Friday, July 20, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 4, Taught By The Spirit Of God

Today the Apostle Paul talks about how God teaches His children through the Holy Spirit.

"However, as it is written: 'What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived'---the things God has prepared for those who love Him---those are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:9-10a) Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4, paraphrasing it a bit, for Isaiah says, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him." Bible scholar William Barclay makes an interesting point about what Paul says, "These words are usually thought of as suggesting heaven and the glories of the future world, but Paul did not hesitate to apply them here to what God has already done for His children." I had never thought of this verse in that way, but it's true that God is already revealing things to us in the here and now that we never knew or understood until we accepted Christ.

"The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God." (1 Corinthians 2:10b) Jesus promised His disciples during the Last Supper, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26) If we are in Christ we have the Holy Spirit, and He helps us understand the Scriptures and He helps us understand the Lord's will.

"For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us." (1 Corinthians 2:11-12) Our own human spirit interprets our thoughts for us, and the Holy Spirit interprets God's thoughts for us. The Spirit doesn't tell us every thought of God, for I think His mind is so much higher than ours that we couldn't take it. But the Spirit instructs us, directs us, and comforts us on behalf of God.

"This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words." (1 Corinthians 2:13) Paul says something like, "We don't preach a gospel made up by man. We don't preach the gospel in our own power. We preach the gospel by the revelation and the power of the Holy Spirit."

"The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:14) Paul uses the Greek word "psuchikos" for the person without the Spirit. That word means a person who lives only for the here and now and who does not think beyond what the human spirit desires to have on this earth. A person in such a state doesn't want to waste time reading the Bible or attending church or listening to Christian music. A person in such a state is carnally minded. And we all were like this, to one degree or another, before we came to know Christ. We lived for ourselves, not for the Lord.

"The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, 'Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Corinthians 2:15-16) Paul quotes from a passage in Isaiah 40 where Isaiah extols the vast wisdom of God. Isaiah asks, "Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord?" God the Son can fathom the Spirit of God the Father, and He reveals some of this wisdom to those who belong to Him through God the Holy Spirit. The only way we can truly understand spiritual matters is to have the Spirit of God within us. And the only way to have the Spirit of God within us is to have Christ.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 3, Jesus Christ And Him Crucified

In yesterday's study Paul reminded the church at Corinth that he didn't preach with big fancy words. He didn't put on an impressive show. The power of his preaching was the gospel message itself, which is about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

He continues in this theme, "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Paul was a highly educated man and could speak and write in several languages. He was trained by the best scholars and could have debated with any of the Greek philosophers. He could have used the same type of oratory skills that the people of Corinth were used to witnessing. But he wanted nothing to hinder the gospel message. He wanted all the citizens of Corinth, educated or not, to understand what Christ had done for them. So the message he preached was simple: Jesus Christ crucified. This means that Paul must have preached to them that they had sinned and had fallen from the grace of God, but that Jesus Christ was crucified for their sins, and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead as proof that God had accepted His sacrifice on behalf of mankind. That is all anyone needs to know to be saved.

We don't have to be gifted speakers to share the gospel. We don't even have to be courageous, for Paul says he preached the gospel while trembling. And yet the message was still effective, for the power of the message comes from God and not from man.

"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing." (1 Corinthians 2:6) To those who are already in Christ and are growing in the faith, Paul could speak about deeper matters. With them he could delve into all areas of Scripture to give instructions for daily living and answer questions to help them clear up areas of confusion and doubt. But with those who are not yet in Christ, all he could preach is the gospel, because that is the starting point.

"No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Corinthians 2:7-8) Though God had declared many things regarding the Messiah through the prophets, the leaders of Jesus' own nation did not accept Him. The leaders of Rome did not either, the Jewish laws and prophecies being mysterious and obscure to their pagan way of thinking. But Paul says if they had understood what God has been saying since the beginning about the Messiah, they would have recognized Him. They would not have crucified Him; they would have crowned Him the King of kings.

Paul says he felt weak while he preached, because he recognized his human inability to save anyone. But he preached anyway, though he was fearful and trembling, because he knew who could save his listeners: the Lord Jesus Christ. We can do the same. We can share the gospel, both in words and in our Christian attitude, with those we interact with. It doesn't have to be a formal lesson. It definitely doesn't have to be a lecture. It could simply mean sharing a testimony with a lost friend while shopping with them or while having lunch with them. It could mean talking about Jesus with a lost co-worker and telling them what Jesus has done in our lives. Like Paul, we don't have to be gifted speakers. We don't have to be trained to debate with anyone. All we have to do is share the message that Paul shared: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 2, Foolishness And Wisdom

Paul concluded yesterday's portion by saying he doesn't teach the gospel with eloquent words and human wisdom. He doesn't want the message of the cross to be complicated or to depend on man's ability. The message of the cross is simple and it depends on Christ's ability.

Now he says, "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." (1 Corinthians 1:18) To those who have no interest in the gospel, and to those who think they are too intelligent and sophisticated for the gospel, it seems like foolishness. It was difficult for the Jews to wrap their heads around the concept of a Messiah who was executed. It was difficult for the Gentiles to accept a simple message where salvation depends not on the good works of man but on the saving work of Christ. But those who accept the gospel message realize how much power there is in it. It has the power to save the eternal soul and it has the power to give strength and comfort for daily life on earth.

"For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'" (1 Corinthians 1:19) Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:14) where the Lord is accusing the people of depending on human wisdom and not on His wisdom. We find a similar theme In Jeremiah 9 where the Lord considers worldly wisdom to be foolishness and says, "Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 9:23-24) Paul stayed in some very sophisticated cities during his ministry. The people there valued education. They spent a lot of their time debating philosophical issues. Many of them probably laughed at the message of the cross. I don't think the Lord has anything against a good education, but I think it's possible to become so wise in our own eyes that we are actually foolish. We can become so philosophical that we think the simple message of the cross is beneath us.

"Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20) The world didn't expect a Savior born to a poor couple in a manger, or a Savior who was crucified. The world was looking for a Savior born in a wealthy king's palace, a Savior who was a mighty warrior, a Savior no one would reject or condemn. The wisdom of the world was that the Savior would be a mighty king, not a poor preacher who ended up on a cross.

"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. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (1 Corinthians 1:21-25) The Jews wanted Jesus to perform particular miracles upon their command and He would not. The Gentiles thought the gospel message was too simple. But those who come to Christ learn how much power there is in the gospel. It has the power to change lives and save souls.

"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things---and the things that are not---to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) It was mostly the common people who flocked to Jesus while he walked the earth. It was mostly the common people who accepted the gospel when they heard it preached by men like Paul. Human wisdom would assume that God would choose the wealthy and influential people for His kingdom, but the fact is that wealth and influence often cause a barrier between people and God. Wealth and influence can cause people to feel like they don't need God, that they are doing just fine on their own. This is not true of every wealthy or influential person, but we can see why the poor and needy might call on the name of God more often. God, in His wisdom, did not choose a complicated method of salvation. That way no one can boast that they got to heaven by their own works, or by their own strength, or by their own intelligence, or by their own status.

"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. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (1 Corinthians 1:30-31) Here we find Paul quoting a verse from Jeremiah that we looked at earlier in today's lesson. When we get to heaven we will do no boasting in ourselves because we will have done nothing to earn our salvation. We will boast only in Christ and His saving work on the cross.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 1, Divisions In The Church

Today we begin the book of 1 Corinthians and in it Paul must address some problems in the church. It is believed by many scholars that he wrote the letter while staying in Ephesus, somewhere around 53AD-57 AD. 

As always, he begins with a salutation, "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ---their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) Sosthenes is likely the man who transcribed Paul's letter as he dictated it.

Since Paul is going to deal with some bad behavior in the church, he first reminds the church members who they are. They are sanctified by Christ Jesus. They are called to be His holy people. Sometimes in this mad world it's easy to forget who we truly are and to sink down to the world's level, but Paul's intention is to remind his readers that they are the children of the living God. Children of the living God must look like Christ, not like the world.

Paul also reminds them how thankful he is for them. He doesn't want these church members to feel like he is beating up on them. He doesn't want them to think he is giving up on them. They have been blessed a great deal by God for their faith, and Paul has nothing but good intentions toward them. He wants to see them standing firm in Christ, adhering to the word of God, and continually growing in their relationship with the Lord. "I always thank my God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way---with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge---God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

Paul says to the people of Corinth, "I know you are the real deal. You have the spiritual gifts that God grants believers. You have been saved by Christ and will be kept saved by Christ. This letter is not to discourage you or to accuse you of being hypocrites. I know you belong to Christ."

"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ'." (1 Corinthians 1:10-12) The word that has been translated as "divisions" is the Greek "schismata", which is a word that means "rents in a garment". A cloak is still a cloak if it has tears in it, but it is not as useful as it could be. It is not whole. In the same way the church at Corinth was still a church, but the divisions in the church were hampering its usefulness. The church was not whole; it was not being all it could be in Christ.

Some of the church members were saying, "I'm a disciple of Paul. I'm the one who is living in the right way." Others said, "I became a Christian under the preaching of Apollos. I follow his instructions." (We met Apollos during our study of the book of Acts.) Others proclaim, "I follow Peter (whose Jewish name was Cephas). He was a disciple of Christ. He knows the best way to live." Yet others said, "I follow the teachings of Christ, not the teaching of apostles and disciples." Even these who said they followed only the teachings of Christ were wrong in their attitude toward others, as if they were better Christians than those who studied not only the words of Christ but the instructions of the apostles.

Paul asks a simple but profound question. "Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13a) Each of the believers was once a sinner, each of the believers came to Christ, and each of the believers now belongs to Christ. How can any of them look down on each other? They are all of the same family. They are all saved by the same grace. They should all be working toward the same goals, not bickering with each other.

Serving Christ is what they should be concentrating on, not on whose preaching they prefer. "Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13b) He asks, "Did I give my life to save you? Did I baptize you in my own name? Did Peter or Apollos die for you? No, only Christ died to save you, and you were baptized in His name. Therefore, you are His disciples, not ours. We are ministers called to preach the gospel to you and to instruct you in right living, but it is Christ you worship and serve, not us."

"I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)" (1 Corinthians 1:14-16) He declares, "I'm glad I spend my time preaching and not baptizing, or else people would be accusing me of baptizing in my own name. I baptized Crispus and Gaius when they accepted Christ. Oh, and I also baptized Stephanas and his family. Beyond that, I don't recall baptizing anyone else." It is believed that others on Paul's missionary team did the baptizing as people came to Christ, not Paul himself. On a few rare occasions it appears he performed some baptisms, perhaps because he preached the gospel privately in the houses of Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas.

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel---not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (1 Corinthians 1:17) The gospel is a simple message. There is nothing anyone can add to it. If Paul had put on a big show and if he had used complicated words and had performed dramatic and elaborate baptisms, the simple message of the gospel could have been lost. His words might have gone over people's heads. His listeners might have focused more on ceremony or legalism than on the grace that was accomplished on the cross. Christ and His work on behalf of man is always to be the focal point. That way, those who come to Him will realize that they are His disciples, not disciples of any particular teacher or denomination. Christ is not divided and His church should not be divided either. We belong to the same Lord; we should act like it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 54, Paul's Concluding Remarks, Part Two

This morning we will conclude our study of the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul finishes the letter by cautioning the people against those who cause division in the church, then he gives some awesome words of encouragement about Christ's ability to keep His church safe.

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." (Romans 16:17) They are to beware of troublemakers. You may have heard an expression that goes something like this, "When Satan couldn't beat the church, he joined it." Nothing from the outside has ever been able to stop the church, not even the fiercest persecution. But division within a church can cause a great deal of harm, for, "If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand." (Mark 3:25)

What is the motivation of people who cause trouble in the church? "For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." (Romans 16:18) There is something in these people that is satisfied by causing trouble. It could be that they feel desperately unhappy inside and can't stand to see others rejoicing in the joy of the Lord. Or it could be that there is something wicked in them that enjoys strife and deception. I don't know what is at the heart of their motivation, but Paul says to be on guard for this type of behavior in the church. It needs to be dealt with quickly.

"Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil." (Romans 16:19) The unbelieving world often wants to portray Christians as simple-minded, not realizing that the gospel of Christ is the greatest wisdom there is. Paul knows some may creep into the church teaching worldly, complicated, or legalistic methods of becoming right with God. He reminds the Roman believers that the gospel of Christ is easy to understand. He wants them to be wise about what the Lord wants and not to entertain the views of anyone who tries to complicate or skew the word of God.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." (Romans 16:20) God told the serpent in the garden that One was coming from the offspring of Eve who would bruise his head. Christ has already won, having been victorious over death and the grave; He is more than capable of stomping down on any plot Satan forms against the church. These words should encourage us all.

"Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews." (Romans 16:22) It is believed Paul wrote the letter while in Corinth, and we find these good friends are there with him.

"I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord." (Romans 16:22) Paul was in the habit of dictating his letters, with the exception of his letter to the Galatians.

"Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and Quartus send you their greetings." (Romans 16:23) Gaius is probably one of the few people Paul baptized himself, for he mentions baptizing Gaius in 1 Corinthians 1:14.

"Now to Him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings through the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith---to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen." (Romans 16:25-27) Paul is saying, "All the glory goes to God who is able to help you to stand firm on the gospel, the same gospel I myself preach. The prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. The prophets foretold the calling of the Gentiles into God's family. We are living in an age when these prophecies are being fulfilled. Christ has come and has performed His redeeming work on behalf of mankind. Gentiles, such as you who are in Rome, are accepting Christ as Lord and becoming children of God. The wisdom of God's plan is so great that His plans were mysterious to us until they came to pass, but now we see what a great work He is doing on behalf of mankind. Glory to Him through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 53, Paul's Concluding Remarks, Part One

We are in the final portion of the book of Romans and Paul makes some concluding remarks and personal greetings.

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of His people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me." (Romans 16:1-2) This Phoebe was evidently bound for Rome and Paul gives her a good recommendation. Over the centuries many of Paul's detractors have accused him of being prejudiced toward women because of remarks he made in 1 Corinthians 14 about how women should behave in church, but in Chapter 16 of Romans we can clearly see that Paul values the work women do for the kingdom of Christ.

"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house." (Romans 16:3-5a) We met this couple in the book of Acts. They were very dear friends of the Apostle Paul.

"Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." (Romans 16:5b-7) It is believed that Junia is a woman's name, and here we find Paul crediting her with the title of "apostle". We don't know when or where Andronicus and Junia were in prison with Paul, but he clearly holds them both in high regard.

"Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord." (Romans 16:8-12) Paul includes several more women in this list of brave soldiers of the Lord.

"Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." (Romans 16:13) It is thought that Rufus may be the same Rufus mentioned in Mark 15:21, "A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross." Mark mentions Alexander and Rufus as if they are well known to the church, and this indicates they became believers in Christ. If so, Rufus could very well have been a friend of the Apostle Paul.

"Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord's people who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings." (Romans 16:14-16)

The personal stories of all these people have been lost to history. We don't know how many souls were saved through their work. We don't know how many of them may have lost their lives for the faith. But their names are preserved on the pages of the Bible, and more importantly their names are written in the Lamb's book of life. They are in His presence, rejoicing in the Savior they so faithfully served.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Something Wrong With Blogger

I hope I will be able to post this. Something has been wrong with the Blogger website and it has not been saving or publishing the posts. I lost most everything I had written for Romans 16 and will need to redo it. I'm so sorry, I thank you for your patience. I don't know what is going wrong.