Archive for June, 2015

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 — Recently, I had an atheist write a comment on a blog I had written that when I say that my sins are washed away by Christ does it absolve me when I rob my neighbor? I can claim that all my sins are washed away in Christ even as I commit them. This is a valid question that many ask. Even some that call themselves Christian live out this lifestyle. Live like hell Monday through Saturday and ask for forgiveness on Sunday morning. Paul addresses this very same issue in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

The church at Corinth apparently had been misquoting and misapplying Scripture. They were claiming that their freedom in Christ allowed them to do anything. Through Christ, they understood, our sins are forgiven so that allowed them complete freedom to live as they pleased. Does this sound familiar? I am free to commit murder; all my sins are forgiven. I am free to commit adultery; my sins are forgiven. I am free to rob, cheat, steal and lie; my sins are forgiven. Paul puts the smack down on this kind of theology. Paul tells the Corinthians that while Christ has taken away our sins, it does not give us the freedom to go and do what we know is wrong. It does not give us freedom to willingly and knowingly violate the command of God in Scripture. The New Testament as we saw yesterday forbids many sins that were originally forbidden in the Old Testament. We hear people exclaim today that we as Christ followers are no longer under the law so we are not too terribly different from the church at Corinth. We say that the law does not apply to us. We go as far as to say that we are New Testament Christians or New Testament churches.

It is Paul that tells that we are free in Christ. Then, why is he chastises the church then in Corinth and by proxy us today in our New Testament only mentality. Freedom is the mark of the Christian faith is it not? We are free from sin and guilt and free to enjoy the presence of God without fear of destruction. However, we forget that Paul says that we are free in Christ BECAUSE we are condemned by the law. We deserve death and hell because of our sin-filled nature. It is only through Christ that we are saved from eternal damnation brought upon us by our inability to keep the law. We are free from the penalty that we deserve in the law. The law still exists. It is still wrong to murder. It is still wrong to commit adultery. It is still wrong to be greedy and covet things. It is still wrong to make things god before the one and only God. The ceremonial aspects of the law such as food and dietary restrictions that were necessary to create a unique society in a world where cleanliness and disease from lack of cleanliness were common are no longer applicable to us because in Scripture it was said to be so, but the moral parts of the law in the Old Testament are still in place and will forever be applicable. We cannot avoid the law. We cannot say the law does not exist. The law existed in God and is God and is of God since before eternity. These things will never change no matter how hard we try to say what we are doing is OK.

This is true for those who have not encountered Christ who claim universal truth is no longer universal truth. Those who claim that what was once considered truth is no longer truth, cannot circumvent the fact that what is truth eternally will be truth. Just because you say it ain’t so don’t make it not so. This is true for those who claim to be Christ followers and this true for those who are true Christ followers. The law is alive. The law is real. The law is eternal and will never change.

In today’s world, sexual immorality is rampant. Having sexual intercourse in whatever way that makes us feel good is common. Think that the Bible is not applicable? Corinth was the same way as modern day Western society. This teaching here in this passage deals heavily sexual immorality because it was rampant in Corinth as we learned when we began this study of 1 Corinthians several weeks ago. Corinth was home to a temple to the goddess Aphrodite – the goddess of sexual desire. Unrestrained sexual intercourse was part of the worship at the temple. There were thousands of male and female prostitutes employed by the temple. Is it no different today? We may not have temple whores but sexually immorality is glorified in our society. In movies, television, music, even commercials, sexual promiscuity is glorified. Sex outside of marriage is treated as normal even desirable. Unions of two people of the same sex are glorified and saying it is the new normal does not make it normal in eternity. Marriage between one man and one woman for the rest of their lives is often shown as confining, backward, old-fashioned, and sexually boring. We are looked down upon if we have only one sexual partner for life. We are considered weird if we have been married to our husbands or wives for more than 10 years.

God does not forbid sexual sin because he is trying to be hard on us. He knows its power to destroy us physically and spiritually. Sexual diseases are at all time highs in the world in which live now. From a spiritual perspective, promising families have been destroyed by sexual immorality. Broken homes. Broken families. Destroyed by “what makes me feel good I should do” mentalities. Long term consequences of fatherless homes due to adultery and other sexual sins are beginning to show itself in our society. Children raised by two moms or two dads are wreaking social development ills upon our children that we are just beginning to calculate. Just because it feels good does mean that it is good for us. God forbid sexual relations outside of the marriage of a man and a woman not to be restrictive but rather to keep us from destroying ourselves by pursuing that which is destructive to us. Just because it makes you and I feel good to have sex outside of the wedlock of a man and a woman does not make it right for our children and our children’s children.

Sexual sin, all sins, are destructive. Just because we are free in Christ does not throw away the rules of the game. It is because of the law that we need Christ. We are sinful creatures. When we see that for real without the excuses that we build up for our behavior, we see our need for a Savior. When we accept Christ as our Savior, He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us. Have you ever really thought about that fact. The Holy Spirit living in us. If we are to live our lives with the Holy Spirit inside us. Should we not honor Him with how we use our bodies. Joining bodies with a man or woman who is not yours in marriage as defined by God’s holy eternal Word dirties the Spirit. We no longer own our bodies when the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. We must use our bodies in ways that give Him honor. We must use our bodies in ways that are in line with God’s Word.

Just because we wanna do it does not mean that it is right to do it. Just because we have the freedom to do it does not mean that cannot be destroyed by it. Call it right does not make it right if it is not right eternally. Justifying sin by the words, everybody else is doing it does not make it right. Honor the Holy Spirit by honoring Him through repentance of sins instead of justifying why we sin and why it is the new normal that it is not sin. Sin is sin eternally. Let us repent. Let us turn away from that which is not of God’s Word. It is eternal. It is of Him. Let us begin to honor that!

1 Corinthians 6:7-11 — In this passage, Paul says some controversial words in today’s world. Words that in our day are polarizing it seems:

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul speaks of sin and these are examples of sin. Each one of us fits into one of these categories. We probably can fit into multiple categories. The one that jumps out at us in today’s world is the one about practicing homosexuality. We are told today that it is not a sin. It is an alternative lifestyle. It is now acceptable behavior. We often hear the argument that we are no longer under the law of the Old Testament and therefore homosexuality is acceptable behavior in the post-Crucifixion world in which we live. Therefore, the 39 books of the Old Testament can be ignored. Bam. Over half the Bible thrown out the window. We, too, then have to throw Paul’s writings out too because he mentions homosexuality as being a sin. They argue that Paul created his own theology and Jesus never said anything about homosexuality being wrong. In order to get to the Bible being acceptable to homosexual lifestyles, we must get rid of 90% of the Bible. The direct quotes of Jesus Christ (the red letter words in many Bibles) comprise about 10% of the total words in the entire Bible. Jesus may not have expressly stated that homosexuality was a sin but his ministry was among the Jews for the most part and as such it was commonly accepted that such lifestyles were against Scripture. He had to need to preach to the choir. There was common agreement. They would have called him Captain Obvious! What Jesus did speak of was marriage. According to Mike Riccardi, in the online magazine, The Cripplegate, in an article entitled, “Is it True That Jesus Never Addressed Homosexuality?”, Ricardi states,
“In Matthew 19, He goes out of His way to make this point in order to underscore that marriage, by its very nature, is a divinely-ordained institution—that the originator of marriage is the Creator Himself. He makes this point, which would otherwise seem superfluous, in order to make it clear that that divinely-ordained institution exists only between one man and one woman. God created man as male and female, and then brought them together in one flesh as the husband-wife relationship illustrates the complementarity and unity-in-diversity that characterizes God’s own nature as one Being who eternally exists in three Persons.”
Further, Jesus himself said that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Paul’s theology is based on the fact that the law points us to our need for Jesus. We are all condemned by our sins. Therefore, we need Jesus’ grace through his death on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins that makes us right with God. God’s timeless truth is inconvenient to those who are reveling in their sin whether it be homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, slanderers, liars, cheaters, murderers, etc. When we refuse to call our favorite sin a sin, we begin rationalizing away God’s truth. We parce down the Bible to only the parts that we think are agreeable to the lifestyle that we desire to lead. We, thus, say that we are higher than God. We become our own gods. We define truth for ourselves. There down the slippery slope we go until all behaviors are acceptable because I myself determine what is right and wrong. No need for God ultimately. To revel in sin and call it not sin does not make it any less sin in the eyes of our Creator who is truth. We can go as far as to say He does not exist but that does not mean that He doesn’t! We are all sinners.
I have focused on homosexuality here because it is the hot button topic of our day. We hear it declared in public squares that it is no longer a sin. We were all mistaken. It is a sin. Plain and simple. To refuse to see it as such is to ignore virtually all of God’s Word. However, before you lynch me at the tree of today’s intolerant tolerance, let us remind ourselves that practicing homosexuality is part of a laundry list of behaviors that if unrepentantly practiced will exclude us from the kingdom of God. The adulterer who continually has sex outside of his marriage and has no remorse or repentance in his soul is just as condemned as anyone else before God. Our society is continually scarred by adulterous behavior. Broken homes. Single parent families. Multiple stepdads and stepmoms. Kids with different last names than their mothers. Baby daddies instead of fathers. Women with no regard for the treasure that they carry and who give it away like cheap dime store candy. And that’s just sexual sin. Murder is rampant in our society. Lying reaches the highest levels as we spin the world to be what makes us all look the best. Greed is on display constantly where charitable causes and churches struggle to make ends meet but yet we do not think twice about financing $50,000 vehicles and $500,000 homes that we cannot afford. The vacation industry is booming as we seek to indulge ourselves rather than helping the homeless. Alcohol sales are at an all-time high as we seek to numb our souls. Alcoholism equally is at an all-time high. Courts are full nowadays with claims of cheating. There are more lawyers per capita on the planet now than there ever has been as we seek to blame others for stupid mistakes that we make. At least with the homosexual contingent, they have spent time parcing down the Bible to justify the rightness of their cause so that they can continue to enjoy their sin without any guilt. The rest of us simply ignore biblical truth when we continue flagrantly to enjoy our sins. Unrepentant. Blatantly ignoring the Word of God. When it comes to the sin(s) that we do not want to give up, we simply ignore what the Bible says. Many quit reading the Bible altogether because of the conviction that it will bring concerning our pet sins. To say that homosexuality is the demon of all sins is incorrect for we are all sinners. The only way that we can justify homosexuality is to rip pages out of the Bible and move on to live that lifestyle unrepentantly. The only way to justify any sin that we wish to not give up is to rip pages out of the Bible. The only way to justify our flagrant disregard for our pet behavior that is against God’s Word is to out and out ignore it. In this age, it is easy for Christians to overlook or tolerate some immoral behaviors as greed and call it the pursuit of the American Dream. It is easy to ignore drunkenness and call it having a good time while remaining outraged at murder, theft, and homosexuality. All of it is sin. There is no one sin that is greater than another. All sin, one sin condemns us before our Maker.
It is this realization that changes the game. It is the law that exposes our utter failure to live holy lives before a holy God. We are condemned. We are all of us bound for hell without intervention from a loving but just God. He so wants us to avoid final judgment to hell that He sent His Son to be the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through His substitutionary sacrifice, our sins are forgiven. That which on our own will condemn us to hell is washed away. The slate is cleaned. The only requirement for this cleansing of sin’s stain and sin’s sentence to hell is to repent from our sins and turn away from them. We must call out to Jesus Christ to deliver us from our own evil. When we profess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to die for our sins and proclaim Him to be the Lord over our lives, He will send the Holy Spirit of God to live and dwell in our souls. We must give over control of our desires, wants, and needs to a holy God through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. When we see what we were before and what we are now in Christ, that should change our perspective on how we must react to those who are actively practicing lifestyles of any kind that are in direct opposition to Scripture. We were there ourselves before we met Jesus Christ.
We are must be careful to point out that the lifestyles are in opposition to Scripture rather than making the person a demon. We were once unrepentant sinners ourselves until someone took the time to get to know us and talk to us about our life in comparison to Scripture. On the hot button issue of homosexuality, we must not fear them, ridicule them, or demonize them. We cannot make this sin any greater than any other sin. We cannot praise the unrepentant display of greed, a sin, while demonizing those who unrepentantly practice homosexuality. Their lives can be transformed just as ours were. The church should be a haven for forgiveness and healing for repentant homosexuals without compromising our stance on the unrepentant practice of homosexuality. We are all being transformed from the emptiness of sin into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ.
Even murderers such as Dillon Roof can be transformed by the healing power of forgiveness in repentance before Jesus Christ. None are too far gone that repentance and reaching out to Jesus Christ cannot save. We saw true Christ followers offer the forgiveness of a Savior to man who had just killed their family members. Murderers, rapists, homosexuals, sexually promiscuous men and women, drug addicts, greedy people, adulterers, idol worshipers, all those who actively participate in sins that are in opposition to Scripture should be treated no differently that the Emanuel AME church parishioners treated Dillon Roof. When they expect condemnation from us, we offer them Jesus Christ. Paul says,

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of God!”

Let us be that church. Transformed people reaching out to unrepentant sinners and helping them see their sins for what they are…in love, not hate. Transforming with love not hate. Not accepting lifestyles that are in opposition to Scripture but realizing that we once raised our fist at God too so that we come from a position of love rather than judgment or hate. Prayer instead of protest. Engagement rather than ivory tower condemnation. Leading with Jesus rather than our opinion.

1 Corinthians 6:1-6 — The world expects disputes. That’s why we have court systems. That’s why we have police. That’s why we have lawyers. But Christians are not supposed to be like the world. We are to operate from a position of Christ-likeness. We are to operate from a motive of love. Paul tells us that we should resolve our disputes among ourselves knowing the values that we are to live by. If we squabble among ourselves and let it spill out into the world around us and speak spuriously of each other, then what does the world see in us – nothing different from what they are seeing everyday in the world.

It is ironic that I run across this passage on a day after watching how South Carolinians have reacted to the shootings in Charleston. The expectation of the media around the country is that Charleston will become another Baltimore or another Henderson, MO. The reaction in those places has been a far cry different in my home state, of which I am very proud at this moment. I think it has to do with the fact that South Carolinians for the most part still adhere to Christian values. Instead of hate, Charleston has pulled together. Instead of being stirred up by the media wanting this to be a powderkeg situation, South Carolinians, and particularly Charlestonians, have made this about unity. It was testament to how far our state has come in the last 50-60 years to see blacks and whites hugging and crying together, praying together, and worshiping together. For all the bad things that have made up our past, I am very proud of the Christian values being displayed by this state that I love so much and at this moment cannot see a better place to live. Our people have displayed the Christian values of unity and forgiveness that Paul is speaking of in this passage. Paul says we must. We have to be different from the world around us. We cannot allow ourselves to be goaded into the vengeance seeking that the world expects. When we degenerate into tearing each other apart all we are left with is destruction.

Ask people in France and England after Hitler was defeated. Did they feel like they had won anything from the dispute as they walked among bombed out buildings and debris everywhere. Go to Newark, NJ and Watts, CA 50 years after race riots destroyed vast portions of those cities, where the cities have not recovered. Did they win anything with hate? That is why I am proud of my state. We are a people who believe in Christian values. Charlestonians, black and white, joined hands instead of holding fists in the air at each other. Maybe, it is because we have learned so much from the hatred of our past that we are determined that our future will never be that way again. We knew the world would be watching. It was quite moving yesterday to hear the mayor of Columbia, a black man, at a prayer vigil talk about what he saw in the congregation at the church where the vigil was held. He said I see blacks and whites sitting together. I see blacks and whites praying together. I see blacks and whites crying together. He said, “This is my South Carolina.” It is a modern day example of what Paul speaks of in this passage.

He berates the church at Corinth for suing each other in the secular courts over little stuff that could easily be resolved among themselves. He basically is saying, what are you showing the world by doing this? You are showing them that you are no different than their normal expectations of the world. There are those who want to see strife among Christians so they can say, “Look, they are no different than we are!” Is this the message that you want to send? Our message should be one of harmony and willingness to respectfully work our differences with one another in love. If we have love for one another, then going the way of legal disputes is unnecessary. We we lie, cheat and steal from one another we are not exemplifying the life of Christ. We are not living in a manner worthy of what He died for. The marking characteristic of Christ followers should be to love one another, to have grace for one another, to work through our disputes with one another without letting it spill out into the streets. Our Savior while hanging on the cross in excruciating pain forgave those who put Him there. Can we not do the same among ourselves? Can we not do the same with others?

This is why I am forever a South Carolina boy and always will be. This is my South Carolina. This is the South Carolina that I live in. It has been on full display in the jewel of South Carolina, Charleston. Unity instead of the expected division. Love instead of the expected hate. Faith instead of the expected hopelessness. Tears of common pain instead of fists of separating anger. Joy knowing that the victims are celebrating in the presence of almighty God rather than hopelessness at their lives being ended. Prayers for the soul of accused rather than throwing rocks at him. Desire to further bring the races closer together rather than farther apart. This is my South Carolina. A people choosing Christ-like values of love, unity and forgiveness in contrast to the expectations of the world that has come to visit us in the aftermath of the shootings. Paul would be proud.

1 Corinthians 5 — Do you love your children? I think that we all, unless we have some mental or emotional disorder, can say yes to this question. Because you love them does it mean that you allow them to do whatever they want when they want to do it? Of course not! We correct our children. We scold our children. At times, we spank them. As they grow older, we discipline them through the withdrawal of privileges. Do these actions toward our children mean that we do not love them? No it does not. We discipline our children because we do love them. If we did not love them, we would not care. Parents who truly love their children will instruct, discipline, and teach our children so that they will grow up to be responsible adults who are able to survive and thrive in the world once they leave our nest. It is this idea from which Paul writes about discipline within the church.

Usually our children are given warnings of impending punishment if the continue breaking the rules of the home. However, there are times when our children blatantly thumb their nose up at the rules. After repeated violations of house rules, we resort to punishment for these violations. The punishment is to teach a lesson in obedience. It is not to excommunicate from the family. It is to keep them from hurting themselves or others in the family. Sometimes the violation affects the family’s reputation in the community. And there are times in families where a child is so willful and make family life so uncomfortable for everyone that it rare cases a parent can often resort to asking the child to leave home until he or she learns to submit to their authority and not to harm the family. Often this drastic measure is taken to get the child to experience what the real world is like and to humble them into coming home in a repentant frame of mine. It is the same way in the church, Paul says.

To be a Christian is to submit ourselves to the authority of God. When we submit ourselves to God, we also submit ourselves to the authority of His Word, His instruction book to us. Since the Word comes from God, we must submit ourselves to the Word. However, there are times when we as Christians blatantly thumb our noses at the Word of God. In this case in 1 Corinthians 5, a man in the church was openly living in sin. He flaunted his sin. He was having an affair openly with his father’s wife, apparently his father was either widowed or had divorced the son’s mother and had remarried. The son was openly having an affair with his stepmom. Even though there was no blood relationship here, this was wrong on so many levels and not to mention just plain out weird. Even today, a son having a intimate relationship with his stepmom would just be considered out and out weird! Not only is it dishonoring to the son’s father, it is adultery. The fact that the son was flaunting the relationship before the whole congregation was completely unrepentant about it made it all the more sinister. Paul tells the Corinthians not to be proud of their tolerance but rather they needed to discipline this person. We must reach out to members of our flock not in negative, gossipy ways but point out the unrepented sin privately to them and ask them to repent of the sin that they are rationalizing as being OK. We must point to the authority of Scripture on the subject and ask them to prayerfully consider Scripture in comparison to their behavior. We should not ignore that a person is openly unrepentant of a behavior that is obviously sinful. If a person claims to be a Christian, then they are subject to such discipline.

If a person claims to be a Christian, then, they should accept Scripture as the guide to our lives. There are many today who openly violate God’s commands and they begin to widdle away parts of the Bible. They get rid of the Old Testament because they use the false logic that we are no longer under the law. The get rid of the epistles of the New Testament, except for the part where it says we are no longer under the law, of course. The get rid of the rest of the epistles because they say it is constructed theology and not the theology of Jesus. Now we are then left only with the red letter parts of the Bible – just what Jesus said and they then parce that down to only the love that Jesus spoke and not the judgment. They fail to remember that Jesus said He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He did not come to abolish anything that was written. Remember too Pauline theology teaches that we are free from the PENALTY of the law through Jesus not from the law itself. The law is necessary to point out how woefully sinful that we are and our need for Jesus. When we want to openly participate in our sin, we will throw away the Bible down to a couple verses that help support our seeking of our favorite sin. Those who call themselves Christians but openly sin can rationalize all we want but we have to rationalize away the majority of Scripture and rewrite what’s left. Paul is saying to us as Christians that we cannot allow a member of our fellowship to openly and willfully participate in that which is against Scripture without approaching them in love and pointing out the nature of their biblical offense. Without correction, it can divide the fellowship. Without correction, it can give young Christians the wrong idea about what is morally right and wrong according to Scripture. To be consistent with Scripture, we must approach these situations in love with the intention of restoration, with the intention of teaching, not with the intention of tearing down or setting ourselves up as elitist brokers of morality.

We must check ourselves before we do such discipline. We must examine our motives. If our motives are to lovingly reproach the person with the intention of helping them mature in Christ, then yes approach. If it is anything less than that, our intentions are self-serving. We must think of the person’s spiritual well being first, the spiritual well being of the congregation and never to gain vengeance or to exact revenge. We too must examine ourselves to determine if we are allowing an unrepented sin to fester in our own lives. We must seek the advice of people more spiritually mature than ourselves too and seek their assistance in dealing with the issue. However, none of this should lead us to inaction when someone in our flock is blatantly and flagrantly sinning and appears to have no intention or no inclination to stopping their participation in the sinful behavior.

Paul says that even after reproach a person CLAIMING to be Christian continues to flaunt their sin in front of the local body of Christ, then they must be asked to leave the fellowship until such time they have dealt with their flagrant disregard for the standards of Scripture. Yes, excommunication is sometimes necessary for us as believers to see the error of our judgment. Excommunication though should never be considered permanent rather only until a person has dealt with their flagrant disregard for Scripture. There is a difference here between flagrant disregard and a person who is seeking after God with his whole heart. Sure, we are all imperfect beings and we sin daily. But as we mature in Christ, we learn more and more about what is sinful behavior and we submit those things to the authority of Christ. We seek forgivenss for our sins. We turn from those things that are unholy. We repent. Just as there is a difference between a child to accidently violates a family rule and is remorseful for it and tries his best in the future not to go down that road again and a child who blatantly and willfully challenges the rules of the house just to piss his parents off. Paul is talking about the second child as it relates to openly and willfully participating in immoral behaviors.

Paul also warns us too that we are not to measure non-believers by the same standard that we measure those who claim to be Christ followers. Nonbelievers are to be met in their sin. They are to be loved and shown uncommon kindness. Sure, we are not to participate in their behaviors that are contrary to Scripture but we are to love them in their sin. We are to seek them out and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them right where they are. If we reject them for their sins without them knowing Jesus Christ personally, we have missed our opportunity to expand the kingdom. All of us were sinners not knowing how sinful we were until we met Jesus Christ. We did not know we even needed Jesus Christ before we encountered someone willing to walk with us where we were. However, Paul says that once we accept Christ as our Savior, we must live by the higher standard of God’s timeless Word. We must also be willing to subject ourselves to the authority of Scripture. We must be willing to see when our behavior is contrary to Scripture and repent. We must be willing to see when our behavior is dishonoring to Jesus Christ. We must be willing to see that Jesus died for our sins and we must be willing to honor him by repenting of our behaviors that are dishonoring to his sacrifice. We must be willing to submit to the Holy Spirit who guides us to revulsion over our sins that grieve the heart of God and help us to repent of them.

Oh Father, help me to see my sins as not something that I need to protect and rationalize. Help me to see my sins for what they are. Help me to see them as dishonoring to Jesus. Help me to see them as making you grieve. Help me to want to please You. Help me see my sins and repent. Hep me to be revolted by my own behaviors that are displeasing to you as laid out in your Holy Word. Help me to make you proud of me. Help me to come before you one day and for you to say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Amen.

1 Corinthians 4 — Today, we move into the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians and Paul continues with the issues of divisions within the church. The way we must approach this passage for today’s church is from both the perspective of the staff of the church and from the that of the congregation. Divisions can arise within a church staff just as much as it can among the congregation of a church. When we strive to create kingdoms of our own, we are no longer effective gospel bearers.

For pastors and church staff, we must remember always that the position that we hold is a gift from God. When we begin to think that growth, both spiritually and in the numbers of people who attend our church, is because of us and our wonderful preaching and leadership skills, then we have lost focus and the message of the gospel can easily become perverted. We must remember that it is only by the grace of God that we hold the positions that we hold. God has placed us in the position that we hold to achieve a specific goal for the kingdom at this place in this era of time with these specific people. Within a church staff, we must not see our jobs as stepping stones to the next higher level of church position. We must not breed jealousies among the people of our church. We must not try to accrue a following within the following of the church. God has placed us in subservient roles under the leadership of a senior pastor for a reason.

Joseph did not complain while in prison that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He used his time in prison to speak and teach of the Almighty God to his fellow prisoners. God had placed him there for a specific purpose that comes to fruition when it allows him access to the pharaoh. His access to the pharaoh led him to become the man who saves Egypt from starvation. He became the second most powerful man in the Egyptian dynasty. All of that would have never happened if Joseph had not be a faithful servant while in prison. As pastors and staff, we often think we could do it better or that our vision is better and we begin to create division and distrust within the church staff. We try to create our own little silos of power within the church. When that happens, the church is sunk. We must realize as junior staff to the senior pastor God has placed us where we are at this moment in time to ready us for the next step in God’s plan for our lives and for our ministries. Let us learn to submit to those in authority over us and lead under their direction. Let us learn what we need to learn from our senior leadership. When we realize that God has us under the leadership we are under right now because of God’s sovereign plan for our ministries and our development, then unity comes. When we work with this idea in mind, it leads us to pray to God to teach us what we need to learn. It leads us to pray for our senior leadership. We are all here at this moment in time with these people at this place for the work that needs doing for the kingdom right now at this place. It is then a privilege not a burden to work for the senior leaders we work for.

For the flock of the church, we should not create divisions within a church so as to align ourselves with certain members of the church staff. We also should not try to create our own followings within a church just because we think we can do a better job at this church thing that the pastor and his staff can. We see this scenario play out so often in churches, often more so than a divided staff. We as church members can become arrogant in thinking that we have it all figured out. We think we know how to run a church. As church members, we can become arrogant and think we are pastors but yet have never had the commitment to follow the call but yet we will criticize in overt and covert ways that we are not being allowed to lead as we see fit. We can fail to see that it is our ego on display rather than seeking after God. For us as church members we must remember that, like a church staff, God in His sovereign wisdom has brought us together at this church at this time with these people in this place for a specific purpose in this era of time. All of us have made our way to the church that we are at now and planted our roots there at God’s sovereign design. He has orchestrated us being where we are. He has us at this church for a reason. We are being groomed and developed and we need to be at this church at this moment to be in step with God’s plan for our development as Christ followers. That means if I am placed in a position of cleaning the toilets at the church, I must do it with the understanding that God is teaching me what I need to know for the next step in my growth as a Christ follower. It does not mean that I complain that my talents are not being utilized as they should be and start creating my own following within the church, start creating this us vs. them mentality between us and the pastoral staff.

When we as pastors and we as church members remember that we are not here about us. God will bless those that humbly serve Him. God will bless the church that remembers that we all have been given a gift from God in being part of body of Christ. God will bless those churches that remember that we are here to be light in the darkness. God will bless those churches that remember that we are to be a city on a hill. God will bless those churches that demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ rather the ones who demonstrate the same strife, division and politics as the world around them. God will bless those churches where the staff and the church are humble servants who realize that the church is a precious thing and it is a gift through which the Savior of the world’s message is to be broadcast to the world. It is a privilege to be a part of the local body of which I am a part. Whatever I must do, ever how I am called to do it, at this moment in time is because of God’s sovereign plan. Who am I to dispute God’s plan. What if Joseph had rebelled against God’s plan for him to be in prison? Where would God’s people be if he decided not to be faithful because he thought he was placed in the wrong position? What if? Like Joseph, we must trust God and be faithful as preachers and as churchgoers in the positions that he places us within the body at this moment in time with these people at this place…

1 Corinthian 3 — Back in the late 1980’s, there was a song by a group called Living Colour entitled “Cult of Personality”. It was a song inspired by the common phrase. The phrase, in popular culture, means that an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and at times, worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Paul warns of these dangers in the church, particularly among immature believers.

In today’s increasingly decentralized church, where denominations are generally weakening and independent non-denominational megachurches are on the rise, there is a danger for there to become cults of personality surrounding the lead pastors of megachurches. With books written, television appearances, mass influence over thousands of people, slick media campaigns for churches that rival the best of the secular world. Often we see the dangers of these cults of personality fulfilled. Today, we find there are many leaders of megachurches out there that have almost been accorded celebrity status. Some of these men are truly men of God but the danger is there for them to become more important than the man they are supposed to be representing – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We have seen the dangers of the celebrity status accorded them. It often creates a tendency to surround with only those who give flattery and praise which leads to a lack of accountability. Recently, we have seen examples where the lack of accountability have brought down men who I don’t think were out for celebrity but it just happens if we are not careful. Mark Driscoll’s demise at the church he founded, Mars Hill, is an example. The fallout from Perry Noble’s infamous rewrite of the ten commandments into the ten promises. We have Creflo Dollar believing in his heart that it is in the best interest of his flock for him to have a $65 million private jet. These are examples of how easily we can stray off the path of what we are here for. Although there are many things wrong with traditional church, as we in the new church movement call it. Most traditional churches have almost closed themselves off from society and a shrinking or standing still and have become social/political clubs but denominational church do have a level of accountability for pastors that we do not often see in this new movement toward the decentralized, non-denominational church. Paul is preaching the same message to the church at Corinth that we need to hear in the new church movement.

Paul is saying what are we here for? Are we here to follow Paul? Are we here to follow Apollos? Are we here to follow Peter? His answer is “Wake up, people! What we are here for is to give glory to our Savior Jesus Christ! What we are here for is to give glory to God!” Anything less and we can easily degenerate into a cult of personality. In a cult of personality, the leader can rationalize straying from the truth of the gospel just to reach a wider audience. Anything less and we fall into the danger of being about the number of butts in seats than it is about the salvation of the souls in those seats. It is about getting people in the door and not about there maturation as Christ followers. It is about how many satellite campuses we have rather than the quality of the biblical education that our people are given. It is about the number of books sold rather than the number of lives changed by the gospel. It is about making the gospel palatable to a culture that is increasingly about doing what makes itself feel good (and defining that as the new normal) rather than standing on the eternal truth of God. It is about going two inches deep into the Bible rather than diving into its depths and dealing with issues that are unpopular in today’s ever changing and lowering moral landscape. When we start to make the turn around that corner away from the sole reason that we are here, then, the cult of personality begins. We must always built the house of God on Jesus’ foundation and nothing less.

The foundation of the church – of all believers – is Jesus Christ. Nothing else will do, Paul says. A building with no foundation is one poorly constructed and can easily be destroyed. A house not built on the solid ground of Jesus Christ. All other ground is sinking sand as the old hymn goes. It will not last. If we are believers, then foundation of our lives must be Jesus Christ. He is our reason for being. Everything we do must fit into the pattern of and emulate the nature of Jesus Christ. Anything less will cause us to degenerate into hero worship, wealth seeking, search for fame, and financial security. Just look at our world today where people become celebrities whom we follow there every move just because they were on a reality show. They have no real talent but they were on TV! We are worshiping people and people disappoint. We can easily begin even among believers to worship and make celebrities out of our preachers. Paul is saying to us to keep our head in the game. Jesus is the reason we are here. We were brought together by our salvation through Jesus Christ and it is our job to teach the world that it is Jesus who brings reconciliation with God. It is through Him that we are reconciled to our Father in Heaven. It is through Him that we can spend eternity in the presence of God because the penalty of our sins has been washed away. Anything less is off the mark. Anything less shows a lack of maturity among believers. Anything less causes division. Anything less can degenerate into celebrity worship of preachers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my senior pastor. He is about the most awesome man of God I have ever met. Yet, he is the first to tell you that he would resign from the church that he had the Christ honoring privilege to found if the church ever became about him rather than reaching souls for Jesus Christ. That’s why you rarely see his picture plastered on anything LifeSong. May he continue to avoid the temptations that come with being the pastor of a church like ours, a church poised to be a megachurch one day.

Let us pray for my senior pastor! Let us pray for the popular megachurch leaders out there such as the ones that I have already mentioned and also including ones like Steve Furtick at Elevation in Charlotte, Andy Stanley at North Pointe Church in Atlanta, TD Jakes at The Potter’s House in Dallas, Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Let us pray that they all keep Jesus front and center and themselves off to the side watching Jesus and imitating Him.

Let us pray that we as members of the new church movement that we remember that our churches are here to reach people that otherwise would not be reached with the gospel. Let us remember that it is about worshiping God, honoring God, and teaching the message of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. Let us remember to love our pastors but not make them celebrities. Let us always compare their actions and hold them accountable to Scripture. Let us remember that we are here because of our common bond of salvation through the Son of God and that it is that message that is more important that the number of butts in seats. Martin Luther coined the phrase “solo scriptura”….only Scripture. May everything we do be compared to Scripture. May everything we do be about spreading the gospel. Anything less and we can so easily become a cult of personality orbiting around preacher celebrities. It was a danger in Corinth. It is a danger now.

1 Corinthian 2:1-16 — To conclude our review of this passage today, let us consider that people who are not receptive to the Holy Spirit consider the truth of God as revealed in Scripture as foolishness. It all sounds foolish to them for they cannot understand. Something you consider foolish or fantastic, you will by nature will dismiss it.

Do you remember when you were a kid, you could not understand the concept of people living in other time zones. You could not understand why people all over the world did not go to sleep at the same time. It did not make sense to you because, as a child, you could only understand the world as it related to you. You could understand the world as it related to you but anything else beyond that, you dismissed it. It did not make sense that whole parts of the world worked and slept on a totally different schedule than you. It did not make sense that the universe was not within your realm of understanding. Did it make it any less true that the earth rotates on its axis as it rotates on a trajectory around the sun such that all parts of our planet have day and night? Just because we do not understand something and summarily dismiss it does not make it any less true. The truth of Scripture is the same way. It is dismissed as untrue by many because the Holy Spirit has not yet opened their eyes to the possibility that there is something greater than ourselves and that there is a plan in motion to redeem mankind through Jesus Christ. Does saying God does not exist make Him not exist. Just because I cannot see outside my field of vision does not make the world beyond my vision not exist. There are elements of the universe that we have just recently discovered but did their discovery mean that they did not previously exist?

We, as Christ followers, must keep this in mind that some will dismiss the gospel, will dismiss the existence of God because it all seems foolish to them. We must be able to tailor the unchanging story of God’s redemptive plan to the context in which they find their lives at the moment. In a world that is increasingly secular. In a world where we are entering second generations and maybe even third generations of people that have not darkened the door of a church ever. In a world where biblical literacy is decreasing. In a world where people right here in the United States have not read a single page of the Bible nor have had parents who did, the Bible and its story are just the thin veneer of things that they have seen on television or seen possibly in movies. How to do you express the message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind to a world that does not know Him. Do you start with Jesus on the cross? I do not think that we can start there any more. In decades past, when there was a significantly higher level of biblical literacy in the world, you could start at the cross because there was already pre-existing understanding of Jesus and why His death on the cross and His resurrection were significant. These are assumptions we cannot make today.

We must begin with the beginning. We must begin with the concept of how we all got here. We must begin with existence. We must grapple with the beginnings of the universe. We must seek to understand whether they believe that the universe was created by a random spark out of nothingness and work through the issue that the universe has forever been built on laws of action and reaction and catalysts that set of actions and reactions. How could a universe built on a set of laws based on such things just create itself. There must have been a catalyst. There has to have been an outside agent that caused the initial spark that created the universe. The Bible addresses the issue of creation and attributes it all to the existence of God who set all things in motion. That begins to frame the whole conversation. You have to start there. Without opening up with the question of creation in a world where the existence of God may not even be a consideration in a person’s mind, the discussion is pointless and rejected as foolishness. Does it make it any less true that God exists and was the Intelligent Designer of the universe if I say He does not exist? No. God will still exist even if I say He does not. However, you do not give solid food to a baby, you give them milk. In our conversations with those who reject what we believe, you must address this issue first. Go back to the very beginning.

Until you settle that issue, the need for Jesus Christ is indeed foolishness. How do I know I need Jesus until I know there is God. If I believe in a world that was randomly created out of nothing for no apparent reason, then, the whole world is random and the whole world is chance. And I must control it all myself. In a world randomly created out of nothing for apparent reason with no catalyst, I am therefore my own God. I define what is right and what is wrong. In a world without God, I am the definer of morality. Everything else is foolishness until you address the issue of the existence of God. With existence of God, there is a judge of what is universally right and universally wrong. With the existence of God there are unchanging truths. With the existence of God there is accountability. With the existence of God there is such a thing as sin. With the existence of God, there is a need for a redemptive plan for man who has royally screwed up God’s creation with his self-centered ways. With the existence of God, there is a need for a Savior. With the existence of God, there is a need for Jesus. With Jesus there is a hope for an eternity with God. With Jesus there an expectation and a hope that this crazy messed up world will be made right by Him in the end. Begin with the beginning. Unless you do that, it is all foolishness to a world that increasingly does not even know or cares to know that God exists. To them, it’s all foolishness until you address that issue.

May we pray for opportunities to have discussions about the purpose of existence and how it all began so that we address the issue of the existence of God and get the conversation started that leads us down the path to Jesus Christ. May we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our words so that eyes are open to facts that were previously believed either to not exist or were considered untrue fictions. May we give the milk that leads to solid food. Amen.