what Paul wanted to see at Corinth. But it’s not what was there. He’d heard, instead, there were divisions and quarrels. V12.

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Rather than EACH ONE AGREEING. Instead, EACH ONE was saying, “I follow THIS person”, or “I follow THAT person,”

You see Corinth, like every church, had a history. We read about it in Acts Ch 18. Paul arrived, met Priscilla and Aquila, v2, and over a period of time, preached the gospel, and planted the church.

He stayed for a year and a half (v11), so he’d know people WELL. They’d be loyal to him. They’d owe their salvation, humanly speaking, to Paul.

Then he leaves for Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila come too. And it’s there they meet Apollos. V24 tells us he was educated, and knew the Scriptures well. And he spoke passionately and boldly about Jesus.

Priscilla and Aquila encourage him to head over to Corinth to help the church there. Which he DOES. V27. He was A GREAT HELP. For he “vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” He was a champion public speaker. Seems he was more powerful than Paul himself. And HE attracted a loyal following.

Then there was a group who followed CEPHAS. That’s the Apostle Peter’s Jewish name. And perhaps they were the Jewish traditionalists. Who thought the ORIGINAL was always the BEST. Paul and Apollos were just the new kids. Pale imitations. But Peter was the original apostle. He’d walked with Jesus. And so they were loyal to HIM.

And LASTLY, there were some who said, “You’re ALL wrong. We follow CHRIST. Which no one would argue with.

And while having opinions is fine. When it leads to DIVISIONS, that’s when it’s a problem. And it seems that even the group who say, “I follow Christ” were causing divisions and quarrels. And that’s what Paul’s worried about.

The problem of pride

So what’s the SIN in having different opinions, or different groups? When does it become sin for one person to prefer modern music, and another to prefer hymns? Or one person who prefers Lords’ Supper MONTHLY, and another who prefers it QUARTERLY?

I think there’s two ways these sorts of opinions can cross over into sin. When they’re driven by pride and superiority. And when the focus on Christ is lost.

Firstly, the problem of pride. THIS, I think, is the sin for that group who said, “I follow Christ.” I’ve heard a similar thing when two people are having a biblical debate, and ONE person dismissively says, “You believe what YOU want. I’ll just believe THE BIBLE.”

Which BOTH sides want to do. But the message that’s sent by that comment is that the OTHER person DOESN’T believe the Bible, because they don’t agree with the FIRST person. That’s causing DIVISION.And we can fall into the same trap. When you’re discussing a point of difference with someone, is there a humility that’s willing to LISTEN? Or are you just waiting for them to stop talking so you can convince them that you’re right? There’s no place for PRIDE when the church is supposed to be perfectly UNITED. United is BUILT by good listening, with humility.

The problem of personalities

And then there’s the problem of PERSONALITIES. The problem of people getting distracted from following Christ because they’re too busy following Christ’s FOLLOWERS. It’s a problem because Christ is the one who SAVES them. And all his SERVANTS are NOTHING.

And Paul’s ARGUMENT is there in v13. Three rhetorical questions you obviously answer NO to. All designed to direct them back to Christ.V13. Is Christ divided? Answer: Of COURSE not. So you shouldn’t be either. Was Paul crucified for you? Answer: Of COURSE not. (Neither was Apollos or Cephas either). So don’t follow THEM. It was Christ who was crucified for you! He’s the one you owe your LIFE to.

And, thirdly, were you baptised into the name of Paul? Ridiculous! Answer: Of course not! You were baptised into the name of Christ. So follow HIM! Not Paul.Christ is the centre, and the author and the Saviour.

(pause) But I think Paul’s saying something even MORE profound. And it’s to do with what it means to be baptised INTO the name of Christ. Which symbolises us being CONNECTED to him.

In Colossians 2 Paul explains the idea in more depth. V6. Just as you RECEIVED Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to LIVE IN HIM, rooted and built up IN HIM.

A bit further on he says, “You have been given fullness IN CHRIST. IN HIM you were circumcised, putting off the old nature, having been buried WITH him IN BAPTISM, and raised WITH him, who God raised from the dead.

Baptism into Jesus’ name symbolises being CONNECTED to Jesus. So with that background, let’s think about the logic of Paul’s three questions. I’ll make them STATEMENTS.

  1. Christ isn’t divided. He’s ONE. One NAME, one IDENTITY.
  2. He was crucified for you all. He defeated death and sin for you all. And then you were ALL BAPTISED INTO HIS NAME.

Which means something like “you were joined to him in fellowship.” That’s what it says back in v8. God called you into fellowship with his Son.

And that means

  1. That YOU ALL must be ONE. Because you’re all connected to Christ, who is ONE.

To use a different picture. There’s ONE VINE. You’re all connected to the ONE vine. Therefore, you’re all ONE.

I think that helps explain something a bit unusual back in v10. Paul appeals IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST that everyone agree. Which normally means something like I appeal by the AUTHORITY of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the Greek is unusual here. It actually says something a bit different. It says, “I appeal to you brothers/ BECAUSE OF (OR THROUGH) the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that you all agree with one another.Which connects Jesus’ name to the agreeing AFTER it, rather than the appeal BEFORE it.

Which would mean something like. BECAUSE Jesus is ONE. Because he has ONE NAME. One IDENTITY. YOU, who are all connected to him, should ALSO be one.

His appeal to be ONE is based on the nature of JESUS. He’s the centre of everything, All our life comes from him. And our forgiveness, and victory.

He’s the one who DESERVES all the attention. All the PRAISE. Which is why it’s so foolish to be focussing on PERSONALITIES, like Paul and Apollos instead.

The problem was Corinth was a city USED to giving praise and admiration to the top public speakers. The orators were the celebrities of the day.

Speakers like Dio Chrysostum, A Greek orator and historian. Chrysostom was his nickname. It means “golden-mouth”. Like John Laws, The golden voice with the golden microphone. One of his most famous speeches was a little comedy number called, “In praise of HAIR.” Yes, HILARIOUS!

Chrysostom wrote, “When I’d go to a major city, they’d be begging me to address them and advise them, and crowds would flock about my doors from early dawn.”

This guy was a ROCKSTAR. Bigger than the Beatles. With a RIOT of screaming fans outside his house wherever he stayed. All longing for a word, and an autograph.

And the CHURCH at Corinth was just falling in line. Some in Paul’s fan club. And others in Apollos’, or even Cephas’.

Down in v17 Paul makes a pointed comment. I didn’t come to get involved in THAT sort of stuff. In the celebrity cult. I was sent to PREACH THE GOSPEL, NOT with words of human wisdom. It literally says, “not in wisdom of WORDS.” That describes Chrysostom and his type PERFECTLY. Wisdom of WORDS.

The problem, Paul says in v17, is that sort of attitude ROBS THE CROSS OF ITS POWER. It EMASCULATES it. EMPTIES it.

Because it shifts peoples’ eyes from the CROSS to the PREACHER. From the subject of the message to the message itself. It shifts their confidence to the power of the preacher to convince. Rather than the power of the Spirit to transform. And a preacher can’t save ANYONE. A preacher is POWERLESS.

It’s the problem of PERSONALITY. And I wonder if we’re not actually WORSE OFF TODAY than Corinth. Because in these days of the internet, we have the best preachers in the world at our fingertips.

And we can spend our whole time listening to John Piper. Or Don Carson, or Martin Lloyd-Jones or Tim Keller. And they’re all great preachers, who preach the gospel VERY WELL. The problem is not with them, just like it wasn’t with Paul or Apollos or Cephas. The problem is with hearers who shift their attention. Their confidence. Their priority, from Christ as revealed in the Bible. To preachers who POINT to him. And their focus becomes how powerful the PREACHER was, rather than how powerful the SAVIOUR was. That’s how the gospel is emptied of its power.

Let me give you an example. An online biography of one of these big name preachers says this. Thankfully, not written by the preacher himself.

*** is the founding pastor of *** Church, and is one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors. His audience—fans and critics alike—spans the theological and cultural left and right. He was also named one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years by Preaching magazine, and his audio sermon podcasts is regularly #1 on iTunes for Religion & Spirituality chart and in the Top 50 of all podcasts, with about 10 million sermons listened to and watched each year.

No WONDER people want to listen to him! And, if I’m honest, it’s hard, as a preacher, not to be just a little bit jealous. But what does it say about his MESSAGE? Where’s JESUS in that bio?

Because that was ALWAYS Paul’s focus. The gospel of Jesus. Who was CRUCIFIED for you. Who you were baptised into fellowship with.

I don’t want to discourage you from listening to internet sermons AT ALL. It’s a fantastic idea! But listen prayerfully, and humbly, and in a Christ-centred and thankful way. Keeping HIM the focus.

So?

So what’s all that mean for US? As far as I can see there’s no major divisions or disagreements among us. There’s no groups lining up behind personalities. In fact, at Home Group on Friday, I asked if anyone could REMEMBER a big issue. And no one really COULD.Let’s make sure we KEEP DOING the SAME.

We have one Saviour and Lord and head. This is HIS church. We need to keep checking that we’re heading in HIS direction. That we’re all UNITED in that. That we don’t get distracted by less important tasks and agenda. That we keep our priorities clear. With Jesus, and the things that exalt HIM, and that proclaim HIM, as our TOP priorities.

And as we DO those things, that we REJOICE in our DIVERSITY. All sorts of different racial backgrounds, and languages, and upbringings. All sorts of different gifts and ways of thinking about things. And that we work hard at MENDING THE NETS of our unity. At understanding our differences, and listening to each other. And noticing and welcoming and encouraging each other to USE those diverse gifts.

So that, in EVERYTHING we do, the cross of Christ might not be EMPTIED of its power. But might result in many people being saved. Being brought from death to life. For JESUS’ honour and glory, and nothing of ourselves.

1 Corinthians 9:12-27: 40 Days of Purpose 6: Evangelism: Made for a Mission

L. played his soccer grand final yesterday. They lost. But I think he’s moved on already. For the last few months Lachlan’s dragged himself off to practice twice a week. But he’s OVER soccer – at least for THIS year.

 

He still likes PLAYING, but he gets bored with the same old drills at training week after week. And he’s had enough of the tantrums from some of the other players.

 

But his coach still pushes them hard. Gets very worked up. He REALLY wants to win.

 

It’s a bit of a problem when you don’t want the same things as the one who’s in charge. When your priorities are different.

 

And it sometimes seems like Christians are like that when it comes to EVANGELISM. Telling people the good news about Jesus.

 

We can see the IMPORTANCE of it. At least THEORETICALLY. But for most people it doesn’t seem that important PRACTICALLY. There’s not much in their life that SHOWS that people becoming Christians is important.

 

It seems we don’t think it’s as important as GOD does. Dare I say it, sometimes it seems like we’re OVER it.

 

I read about two men who’d been business partners for over twenty years. They met one Sunday morning at the newsagent.

 

One of them asked, “Where are you going this morning?” “I’m going to play golf.  What about you?” The first man responded, “I’m going to church.”

 

The other man said, “Why don’t you give up that church stuff?” The man asked, “What do you mean?” “Well, we’ve been partners for twenty years.  We’ve worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you’ve never asked me to go to church.  You’ve never invited me to come with you.  Obviously, it doesn’t mean that much to you.”

 

For many Cs, it doesn’t seem like evangelism is that important at all. Rick Warren says that Christians and non-Christians AGREE when it comes to evangelism – NEITHER of them LIKE IT!!

 

Evangelism. Or MISSION. Is the fifth, and final, purpose God has for your life.

 

What God Wants

It’s a bit of a problem when you don’t want the same things as the one who’s in charge. And the reality is God wants nothing more than to see people SAVED. Becoming Christians.

 

There’s a        of verses printed there in the news sheet that make that point. The first verse is from 1 Tim 2:4.

1 Tim 2:4-6: God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

He hates to see people thumbing their noses at him. He hates the thought of people headed for eternity without him. But he LOVES it when people RECOGNISE him, and turn back in repentance. Jesus says there’s a party in heaven every time ONE sinner repents!

And you wondered whether you made a difference in the Universe? But heaven ROARED when you accepted God’s gift of forgiveness.

And just in case you doubt that God really DOES want people to be saved. Look at how it continues.

5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.

 

The cross is God’s PROOF of his love. HOW MUCH does God want to save you? How much does he LOVE you? How much does he want to spend eternity with you?

 

THIS MUCH (       arms wide)

 

Among other things, the cross is God’s PUBLIC DECLARATION of how much he loved the world.

 

Some people pay for a newspaper advertisement to show their love. Or buy a huge diamond ring. Or skywriting. Or a public marriage proposal at a footy game.

 

Or even a tattoo with their loved ones name or picture. That’s COMMITMENT! But there’s plenty of people who’ve regretted THAT one.

 

But God publicly declared his love for his world, and wrote it in LETTERS OF BLOOD. John 3:16

16 “For God so LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his ONE AND ONLY SON, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

The cross is ONE proof that God loves to see people saved. And here’s the SECOND proof – the fact he hasn’t sent Jesus back yet.

 

Have a look at the second verse printed there. It’s from 2 Peter Ch 3. Some people were making fun of the Christians. “Where’s this Jesus you said was going to come back? He’s taking AGES. Perhaps he’s not really coming.”

 

And so Peter writes to REASSURE the Christian church.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is NOT slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is PATIENT with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.

 

Peter says, it’s got nothing to do with God not keeping his promise. Or giving up on you. In fact, the OPPOSITE’S true. It’s all because he wants to see people saved so much. He’s hanging on AS LONG AS HE POSSIBLY CAN because he doesn’t want anyone to perish.

 

Like the father who runs back into the burning house again and again. Searching every room, rescuing everyone of his children. Risking death himself. The flames grow bigger and bigger, but his love is so great, he’ll hang on as long as he possibly can because he doesn’t want anyone to perish.

 

To value evangelism, you need to want the same things God wants. And NOTHING is more important to God than saving lost people.

 

Mission Possible

It’s why Jesus came. It was HIS mission. And the mission he gave for US to continue.

 

After his resurrection, Jesus was preparing his disciples. He had A MISSION for them. In John 20:21, he says

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I AM SENDING YOU.”

 

The mission HE had is the mission he’s given THE DISCIPLES. And what’s more, he’s given it to US AS WELL. The mission to GO FISH. Of proclaiming the news that Jesus is King. And that he’s beaten sin and death.

 

A few days later, Jesus is about to return to heaven. But here’s what his final words were. Describing the nature of the mission he’s sending the disciples on. Acts1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Jesus calls us to be WITNESSES. Notice what he DOESN’T say. He doesn’t say, “You will be my DEFENCE LAWYER.”  He didn’t say, “You will be my SALESMAN.”

 

You don’t have to come up with a tricky and complicated strategy. You don’t have to CONVINCE someone to buy your product. And you don’t need to DEFEND God.

 

All God wants you to do is to be A WITNESS. What is a witness?  A witness is somebody who just tells what they’ve SEEN. From their point of view.

 

And that makes you an EXPERT WITNESS. Because no one knows YOUR LIFE  better than YOU.

 

And Jesus calls you to tell people about YOUR EXPERIENCE of Jesus. What does Jesus mean to YOU? What difference has he made in your life? How have your prayers been answered? How do you see life differently now you’re following Jesus?

 

And the up-side of that is that people like to hear about personal stories. Much more interesting that THEORY. Or FACTS. People these days are less interested in whether something’s TRUE than they are in whether something WORKS.

 

Does Jesus WORK for you? Is life BETTER with Jesus? Is it richer, deeper, brighter? Do you have more purpose? More joy? More assurance? More hope? More LOVE? More forgiveness?

 

Do you have less fear? Less guilt? Less frustration? Less bitterness?

 

Have you THOUGHT about those things? Why not spend some time writing them down?

 

Jesus calls you to be a WITNESS. A witness of what you’ve seen and experienced.

 

An introduction agency – 2 Cor 5:18

ANOTHER way of thinking about your mission. Is that God wants you to be an INTRODUCTION AGENCY.

 

I don’t know whether any of you have had much success as a MATCH-MAKER. Setting up two friends who you KNOW would make a great       .

 

My sister’s still single. And we’ve been trying to introduce her to suitable single guys for YEARS.

 

I’ve said to Casey McNeill as long as I’ve known her I want to find her A NICE CHRISTIAN BOY. Maybe one day I’ll succeed.

 

If you’ve had any success as a matchmaker, you’ll know what a nice feeling it is to introduce two of YOUR friends to each other. And then to see them HAPPY.

 

And it’s the same with evangelism. Here’s the way Paul describes his mission in 2 Cor 5.18.

2 Cor 5:18-20 God reconciled us to himself through Christ and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:(that’s just MAKING FRIENDS)

 

Look at the next verse. How that friendship begins.

19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be RECONCILED TO GOD.

 

We’re to be bringing people and God together. Match-making. Turning enemies into friends.

 

It’s heart-breaking when we know that close friends or family don’t understand the joy we’ve got. That they’re missing out on Jesus. And that they won’t be with us in eternity.

 

And if we get joy out of seeing two FRIENDS get together, how much MORE joy should we get when we see Jesus and one of our OTHER friends introduced to each other. How good is THAT!!!

 

Be prepared! – 1 Peter 3:15-16

One other aspect of your mission the Bible teaches is that we’re to BE PREPARED. The opportunity to say something about Jesus could pop up when you least expect it. And you need to be READY. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says this

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience,

 

Which has got nothing to do with Bible-bashing someone, or lecturing them. It’s about BUILDING bridges, not TEARING THEM DOWN. You want to have conversations with people that will make them keen to speak to you AGAIN about Jesus. Not turn them off so they cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming.

 

Colossians 4: 5 says

Be WISE in the way you act toward outsiders; MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

 

Be Prepared!

 

All things to all men – 1 Cor 9:19-23

Let me say a few words about the HOW of taking opportunities. HOW we go about giving an answer for the hope that’s in us. Open your Bibles to 1 Cor 9. It’s the passage read earlier. Down at v19.

 

Paul’s talking about how he gives up his right to earning a wage for the sake of the gospel. And then he goes on to show how this attitude flows into EVERYTHING he does. It’s not just to do with MONEY. He gives up EVERY OTHER RIGHT. Whatever is needed, so that people might be saved. Verse 19.

(1 Cor 9:19 NIV)  Though I am free and belong to no man, I MAKE MYSELF A SLAVE TO EVERYONE, to WIN as MANY as possible.

 

And then he gives some examples. A whole approach to life that’s based on giving up HIS preferences for the sake of others. MOVING TOWARDS SOMEONE ELSE to make the gospel more acceptable. Whether it’s Jews in v20. Or non-Jews in v21. Look at his summary in v22.

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some

 

For you it might mean joining the RSL Club because that’s where your workmates go after work. It might mean signing up for an Adult Education craft, or cooking, course with your neighbour. Or joining a gym with your workmate during your lunch hour. Or organising a Father and Son camping weekend with your son’s soccer team. Or coaching your daughter’s netball team. Or volunteering for the P&F association at your school.

 

Because that’s the way to build bridges with people who don’t know Jesus.

 

WHATEVER it might be. It’s about giving up your rights. So the gospel might be furthered. And it often means doing what DOESN’T come NATURALLY because it’s what gives you the opportunity to share Jesus.

 

And remember your motive’s to SHARE THE GOSPEL. The temptation for me is to DO those things so people will think I’m a good guy. “Oh, isn’t Dave good. He gives up his time to coach this, or do that!”

 

But it’s got to be FOR THE GOSPEL. Look at v23.

23 I do all this FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Check your motives. How is the truth of the gospel impacting on those relationships you’re building? How is it redeeming the time you’re putting into them?

 

Are you sharing IN WORD as well as ACTION?

 

Being all things to all men would be an EASY life if we were just yes-men. Chameleons changing to suit whatever environment we were in. Following the path of least resistance. Never wanting to disappoint anyone. But that’s not what Paul means by being all things to all men. That’s not Paul’s motivation. His lifestyle is much more difficult.

 

He does it so that people might hear and understand and accept the good news about Jesus.

 

So get training! – 1 Cor 9:24-27

It’s NOT an easy life. Keeping the gospel as number one priority is hard-work. It’s easy to SAY. But much harder to DO. When it comes to the cold, hard facts of how you use the hours in your day. How you fill up your evenings. Or your holidays. Or what you direction you steer conversations in.

 

Every choice you make. The hard decisions about putting yourself SECOND. And someone else FIRST.

 

Next week is the evangelistic breakfast. You’ve got the choice to invite someone along. Or you could just sleep in. What will you CHOOSE?

 

On the 29th of this month is the Woodcroft Festival. You’ve got the choice to come and help. To talk to people. To hand out leaflets. To ask them what they think about God. About the world. Or you could choose to stay at home and read the paper.

 

Janice has organised a whole stack of brochures and maps for letter-boxing. You could choose to take a few bundles. And then rearrange a few things in your week to DELIVER them. Or you could choose to let SOMEONE ELSE do it.

 

Keeping the gospel NUMBER ONE is hard work. Takes tough decisions. Sometimes it will have tough CONSEQUENCES.

 

So Paul says GET TRAINING. V24. Just like a runner who runs until he drops. All just to win a medal or a trophy. Paul says we should strive just as hard. V24

Run IN SUCH A WAY as to get the prize.

 

The athlete’s totally focussed. His eyes are always on the goal. His diet, and sleep patterns, and training, and social life, and work commitments, are all designed around that final goal. Of winning the contest.

 

And Paul’s point is that THEY’RE devoted to a prize that DOESN’T LAST. How much more should Christians strive for the ETERNAL prize. The inheritance that God’s got for us in heaven. Verse 25.

(1 Cor 9:25 NIV) They do it to get a crown that WILL NOT LAST; but we do it to get a crown that will last FOREVER.

 

And with a crown like that in view, a Christian’s training should be just as single-minded. Verse 26.

(1 Cor 9:26-27 NIV)  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. {27} No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

 

He trains. And punishes his body. He works on his weaknesses. He crucifies the old nature. He does without physical comforts. He endures prison and beatings.

 

Because his eyes are on the prize. Not the gold medal from some politician. But the reward of seeing people in eternity because he introduced them to Jesus. The reward of a “Well done, good and faithful servant” from his Lord and Saviour. The Master who’d given his servant the task. “Proclaim my gospel”.

 

A huge and scary mission. But you’ll never find one that’s more important. Or more satisfying.

 

You’re not alone

And one final point. Remember you’re not alone. God doesn’t give us our mission AS INDIVIDUALS. But AS A CHURCH. It’s a mission we work at TOGETHER. Supporting each other. Training each other. Standing SIDE BY SIDE as we present Jesus to a world that’s perishing. 1 Peter 2:9 says

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

 

We’re not a thousands of individuals. We’re a PEOPLE. A NATION.

 

I know it’s not a word, but the Jeff Fenech “youze” actually translates this BETTER. It’s plural “you” here.

But youze are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that youze may declare the praises of him who called youze out of darkness into his wonderful light.

 

It’s what God made you for. For MISSION.

 

Let’s work at it TOGETHER. Standing side by side. As a holy and royal people. People who know the light. Declaring his praises to a dark world. There’s nothing God wants MORE.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9: The Perfect Church

https://i2.wp.com/www.kingdomcongress.com/uploads/1/2/7/6/12765503/9584940_orig.jpgHave you heard the line, “Don’t bother looking for the perfect church. Because if you ever find it, and you JOIN it, then it won’t be perfect anymore!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in the perfect church? Where everyone was always kind, considerate and loving. Everyone always agreed. Where the teaching was always fantastic. Pitched at just the right level – not too complicated, not too simplistic. Where the application was always challenging, but not TOO challenging.

Where the music was exactly right – not too modern, not too old, not too fast, not too slow, not too loud, not too soft.

The seats were just right, the lighting was spot on, the temperature was always perfect.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to even imagine it. Because there’s no such thing as the perfect church. And even if it was perfect for YOU, it wouldn’t suit someone else.

What it boils down to is that there’s no perfect church because every church is made up of sinful people.

Yet, the message from these verses is that in a sense each church IS perfect.

This church is perfect because THE CHURCH BELONGS TO GOD, and he’s FULLY EQUIPPED IT for the job. The church is God’s PERFECT PLACE for IMperfect Christians to spend their lives.

We’ve got everything God intends us to have. So, in a way, you’re ALREADY part of the perfect church.

And it’s this perspective Paul has at the start of his letter. He recognises there’s so much that’s GOOD in the Corinthian church.

In lots of ways it’s a church with PLENTY of problems. Which we’ll see more of as we work through the letter. But here at the beginning, he thanks God for what’s GOOD at Corinth.

But before we look at CORINTH. What about OUR church? What’s GOOD about OUR church you can thank God for? I know the temptation is to notice the PROBLEMS. (What’s NOT being done well). But, as you look around, where can you see God at work? Where can you see evidence of God’s grace in people, and in things we’re doing? Things to thank God for.

One of the things we’ll be doing at the church retreat in a few weeks will be asking some of those questions. What’s WORKING?

And we’ll ALSO be thinking about how we can IMPROVE. Where are the weaknesses, and blind spots. And we need EVERYONE to give their input. I hope you can be there to be part of the discussion, and part of the solution

Certainly what we’re AIMING to be is in our church VISION document. Which says that we’re GROWING FOLLOWERS OF JESUS by building bridges to GENUINE COMMUNITY AROUND CHRIST.

That’s the GOAL. And so we do a whole lot of things that move us TOWARDS that. As we meet together in different settings, as we teach the Bible, as we meet in Home Groups and working groups, as we run various outreach events. All those interactions are serving to build bridges with each other and the community, so that we GROW PEOPLE AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS.

Some of those things we’re doing WELL. Others we need to keep working on.

How well are we hitting the target?

  1. The perfect church is God’s church (v2)

But let’s get back to the Corinthian church. How does Paul describe IT? The FIRST, and most IMPORTANT aspect is there at the start. Look at v2.

To the church OF GOD in Corinth,

Whose church are they? They’re GOD’S church. They’re not the church of St Andrew, or St Paul, or Our Lady of the Rosary, or Our Lady of Lourdes, or Sacred heart, or Holy Name of Mary.

Right from the start he puts them in their right place. Because this group of Christians isn’t INDEPENDENT. They’re not self-governing. A republic, or a democracy. They’re GOD’S church. A THEOcracy!

And they’re just ONE SMALL PART of a BIGGER PICTURE. See there at the end of v2?

“(To the church of God in Corinth)… TOGETHER WITH ALL THOSE EVERYWHERE WHO CALL ON THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST – THEIR LORD AND OURS”

There’s a bigger agenda than just one local church’ concerns. Each church is building GOD’S kingdom, not their own little empire. Which means there shouldn’t be competition between churches. There should be active cooperation. There should be rejoicing when another church is healthy and growing.

And if this is God’s church, then it means it’s not YOUR church either. It might be the church you COME to, and it might be the church you’re a MEMBER of. But it’s not YOUR church. Or mine. Or the Presbyterian denomination’s. It’s GOD’S church.

And that means He’s the only one who has the right to decide what we should DO. God’s PRIORITIES should be our priorities. God’s KINGDOM should be our chief concern. God’s PURPOSES should be OUR purposes. God’s METHODS should be OUR methods.

And look at what God’s purposes ARE. Verse 2 again.

(To the church of God in Corinth), TO THOSE SANCTIFIED IN CHRIST JESUS and CALLED TO BE HOLY,

To be God’s church means to be set apart for his purposes.

God’s SANCTIFIED them in Christ Jesus. In other words, he’s SET THEM APART. It’s something he’s ALREADY DONE. When they believed in Jesus, God put them to one side. They were going to be DIFFERENT. That was their calling.

It’s the same word we get SAINTS from. And HOLY. But it’s not saying just SPECIAL people are saints. EVERY Christian is a saint, because every Christian’s been SET APART by God to be his child. In a different category to the rest of the world.

And he’s done that FOR A PURPOSE. Just like Paul was called to be an apostle. They were called TO BE HOLY. Different. Pure. Like God. It was their purpose, their goal, their reason for living.

And it’s a theme Paul’s going to keep coming back to. Again and again. Because in lots of ways the Corinthian church DIDN’T look much different. In fact, they blended in a little TOO well with the immorality and darkness around them.

Paul says, here at the start, “You’re called to be DIFFERENT. ACT like it. You’re supposed to be SET APART. LOOK like it. LIVE UP to your calling!”

And the question can be asked of us, too. We’ve been called to be HOLY. Different from those around us.

How different ARE we?

Is there a difference in your JOY? Your CONTENTMENT?

If you compared your weekly budget – what you spend your money on – to that of your neighbour. Would it look any different? It should!

Or your weekly time sheet – what you spend your time doing? Would it look much different from the rest of the people in your street? It should.

Or how HARD you work? And the Attitude you have as you DO it? Is it DIFFERENT? It SHOULD be!

Or how you SPEAK to people. Especially when no one knows you’re a Christian. Is there grace and acceptance and gentleness? In a way that’s DIFFERENT to those around you? Different to the usual short-tempered, self-centred, impatient, self-seeking talk.

Or what about us AS A GROUP? We’re looking to build genuine COMMUNITY? How different is OUR community from that of the local soccer club, or RSL, or gardening club? If someone overheard our conversations, could they TELL we were different?

God’s called you to be holy. Set apart. Different. Because you’re God’s church.

  1. The perfect church is rich in God’s gifts (4-6)

The next point he makes is that the perfect church IS RICH IN GOD’S GIFTS. Have a look at what Paul thanks God for. Verse 4.

Now all you’ve got to do is flick through the rest of the letter, and it doesn’t take you long to realise there’s a lot WRONG with this church!

It was full of divisions and disagreements. There was sexual immorality. People were suing each other. They were criticising Paul behind his back.

At their church dinners, the rich were pigging out while the poor went hungry. The church meetings were a shambles with people calling out whenever they felt like it. They loved their spiritual gifts, and were proud of the power they had.

There were plenty of things Paul COULD have said to begin with.

But he chose to thank GOD for them. Which he does because it’s God’s CHURCH. And he’s the one who’s RESPONSIBLE for it. Who gives the gifts in the first place. And who causes it to grow.

That’s the right perspective to have. There’s no reason to be proud of something you received AS A GIFT. It’s God who deserves to be thanked for all the Corinthians have. Because he’s the CAUSE of it all.

And notice all his gifts come because of Jesus. v4

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

God looks favourably on his children because of Jesus. It’s only BECAUSE we’re IN Jesus – CONNECTED to him – that we receive God’s grace. He’s the MEANS and the CAUSE of it all.

Then Paul moves onto specifics. Particular things God’s given to the Corinthians. And what’s surprising are the things he chooses.

Now if it was me. And I had a whole list of things I was going to criticise them for, I’d have found something ELSE to be thankful for.

A bit like school reports. You always try to begin by saying something nice – even the worst student. He may be badly behaved, or can’t string two words together. But it’s always good to find SOMETHING nice to say.

“Jimmy tries hard” is a popular one. “Jenny sits up straight” “John has a nice part in his hair” “Sonya has shiny shoes”

ANYTHING to sound positive. But that’s not what Paul does. He thanks God for the VERY THINGS that are causing him grief. Look at v5.

For in him you have been enriched in every way–IN ALL YOUR SPEAKING AND IN ALL YOUR KNOWLEDGE–

Speaking and knowledge. Corinth loved eloquent speakers. Orators. Smooth and profound and slick. In fact, they were a bit like rock stars. Or Anthony Robbins – the motivational speaker. Or standup comedians. They’d travel around, and get paid to speak.

And then there was KNOWLEDGE. Greek philosophy reckoned knowledge was the highest form of good. Knowledge lifted you out of the everyday. Onto a higher plane of consciousness.

And it seems like the Corinthians looked down on Paul because his message wasn’t wise or polished. You can see that in Ch 2. Speech and knowledge were the very things the Corinthians thought they had PLENTY OF.

And Paul AGREES. He says they’ve been ENRICHED. And yet, here’s Paul thanking God that he’s ESPECIALLY given them those gifts.

You see, it’s not the GIFTS THEMSELVES that are the problem. They CAN’T be. Because they’re gifts from God. But it’s their ATTITUDE to the gifts that’s wrong.

Gifts should never be used PROUDLY, but in LOVE. Love for God, and for each other.

As soon as a gift is used in church from the wrong motive, any benefit is lost. Look at how Paul puts it in ch 13 v 1. Familiar words. And notice he’s talking about speech and knowledge.

If I SPEAK in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and CAN FATHOM ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I AM NOTHING.

Speech and knowledge without love are nothing. But WITH love, they’re great gifts we need to thank God for. And that’s why Paul does it.

How do YOU use the gifts God’s given you? What’s your motivation? Are you motivated by love? Or is there some other reason?

Perhaps you want to be NOTICED. Or respected. Or appreciated. Perhaps you like being the centre of attention.

Or perhaps your motivation is personal. It makes you feel good about yourself when you help or serve. Perhaps there’s a nagging doubt that somehow this ministry will make you more acceptable before God. Closer to God.

Or perhaps you’re not using your gifts AT ALL. And that’s no BETTER. It’s still coming from selfish, self-centred motives. God HAS gifted you. And you don’t think his gifts are VALUABLE enough to USE. You’ve kept them wrapped up in a cupboard.

We show our gratitude to God for his good gifts to us by USING them with humble servant-hearts.

The perfect church is RICH in God’s gifts.

  1. The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus (7)

The THIRD characteristic of the perfect church is connected to the SECOND. The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus. Look at the connection in v7.

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

The POINT of the gifts God gives us is to use them as we wait for Jesus’ return.

You see, gifts aren’t just for NOW. They’re not for our own AMUSEMENT. There’s a GOAL in mind. An INTENTION. It’s like the difference between a Sony Playstation game. And an Airforce jet flight simulator. Two people playing them might look pretty similar. Like they’re doing the same things. But ONE has no real purpose. No real goal apart from the immediate fun of the moment. That’s the way the Corinthians were treating their gifts.

But for Paul, the Christian life and God’s gifts were like the flight simulator. Pilots preparing for the ultimate mission. That was the goal that motivated them. Helped them focus. ONE DAY they’ll get behind the controls of a REAL jet fighter..

The purpose of gifts isn’t just for NOW. Gifts are to be used as we wait eagerly for Jesus. To get people ready for that day. To encourage and evangelise and discipline and teach and rebuke and pray and disciple and train and correct. To grow people as followers of Jesus. So that they’ll be READY when he comes back. So that YOU’LL be ready – so you can give an account for YOUR gifts. That’s how you eagerly wait for Jesus.

It’s like the parable Jesus tells about the servants. Matthew 25:14. Their Master goes on a journey, and puts them in charge until he returns. That’s US. In charge until the Master returns. Each day is to be spent looking after the Master’s affairs. Keeping them in good order, being good stewards of the investment he’s left us with. So that when he returns, there’ll be a RETURN for his INVESTMENT.

Do we use our gifts with that perspective in mind?

“I feel like giving up at Youth Group, but I want these kids to be ready for Jesus.”

“I’m tired of teaching Sunday School. No one seems to notice, or appreciate me. But I can’t wait for JESUS’ appreciation. For that day when he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”’.

Or “Meeting with that difficult person to read the Bible and pray is such an effort. They’re so needy, and I feel so drained. But I’ve got the time at the moment. And he needs the encouragement to keep going. And when Jesus returns, he’ll expect a report on how I’ve USED that opportunity.”

The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus

  1. The perfect church is sustained by God’s faithfulness (v8-9)

But not only THAT. God doesn’t just motivate us by the PROMISE of Jesus’ return, he’s at work SUSTAINING us so we MAKE it. Verse 8.

He will KEEP YOU STRONG to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God equips us at every point. At the beginning, God CALLS us to be holy. Then, along the way, he enriches us with gifts as we wait for Jesus’ return. And then he keeps us strong, so we’ll MAKE it.

How does he keep us strong? By his Spirit, he GUIDES us, and PROTECTS us, and CONVICTS us of sin. His Spirit gives us the words to say as we witness for him. He makes our faith SURE.

But it’s not just as INDIVIDUALS. That’s a PLURAL “you” – Y’ALL if you’re American. Youse if you’re Australian.

He keeps ALL his people strong to the end. It’s a TEAM SPORT, not an individual race. Which is where CHURCH comes in. ONE of the ways he keeps us strong us by the ORDINARY MEANS OF OTHER CHRISTIANS. We each have a responsibility, together with God, to be helping each OTHER stay strong.

You see that emphasis in Hebrews 10:24-25.

24 And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but LET US ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER-and ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.

They’re God’s words, encouraging us to encourage others to keep strong. God is at work, through his Spirit and through the gifts of his people, to keep us all STRONG to the end.

Are you GRATEFUL to GOD for his work in your life? Are you playing your PART in the lives of OTHERS?

Well, Paul concludes this section. How can we be sure of all this? He answers our objection in v9. We can be confident because God’s FAITHFUL. He STARTED the job, so he’ll FINISH IT. Verse 9

God, who has CALLED you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is FAITHFUL.

How can Paul be so confident in the Corinthians? After all, he knows them WARTS and ALL. He must have real worries about their behaviour. The chances must be pretty good that there’ll be a big blow-up.

But no! He’s full of confidence because he’s confident IN GOD, not the Corinthians.

And we need to make sure we’re the same. Yes, in lots of areas we’re doing well. Others, NOT so well. But let’s never make these things the BASIS for our confidence.

Right doctrine won’t keep us strong to the end.

Bible-centred preaching won’t keep us strong to the end.

Home groups won’t keep us strong to the end.

Friendly, welcoming worship won’t keep us strong to the end.

Many people serving in ministry won’t keep us strong to the end.

Working groups and building bridges won’t keep us strong to the end.

Only GOD will keep his perfect church strong to the end. Because it’s HIS. He STARTED it. He called us into fellowship with his son. And he’ll guarantee us to make it. Blameless before Jesus on that final day.

Let’s keep gratefully working for each other. Let’s keep serving in love. Let’s keep thanking God for how he’s gifted his church. Let’s do it all eagerly waiting for OUR LORD Jesus Christ to be revealed.

God is faithful. He’ll keep us strong to the end.

1 Corinthians 5-6: Operation Swift Justice

I’ve got a problem. I hate splinters. It doesn’t just hurt when they go in, but they bug me when they’re in. I keep squeezing them, and trying to get them out.

And when I DO try to get them out. I often poke around with a needle or a pair of tweezers. Ten or twenty minutes later, I MIGHT have got the splinter out. Or it might still be there. And it actually hurts more to get them OUT than it did when they went IN.

What’s called for is SWIFT AND DECISIVE ACTION.

And that was always my Dad’s policy. I’ve never known anyone else to do this, but Dad always had a supply of sterile surgical blades in the medicine chest.

Razor sharp, hygenically wrapped. Scary stuff.

And I used to wince at the sight of them.

But Dad always insisted that it hurt less to cut them out quickly with something sharp. Than to poke around for hours with a pair of tweezers.

One day I took him up on the offer. I was probably about ten. And it was a MONSTER splinter. Felt like it was halfway through the BONE. And there wasn’t anything left sticking above the skin. Nothing to get the tweezers onto.

So I bit the bullet. I gritted my teeth. And offered Dad my throbbing finger.

One quick slice. One grab with the tweezers. and it was gone. The courage of quick, decisive action. And it was all over.

And it’s the courage of quick, decisive action that Paul’s calling for here in Chapters 5 and 6. Two huge, sharp splinters are wounding the Corinthian church.

A case of blatant, habitual sexual immorality. And Christians ripping each other off, and then going to court.

And they’re causing huge, festering sores. The filthy splinters are infecting the whole body. And Paul takes them to task. Because instead of quick, decisive action. They’re just sitting back, and gawking at the wound.

It’s funny. But sometimes when you hurt yourself, there’s a strange fascination to keep looking at it. There’s something attractive about squeezing the edges of the cut together. And watching the blood ooze out.

Or pushing that bruise again and again. It really hurts when you do it. But you just like to keep pushing it – just to see HOW MUCH it still hurts.

Or pinching an infected sore. And watching the pus squirt out of the middle.

Wound 1: Sexual immorality

And in a sense, this is what the Corinthian church were doing. Instead of quick surgery, they were glorying in the gore. And Paul can’t believe it. Look at verse 1 and 2 of Ch 5.

(1 Cor 5:1-2 NIV)  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. {2} And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

Notice that Paul’s amazed at two things. The first is the nature of the wound. Sexual immorality. A professing Christian is committing incest. He’s moved in with his step mum. And even in the free and easy Corinth, that was a big no-no.

The Mistreatment: Pride, rather than sorrow and discipline. (5:1-13)

But what’s even more astounding to Paul. Is the MISTREATMENT of that wound. What the church is doing about it. It’s just SITTING BACK AND WATCHING. Doing nothing. In fact he says they’re PROUD. PROUD! They’re not ashamed. Or filled with grief like they should be. They’re proud that someone’s practising incest!

What’s going on in their minds? What were they thinking?

It’s likely that they’ve MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL. Paul’s taught them that they’re saved by GRACE. And that their works have nothing to do with their SALVATION.

And they’ve TWISTED it, and STRETCHED it, until Paul’s message becomes “We’re saved by grace. Therefore it doesn’t matter WHAT we do – God will still forgive us”.

And once you start believing that, it’s only a short jump to saying, “Look how free we are. We’re Christians, but we can still do what we like. We’ve even got someone living with his step-mum! Isn’t it wonderful that God saves us by his grace, and he doesn’t care what we do!”

The Solution – Decisive discipline

But Paul is staggered at thinking like that! It’s a complete misrepresentation of the gospel. And the result is the complete OPPOSITE of what they should have done. They watched the sore. Poked and squeezed it. Rather than operating.

Paul’s solution. Decisive discipline. There should have been a just and efficient judgement. Verse 2.

(1 Cor 5:2-5 NIV)  Shouldn’t you RATHER have been filled with GRIEF and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? {3} Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have ALREADY PASSED JUDGMENT on the one who did this, just as if I were present. {4} When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, {5} HAND THIS MAN OVER TO SATAN, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD.

It seems like Paul’s left out some steps in the process here. But we assume he’s suggesting the process Jesus teaches about in Mt 18.

(Mat 18:15-17 NIV)  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. {16} But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ {17} If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

This is continuous, habitual, unrepentant sin we’re talking about. And if they refuse to listen to Christian brothers and sisters – first ONE, then A SMALL GROUP – then Jesus says treat them like they’re not Christian at all.

And it’s this last stage that Paul’s talking about. Paul’s surgical operation involves handing the man over to Satan. In other words, putting him out of the church. Excommunication.

Discipline for the sake of the sinner (5)

And notice what his purpose is? Firstly, it’s discipline for the sake of THE SINNER. Verse 5

(1 Cor 5:5 NIV)  hand this man over to Satan, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD.

Notice there’s TWO effects. There’s PUNISHMENT, but also CORRECTION. First, punishment, “so that the sinful nature might be destroyed. It’s literally “so that the BODY (OR FLESH) might be destroyed”.

Life outside the church is no picnic. It’s uncomfortable. There are consequences to actions. And bad choices often result in bad consequences. It might be loneliness, or emotional anguish, or depression, or even physical sickness.

But whatever it might be, it’s not POINTLESS PUNISHMENT. The purpose of the PHYSICAL DESTRUCTION or PUNISHMENT / is SPIRITUAL SALVATION.

And that’s the second part. The sinner BENEFITS from the discipline because it’s intended to lead to salvation. There’s a CORRECTIVE element as well as punishment. By refusing advice, he’s TURNING AWAY from Christianity. But the punishment is intended to DRIVE HIM BACK to Christ.

Any church discipline which doesn’t have the spiritual future of the sinner as a very high priority isn’t godly justice.

Discipline for the sake of the church (6-7)

But Paul has a second purpose in disciplining. The first is for the sake of the sinner. The second purpose is for the sake of the CHURCH.

It’s necessary to remove the unrepentant sinner because one rotten apple affects the whole bunch. Look at v6.

(1 Cor 5:6 NIV)  Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

A little bit of yeast affects the whole loaf. And one unrepentant sinner brings his proud and mocking attitude with him. And he drags the rest down.

Because they see him getting away with it. And when the church does nothing, they wonder if perhaps it’s really alright for THEM to be doing it too.

Or perhaps if the sinner ISN’T punished, then a little while later, someone ELSE is dragged down. And because the FIRST case hasn’t been dealt with, it becomes ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to deal with the second.

But by swift, decisive action, everyone gets the message that this sort of behaviour isn’t what’s required of Christians. And that it won’t be tolerated.

(pause) Did you notice that the excommunication is to be a PUBLIC thing. It’s not to happen behind closed doors – which might be easier for everyone concerned.

Verse 4 says WHEN YOU ARE ASSEMBLED.

It seems a bit tough to hang out everyone’s dirty laundry (so to speak), but the thing to remember is that this only happens as the LAST STEP. The sinner’s ALREADY DECIDED that he’s not going to listen. And so this last step really becomes his choice.

But why make it public?

The advantage of a public event is that the whole church is informed of the necessary facts. Not everything. Many of the details are none of their business. But ENOUGH so that they realise the SERIOUSNESS of the sin. And the JUSTICE of the discipline. This means that they can SUPPORT THE LEADERSHIP in the decision. Rather than criticising them behind their back because they don’t know all the facts.

Preventative health is better than surgery

So what does this mean for us? Let’s pray that this passage is never IMMEDIATELY applicable to our church.

But if there’s no serious, major sin that needs surgery, what do we do to take on the PRINCIPLES that Paul’s teaching?

Firstly, we need to be involved in PREVENTATIVE HEALTH. Mostly, big sins don’t come out of nowhere. There’s a PATTERN which develops over time. Little lapses which noone notices. Behaviours which aren’t corrected. Comments which might be cries for help, but noone takes any notice.

But we DO need to take notice. We MUST’NT assume that everything is always alright.

We need to recognise our mutual accountability. I am responsible to you for my behaviour, and you to me. We need to know where each other is at. To check up on how we’re doing.

Ask the deeper questions. “What are you struggling with?” “What are you winning at?” “How is your marriage?” “What can we pray about for you?”

We don’t like to do it, do we? The problem is we know our own hearts. We don’t want to be asking people questions that would make US squirm. We don’t want to be seen to be a hypocrite. “What are you doing asking ME about anger for! I’ve heard you shout at your kids! And I live three streets away!”

The trick is to be doing it from the right motives. From a GENUINE DESIRE for the other person’s godliness, rather than simply being a finger-pointing exercise.

And be prepared to share honestly when you get asked the same questions. Because preventative health is better than surgery. Better to have a check-up/ than wait until there are major problems.

Minor surgery is better than major surgery

The second point is that minor surgery is better than major surgery. Minor disputes, and small sins, need to be dealt with before they escalate.

If someone hurts you, don’t ignore it. Deal with it. If they repent, and ask your forgiveness, you’ve won your brother. And Satan loses.

Or if someone is involved in sin that they’re not aware of. Let them know – lovingly! Because minor surgery is better than major surgery.

Once again I think we avoid pointing out these things because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We recognise our own sin. “I’m just as egotistical, or gossipy, or crude, or whatever, as they are. Who am I to point the finger!?”

And perhaps we also doubt our own judgement. “Perhaps I’m misinterpreting it. Perhaps it’s not really as bad as it seems to me!”

But we have a responsibility to do it. Because the health of the church depends on it. Preventative health is better than surgery. And minor surgery is better than major surgery.

Understand the nature of the gospel – holiness isn’t an optional extra.

The third thing we can learn from these verses/ is to make sure we understand the nature of the gospel. Yes, we’re saved by grace. Yes, our works have nothing to do with it. But NO, that doesn’t give us a blank cheque book to do whatever we want. God demands that his people are holy like he is.

It’s sometimes the temptation we evangelicals can fall into. We focus on “grace” so much that we forget THE HARD SLOG of imitating Jesus. And we put down “works” so much that we forget that we were CREATED for good works. They’re the RESPONSE OF GRATITUDE for God’s gift of eternal life.

Get rid of the old yeast (7-8)

(pause) And it’s THIS mistake that Paul addresses next. In v7 and 8 he shows the Corinthian church what a RIGHT understanding of the gospel looks like in practice. They’re to get rid of the old yeast.

They thought the gospel made NO demands on their behaviour.

But Paul says the gospel demands that they become IN REALITY what they are ALREADY in God’s sight. – “You’re washed clean, so ACT clean”

The picture’s a bit confusing, but let me read it first, then explain it. Verse 7 & 8.

(1 Cor 5:7-8 NIV)  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. {8} Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

“Get rid of the old yeast”. The thing to remember is that Paul’s just used YEAST to refer to EVIL – the sinner who’s affecting the rest of the church.

And now he BROADENS the term. Get rid of the OLD yeast. That is, everything that’s evil about your OLD way of LIFE.

Why? So you can be a NEW BATCH. A new loaf. A new lump without yeast – without evil. The Christian life is about getting rid of the old ways. The old habits. It’s about killing your old man. Your old nature.

Paul says “Become a new lump without yeast AS YOU REALLY ARE.”

What’s he getting at?

Well, he goes on to explain himself. “Why are you already a new batch without yeast?” “Because Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed”.

In other words. You’re clean because he died. He died the death WE should have died. To make us clean before the Father. In the eyes of God, we ARE clean. Justified. Righteous. Put right.

So become IN REALITY – become ACTUALLY – what you are POSITIONALLY, or LEGALLY.

And he goes on to describe what that looks like. He describes the Christian lifestyle USING THE IMAGE OF THE PASSOVER FEAST. Verse 8.

(1 Cor 5:8 NIV)  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

The gospel demands that we become people who are like our Father. Be holy because I am holy. The gospel never gives us permission to do whatever we want.

If anyone says to you, “I want Jesus as my Saviour, but not as my Lord – I like the rescue bit, but I’m not so sure about the submission bit”. Tell them, “It’s a package deal. Jesus is the package deal king. If you don’t accept him as your Lord, then you haven’t really accepted him as Saviour.

Faith in the Saviour, which doesn’t show itself in the gratitude of a changed life, isn’t real faith.

So that’s the first wound. Refusing to deal with the sexually immoral person/ refusing to judge, is REFUSING TO TAKE SERIOUSLY the role of the church. How God’s people are to live in the light of the gospel.

Wound 2: Fraud and Cheating (6:1-11)

And the second wound is being treated in the same way by the Corinthians. Another mistreatment. Not judging/ when their responsibility is to judge. (We’ll look at this one much more briefly)

The infection is that Christians are cheating and defrauding each other. Look at v 6 of ch 6.

(1 Cor 6:6-8 NIV)  But instead, ONE BROTHER GOES TO LAW AGAINST ANOTHER–and this in front of unbelievers! {7} The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? {8} INSTEAD, YOU YOURSELVES CHEAT AND DO WRONG, AND YOU DO THIS TO YOUR BROTHERS.

A nasty, gangrenous wound. But the Corinthians don’t think it was too serious. Barely a scratch. And so instead of treating it. Instead of dealing with the dispute, the church is letting the secular law courts deal with it.

 The Mistreatment: Not recognising the Christian’s true position (6:1-11)

And Paul takes them to task. They should have dealt with it. They’re MORE than capable.

The point Paul makes is that they’re not recognising the Christian’s true position. Perhaps they thought they weren’t qualified, or smart enough, to judge the case.

But Paul corrects their misunderstanding. The Christian is MORE than qualified to judge a simple case. Because one day he’s going to judge a much more difficult, and complicated, case. Look at Ch 6 v 1.

(1 Cor 6:1-3 NIV)  If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? {2} Do you not know that THE SAINTS WILL JUDGE THE WORLD? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? {3} Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

The Solution: Recognise the Christian’s true position – judges

So Paul’s solution is to point out the Christian’s true position.

“Don’t you know?” he questions. “Isn’t it obvious?”

One day you’ll judge the world on matters of life and death. ETERNAL life and death.

When it comes to matters of justice and righteousness. Of mercy and forgiveness. Who better to decide these SMALL MATTERS than someone who KNOWS THE GOD OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS?  – who’s been dealt with justly and fairly by the God of mercy and forgiveness?

Paul’s question is full of irony. Verse 5. Surely, you Corinthians, who think you’re so wise. Surely there must be SOMEONE among you wise enough to deal with a simple case like this.

You see, they simply don’t recognise the seriousness of the problem. In Corinth, law cases were just a piece of entertainment. People spent most of the day either arguing their case in courts, or listening to others do it!

Yet, Paul says that the very fact that they’re arguing lawsuits means they’ve lost already. There’s no winners. They don’t even have to wait for the judges verdict. Verse 7.

(1 Cor 6:7-8 NIV)  The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been COMPLETELY DEFEATED ALREADY. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? {8} Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

You’ve lost/ because you’re not the people you should be.

Paul holds up a mirror to them. So they can see the true picture. The full extent of the infection. Cheating and fraud aren’t just little splinters to poke at. They’re full-scale gaping sores. Golden staph infections of the worst kind. Verse 9.

(1 Cor 6:9-11 NIV)  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders {10} nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. {11} And that is what some of you were. 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 returns to his argument from Ch 5. You were washed, sanctifed, justified. This is what you ARE.

Act like it. LOOK like it. Take seriously who you are as a church. Don’t be complacent. Be holy as God is holy.

We started this service with a reading from Is 6. Where Isaiah recognised God’s holiness, and his own sinfulness. Let’s pray, using those verses as a basis. We’ll pray that we’ll understand God better. And in turn, that we’ll know what sort of people we should be in response. That we’ll take our responsibilities seriously as God’s people.

(Isa 6:1-7 NIV)  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. {2} Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. {3} And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” {4} At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. {5} “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” {6} Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. {7} With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”